Last weekend, we visited our daughter’s family and had a wonderful time! In addition to playing lots of ping pong and watching “Sleepless in Seattle” for the umpteenth time, we also collectively completed two rather difficult New York Times crossword puzzles.
It had been a while since I’d done a crossword puzzle, so it took a few tries before I recognized one trick often used by puzzle writers. Many of the clues were hard because the words in the clues were designed to send us thinking about one interpretation of their meaning, even though a less obvious meaning of those words was needed to lead us to the right puzzle response. Becoming aware of those less obvious meanings required thinking “outside the box.”
As most of you know, folks with ADHD are often masters of outside-the-box thinking! I regularly see this in my clients who demonstrate remarkable creativity in solving problems and making life choices. Their ability to come up with original solutions brings huge value to those individuals and the people who live and work with them. The ability to think in an expansive, open way and to connect things that seem unrelated is a valuable gift.
Expansiveness can also show up in our wanting to experience or investigate just about everything we come across. The world is one huge smorgasbord and we want to taste it all!
We know that our eagerness to jump to the next sparkly thing is often because our brains need more stimulation, and that can open us to new and original ways of looking at things. But there are times when we also need to create and define boxes of another sort, often called “boundaries,” within which we can protect and care for ourselves. That may seem to be in conflict with our urge to be open to everything, but we need both expansiveness and boundaries to create balance in our lives.
One example of an area in which setting boundaries on our expansiveness serves us well is when we find ourselves drawn to investigate all the fascinating things that are coming into our minds, even though spending our time in that way will not leave us enough time to accomplish the things that are, in the end, most important for us to do.
Another example of a need for boundary setting arises from the fact that many of us are people pleasers. Our knee-jerk response to requests from others is almost always “yes,” until we learn to set personal boundaries for ourselves. We need to learn to say “no” when someone asks for a favor at a time when we are already overcommitted and getting insufficient sleep. One way to ease into that “no” is to postpone responding by stating the need to to check a calendar or to talk with a family member. That simple tactic offers a chance to step back and consider where a boundary needs to be set to best serve everyone. This skill gets easier with practice.
These are just a couple of examples of areas in which our urge for greater stimulation bumps up against our need to care for ourselves or meet our responsibilities. Where in your life would you be better served by setting definite, clear limits or boundaries? Is it a challenge for you to turn away from food, even though you know you have eaten enough or that the food before you is not healthy? Is it hard to turn off CNN at night when you know you need to start getting ready for bed in order to get enough sleep to function well the next day?
If we are not accustomed to setting good boundaries for ourselves, it can take some practice. Our expansiveness comes more naturally to us. Noticing, even after the fact, where a boundary helped or might have helped may seem like a small thing, but it is actually a critical beginning point to establishing a boundary-setting habit.
As you finish reading this and before you move to your next activity, pause to think of an area of your life in which a clear boundary will support you.