Some time ago I was reading about the proposal of European Parliament considering new law regulation, called “right to disconnect”. The aim of this solution is to allow those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. As it was said by a Member of the European Parliament, “the increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees”.
Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the #COVID19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout, and other mental and physical health issues.
“Right to disconnect” in everyday life
According to what European Parliament says, this right is considered a fundamental right to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks (e.g. phone calls, emails, and other digital communication) outside working hours, as well as on holidays and other forms of leave. Although it sounds like very good news, at the same time I started to think, do we really need law regulation, to be able to actually set our boundaries, ask others to respect them, and to respect others’? And what about the “right to disconnect” in other aspects of our lives? The right to stop somebody, to mark where is our boundary, to stay with our values, a feeling of safety?
I bet you know this moment when someone asks you to do something you don’t have time for or inclination, and you answer “yes”, against all your inside feelings. With a smile on your face, you suddenly hear your voice saying “yes, of course, no problem”. What happens later? By next days or weeks, you feel angry, frustrated, or resentful, why you agreed to something, that you don’t want.
There are more situations when the same mechanism works. Maybe you remember when you got an invitation to the party to which you didn’t want to go, but others convinced you? Finally, you went, didn’t fit with people, and had a feeling of wasting your time? Or a family meeting where your aunt, uncle, or somebody else insisted on asking about your private life and you were answering although you didn’t want to? Maybe it was a conversation with somebody who was not making you feel better, you wanted to stop it but didn’t know how to do it in a pleasant way? Or it was your coworker, who was giving you his extra tasks with a nice smile on his face, saying “I promise, it’s the last time”? And as a result, you had doubled work and lack of time? It could also be your boss, who was writing or calling you at 10 p.m. with immediate demand to do something and you were agreeing to that? It might also happen that you were manipulated and had no idea how to stop it.
Why can’t I set my boundaries?
However, not using the “right to disconnect” it’s not only about the fact that we are afraid of how it will be perceived or we just don’t know how to do it. It’s also because quite often our environment and people around us don’t help us to set boundaries. Instead, we are encouraged to agree to do something that doesn’t come from us. To make it clear – it’s not about supporting, pushing somebody to reach goals, motivating. It’s about all those situations when you hear: “Oh, you should agree, it is not appropriate to refuse”, “If you say ‘no’ for this project, next time I will think about someone else”, ”Come on, everyone drinks, why don’t you want to?”, “Honey, the aunt was only asking, don’t get nervous, she just cares about you, be polite and answer”. These moments are those of a big inside fight: What to really answer? How to behave? How not to hurt anyone but set my boundary?
An important role plays also our self-awareness. Our engagement in hearing ourselves, ability to manage our emotions. For example, to recognize this little, not-so-silent voice in our head, called “perfectionism” which just can’t wait to tell: “Be nice to everyone, you have to be liked by them, remember about “good PR””. Following this voice results in being afraid of “disconnection” and makes us feel that we have to do what people ask us for. Otherwise, we’ll disappoint others. But don’t we disappoint ourselves in this way?
Time pressure, made by those who are asking us or insisting on us, is also crucial. Quite often we hear “I need to know now” or “please, please, do it for me, I don’t have time”. It also happens, that somebody is catching us when we are in a hurry or when we don’t have time. Then we usually don’t think rationally. It pushes us to give the answer that we actually don’t want! Reflection comes later with the question in our head or from somebody else: “Why did you agree to this?!”
Take courage and disconnect
To deal with external or internal factors that stop us from using “the right to disconnect”, we need to know ourselves. It takes a lot of courage to set up your boundaries. Courage to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to let others know what is and what is not right for you. Even if it is related to disappointing someone. “We have as much consent to others as consent to ourselves” – writes Natalia de Barbaro in the book “A tender guide. A woman’s way to herself”. Our worthiness cannot be built on the approval or praise of others. We need to know who we are, what determines us, what we agree to, and whatnot. Setting boundaries helps us stay integrated with ourselves and – at the same time – being with and for others. This is as easy as complicated. It also calls us to respect the boundaries of other people, to listen, hear and understand them, really.
So how can we implement “the right to disconnect” in everyday life?
- if you have too many tasks that you agreed for, make a list of those from which you can resign or you can delegate to those, who will deal with them better;
those that are still on your list, try to make them easier, smaller, tinier, to do in a different way. Maybe you can share something with another person or do it together?
- more than to say “no” we are afraid to hear it. To make it easier in a real situation – practice saying “no” in front of the mirror, listen to your voice; observe your body. Next time, when you’ll use it, it will not be a surprise for you;
- when you are asked to agree to something, don’t give the answer immediately; take a deep breath and say “please, give me a moment, I need to think”, “I will call you in half an hour”, “I’ll let you know tomorrow, I need to think about it”;
- you can also go somewhere for a moment, to take a coffee, to take a breath outside, to make another call, to go to the bathroom. It gives you a moment of time to focus and react in a way you want, that it’s integrated with you;
- don’t answer immediately for the messages, take your time, think and then write what you really want to say or inform about the need for more time for a final decision;
- when somebody asks you in your hurry-moment, communicate clearly “I need time. I’ll let you know when I’ll make a decision”, “it sounds serious, I need to take time to think about your proposal. I’ll inform you when I’m ready”;
- use “Broken Record Technique” – repeat the same sentence that you want to say time after time, one after another. Don’t explain the reasons for your decision/opinion, just repeat the same, e.g. “As I was saying, I’ll not lend you money”, “As I said, I’ll let you know when I make a decision”. Questions like “Why can’t you answer me now?” or “So when exactly will you let me know?” may appear, but still – repeat your sentence, even 200 times; be consistent!
- don’t say “No, I can’t do it”. Say “I’ll not do it”, “I’ll not come for the meeting because I have another one”, “I don’t feel like talking about it”, “I don’t eat sweets cause I don’t eat sweets”, “I’ll not answer for this question” and repeat it. You don’t have to explain why you can’t do it, it’s your decision and your reasons;
- practice self-love and self-care – have time for yourself, communicate about your needs for this time, book time for it.
There are different ways to use the “right to disconnect”, how to set your boundaries. The most important is to be ready for practice in real life. For finding the answer from inside of you of what you want and what you don’t want. The answer that is yours and doesn’t make you feel that you’ll lose something. Setting boundaries creates respect for yourself and from the people in your life. Train speaking your “right to disconnect” with yourself. Later, in a real situation, you’ll see that nothing wrong is happening, that the world goes on and with time others will notice your borders. If not, you’ll get feedback about the relationship with them as well. Brene Brown says: “Since I communicate my boundaries, I am not as sweet as I used to be, but I am far more loving.” Far more loving. Isn’t it what we all aim for?