Are you feeling tired of ping-ponging between the highs and lows of seeing events in your life as either being good or bad? Would you like to shift from this rigid, black and white thinking into a far more comfortable place snuggled between the idea of serve and a limit?
If you let out a big sigh and answered yes, read on.
A few years ago now, I was extremely blessed to have an amazing counselor who guided me through more than a few rough patches and life changing events in my late 20s and into my 30s. To call this incredible woman just a counselor doesn’t really do her role justice, she was far more of a spirit guide and wise woman and to this day I still reflect and utilise much of the wisdom she imparted on me.
The wisdom that stands out the most, that I always come back to and have often shared with other people in need is the concept of serve and limit.
Stuck in good vs bad
When I showed up in counseling I was a hot mess of insecurity, anxiety, health problems, body issues and had one hell of a mean girl inside me playing judge and jury over almost every thought I had.
I was sadly crippled by the extremes of good and bad in all areas of my life. Foods were good and bad, I was good and bad, life was good or bad. It was all or nothing and was a very painful, black and white way to live with no grey areas, no ease, no wiggle room.
At the time, I particularly struggled with labeling my diet as good and bad. If I was having a “saintly” day of sticking to the meager amount of low calories I had allotted myself, then I was good. If I stepped a foot wrong, went over my limit, ate one wrong thing, then I was bad. And of course, this is where the destructive thinking of such extremes comes in.
If I had ruined my “good” day then there was no point trying any more, I would end up on an epic food binge. “If you’ve done one thing “bad” you might as well go the whole hog” said my inner critic. And the whole hog I went. Until the next day I’d wake up with a food hangover, bloated tummy and such depleted self esteem that the only way to rectify this mess seemed to be returning to the rigid path of eating “good’ again.
I honestly weep at those memories of how restricted and miserable I was back then. And I’m sure many people can relate to that feeling of being trapped between such extremes of thinking that there no longer seems to be any middle place to find ease.
These days I am all about ease.
So enter the concept of serve and limit. Everything has a serve and a limit. Every “good’ thing, every “bad” thing. Be it a love of chocolate, a bossy personality, a quiet voice, an arrogant nature or a tendency to throw caution to the wind and do crazy things on a whim. Each of the things I’ve listed has aspects that serve us and aspects that limit us as human beings. The trick is in honestly evaluating these aspects and seeing the full spectrum, rather than pigeonholing any of them into good or bad, positive or negative.
Need some more clarity on this whole serve and limit idea?
Lets start with serve aka benefits, perks, warm fuzzies, helpful skills, talents. Take a quality such a bossy personality, which many people could place under a negative column in a personality traits list. Bossiness can serve a person by getting things done, motivating other people, leading, creating order, standing up for those who are quieter, making sure things don’t get forgotten, getting deadlines met. It can even be a protection for an insecure part of a person that is fearful from a childhood being bullied or growing up painfully shy. But you get the drift, even bossiness has many aspects that can serve a person.
Then we move into limit aka the drawbacks, potholes, bummers, pitfalls, spanners in the works. These are not bad things as such and it is far more helpful to instead view these qualities as the opposite of the serves.
Back to the bossy personality again. Bossiness can limit a person in their interactions with others by offending or un-nerving people, upsetting the applecart, taking over, being overbearing, micromanaging, nitpicking, controlling. Again you get the idea.
When you look at the serve and limit lists of the quality of bossiness, it becomes apparent there is a certain amount of yin and yang, ebb and flow going on. Bossiness becomes far more than just a negative or positive trait. There is a whole rainbow in between of how it can serve and how it can limit. Just as bossiness can cause some problems it can also benefit a situation or person in the right setting.
My younger self would have seen a bossy person instantly as negative or bad. But through the lens of serve and limit I was able to let the helpful qualities emerge, allowing a shift away from such rigid thinking that bossiness was “bad”.
Of course the flip side is that we can look at another quality such as selflessness and rather than popping it straight into the saintly “good” column, we can become a lot more honest that selflessness has a few limits lurking in there too! Selflessness can leave a person depleted, putting themselves and their needs second, lacking self care, always giving more than they have, losing their identity. Again, serve and limit opens up the range of qualities between the idea that being selfless is either positive or negative.
So how did the concept of serve and limit begin to help that messed up young girl that I was?
I started to view a food such as chocolate as no longer in the “bad” column. Eating too much had limits – too much sugar for my body, too many calories vs not many nutrients, it made me feel crappy when I ate whole blocks in one go. But I could also see now that it wasn’t all bad, it had serves too – chocolate tastes amazing, eaten mindfully it’s an incredible treat for the tastebuds, its wonderful shared with a best friend and a movie, a small amount of good quality chocolate is a joy for the soul.
Chocolate became a food, not a good food or a bad food. Just a food. This flowed on to include other foods I had labelled good and bad. Long term, the concept of serve and limit was a lens I started to view many other aspects of my life too.
During this time a bad breakup left me angry that I had stuck it out for so long in a relationship that clearly was not healthy for either party and had left me feeling drained. My counsellor helped me shine some compassionate light on this situation seeing that while there were many limits in the form of the unhappiness and unhealthiness of this particular relationship, there had been serves too. The aspects of the relationship that were functioning had actually been serving me, in spite of such pain and limits.
Stepping away from right and wrong allowed for honestly viewing the end of a relationship without casting the roles of bad guy and victim. Honouring the truth that even a crappy relationship had aspects that served me was a key to viewing the situation with balance, compassion and allowing healing to occur.
We can limit ourselves so much with labels of good vs bad, right vs wrong, positive vs negative. Finding the serve and limit of things allows a more spacious mindset and also a chance to develop compassion not only for ourselves but those around us.
As I slowly learned the subtleties of serve and limit, I started to see that my rigid thinking was causing me a lot of pain. Practicing serve and limit in different situations and areas of my life I developed a much less rigid mindset and over the years I have moved into a place I can only describe as ease and grace.
So I leave you with the concept of serve and limit to mull over and perhaps take out for a test ride.
\\ Is there an aspect of your life that you get hung up on viewing through the lens of good vs bad, right vs wrong.
\\ How would it feel to try viewing it instead with how it serves you and how it limits you.
Let me know in the comments!
Love and blessings