I am a staunch advocate of creating imaginary lines around our thoughts and behaviors. By this, I mean that it is important to recognize and firmly establish boundaries that we can’t cross if we want to stay safe from our more dangerous personal tendencies: there are things we will do, and things that under no circumstances will we do. By staying on the right side of these lines, we can avoid doing regrettable, embarrassing, criminal, and self-destructive things. In essence, these are simply guidelines to health and wellbeing.

 

It isn’t always easy to come up with smart, sane, healthy lines. It takes careful consideration. You may even want to seek objective advice, consulting with a wise person who knows you well and can help you keep yourself safely in check.

I am not an advocate of harsh, impossible lines. That only perpetuates another version of rigidity and sickness of the soul. Nor am I telling you to put on a false face and deny who you really are. You don’t have to play Pollyanna if you don’t really feel cheerful. (Some people will be comfortable with faking it until they make it. They find that putting on a happy face, even when they don’t feel it, makes it easier to eventually recover their happiness. There was even talk years back that if you smile more often it affects your brain and makes you happy. But that’s another subject.)

Instead, what I’m suggesting is that even when you’re justifiably upset, it behooves you to avoid sinking deep into depression or anger.

People must be true to themselves, but anyone who is taking his life seriously must make some order in the chaos and create some realistic dos and don’ts.

Never forget that you’re the only thinker in your head; you don’t have to give into thoughts like, “I can’t help it. This is just the way I am.” Those are dangerous sentences and set you up for failure, guaranteed.

I’ll give some examples of healthy lines that most of us willingly accept. One is that irrespective of how passionate the argument, you never hit, pinch, or otherwise injure another human being. Other examples are things like fidelity and honoring someone else’s property, neither stealing nor damaging it.

A more challenging example is someone who is prone to tricky, existential states of mind. If you know this about yourself, you must be very careful to put on the brakes if you start to fixate on death, murder, or suicide. It’s normal and natural, considering that everything that lives, dies, to “go there,” but you’re crossing the line if you become obsessed with it. If you notice yourself getting close to the line, you need to learn to say, “I don’t need this. I need to rein it in.”

The point is to know what traps are seductive for you as an individual. This requires you to get to know yourself very thoroughly. You come to know exactly where your weaknesses lie and can in this way safeguard your mental health.

There needs to be some flexibility here, but beware. Sometimes, in the name of flexibility, we could be given to exaggerate and self-deceive. That’s why honesty is essential to this process.

And if you do cross one of your lines, don’t get caught up in self-hatred. It helps no one.

There’s an amazing expression in Hebrew that, loosely translated, means: I’ve already crossed the line, so what the hell. Never buy into that idea. It will lead you from one cookie to the whole pastry shop. Forgive yourself, dust yourself off, and get up again.

My father of blessed memory, the wisest man I ever met in my life, used to say: Knocked down, not knocked out. Get up.

And if you can’t go through the door, find a window.