Getting bold on defining boundaries…
Defining boundaries has been a big part of my work (and life) for a while now. They feature in my workshops, they’re a hot topic in coaching sessions and I don’t have to think too hard at how to bring them to social media discussions. I’m well overdue a blog, so what better timing than to go a bit deeper on the topic than here!
I fully understand the reputation boundaries get. Some of the words I hear associated with them is that they’re all about saying no, they’re restrictive and limiting. By the end of this blog I’m hoping you’ll be #teamboundary.
In my opinion boundaries help us be the best version of ourselves, more of the time. Sometimes that means saying no or ‘not right now’ but it can also be a yes too. We need to think about our energy here – we want to protect it as much as possible, and remember that it’s way more flexible than time…the ultimate in finite resources.
Let me introduce my boundaries cycle…
Tried and tested by my clients (and me), these are the steps that can bring a strong foundation to your boundary setting.
1. Define your boundaries.
Sounds simple doesn’t it when I put it like that? I know it’s not quite as smooth sailing, so let me follow it up with some ideas. You could look at times when you’re feeling uncomfortable or your energy is lacking – is there a consistent red flag there? Perhaps there’s a relationship you need less exposure to, a type of project that isn’t playing to your strengths or something that you really love doing but you’re not getting enough opportunity to do it. Remind yourself of what success means to you. Then comes the boundary related question – once you know what’s important to you, what do you need in place to protect it / achieve it / maintain it?
2. Share your boundaries.
You’re not alone in working with boundaries, it can be really helpful to a) signal to others what your boundaries are so they stick to them as well and b) get some help from an accountability partner. An accountability partner can be the sounding board and extra conscience for you. In that moment where you go to say yes when you really mean no, your accountability partner can give you a nudge. There might be multiple people you want to share with – taking into account home and your work environment here is really important.
3. Use and test your boundaries.
Let’s get practical and put them into action. You’re in the middle of something and someone wants a chat…you can say ‘not right now’. A meeting goes in that will make you late at worst, rushing at best, to pick your child(ren) up – you can say no or suggest another time. There’s a project at work and you’re really interested in that particular thing….get that hand up!!
4. Refine your boundaries.
The boundaries you set today may not serve you in a few months time (sooner in some cases). It’s important that we recognise they do change and shift, but this isn’t about caving into requests. As you use them more you’ll tune into what’s working and what’s not. Refining them will bring small tweaks, adjustments, maybe further detail. This isn’t about a big overhaul.
And then you go again around the cycle. It’s meant to be used over and over, and each step provides a really important marker.
Why all of this for defining boundaries?
Defining boundaries and doing clear thinking around what your boundaries need to be links heavily to our definition of success and clears space for our needs to be met.
Sharing them with others really is a non-negotiable. The sharing can be on your terms – I know that not everybody will be comfortable with an overt list plastered up, but what feels right for you?
Using them might sound like a common sense step, but I’ve worked with a lot of people (and I’m also looking at myself here) who will have incredible intentions, have been clear with their list from step one, but when it comes to actually using them it’s a different matter.
Refining them might look like a quick stage to jump to. However, one of the things I’ve found is that people shy away from boundaries because they worry. They’ll be pigeon holed, labelled, described as difficult, a blocker…the no person. In a world where ‘yes people’ are held up high and celebrated that can feel like a scary step. We’re consciously checking in on what’s important and how our boundaries are making us feel. Whilst there might be some initial discomfort because of new habits being formed, that shouldn’t last long.
Defining boundaries isn’t a nice to do, it’s a necessity. It will help us ensure we’re getting exposure to the things that put our wellbeing front and centre. Our time is a finite resource, but we can fluctuate our energy (that’s a post for another day). What I mean by that is, being at our best directly correlates with defining boundaries and managing them. Saying no to the things that are going to cause us problems and yes to more of what we love.
So what next with defining boundaries?
Now comes the action. What do you want to do differently? What boundaries do you need to set? Who can help you? And remember you can start with what’s important to you if you’re struggling. Let me know how you get on and if you need help you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re preparing for parental leave or returning from parental leave, these workbooks cover boundaries as a topic too.
Personally for me, I’ve got my eye on this book – when the shops re-open I’m off to our local independent bookshop!
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