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5 Tips for Setting Better Boundaries (and Why You Want to)


The past 19+ months have provided us with more than a few challenges, but they’ve also allowed us to reflect on what’s working in our lives and what could use a major overhaul.

An unexpected benefit of all the cancelled happy hours, closed gyms, and remote offices is that it automatically created boundaries for our personal and professional lives. Too exhausted to go out on Friday night? No problem, the bar isn’t open. Don’t feel like going to spin class? Yoga at home sounds better anyway. Have trouble telling co-workers “No” in person? Being off site makes it easier to say you “Have a conflict.”

Do You Need Better Boundaries?

As you venture back into the (partially) reopened world, you might notice that your exhaustion levels and people-pleasing behaviours have resurfaced. Maybe you’re feeling more drained and less psyched about social obligations. Or you’re experiencing more guilt, regret, and resentment.

Sure, there are a lot of reasons you might be feeling more tanked than usual. But in my decade of experience as a health coach, I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when folks don’t stand up for what they need, when they need it. Research professor and author, Dr. Brené Brown agrees, saying, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

 

In short, boundaries are the limits you decide work for you.

When you say “Yes” to others, you’re often saying “No” to your own needs. You’re telling yourself that pleasing others — or avoiding the fear of rejection, disappointment, criticism, or feeling temporarily uncomfortable — is more important than respecting yourself. Healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care. And deciding that you deserve to put limits on your energy and time, especially toward things that don’t serve you, can be a total game-changer.

Benefits of having healthy boundaries:

  • Conserved emotional energy
  • More confidence
  • A better sense of self
  • Lower rate of burnout
  • More autonomy
  • Less stress
  • Increased fulfillment

What Does a Healthy Boundary Look Like?

Boundaries can be physical, emotional, spiritual, work-related, or friend-and-family-related. For example, in my health coach-client relationships, I could set the boundary to keep my own health struggles separate and not share too much about my personal life. Or I could decide that I won’t hold myself responsible for my clients’ slip-ups, or compromise my schedule just to fit someone in last minute.

Healthy boundaries can be set for personal relationships as well. Got a friend who stops by unannounced, with boatloads of comforting junk food, to worry about their never-ending quest to lose weight? Or a sibling who borrows your things without asking? A healthy boundary would require you to speak up about what you need from that relationship — whether it’s letting that friend know they need to give you a head’s up before popping over, or telling your sibling they need to ask first. Or just straight up saying “no.”

And just so you know, not creating boundaries can lead to these same issues appearing over and over again in all of your relationships.

Believe That You’re Worth Creating Boundaries

All of this boundary stuff has been well documented too, from research around work-life balance to the expectations of new moms. One study, in particular, evaluated 31 participants who’d given birth in the previous year, addressing three things: perceptions regarding the role of maternal self-care, specific applications of self-care in new motherhood (like exercising, seeing friends, allowing dad to jump in to help), and barriers to acting on those applications. Researchers found that two ideologies came to the forefront. One, the new moms believed that self-care was important during this time. And two, they associated an extreme form of self-sacrifice was required of them.

In other words, they knew what they needed to do, yet because they believed they had to sacrifice their own needs for those of their baby, they didn’t follow through with any of kind of self-care.

In a nutshell, if a situation you’re repeatedly in makes you feel drained, stressed, overcommitted, overly taxed, or resentful, it’s time to create some boundaries.

Still not sure if you need to create better boundaries? Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a hard time saying no to people?
  • Do I usually say yes to things I secretly don’t want to do?
  • Do I worry about what others think?
  • Do I believe I need to earn people’s respect by being overly nice?
  • Do I often feel taken advantage of?
  • Do I feel irritated or defeated more often than I don’t?

Become a Boundary-Setting Pro

Setting boundaries is a life skill, it’s not something you’re inherently born with. It’s also not something you do once and never give another thought to. Your needs, your environment, and the people you interact with are constantly changing, so you’ll need to update and manage your boundaries as those variables change. When you decide to make yourself a priority (yes, that’s what boundaries do), you’ll notice how quickly you feel more empowered and less exhausted. Here are five tips for creating good boundaries in your world:

  1. Reflect on What Depletes You
    A lot of times, things happen to people that make them feel uncomfortable, but they don’t know why. Take time to be a detective of your own well-being and really start to notice the difference between feeling tired from overdoing it at the gym and feeling depleted because you neglected to put any boundaries up with your friends and family.
  2. Give Yourself Permission to Set Limits
    Love, acceptance, and approval are often tied to pleasing other people, especially if you have these tendencies. Even though it may feel like you’re risking rejection when you put a limit on your time or energy, you’re declaring the fact that you respect yourself enough to do so. It’s also important to note that setting limits isn’t selfish. It actually makes you more productive and enjoyable to be around.
  3. Speak Up About Your Needs
    We don’t live in a world of mind-readers, which means you’re going to have to communicate your needs if you want them met. You can’t hold people to the unrealistic expectations that they inherently know you don’t want to work ‘til midnight or eat the homemade cupcakes they brought over. Get clear about your boundaries and then voice them where appropriate.
  4. Address Any Feelings That Come Up
    If you’re not used to creating boundaries, you’ll probably feel a bit of guilt, selfishness, or embarrassment at first. After all, who are YOU to say you won’t do these things others are asking of you? This is where self-respect comes in. Remind yourself that you have a right to tell someone no without feeling bad about it. You also have a right to put your own needs first.
  5. Decide You’re Worth It
    When you don’t set good boundaries, or set them but don’t follow through, you’re reinforcing your personal talk track that says that someone else’s needs are more important than yours. On the flip side, when you establish good boundaries and maintain your commitment to them, it can lead to you feeling proud, respected, and in control. It’s up to you, but I’d argue that the latter is a much better way to go through life.

My 5-Step Plan for Good Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are a critical component of self-care. As you start to realize what limits you need to set for your time and energy (and why that’s important to your overall wellbeing), you’ll quickly see that you don’t need to expend so much energy giving more of yourself than you want. You’ll also see that the fear of rejection, disappointment, and criticism decreases the more you practice these five steps:

  1. Reflect on What Depletes You
  2. Give Yourself Permission to Set Limits
  3. Speak Up About Your Needs
  4. Address Any Feelings That Come Up
  5. Decide You’re Worth It

What about you? Do you have good boundaries?

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About the Author

Erin Power is the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does every day for her clients, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by PHCI co-founder Mark Sisson.

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