Boundaries Get a Bad Rap

Boundaries get a bad rap. It’s true that boundaries create separation and limitation, but that’s not the full story. Boundaries can protect us and free us to let our guard down, experience flow, and think, work, and feel more deeply. 

I’ve been a self-employed consultant for nearly 20 years. Long before the pandemic made “work from home” a common option, I was working in my living room or at the local cafe or library. I couldn’t have done it without setting boundaries: shutting off “work brain” when it’s time to relax; connecting with friends even if I have a work project that’s not quite done; resisting the urge to reach for my laptop anytime I’m home with a few minutes of free time. Even before I became a consultant, I was the person in my office who left for the day at quittin’ time and still was able to get all of my work done!

My Top Five Boundary-Setting Tips

With more than two decades of boundary-setting experience under my belt, here are my Top Five Tips to help you find freedom by setting boundaries: 

  1. Communicate Clearly, and Don’t Apologize: If you have decided that you are not going to work after 6 pm, or on Saturdays, or whatever… communicate that boundary clearly and unapologetically. If someone asks you to participate in a meeting during your no-work hours, simply tell them “I don’t do 8 pm meetings, but I’d be happy to schedule something with you in the morning.” Don’t fall all over yourself apologizing for a boundary that is reasonable and clear.
  2. Give yourself Permission to Live by the Boundaries You’ve Set: If you’ve decided that certain tasks are simply too draining for you (and those tasks are not mandatory for your work or personal life), give yourself permission to not take on those tasks. It may feel difficult to stop doing something you are accustomed to doing. Stick with your boundary, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable at first. 
  3. There’s Only One Opinion That Matters: Other people might have opinions about what you are choosing to do or not do, when and where you are choosing to do those things, or even people with whom you are choosing to interact or not interact. Everybody’s got an opinion. When it comes to your boundaries, the only opinion that matters is yours. 
  4. Be Consistent: While it might take some time for you to set a boundary that works well for you, once it’s set, self-enforce it with consistency. If you keep changing your mind about it, or acting contrary to the boundary you have set up, you’ll only create confusion and frustration for yourself and those around you.
  5. Make Sure Your Boundary is Positive: Even if your boundary starts with “I’m NOT going to…”, you still should make sure your boundary is positive or “additive,” not negative. For example, you might set a “I’m NOT going to work past 7 pm” boundary. But after living by this boundary, you may find that you actually like working later at night and taking an afternoon break to nap or draw or go for a walk. If the boundary you set is causing you stress, if it’s not optimizing your wellbeing… let it go, and find another one. 

The Gifts of Good Boundaries

When you set boundaries that are consistent, that you clearly communicate, and that feel like positive, supportive elements in your life, you will: 

  • Feel more calm and focused
  • Think more deeply and creatively 
  • Spend more time on the things that fill you up, instead of things that drain you
  • Give more to the people and activities that you care about
  • Experience less burnout and emotional drain from those must-do tasks that we all have to undertake

Setting boundaries is not about limiting your commitment or capabilities. It’s about giving your best to what matters most, optimizing your performance, and caring for yourself. Give yourself permission to set at least one boundary, and see if this rings true for you!

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