A while back, we talked about the importance of having your own personal rules. Simply put, your rules help you establish everything from when you will work to what projects you’ll agree to do. Need a refresher? Check it out here!
In helping my clients establish their rules, I’ve learned that many have no idea how to set good boundaries. If we’re honest, most of us had parents who expected us to say yes to things, even if we didn’t want to. While some of that was helpful (yes, you really do need to brush your teeth every day), for some of us it established the idea that we should always say yes when asked.
I have yet to discuss boundaries with a client who doesn’t, in principle, agree that they are needed. The problem seems to be in implementation.
In the olden days of knights and castles, people built huge fortresses for protection that were surrounded by thick stone walls and deep moats. Somewhere in the wall would be a drawbridge that made it easy to go in and out when it was open and hard to get in if it was closed. Some were even on top of a big hill, with a narrow path uphill to the fortress, making it hard for invaders to sneak up. If you think about what it took to build that kind of protection, it was developed over years and years with significant investment.
We tend to think that building personal boundaries will be a lot like building a fortress. We assume it will take massive amounts of effort and years to implement. We think we will need to constantly be on guard against invaders and always on the lookout for when to close the drawbridge. It doesn’t have to be that way!
Setting boundaries is really an extension of having Reasonable Rules. Reasonable rules can include things like not saying YES to anything without waiting 24 hours. This gives you time to think about whether or not you want to say yes. Obviously, for some decisions, waiting 24 hours is overkill – like do you want fries with that? For decisions about joining a committee, serving on a board, attending an event or speaking to a group of people, it is very reasonable to take time to check your calendar and check in with your important people and, most importantly, to check in with yourself.
Please note that I’m not advocating you avoid doing hard things that will ultimately benefit you. Things like public speaking may be beneficial and challenging. I am suggesting that it is OK to not let anyone else book your schedule full of things you really don’t want to do.
If step one is creating Reasonable Rules, step two is learning how to communicate your decision well. Be gracious. Thank them for thinking of you. Be firm and direct when you explain that you aren’t saying yes. Do not over explain why you aren’t saying yes; in fact, you do not owe anyone an explanation at all.
There is something interesting that happens when you give a reason or two (or five) as to why you are saying no – especially if you include a lot of detail. It almost challenges the other person to problem-solve your “issues” in an effort to overcome your objections. Many people accept the challenge and start explaining all the reasons you should say yes. This may lead to you making a new decision on the fly that you may regret later.
Guilt is often a big factor, when better boundaries are needed. For example, someone you know needs a babysitter. You know that they could lose their job if someone doesn’t mind their child. You had plans but decide to cancel your plans to help them out. Once in a while, this is a great act of kindness. However, if this happens all the time, it stops becoming a nice gift and becomes an inconvenient obligation. The way out is through clear communication when there isn’t an imminent crisis about what will happen when the next emergency strikes.
You can also choose who you include in your circle. While you may not be able to avoid Thanksgiving dinner with your pushy sister-in-law, there are many other people you can choose to avoid. If your friend group, church group or work group is made up of people who bully you into doing things you don’t like and don’t enjoy, maybe it is time to upgrade who you spend time with.
It is my wish for you that you to learn that it is OK to say NO to things. It is OK to choose who you hang out with. It is OK to pick happiness and joy and leave uncomfortable people and situations behind.
Charlise Latour a business coach and owner of Accelerate Your Success. She works with each client to determine what their goals are and create a plan so they can achieve them. She is actively involved in Dancing & Singing With The King which raises money to promote dance education including working with local schools to offer dance classes during the school day. This is a natural fit as she is an avid ballroom dancer.