At Camp Nerd Fitness this year, I found myself bringing up the importance of boundaries during every single workshop I taught. It’s a constant through-line with my coaching clients and Bootcamp members as well. They apply to almost every person I work with because many of the reasons people seek me out for help have to do with a disconnect from one’s inner voice.
Boundaries are a radical, loving way to reconnect with your inner voice and stand up for your needs.
I had no idea what boundaries were before last year. I had heard of them, but I’d never done any kind of personal work with them. Because of the lack of boundaries, I found myself constantly drained by giving too much of my time or energy, or in contrast, pushing others away for fear of disappointing them by having to say no.
When I started actively setting boundaries for myself, my confidence sky-rocketed. Not only did setting the boundary act as a way to stand up for myself and my worth, but my boundaries allowed me to open up even MORE to my loving relationships. I was able to be more present around people I used to be endlessly cautious around because I knew that if they were to cross a boundary, I would know exactly how to reset it in a loving way.
Developing loving boundaries also allowed me to start using my voice, something that I was never comfortable doing before.
What I realized was that, pre-boundaries, I had been constantly on edge because I didn’t know what was worth speaking up about and what wasn’t. I ended up defaulting to silence, holding onto resentments, regrets and shame for not being “stronger.” Now that I know myself better, I don’t waste energy on the things that don’t really matter. I act more boldly and I use my voice when necessary.
Because setting boundaries has been utterly life-changing for me, I’m hoping to help you get started setting some for yourself. Today’s article is devoted entirely to getting to know the boundaries that matter to you, and the basics of how to set them. We’re going over Boundary Setting 101.
Don’t spend one more second spread too thin for lack of boundaries. Let’s dive in and explore boundaries that make sense for you!
Deciding Where You Need Boundaries
The first step of this process is determining where you need to set loving boundaries. To help you do that, I’ve put together a few prompts to help you explore.
- When do you feel uncomfortable, drained or out of alignment? Consider this question for every area of your life (work, spouse, family, etc.).
- What do you do to bring yourself joy?
- What practices are important to you?
- What kinds of self-care do you prioritize?
- What kinds of self-care do you want to prioritize?
The prompts above help you explore the areas of your life that require boundaries to be set. When you’re done journaling through them, move on to identify what’s holding you back.
Identify What’s Holding You Back
Considering the prompts you just worked through, ask yourself what the limiting factors are that keep you in this space of misalignment. These prompts may help you:
- What keeps you from feeling at peace, energized or aligned in these areas of your life?
- What keeps you from what brings you joy?
- What keeps you from prioritizing the practices and self-care that are important to you?
Let’s work through a couple of examples together.
Example 1: Work Boundaries
1st Prompt: When do you feel uncomfortable, drained or out of alignment?
Example Answer: When I stay at work late because there’s so much to get done.
2nd Prompt: What keeps you from feeling at peace, energized or aligned in these areas of your life?
Example Answer: Long work days that I didn’t sign up for, or expectations around the amount of work I’m supposed to do.
Example 2: Health/Self-Care Boundaries
1st Prompt: What practices are important to you?
Example Answer: Running 20 minutes, 3 days a week to clear stress from my body.
2nd Prompt: What keeps you from prioritizing the practices and self-care that are important to you?
Example Answer: Commitments to pick up my daughter from school, errands I have to run after work.
After working through these prompts, you’ll be able to see clear as day what’s holding you back from feeling in alignment with the life you want. This is where we work from to set loving boundaries. Move on to the next step to learn how!
Determine Your Boundaries
Now that you know what areas need boundaries, you’re going to answer a set of similar prompts that will help you outline exactly which boundaries need to be made. Using your answers from the above sections, move on to journal your way through these:
- What is a realistic way to prevent or limit discomfort, being drained or being out of alignment?
- How can you make space for more joy in your life?
- How can you prioritize the practices and self-care that are important to you?
Using the examples I offered in the last section, here are a few boundaries I might come up with:
Continuing Example 1 from above: Work Boundaries
- Boundary Prompt: What is a realistic way to prevent or limit discomfort, being drained or being out of alignment?
- Example Answer: Make 6 PM a hard stop for workdays (unless there’s a real emergency).
- Other Example Answer: Take two 10-minute self-care breaks throughout the day to center myself so I don’t overextend myself.
- Other Example Answer: Talk to my boss about the amount of work that’s expected of me, and have an open talk about the fact that the amount of work I’m doing now requires me to stay later than my work hours.
Continuing Example 2 from above: Health/Self-Care Boundaries
- Boundary Prompt: How can you prioritize the practices and self-care that are important to you?
- Example Answer: Ask a neighbor or friend to pick my daughter up from school 3 days a week so I can go on my runs.
- Other Example Answer: Wake up earlier to do my runs in the morning.
- Other Example Answer: Have a talk with my spouse about splitting some of the errands, or possibly hiring someone to run them for us.
This part of the boundary process takes brainstorming and exploration of what you feel comfortable with. There’s no right or wrong. In the end, you determine what’s more important: setting the boundary or not.
If you want to move forward with setting these boundaries, let’s talk a bit about how to set them lovingly.
Setting Loving Boundaries
Many of us have experiences in our pasts that taught us not to stand up for ourselves unless it gets really bad. We learn that “sucking it up” is a sign of strength, or that we have to suffer to get ahead in life. It’s my belief that neither of those things are true. In fact, I believe that strength is taking the hard action: standing up for what you really need to feel aligned with what you want in life. Sucking it up is the easy, people-pleasing way out.
If you agree that “sucking it up” is for the birds and that standing up and speaking out is where strength lies, then let’s move forward with a few tips on setting loving boundaries.
Setting Boundaries with Yourself
If your boundaries require more of a commitment from yourself than others, it may help to write them down for yourself and put them somewhere you can read them regularly. The most important part of writing them down is that you include the WHY behind them. Seeing them in black and white will help remind you why these boundaries are so important, which is especially helpful if you start sliding back into old habits.
You might also consider telling someone else about these new boundaries. I suggest opening up to a trusted friend, spouse, therapist or coach about why you want to set these new boundaries and how you plan to do so. Just saying your intention out loud is a powerful thing, plus sharing it with someone who supports you can help you feel like it’s more “real” than if you keep it to yourself!
Set The Stage with Others
When your boundaries require that you have a chat with someone directly, do yourself (and them) a favor: make sure it’s in a private place where you two can be alone. If that’s uncomfortable for you because of the boundaries you need to set, do some brainstorming as to who you would feel comfortable with asking to be there.
As much as possible, try to choose someone that won’t automatically trigger the person you’re setting boundaries with. If you’re at work, you might consider a manager, supervisor or HR person. If it’s in your personal life, you might consider booking a therapy session for the both of you so that you can have someone mediate the emotions that might come up.
Whenever possible, use “I statements” to illustrate your point. It is never a person’s fault that you feel a certain way or take on more than you feel comfortable with. We must accept responsibility for what we have not said in the past. Blaming others most often causes others’ defenses to go up causing them to be unable to actually hear what you’re saying.
For example, if I were setting a boundary about how many extra tasks I can take on at work, I might say something along the lines of: “I’ve found that when I take on too many extra tasks makes me inefficient in all areas of my life including work. While I’d love to help with 2 extra tasks per month, taking on more than that is overwhelming for me.”
NOT, “You give me too much work and it overwhelms me. Can’t you see I’ve got too much on my plate?” or “I’ve been saying yes too often for too long and Janice doesn’t do half as much work as I do. Why don’t you ask her?”
Stick to your side of the fence, and the person you’re setting boundaries with will be more likely to be receptive to them.
Protect Your Energy
While doing so much work on ourselves, it’s easy to forget that people around us can be triggered just as easily as we can! When setting boundaries, we may trigger others by accident.
If you trigger someone, they may react in a variety of ways: with anger, guilt-tripping, aggression, etc. These reactions are not a reflection of who you are. They are signs of their own pain and journey, not your wrong-doing. While they may be reacting in a way that triggers us right back, we have the choice to breathe deeply into the reason why we are standing up for ourselves, and protect our energy with this exercise.
It’s difficult to stand your ground when someone is crumbling or raging in front of you, but for your own sake, you must. This is the ultimate lesson in self-confidence; to stand up for your needs even when someone else (whose opinion you care about) doesn’t like it.
You weren’t put here to please others. You’re not here to compromise your emotional safety and happiness so that you can make their lives easier. You’re here to experience life as you choose to experience it.
I hope that this article helps you gain freedom and confidence like setting boundaries has helped me do. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below or tweet me!