You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: setting boundaries is really important. Many of the issues my clients bring to coaching are in some way related to their boundaries. Specifically, their lack thereof. Boundaries can seem complex and nebulous, which makes them hard to define and implement for a lot of us. So I wanted to simplify how to establish your boundaries. The process can be easy as ABC*

*Disclaimer: setting and honoring your own boundaries is no easy feat. But I hope that these tips support you in establishing your needs!

Establish Your Boundaries

Awareness

Half the battle of boundary setting is being aware that a lack of boundaries is not serving you. This can look a little different for everyone. But here are some questions that you can ask to reflect on this and shine a light on your needs.

  • Do you struggle with making decisions, even small daily things?
  • Are you exhausted at the end of the day and not sure why?
  • Are you feeling resentful towards your friends, family, or coworkers?
  • Do you feel like your life is one long endless to-do list?
  • Do you say “yes” when you want to say “no” to things?
  • Are you taking on more than you can handle?
  • Do you find yourself overly concerned with what others think of you?

If any of these resonate, you might lack boundaries. Personal boundaries are much like physical boundaries. Think of a fence or property line — these things signal some sort of limit to something. They let us know if we can or cannot enter (and how) or if we’ve gone too far. If these physical boundaries don’t exist, we might swim in really deep and troubled waters or step on our neighbor’s garden. Without an awareness of boundaries, we can find ourselves in hurtful situations. 

It’s important to reflect on our feelings and situations we find ourselves in and ask, “Is there a need that is not being met here? Do I feel attacked or violated in some way?” In this step, there is no need to jump into action just yet, the goal is to grow in our awareness of what a lack of boundaries looks and feels like, so we can start to identify what we want it to look and feel like instead.

Beliefs

Whenever I hear a client of mine say that they have trouble saying “no” to people, I always ask, “What thoughts are going through your head when you say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’?” Some common answers are: I want to prove my worth, I want this person to like me, and I want to be helpful.

Boundaries and beliefs go hand-in-hand. What we believe about ourselves will directly affect the boundaries we do or do not establish. 

If we have a need for alone time to recharge, but we believe that our worth as a friend is measured by how much time we spend at a party, we will violate our boundary of needing a solitary wind-down routine every night in order to stay out a little longer. 

If we want to prioritize time with our family after work, but we believe our value as a professional means taking on a last-minute request from our boss at 4:50pm, we will violate our boundary of logging off at 5pm to spend time with our kids to make sure we are seen by our commitment to work. 

This might work if we make these sacrifices once or twice. But when we find ourselves consistently breaking our commitments to ourselves because we believe that our worth and value is measured by what others think of us, we will grow to be exhausted and resentful of the people in our lives. 

What beliefs are keeping you from identifying and honoring your own boundaries? What other belief could be true instead? Remember that the thoughts that go through our heads are not inherently true. They are “For Sale” signs up in our headspace and we get to choose which ones we buy into. 

Communication

You’ve grown in your awareness and identified limiting beliefs when it comes to setting healthy boundaries – good work! But a boundary cannot be honored if it’s not openly communicated. If your boss doesn’t know that you won’t be checking emails after 6pm, they will continue to email you. If you’re always available to drop everything to support a friend (even when it is detrimental to your mental health), your friends will continue to expect you to show up. 

We are constantly teaching others how to treat us. By being clear with what we need, what we tolerate, and when we need a break, we are allowing others to have clear expectations of us and how we want to be treated. YOU have all the power to set, honor, and communicate your boundaries. 

Sometimes we avoid communicating our boundaries because we’re afraid of what others will think of us. Revisit what beliefs you’re buying into and reassess. If you’re concerned with being a good friend, which belief serves you more:

  • Being a good friend means saying ‘yes’ to everything my friends need from me
  • Being a good friend means taking care of myself so I can show up wholly to my friendships

Do you see how different those two beliefs are? Which belief do you think encourages setting and communicating healthy boundaries?

Do It Again

Setting healthy boundaries is much like flexing a muscle – you have to do it over and over again in order to gain strength and power. That means checking in with your needs before committing to something or telling a friend or coworker exactly what you can and cannot take on. 

None of this is to say that this will be easy. Much like working out, setting boundaries can be challenging and we may stumble as we go along. The important thing is to reset and do it again and continue to grow into this new habit and reassess as we grow and change. Boundaries are not static, they can and will change with time and circumstance. By checking in, we can continue to cultivate awareness, check our beliefs, and communicate our needs so that we can establish our boundaries effectively.

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Natalia is a Certified Life and Career Coach at Ama La Vida. She believes that there is no such thing as work/life balance because it’s all life, and works with clients to create a holistic and fulfilling life and career plan. She has a background in psychology, project management, and design thinking and has always had her hands in the social impact and non-profit space.