Personal boundaries are something most people struggle with. As children we have a large number of boundaries, including:
- Meal times
- Acceptable behaviour
- “bad” behaviour
As adults we seem to lose this concept of personal boundaries. We follow those dictated for us by others, but we struggle with setting, and keeping, our own.
This lack of boundaries can have many impacts on our work and life. These include:
- Increasing work hours into personal time
- Overloading ourselves with work
- Becoming stressed
- Reacting to everything that comes along
For a balanced life we need boundaries, and we need to keep within these boundaries.
How to set boundaries
We know we need to set a boundary. But we don’t want to do it as it may upset someone.
The answer to this is quite simple, but also challenging. Stop worrying about what someone else may think. Set the boundary, let people know what it is, then stick to it.
Some people will come to you and complain about the new boundary. Explain the reason for the boundary. Let them know why you have set it. Help them to understand the need for the boundary and the benefit that you expect from it.
It is also important to be sensible and flexible when setting the boundary. There will be times when we need to cross the boundary. The key is to limit these exceptions. Don’t let them become the norm, what is the value in a boundary that is never upheld.
Identify the boundaries
This is the key step, what should your boundary be?
You may want to be home by a certain time each day. Your boundary will be the time that you leave the office.
You may work from your home and find that you slip into working all the time. In this case there may be a number of boundaries required. These may include:
- Setting aside a room or space for the “office”. Shut this away at the end of the workday
- Having set hours that you work. Do not slip into work mode outside of these hours.
- Establish routines that you follow, then stick to them.
Once you have identified your boundaries then write them down. Make sure you let other people know about them. If people do not know how to engage with you then how can they avoid pushing against the boundary.
How do I stick to them
Boundaries are like any habit, you need to get into the swing of doing them.
An easy way to do this is to set up a reward chart. This is like something you would do for a child. Remember children have lots of boundaries set for them. The reward chart tracks how well they are doing.
Set up your reward chart. Every day record how you went with your new boundary. If you stuck to it give yourself a tick, or smiley face etc.
If you did not stick to it then give yourself a cross, or frowny face etc.
Why not ask other people to score you. These could be a trusted accountability partner, your partner, or children. Engaging others helps you achieve your new boundary.
For details on Accountabilty, please check out this post.
At the end of each week review your chart. Did you get ticks for each day? If you did then reward yourself with something nice.
If you did not get a tick for each day then spend a few minutes to review why you did not achieve it. Is there something you can change to help maintain the boundary? Is the boundary sensible and achievable?
What if someone refuses to accept my boundaries
There will be people who will not accept that you have set a boundary. They will constantly be challenging and pushing against it.
The first thing to do is to explain the reason for setting the boundary. Try and get them to see why you are doing it. Tell them about the benefits of it.
If this does not work, then you need to start to be a bit more forceful. When they push against your barrier then push back.
If someone is calling you outside of working hours then stop answering the phone.
If someone is emailing you and expecting instant replies then set an “out of office” message. In this tell them that you will respond on the next working day.
The key is to stop reacting to their behaviour. Every time you react you give them a “win”. When you don’t react you take away their power. They are likely to get frustrated and angry with you. Don’t give in. Bear with it. Eventually they will get the message.
It is important for you to remember – the issue is with them not you.
We need boundaries. We need the structure they can provide.
It is easy to let boundaries slip. When they do then you suffer, your work suffers and your relationships suffer.
Establishing and maintaining boundaries takes time and effort. It is important to be clear with yourself and others about what the boundaries are.
Once established you will start to see improvements in your work and relationships.
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Also published on Medium.