How To Set And Stick To Your Boundaries: 'No' is a complete sentence
Clodagh O'Mahony·October 13, 2021
How many times have you said ‘yes’ when you’ve really wanted to say ‘no’? Think about it for a second.
You might have told your boss that you’d take on that extra project even though you knew it would leave you stressed out. Maybe you agreed to attend a party this weekend, but really wanted some time to recharge instead.
Or perhaps you’re constantly bending over backwards tending to other people’s needs when you really should be looking after your own.
Here’s the thing about pleasing others before ourselves: It often comes at the expense of our wellbeing, and when you don’t set healthy boundaries, your attention is inevitably pulled in different directions. You end up focused on other people’s goals and objectives while yours are forgotten and neglected.
The fix? Having clear boundaries. Boundaries show people who you are, what you expect and what you will tolerate. They protect your emotional wellbeing and conserve your energy for the stuff that matters – but we totally get it, they can feel seriously nerve-wracking to set.
If you’re confrontation-averse or worried about coming across as rude, we’re here to help you set boundaries in a healthy way.
What do healthy boundaries look like?
If you’re reading this thinking and thinking 'what actually are boundaries?’, then let us explain. Boundaries are kind of like a personal limit. They’re a clear expression of what you will accept in every area of your life and are ultimately an act of self-care and self-preservation.
Boundaries aren’t about being unaccommodating, selfish or mean. They’re about putting you and your needs first, and you owe it to yourself to set them.
Some examples include:
I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that right now. I’m prioritising other tasks and assignments.
I’d love to help but I would be overcommitting myself and need time to rest.
Sorry, I won’t be able to make it. This week has been very stressful and I need to focus on my own mental health.
I can’t help on this occasion – keep me in mind for the next date.
It is just bad timing. Can we hang out another time?
How To Set And Stick To Your Boundaries
Now that you have read some examples, it is time to set some boundaries for yourself.
Take a ‘zoomed out’ look at your life
With busy schedules, it can be easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of life, without seeing the big picture. Start looking at your life as though through a telescope and ask yourself where are you feeling the most tired, overwhelmed and drained?
Now look at your priorities and think about what you need to do to protect them. It could be telling your other half you need some alone time throughout the week to focus on your needs, asking your boss for more lenient deadlines, or letting a colleague know you won’t be replying to emails outside of working hours. Take this time to write down a few ideas that come to mind.
If you’re having trouble pinpointing where things need to change, here’s a tip: Tune into your feelings. When people try to push your boundaries you normally experience two main emotions: resentment and discomfort. Any time you notice these, make a note of it and consider what needs to change.
Establish some key phrases
After you create a list of areas for improvement you know need to put some energy-conserving boundaries in place.
We suggest creating up to 10 short sentences that can be used to combat all the instances of boundary overstepping you discovered above. Need some help? Consult our list of examples – and remember setting clear boundaries isn’t selfish. It’s perfectly okay to tell someone you’re opting out of their request because you simply want to put yourself first. When saying no feels uncomfortable, try your best to keep this in mind.
One of the main reasons we often struggle with setting boundaries is that, as humans, we hate disappointing others. If you consider yourself a bit of a people pleaser, take note of this unattributed quote:
“The only people who get upset when you set boundaries are the ones who benefited from you having none.” The people who really love and care for you really won’t mind.
You could also keep Brene Brown’s advice in mind. She says, when communicating your limits, “Clear is kind.” By clearly explaining to someone what treatment you expect, you’re actually doing them a favour. You’re telling them exactly how to interact with you and giving them the space to set some boundaries of their own.
Please remember that setting boundaries doesn’t make you a bad person - it is setting YOU up for success.
Use it or lose it
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase ‘practise makes perfect’. Guess what? That goes for boundary setting too. You’ve got to keep doing it to get good at it.
Try practicing on someone you’re really comfortable with first, like a close friend or a sibling before building up to your boss or a colleague. This process is known as Exposure Therapy.
Basically, the more you practice setting boundaries and see that it is safe to express your limits, the more comfortable you’ll feel asserting yourself in situations that feel a little more high-risk.
What once felt scary and made your heart pound, can now feel totally normal. All you have to do is begin.
When in doubt, review your goals
If you’re ever unsure about when and where you need to set a boundary, review your goals. Boundaries are there to protect your energy and to ensure you maintain your focus on the stuff that matters most.
Keeping your goals front and centre of your mind ensures you’ll know when your attention is being pulled off-topic. When that happens, you’ll know you need to re-establish your boundaries.
The Head Plan Productivity & Wellness Journal is a great way to keep those big goals of yours at eye level; simply revert back to your long-term and short-term goals pages when you need a reminder about where to put your focus.
You control your limits…
Your life is vastly shaped by the behaviour you are willing to accept from others, and what you allow is what will continue. That’s why you owe it to yourself to put firm boundaries in place.
The next time you’re in doubt, remember this: setting boundaries is the ultimate act of self-love. Or as Brene Brown puts it:“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”
So, with that in mind, we would love you to set some personal boundaries today. ‘No’ can be your new favourite word.