Boundaries are a key to controlling your life and living in peace.
Over the years, I have gifted the book, “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend to several people. It is written from a Christian perspective, and the point of the book is as straight forward as the title would suggest. It teaches you how to send boundaries.
I often recommend the book to people who struggle to say no to things that they know aren’t aligned with their own self-interest nor their mental health. Most people who open up this book do so because they struggle to say no. They are looking for a rallying cry to make their own to just say no. Though, if you focus on just the no, if you focus on who and what to keep out, you’re going to be miserable.
The problem with the book for me, if it has one, is that we spend way too much time focused on WHAT to say yes and no to, and not enough focus on WHO to say yes or no to.
When to Say Yes
The challenge is more about WHO we say yes and no to and not WHAT we say yes and no to.
Learning to say no is not that tough. It takes a focus on doing so and a bit of courage to make the mental shift to start saying no more often to the things you know you should say no to. But, knowing when to say yes might be the more important and over-looked component of this.
The concept is really simple: learn to say yes more to the things and people that add value to your life, and no to the things that don’t. Creating boundaries is not about putting up a wall around yourself. Yes, you need to have clear and well communicated boundaries because you can’t expect people to not step over boundaries if they don’t know where those boundaries are, but you also need to open up to more “yes” in your life too.
Say yes more often to the people that love you. Be willing to say yes to those people more often, even if it is not in your own best self-interest. This is highly important and often over-looked. Setting boundaries does not mean always saying no to things that don’t align perfectly with your self-interests. You can’t be selfish all the time, especially with those you love.
Have a significant other or good friend or family member that loves and accepts you that asks you to an event that you know is important to them, but that would take sacrificing some things on your schedule to go to, and it is not something you’re all that interested in to begin with? Say Yes.
Have a casual friend that is not someone you’d ever fully trust or that you feel fully loved and accepted by, and they ask you to an event that you’d actually love to go to, but it means saying no to someone who falls into that category of someone who truly loves you, like a sister, or best friend, or it just means giving up a lot of your time that can be spent on things that add long-standing value to your life? Say no to that casual friend.
Only saying yes to the things that perfectly align with your own self-interest is weak. If you setup your boundaries that way, and never allow for wiggle-room, you’ll end up mostly alone and miserable, because you’ll end up saying yes to the wrong people and no to the right people far too often.
Say yes more often to the people and things that are good for you.
Who Do I Say Yes To?
Boundaries don’t have to be difficult to set. Make a list of the people you love most in life and that love you most in life. Say yes to those people often, and set few boundaries for them. That’s your pack, you ride with them, if saying yes ends up not working out too well for you, you can’t regret saying yes to them. That said, there will need to be some boundaries set with your pack. Communicate them clearly. Do so from a position of love. Ask them about their boundaries and respect those. With this group of people, boundaries are a collective process. They love you, you love them, you all want the best for each other.
What yes might look like to this group of loved ones? Yes, to this group, when it aligns with your own self-interests, comes automatically to us. But, what happens when something is not in your own best self interest? Example: If a friend in this group invites you to an event, an event important to them, and the event is not of huge interest to you, and you might have to travel further than you’d like and spend a few more hours than you’d like to, and you’ve been tired and have a lot going on, that is still something that, more often than not, will be healthy for you to say yes to. It does not mean you always say yes, but remember, this is the group of people that you’re going to purposely make an effort to say yes to more often.
Who Do I Say No To?
Say no to casual friends and friendly acquaintances more often. Boundaries with them is not a collective process. You set these boundaries, and you hold the line on them. Whereas you will make exceptions to you boundaries with your loved ones, you will not, or at least rarely, make exceptions with this group.
What might saying no boundaries look like with this group? It might be time limits – maybe they never get more than an hour of your time. Practically, that might mean you’re willing to say yes to grabbing coffee, or a phone conversation, but you’re not saying yes to dinner and a movie or a day at the pool, even if you would love a day at the pool, the boundaries say the answer is no.
It might be topics of discussion. They might be someone you’ll talk to about pop culture, or sports, or work, but that your personal life is off-limits to.
It might be a frequency thing. These people may be people you’re willing to interact with once per week, or once per month, but you set a boundary of no more than that. Whereas you want your loved ones to have nearly, but not entirely, 24/7 access to you, this group does not get that access.
Setting Social Media Boundaries
Social Media has made it tougher to set boundaries with people. We all have nearly 24/7 access to each other in some way. Look, you can’t be someone who tells someone else they like too many of your Instagram posts or comment on too many of your Facebook posts. If you’re putting content out there, people are free to interact with it. It is the direct messaging and the commenting back and forth where you do need to set some boundaries.
How do you do this? Again, it goes back to the WHO. Your family and loved ones, very few boundaries needed. Casual friends, or internet strangers, you need some boundaries. For the people who aren’t in your pack, not in your inner circle, you need to limit the time in which you interact with them. You don’t have to reply to all their comments on your photos, maybe the boundary with those people is you click “like” or “love” on their comment but never reply. It seems rather systematic and rigid, but it is part of boundary setting. Maybe you set a boundary in which you only DM with those in your inner circle, or, that you take just one hour a week in which that time is for replying to and DM’ing those outside of your circle.
The key here is that you don’t want to spend countless hours interacting with those who do not add real value to your life and who aren’t one of those people you love and are loved by. Sometimes these people move into the loved one category, sometimes they’re just a random person that is so funny that the humor ads enough value to you that you’ll give them more of your time, but for the most part, use your social media time engaging with those you truly love and who love you.
Setting Dating Boundaries
You need dating boundaries, especially in todays day and age.
Anytime one of my friends meets someone new that they are excited about, if they go on more than one date in the first week, especially if they go on dates on back-to-back days, I know it s ending quick. Why? Because there were zero boundaries and the escalation of time spent together was purely on emotion or temporary feelings.
TAKE YOUR TIME
What does taking your time look like? For starters, don’t text back and forth with them over and over right after meeting them. That is not healthy. I get it, you’re excited, you had a fun date. Let it breathe! Set some boundaries. Perhaps it is that you’ll engage via text or social media just once per day with them. Perhaps it is that you really like them, and want to see where it goes, but you set the boundary of one date every other week until you get to 4-5 dates and see it is worth investing more frequent time in. Set those boundaries.
The main takeaway here is, take your time. Don’t be in a rush to see if it will or won’t workout. Don’t let the person so fully into your life so quickly and put yourself in a position to then quickly push them out of your life. That is not healthy for you nor fair to or healthy for them. Note, take your time might only mean a 2-3 month process of seeing them 1-2 times a month. You’ve got that time. Take it. Set boundaries.
Setting Business Boundaries
This. Is. Huge.
The downside to being able to be reached anytime in a multitude of ways is, well, just that, always being able to be reached. You need to separate work life from business life, at least to some extent. For me, I won’t allow any client to text me (with rare exceptions of emergencies). I also set the exception that I will always respond within an hour if it is 8am-5pm during the weekday, but that if I am contacted outside of that, only on rare occasions will I reply.
This also applies to meetings. A morning coffee or afternoon lunch, I am in. But, drinks or dinner after 5pm? That is a no. Drinks or dinner after 5pm or on a weekend is a boundary, and I won’t ever let them cross that. I am in a profession where people will tell me that networking after hours, or dinner with a prospect is part of business. Not to me. I set a boundary. I’ve always had that boundary, and I can’t think of a single time in which it cost me business. In fact, setting such boundaries will earn you more respect.
Boundaries are vital.
You can’t expect people to not cross boundaries if you don’t express what those boundaires are.
Don’t just focus on what to say yes or no to, prirotize who to say yes or no to.
Be willing to occasionally say yes to things that don’t fit your best interest if its the right people.
Say no more often to the people and things that don’t add real long-term value and joy to your life.