There is a correlation between the boundaries we set for ourselves and the amount of freedom and space we create in our lives.
When we set quality boundaries, we experience a greater sense of freedom. When we set weak boundaries or none at all, we feel taken advantage of and even powerless, which reduces our sense of freedom and respect for who we are.
Brené Brown puts it well when she said: "When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated." I would also add that we feel this way when we fail to hold ourselves accountable to the boundaries we set.
I talked a lot about boundaries the other week in the first part of Freedom through Boundaries and I realize that this idea can become pretty abstract. So, my hope with this second part is to make the ideas more concrete by discussing some actual steps we can take to create appropriate boundaries.
Before we get into the actual steps for creating boundaries, it is important to take a step back and discuss several factors to consider when setting boundaries, including: Type, Level, and Clarity.
Type: The type of boundaries we create. We have to create appropriate boundaries that work for us. This takes some experimenting to figure out how we approach and frame our boundaries. For example, if we want to improve our time management we can set limiting boundaries (e.g. I am not going to XX, which is a meaningless time suck for me) or we can set inclusive boundaries (e.g. I am going to add X amount of time to my morning routine to plan out my priority tasks). Neither one is better or worse, it just depends on which is more effective for you.
Level: The level of strictness we hold around our boundaries. Some people need super strict guidelines to abide by or else they will not follow them. Others rebel against overly strict rules or enforcements. It is important to hit the right balance and level of strictness that will create the space for you to honor your boundary.
Clarity: The clarity with which we identify and communicate those boundaries. Our boundaries have to be clear for both ourselves and others to understand. That is the only way they work. If our doors are made of glass, we run a greater risk of running into them. Likewise, if our boundaries are invisible, we run the risk of overstepping them. So, when setting boundaries be as specific as possible on what you will and will not do.
STEPS FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES
How do we set boundaries? This is different for everyone but I will share some steps below to get you started in figuring out how to set and follow your boundaries.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
Before we can identify the appropriate boundaries, we have to identify the pain point we are experiencing. In what areas of your life are you feeling powerless, run-down, taken advantage of, or wishy-washy in your commitments? These feelings are pretty sure signs that we are lacking boundaries in some area of our life. Just start with one area - is it a relationship, is it work, time management, finances, physical or spiritual practices?
Be as honest as possible and be sure to get clear on what you have control over versus what you cannot control (e.g. other people's actions and desires, unchangeable commitments and responsibilities, etc.). It is important to take responsibility for how you are feeling and what you might be doing (or not doing) to add to the problem.
In addition, we have to be honest with the resources we have available to us. We don't want to strain our resources, whether it be time, money, love, brain space, etc. Loving acceptance is key here. Is there a disconnect between what we want or are telling ourselves we have and what we actually have?
Real Life Example: Recently, I have been feeling a great lack of willpower in the realms of productivity and getting shit done, especially when it comes to committing to my personal practices and self care. I cannot seem to muster up the energy or find the time to honor what I want and need to do in order to feel balanced and centered. I have all this time and free space yet it seems to elude me. If I am being really honest, I find myself allowing perceived pressure from others to guilt me into taking time away from my personal practices in order to spend time with them. So for me, I am feeling a lack of boundaries in time management, particularly when it comes to my self practices.
Step 2: Define Commitments & Boundaries
Once we know what the problem is, we have to identify our commitments (what we are committing to create or cultivate in our lives, which will mitigate our problem) as well as our boundaries (how we will honor the commitments we set). And just as the word entails, when we set boundaries we are identifying the perimeters of what we are willing and unwilling to do. We are laying out the framework within which we can work and live.
To mitigate the problem, we have to identify the top-most boundary, the bottom, and the edges of our boundary. First of all, what is the ideal - what are you striving for? This will be your top-most boundary. Second, what is the minimum - what is the limit to what you are willing to compromise while staying in your boundary? This will be your bottom line. And finally, where are there possibilities for flexibility? This flexible space will be the edges of your boundary.
Real Life Example: My priority commitments are daily morning practices (morning pages and meditation), weekly yoga classes, and weekly scheduled alone time. Ideally, I will have 30 minutes every morning to complete my morning routine, take a yoga class three times a week, and have scheduled alone time once a week. That is my ideal, top-most boundary. My bottom line, what I am not willing to give up, is finding time to get at least one of my morning practices in, even if I have to get up early to do it; taking one yoga class a week; and finding a few minutes a week to be alone, even if that is just a 15 minute walk around the neighborhood. For the edges of my boundary, I am willing to be flexible on when and where I do these priority items throughout the week. If I have to do my morning pages in the afternoon or take a yoga class online, that is OK.
Step 3: Implement & Communicate
Now that we are clear on the specific commitments and the parameters of our boundaries, we have to follow through and communicate our commitments and boundaries for ourselves and others. This is where we create a plan of action and muster up buy-in to our plan.
Some questions we can ask are: What are you going to do to make your commitments and boundaries possible? What are you going to do to create an environment that will allow you to honor your commitments? How are you going to hold yourself and others accountable to these commitments?
For example, you may have to carve out the time in your schedule; do some research around your commitments; create a mantra that will remind you to respect your boundaries; surround yourself with the people and situations that will allow you to maintain your boundaries.
Real Life Example: First, I am going to research yoga class times at a studio nearby. I will identify which yoga classes I would like to take and what other times are available should I need to reschedule. Second, I am going to set my alarm every morning so that I wake up on time to have a few extra minutes to myself before I start the day. Third, I am going to do some brainstorming to figure out a few ideas for scheduled alone time. I am also going to set aside time on my calendar for free time to do whatever the heck moves me in the moment. Lastly, I am going to talk to my husband and family. I will explain to them what I am trying to do, what that may look or how it may impact them, and ask for their help in honoring the commitments I am setting up for myself.
Step 4: Assess & Redefine
Stick to your guns and honor your boundaries but also know that sometimes we have to redefine our boundaries if they are not working. It takes time to figure out what will be effective and useful. There may be times you are not able to honor your boundaries and commitments. However, the minute we over step a boundary is an opportunity to grow and redefine ourselves. We all slip up sometimes. And when that happens recalibrate, make adjustments, take the lesson, redefine your boundaries if necessary, and keep moving within the framework of the structure you set for yourself.
EXPERIMENT AND LET GO OF "SHOULDS" TO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Setting boundaries takes some experimentation, creativity, and dedication, but it is possible. And the more we practice, the more graceful we become at it.
I encourage you to go through these steps many times as you experiment in your daily life. As I mentioned before, we all have different needs and desires so it is necessary for you to figure out what works for you and what doesn't. These are just guiding steps. My hope in providing them is to give you permission to start the journey of committing to yourself.
I have noticed that as we get into the process of discovering and honoring our needs, we can hit up against a lot of the "shoulds" in life. We are taught overtime that we are supposed to do XX in order to be considered a good friend, partner, employee, son/daughter, parent figure, etc. But the truth is that only you can define what will make you the best version of yourself. So, forget what you have been told that you should do or shouldn't do.
Setting boundaries cannot be done by someone else or in comparison with others. Instead we can use ourselves and our own experiences as a baseline from which to grow and improve. For that is really the only way to create healthily growth: improve upon what we have available to us at this specific moment in time (as opposed to what we used to be able to do or how we wish we were more like someone else).