Updated: Nov 3, 2020
When we become clearer about how we make decisions, a new need surfaces. The need to say no and set boundaries when something doesn't align with our model. We can set boundaries with ourselves and with others. But what is a boundary?
A boundary is a limitation that draws a line between what is and is not acceptable to you. To use a metaphor from scuba-diving, we call it the "No Stop Time," or the time limit at which you can stay at a certain depth before needing to decompress and ascend.
We each have "no stop times" in life that if not honored may lead to stress, feelings of helplessness and eventually, burnout. You know you've reached burnout when things that were once exciting to you become not exciting anymore. Long period of burnout can lead to depression. Boundaries that we set with ourselves and with others help us stay accountable to our own limits, so that we can focus on what matters most and enjoy the dive.
How to Use This Blog
This blog will help you identify your stress signals and triggers in order to know when setting a boundary is needed. It will guide you through a self-affirmation activity to help you become more aware and confident. Remember that this blog is meant to guide, not to solve. We cannot predict how others will act, but we can offer tools for you to learn more about yourself and improve your own dialogue skills.
Because this information builds on previous blogs, we assume that you already know what boundaries you want to set, but if you need help, read the below blogs as a first step.
If you feel like you're fairly "self-affirmed" and know exactly what you need, proceed directly to the section on "setting boundaries with others," but know you might be missing out on some juicy self-work.
For strategies on setting self-boundaries and self-care habits, read these, in this order.
How do you know you've hit a boundary? These are common stress habits adapted from Jungian Type Theory that may indicate that you're reaching a boundary:
Fixating on details
Shutting down or detaching from others
Having too many options and trouble prioritizing or deciding
Being self-critical or critical of others
Feeling the need to rescue
Taking on the feelings of others
Try This: Identify Your Stress Signals
Take a moment and write down some of your stress habits or "signs" that you might need to set a boundary. Use the above list to help you.
What keeps us from setting boundaries? Put simply, fear. We are afraid of some consequence that may or may not be realistic.
Try This: Identify Your Fears
Try to identify what you are afraid of. For example, work-life balance is a common boundary situation. If you find yourself working beyond "normal" work hours, pause. Ask yourself, what am I afraid will happen if I stop working right now? You might be afraid of negative repercussions by a supervisor or team members who depend on you. Fear may also manifest more deeply if we are afraid of falling behind, failing, or missing an opportunity.
Decide whether this fear is grounded. Is this a healthy fear that is keeping you (or others) safe from actual harm, or is this a limiting fear that is holding you back? Going back to the example above, perhaps working more hours this one time in order to meet a project deadline is not such a big deal. But if there is a pattern of over-working that is holding you back from meaningful life experiences, that is cause for considering a boundary, both for yourself and with others.
What does setting a boundary require? First, we have to overcome our own negativity bias. Our vocabulary colors our outlook. Negativity bias is tied to our evolution and was once an important determinant in our survival. But now, Saber-Toothed tigers aren't around to threaten us. Perhaps our Indigenous positively-biased ancestors tried to hug a tiger and were therefore biologically ill-equipped to survive evolution.
As a result, we have been left with an innate tendency to perceive threats in forms that are no longer necessary or useful, such as feeling threatened by the contents of an email or even the color of someone's skin. No matter what the content, an email will not do us physical harm, and neither will the color of someone's skin, someone's gender, someone's religion, or someone's relationship preferences. These biases are invented and are a product in part due to our natural tendencies towards negativity.
Overcoming negativity bias is explored in the book The Power of Bad, where authors John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister were surprised to find that negative feedback led to faster learning in children than positive reward. While this may be a truth, this has important implications in our world today. Our negativity bias makes us targets for manipulation, and we may become out of touch with reality (think major news outlets and politicians).
In an interview, Baumeister noted, "To be accurate in how you see the world, you need to put a bit of a correction on the negativity bias."
Try This: Identify Judgments and Limiting Beliefs.
Complete the "three-lists" activity from the "Inventory Your Personal Needs" blog to identify your limiting beliefs or judgments. For example... "I'm not good enough." "I'm not ready." "That person scares me." "What if I fail?"
Identify your triggers. Keep a list of what triggers this limiting belief. A trigger may be something that is taken in through our senses. Take a moment and write down a few things that you think "trigger" you. For example... Something you saw on Facebook or while walking around. Something someone said to you that made you feel angry or upset.
To identify triggers, we first have to become more mindful and aware on a daily basis. Practicing good self-care and energy renewal helps clear head space, so that we can be more mindful and pay attention. Try the activities in "Put Your Oxygen Mask on First."
What else does setting a personal boundary require? Being brave! Think of your favorite superhero or idol. What qualities do they embody? How do they harness their bravery? Hint: the psychology of admiration tells us that the qualities that we admire in others are within us and waiting to be unearthed.
A self-affirmation is a statement that we can use to remind ourselves of our power and strength. Creating self-affirmations is an important step in self-validating. It doesn't hurt to ask others for feedback, but only you have the wisdom you need to operate with confidence.
To create a self-affirmation, we need to switch our mindset to look at what's working rather than what's not. For some, this is easier to do than others and points to our individual Appreciative Intelligence. Conceived by Tojo Thatchenkery, Appreciative Intelligence is "the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn."
Through reframing negative thoughts into positive self-affirmations, we pull ourselves closer to what's working, instead of what's not. Laws of attraction author Bob Proctor explains, "Everything that's coming into your life, you are attracting into your life. And it's attracted to you by virtue of the images you're holding in your mind. It's what you're thinking. You are attracting whatever is going on in your mind," (quote from The Vision Board by Joyce Schwarz, forward by Bob Proctor, contributor to The Secret).
This theory has implications not only for individuals, but organizations as well. Our team uses Appreciative Inquiry methodology to study organizations and scale positive change from the ground up. Contact us for a discovery conversation.
Important caveat. Many of us have such deeply rooted biases, fears and stress habits that a simple reframing exercise will likely not change. If you feel that you fall into this category, it's important that you seek the expertise of a licensed clinical psychologist or psychiatrist and perhaps come back to this activity after a few sessions.
Try This: Self-Affirmations
Self-affirm. Reframe the judgment or limiting belief with an affirmation that starts with "I am." Using the words "I am" has Biblical and Yogic roots and is a powerful way to ground an affirmation in the present moment. Take a moment and write down one or two affirmations. For example "I am enough." "I am ready and I can do this." "I am safe." "I am still me, even if I fail."
Make it physical. Write your affirmation on a sticky note (or several) and put it(them) in places around your home and work place as helpful reminders of your inner strength and validation.
Build a habit. New habits take time. Use this formula to create a new intention. Write this in your journal or again, on sticky notes, to solidify and root this intention. Even better, include this intention in your personal contract. FORMULA: When [trigger] happens, instead of [stress habit], I will remind myself that I am [affirmation] and I will [self care habit]. For example... When I am feeling sad or disheartened, instead of shutting down, I will remind myself that I am worthy, and I will reach out to a trusted friend to connect and talk. When I begin to get angry with a colleague, instead of criticizing the other person, I will remind myself that I am safe, and I will ask to take break and come back to the topic later. When I see something I don't like on Facebook, instead of responding right away, I will remind myself that I am open and receptive, and I will wait a little bit then decide if I will reach out to that person or entity.
Setting Boundaries with Others
When we are self-affirmed, we can begin a conversation with others from a place of confidence and understanding. You are now ready for these preparation tips and framing strategies from well-worn resources.
To restate the point made earlier in the blog, we cannot control what happens after we initiate the conversation. All we can do is prepare ourselves and use tools for dialogue that have been proven to create safety and openness for change to happen.
If you're still not certain what boundary you're trying to set, use these blogs to help you identify your needs, then come back to this blog to draft how you will ask for these needs from others.
Conversation Preparation Tips
Prepare. Write down what you'd like to say. Map out your notes.
Wait. Don't enter into the conversation angry.
Timing. When you want to have a conversation may not be the right time for the other person. If you sense that it's not, ask when would be a good time for them. This shows that you are willing to meet their needs as well.
Stay open. Know what you want from the conversation (your boundary), but don't get locked into to it. Be willing to allow the conversation to go in a direction that you don't expect. You can always take a break, reflect on the changes, and come back to it later.
Empathize. Put yourself in the other person's shoes, and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling. See if this gives you other thoughts or changes your perspective.
Questions. Come up with questions for the other person or people. What data or information gaps might they fill? Hint - using open-ended what and how questions tend to promote thoughtful dialogue.
Practice with a friend or colleague you trust.
Create safety. What conditions make you feel safe? What ground rules that if honored would help you listen? Write these down and ask for them when you open the conversation. For example... Listen without interruption. Assume noble intent. Suspend judgment. Look for common ground. Come with an open mind. Check for understanding.
Framing Your Boundaries so Others Will Hear You
Ask Clarifying Questions. When we feel the need to advocate or defend, instead, ask for more information to clarify what may be happening for the other person. Always start with phrases like, "I heard you say," "I perceive that," and "I'm noticing that." These indicate that you're not trying to make assumptions about the other person. I perceive that you [name the behavior you see or perception of their feeling]. Could you clarify what's happening or what's important to you? I perceive that you are frustrated with me. Could you clarify what is happening for you right now?
Use an "I Statement," developed by Thomas Gordon in the 1960's. When you [their specific behavior], I feel [your feeling that results] because the story or perception I take away is [your perception]. What I need is [your need]. What if we try [proposed solution]? When you speak to me that way, I feel shut down because I perceive that you don't care about my perspective. I need to feel heard and respected. What if you adjust your tone a bit? I know that will help me hear you better without shutting down.
Use the "I Want/I Don't Want" method from the book Crucial Conversations. I want you to know that I value you thinking of me when it comes to this new project. I don't want to diminish the importance of supporting this work. I have a need for time balance and want to be sure that my current projects have what they need before turning my attention here. What are your thoughts?
Use the "STATE" path from the book Crucial Conversations. Share Your Facts (and only the facts) Susan, yesterday you sent an email discussing feedback about my project to my manager Joe. I was not included on this email. Tell Your Story (your interpretation and feelings that resulted) When that happened, I felt that you (Susan) did not trust me enough to give me the feedback directly, and I was worried about disciplinary action from my manager. Ask for Others' Paths Could you tell me what was going on for you? I have a need for trust and transparency, and I'd like to create conditions that enable both of us to share feedback openly and directly. ---------- Talk Tentatively Assume noble intent from the other person. Encourage Testing If you can't agree, continue to offer options.
Start a list of triggers.
Create an affirmation.
Design a habit changing intention statement using the formula provided.
Hang onto and use this blog for the next time you need to set a boundary with others.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
Appreciative Intelligence by Tojo Thatchenkery
Type Talk at Work by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge
The Power of Bad by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister
Thoughts are Things by Bob Proctor
The Vision Board by Joyce Schwarz
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
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