Lately I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about feeling overwhelmed and stressed. The pervasive sense is that there’s too much that has to get done and not enough time to do it all. With our penchant for keeping busy as a society and the possibility to always do more, these feelings can persist. Compound all that with the desire to be a good person by helping others out, and saying no comes with a heap of guilt that is easiest to avoid by just agreeing.
The root of this problem lies in drawing boundaries (or really, the lack thereof). I recently completed a training where we watched a video with Brene Brown talking about boundaries. Her findings indicated that the most compassionate people consistently draw boundaries. This makes sense and aligns nicely with the findings from Adam Grant’s research; the most successful people are otherish givers (they give with their own needs in mind).
Brown says a “boundary is simply what’s ok and what’s not ok.” She goes on to say that “generosity cannot exist without setting boundaries. And we are not comfortable setting boundaries.”
If we don’t consistently draw boundaries, we run the risk of working ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Once we are burnt out, we are not good for helping anyone else.
Here’s the thing about drawing boundaries, it takes thought, intentionality and a willingness to experiment. It has taken me a lot of trial and error to figure out what boundaries were good for me to draw and keep. And while I have certain boundaries that serve as ground rules for my work and life (i.e. I don’t schedule more then two meetings in a day unless they are paid engagements) there are others I’m still figuring out.
1. “I’m at My Best When”
Completing Jason Womack‘s exercise, “I’m At My Best When” greatly helped me to define what is ok and what is not. If I’m at my best when I workout first thing in the morning, then scheduling more than two meetings a week before before 9am is not ok. If I’m at my best when I have time to myself to write in my journal, then waking up early, before the rest of my family, is ok. If I’m at my best when I get a full night’s rest, then going out to a late show the night before an all day client engagement is not ok. I could go on, but I’ll spare you!
2. Readjusting Your Expectations
Identifying when you’re at your best is a good catalyst for identifying boundaries. But it doesn’t eliminate the guilt of saying no! We all have our own stories, perspectives and experiences that have led us to feel guilty when we say no. I find that a lot of it stems for having unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Maybe it’s because we think we can be the perfect Mom that does it all – career, family, friends – perfectly. Or possibly, a belief has been instilled in you that doing anything for yourself is inherently selfish, and that’s bad. Whatever the reason, it is important to deconstruct where the source of guilt stems from and acknowledge that these unrealistic expectations are only holding you back.
3. Saying No with Compassion
Lastly, there’s the actual act of drawing a boundary. I’m going to focus on saying no as a method for drawing boundaries. So, when someone from a non-profit calls to ask you to volunteer for something, it’s not just that you say no. You say no with compassion. So saying something like, “I really want to help you with this and in order to do that I need be able to give it my best. Unfortunately, I cannot give you that kind focused attention right now so I’m going to have to say no.”
I have found that people respect and appreciate a compassionate no more than resentful a yes. So, there you have it, ponder these reflection questions to help you draw better boundaries!
When am I at my best?
What boundaries can I experiment with drawing to help me be my best?
What unrealistic expectations have I placed on myself that make it difficult for me to say no?
How can I say “no” and show compassion?
What’s Rosabella Consulting Up To?
Speaking of drawing boundaries, last week I enjoyed a family vacation at the Jersey shore. Getting away and unplugging always rejuvenates and refreshes. And this is the first time I’ve taken a vacation in a few years where I haven’t worked at all!! Instead, I read a novel, built a sand castle town (we named it Sandtopia), basked in the sun and slept-in.