Have you ever caught yourself saying yes to something or someone out of obligation, even though you wanted to say no? Or pushing past your own tiredness or desire to unplug in order to finish one more work task? Hello, it’s me. I have been there, but over the years, I’ve discovered a few helpful ways to set boundaries that actually stick—and that protect my peace.
It hasn’t always been this way, though, and I still stumble sometimes. A while back, one of my amazing friends messaged me about a virtual event she was hosting and invited me to participate in. She caught me when I was with Coco, and I quickly congratulated her and asked for more details. I felt a little put on the spot since usually inquiries like this go through my inbox, but since I wanted to help her out, I said, “Sure, I can do it!”
Over the next few days, she texted a few times to collect info, headshots and set up the timing. Every time a text came in, I was in the middle of something—work, time with my daughter, doctors appointments—and so the last few messages went unanswered.
Finally, she texted me and said, “Hey love, I’m letting you off the hook, I know how busy you are and I want to protect your time.” I let out a sigh of relief because deep down, I knew I should have said “no” upfront, but I wanted to support my friend and in stretching myself, it was taking me away from the other things that are so important to me.
7 intuitive + simple ways to set boundaries
It’s helpful knowing what your hard no’s are upfront and being sure you stick to them whether it’s with work, family, or personal life. Your boundaries dictate what YOU are responsible for, and it’s a brave action to set and stick to them because, as Brene Brown says, ”Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
Though we might disappoint others in setting boundaries, the alternative of not setting them means you could be disappointing, over-stretching, and burning out yourself. To me, it’s no contest. I’d much rather be clear in my desires and commitments than not live a peaceful life.
Here’s how I set boundaries in my own life:
01. Define your limitations.
The steps to build better boundaries begins with knowing and understanding what your own limits are. You must define who you are and what you are responsible for as well as what you are not responsible for.
When you start looking at your own limitations more black and white, you’ll see you aren’t responsible for others’ feelings of disappointment, but you are responsible for protecting your time, joy, and peace. How can you protect them? With solid boundaries!
02. Make your boundaries known.
Overcommunication is a good thing in the realm of boundaries. I like to create templates that allow me to express my boundaries clearly and make it a no-brainer for how to respond if I’m feeling pushed or stretched into something I don’t want or have the bandwidth to do.
These can be text templates for when you’re not working or an email autoresponder or even basic scripts in your notes app for how to respond to family members urging you to do something. The more clearly you can let people know your boundaries, the less pressure you feel to keep up.
03. Resist the urge to over-explain.
No one needs to know the full explanation and every detail about WHY you’re setting a boundary, except for you. You don’t owe anyone an essay explaining your decision, and you can say no to something while still being cordial. Here’s an example of what I say when invitations come my way that I’m not prepared to commit to:
“In this season of my life, it’s super obvious that any ‘yes’ I say is usually equal to a ‘no’ for my family or the work I do that impacts the world, and it’s my mission to live out my values and practice what I preach. So while I decline your invite or offer, know it’s not a reflection of you or your idea; it’s merely an honest look at how I’m trying to prioritize what’s most important to me!”
04. Create your NOT-to-do list.
While our human nature has us creating laundry lists of what we need to do and accomplish every day, we seldom take an inventory of the things we are filling our time with that no longer serve us or that we keep putting off. When is the last time you’ve created a list of the things you will no longer commit to or that you will create boundaries aroud?
We allllll have overflowing to-do lists, but your not-to-do list is just as important. If you need a tangible way to examine your life, pull out your calendar and circle anything that was on your plate that you dread or regret agreeing to. Look at those responsibilities that suck energy or steal joy. What could you either say “no” to, delegate, or work towards stepping away from?
05. Ask for accountability.
Did you know that the simplest way to follow through on a new habit is to ask for accountability! It significantly increases your chances of following through and is a way to also hold yourself to the new boundaries you are creating. The best way to follow through on a goal is to share it out loud with others.
The same goes for boundaries. Share your boundaries with a team member, spouse, partner, friend, or family member. Ask for them to keep you accountable to hold fast to your boundaries, and give the person permission to call you out when you aren’t upholding them. I’ve even gone as far as to post online about a new boundary to make it known and to make it feel real for myself. However you want to invite accountability into your boundary-setting practices, do it!
06. Examine who has an influence in your life.
We’ve all heard that we are the average of the five people we hang out with most in our lives. Who gets the most of your time? What is their influence on you? Do they respect your enforcement of boundaries or do they stretch you by pushing back? It’s so important to guard who you’re letting speak into your life, whether it’s work, personal, or even social media.
Someone once said, “The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none.” Acknowledging who has influence in your world and not allowing negative energy into your space is a way to protect your emotional boundaries. Remember to not accept criticism from someone you wouldn’t ask for advice from.
07. Practice pausing before saying “yes.”
Yes is an easy default. I used to (and still catch myself) quickly saying “yes” whenever I’m put on the spot or in person with someone who has a request. It’s hard to see someone’s disappointment when you don’t jump in and agree to their request, but simply pause, give yourself a breath, and prep responses in advance that will buy you the time you need before committing to something while still preserving your relationships.
Most people don’t want (and shouldn’t expect) an immediate answer from you. There’s nothing wrong with a thoughtful, “Let me think about it!”
Just like anything else that doesn’t feel natural at first, asserting your boundaries does get easier and more comfortable with time. And the people in your life with their own healthy boundaries will always understand your need to set boundaries that matter for your value system and make sense to you.