You agree to do “one more favor” for your mom, even though your schedule is already at bursting point.
You tell your boss, “of course I can take lead on that project,” even though you’re already taking work home every evening just to keep up.
And the next event at your kid’s school? Sure you’ll bring some homemade brownies, even though you’ve more than pulled your weight this semester.
Sound familiar? If so, it’s definitely time to take a look at your boundaries (Because it doesn’t sound like you have any!)
It’s all coming from a good place: you would hate to let your mom down, you’re ambitious and you want to prove to your boss that you have what it takes, and you want to be the type of parent that brings homemade cakes to school events.
Your boundaries have become fuzzy around the edges because you’re a great person; you’re kind, you’re ambitious and you want to help out. Those are all great qualities to have.
But here’s the thing — you can still be ALL of those things while creating and preserving healthy boundaries.
Because make no mistake, those fuzzy-edged boundaries and are not healthy. You already know this because in saying “yes” all the time, you’re running yourself ragged — you’re stressed, exhausted, and you’re beginning to resent the very people you’re trying to please.
In your desire to be kind, you’re forgetting to be kind to the person most in need of a hefty dose of kindness: yourself.
The season of boundaries.
The good news is that fall is the perfect time to start creating — and protecting — clear boundaries. It’s the season of metal and in Chinese medicine that relates to clear communication, setting limits, and reconnecting with your self-worth.
Now don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you that you have to start saying “no” to everyone, refuse all favor requests, and never bake another PTA brownie again. But what you do have to do is learn how to set healthy limits for yourself and how to communicate them to others.
Consider your own needs.
The first thing to do is to consider how much time you really need for yourself. We do create a certain amount of energy by helping others — it can give us a real boost, mentally and physically. But you need to establish just how many people you can help in any given week before it starts to deplete your energy stores. Remember that your energy is a finite resource and schedule enough time each day/week to devote to activities that leave you feeling relaxed and replenished.
Anything that takes you beyond that needs to become a non-negotiable boundary.
Get clear on communication.
If you’re the go-to guy or gal for favors, you may find that people have started to assume rather than ask. Use that fall energy to get clear in your communication. If you really don’t have the time or the energy to help someone out, don’t be vague about it. A “maybe”, or a “well, I might be able to if…” isn’t going to cut it; you need to get comfortable with saying “no”.
But if a straight up “no” seems a bit scary right now, you can practice softening it until you get more comfortable. For example:
“Thanks for thinking of me. I would have loved to take on that project, but I’m swamped with x right now and I’d hate to have to compromise on quality there. But I know that Kathy was looking for more responsibility — she’d be great for this.” (Assuming Kathy actually is keen to take on the task!)
“Thank you for including me, Janet, I don’t have time to make brownies this time but check in with me again for the spring event and if work is quieter I might be able to do it then.” (Provided that you only agree to the next request IF you have the time and energy to do it!)
Thank you for thinking of me. And, right now is not a good time.
“Thank you. That doesn’t work for me right now.”
Reconsider your standards.
Remember that you can still be an excellent daughter/son/employee/parent without saying “yes” to every favor request. In fact, by protecting your boundaries, and by extension your physical, mental, and emotional health, you’ll find that you have the capacity to perform better in all areas of your life.
It’s also worth remembering that not everything requires 100% effort or an all or nothing approach. Instead of taking the lead on the work project, you might be able to contribute in a smaller way, or you could agree to bring store-bought brownies to the school event. But only go down that route if you’re sure that it doesn’t take you beyond your healthy limits.
Of course, it’s natural to want to say “yes” and to help whenever you can, but I promise you that it’s worth setting healthy boundaries for yourself. Recognizing your own needs, desires, and feelings is a powerful act of self-love and self-respect; cultivating this has a hugely positive impact on your mental, physical, and emotional health. When you’re able to set — and preserve — clear boundaries, you’ll find that you’re able to be more nurturing, more able to help, and even more productive at work.
In fact, the more you say “no”, the more you’ll be able to supercharge the times you do say “yes”.