I’m going to start this month with a confession. I’ve struggled with boundaries.
Boundaries didn’t really align with how I saw myself – the businesswoman who never missed an opportunity, the mom and wife who handled it all, the friend who never said no.
But here’s the problem: that “I’ll handle it, all of it” mentality wasn’t actually aligned with my goals for myself and my business.
So I had to learn to say “no.” Or, in many cases, “not now.”
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
– Newton’s Third Law of Motion
Every time you’re saying yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. You might have learned about equal and opposite reactions in high school physics, but you can view just about any part of your life through this lens.
If you don’t believe me, take it from Oprah. She talks about why she believes the law affects everything we do physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
When you get honest about what you want to say yes to and what you need to say no to you’ll be able to start defining your boundaries.
That’s huge! Why?
Because boundaries are foundational. We cannot have the business or life or relationships we want without boundaries. You have to have boundaries to make an impact.
“You are not required to set yourself on fire
to keep other people warm.”
I struggled in my catering business for years because I was hesitant to say any task, deadline, or request was out of bounds.
And the biggest issue was that I wouldn’t set boundaries with myself.
In the beginning I took every job, even though my passion was in creating gorgeous hors d’oeuvres. I turned around proposals in record time, afraid to lose a potential client.
I was coming from a place of fear, necessity, and scarcity.
I assumed a good business owner replies immediately. I feared if I niched down too far I wouldn’t have enough business.
Oh, how mistaken I was.
It turned out, as long as I replied promptly to potential clients and told them when I would have an answer or proposal for them, they were more than happy to wait. (Okay, sure, some weren’t – and if there was true urgency I knew from experience I could rise to the challenge. If it was false urgency? Not my ideal client, and better for us both to find a better fit.)
And when I chose to listen to my passion and focus the business on making the most delectable bite-sized creations I could dream up?
My catering business grew ten-fold.
Take that, self-doubt.
Boundaries are about what you will do and what you won’t do, not about what other people will do and won’t.
– Yours Truly
My philosophy has always been based in accounting for your personal and professional priorities.
Boundaries are what hold the two together so we actually can incorporate and focus on both. Boundaries are the bridge between these two crucial aspects of our lives and they are what allows us to prioritize our goals, vision, and actions.
Boundaries are how we make space for each one rather than becoming overwhelmed – which is when we wind up neglecting one side.
So, how do you set effective boundaries? I thought you’d never ask.
1. Pause (of course)
There is always so much wisdom waiting in the pause.
What we say yes to and no to is creating our future. Boundaries help hold the yes’s and no’s
This pause is your chance to get clear on WHY you have the boundary. When we know why we’re saying yes or no to an opportunity (or distraction) it’s much easier to hold that boundary and not waver.stop second guessing ourselves.
2. Give the Gift of Transparency – Set Expectations
Next it’s time to set new ground rules with those around you.
You’re changing how you’re going to operate. Giving your team, colleagues, or family and friends clarity on what you’re changing gives them a chance to meet you there.
You can let the people in your life and business know, “I know I’ve always done X, but I’m realizing it’s no longer working for me. Here is what I’m willing to do,” and discuss what that looks like going forward.
But if you’ve always danced a certain dance with them and then hop off the dance floor without an explanation? That’s inviting confusion, and ultimately more conflict.
3. Don’t Over-Explain
We often feel guilty when we say no. And establishing a boundary often sounds like a no.
We feel we need to justify our choice, reasoning, and how we ruled out every option we decided not to go with.
But don’t do that.
Because one thing is sure, people don’t like change. I won’t be surprised if the person on the other end of your new boundary would rather you keep on trucking the way you have been. They might want to pressure you to stick with the status quo, or even argue with you about your decision.
The less you say, the less they have to argue about.
It is your responsibility to state your boundaries in a clear, effective, direct, and respectful manner. It is NOT your responsibility to manage how the other person reacts.
Explaining every detail only makes it easier to be ‘thrown’ off balance by their reaction … then we wind up changing our minds in the moment.
4. The Toddler Effect
This one’s not pretty or pleasant, but it’s easier to be prepared for it.
That person who didn’t love your boundary and wanted to argue about it in step 3? They might not take your clarity as their final answer. They liked the original dance you were dancing, and they’d like to draw you back on the floor.
If this is the case, they will more than likely ‘push’ you. Sometimes lightly, sometimes with a bit of a strong-arm approach, they will try to move you back to how you’ve always ‘shown up’ in the relationship.
It’s a lot like a toddler testing a parent. When a young child wants something – say, a candy bar in the grocery store – first they ask. After a no, maybe they start whining. After another no, maybe you’ve got a tantrum on your hands. And if you still hold out? Well, now it’s time for that ear-piercing shriek that has always worked before.
But you have clarity about your goals, because you used the pause to consider what you want. You know why you’re saying yes or no to this dance. And you’re prepared for the proverbial (or maybe literal…) tantrum.
So even though this person in your life is testing your boundary, you’re able to provide the stability of a clear and unwavering response. And like a toddler, they will eventually grow out of this tantrum phase.
When you’re being tested, I invite you to try this approach:
5. Say, “Can you get back to me on that?”
Yup. Put the ball back in their court. They’re asking you for something. Make them make it easier on you.
If someone wants your advice or insight but isn’t willing to send a bullet list of what they want to talk about, don’t book the call.
When you put the onus back on them it gives you the space to step back so you’re not asking yourself, “why did I say yes to that?”
You’re building in a chance to pause here. And by pausing you can take the time to make sure this request connects to your goals and priorities.
Be intentional in what you are saying yes to and no to… and remember each is creating your future.
And because I know it will eventually come up: If they push you for an answer quickly, then say, “If you need an answer right now, it will need to be no.”
You are entitled to your pause, your priorities, and your boundaries!