Set Good Boundaries…Seriously!

In my younger days, I found myself running ragged all the time. People would ask me to do something and I would always say yes. YES, to everything. Things I wanted to do, things I didn’t want to do, things I knew how to do, things I didn’t have a clue how to accomplish. You know what happens when you say yes to things you know nothing about… you learn something new! But I didn’t really have time to learn something new, because I was too busy trying to get the last thing done that I had inconveniently said yes to!

A good friend once said to me, “You need to create some stronger boundaries in your life.” I hated that advice. Probably because she was right but more because it sounded so stiff. It sounded rigid. It sounded like no fun, no spontaneity, no wiggle room in my day. The truth is, it was none of those things. When I understood the real meaning of “good boundaries” and I applied it to my life, it set me FREE. I was free to say no, and I was free to focus on what I needed to get done. I was free to do the things I wanted to do.

Boundaries create a safe space. Think about a fence around some cows. Now, I’m not calling you a cow, this is just an analogy. What does that fence do? It keeps the cows in their safe space, and it keeps dangerous things out. OK, I’m not sure if that’s the best analogy, but I love cows so we are going to go with it. A fence… a fence keeps the right things in and the wrong things out. There we go!

Boundaries do the same thing in your life. Once you know how you need to spend your time and on what, you can start (politely) saying no to the things that don’t fit within those necessary and safe places!

Here’s an example. I love to go out for coffee, but the truth is, to meet a girlfriend for coffee takes a good amount of effort. An hour long coffee obligation actually takes up about 4.5 hours of my day. Thirty minutes to get ready (let’s be honest, an hour unless it’s a messy bun), 30 minutes to get out the door and drive there. An hour or so together enjoying coffee, the long goodbye in the parking lot. Drive back home, do one errand on the way and now I’m back to my office in time to have my kids ask for lunch! I rarely have that kinda time to give away, so I rarely accept a coffee date. Now, if you want to do a phone call, I’m all about it. I can accomplish all kinds of things carrying my coffee around my house and chatting with you! Do I ever accept a coffee date? Of course I do, but I can’t do it weekly, my time is not budgeted that way. Yours might be and both are right!

Here’s the deal…you have to decide what’s important to you. You have to decide where should you be spending your time and with whom. Then, anything outside of that needs to be fully considered, and if it doesn’t align with what you say is important to you, then it needs to be a no!

Grab a piece of paper, draw a box (that is your fence). Here’s what goes inside: kids’ activities, writing your blog, helping with homework, watching tennis lessons, cooking dinner (this must be my husband’s fence), working out, doing your devotions, working towards a promotion at work. Whatever it is that you feel is important to you.

Now let me ask you to do something.

Can you serve as the PTO President?
YES, helping with the kids school fits inside my fence.
NO, I’m not gifted in that area, how might I support it without taking the full responsibility?

Can you make cookies for the bake sale?
YES, I love helping with book fairs.
NO, that is tennis tournament week and I am committed to being at that event. I won’t have time to do it all.

Can you go to the Springfield Extravaganza this weekend?
YES, the answer is always YES. You cancel other plans for this. Next question.

Can you work Saturdays for me so I can go to my son’s soccer?
YES, I need more hours at work if I want my boss to give me the promotion.
NO, Saturdays are hectic for my family, I can’t give that time away.

Here’s the thing…it’s hard to say no. All those things sound great and worthwhile causes, but if you are saying YES to everything, nothing is getting the BEST of you and chances are, your family is getting the worst of you.

Here’s how I learned to say no to things that didn’t align with my priorities, the things inside my fence that I needed to guard. If I couldn’t do what someone was asking me to do, I looked for an alternative to how I might help. I learned a technique called “AFFIRM, BUT, SO.”

Affirm the person or request, but this is why you can’t do it. So, this is what I can offer instead.

Thanks for asking me to serve as the PTO President, I’m flattered to be thought of, but with my current obligations and quite honestly my skillset, I don’t feel like I could do the position justice. So, if there are other areas where I could support the proper candidate, please keep me in mind for those.

Here’s another one:
Thank you for inviting me to coffee. I would love an opportunity to chat with you, but right now, I have committed my mornings to family time and working on my (fill in the blank), so if you would be available to make a coffee at home and jump on a call for a half hour, I’d love to catch up.

Here’s another one:
Thank you for inviting us to the gala. I love this organization but unfortunately, we are committed to Friday evenings with our family. If you give me an address, I’d love to make a donation to support the cause.

Now, here’s what you need to know: this isn’t going to be received perfectly every time. But, if the other person doesn’t respect your boundaries and see that you are offering a solution that meets in the middle, that says something about them.

Also, sometimes the answer is simply NO. Thanks for asking but, “No, I’m not able to help with that.” It’s OK to not say YES to everything. It’s hard to change this habit, but it helps if you write out those priorities and use that as the filter. Does it align with what is inside your fence? Then you can say YES. If it doesn’t, you have permission to say NO!

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