From Burnout to Balance: The Power of Boundaries

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Boundaries are crucial if you want to maintain your well-being. They delineate the limits between yourself and others and define how you wish to be treated. Boundaries apply to all aspects of your life (relationships, work, or personal space), and can be physical, emotional, or mental. By establishing boundaries, you can preserve your personal integrity and self-respect while fostering healthy relationships. Failing to set boundaries can result in burnout, resentment, and other negative emotions that can undermine your ability to care for yourself. Thus, it’s vital to recognize the importance of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in all areas of your life.

For instance, as a coach, I have established work boundaries to create space for recharging and showing up as the best version of myself for my clients. Initially, I worked on Sundays to accommodate clients with demanding weekday jobs, but this took a toll on my personal life and caused me to miss events with friends. Now, I adjust my schedule by working earlier or later to accommodate clients while ensuring I have full days off without any work-related communication. This allows me to catch up and organize at my own pace without feeling overwhelmed.

Establishing boundaries with family has been challenging for me, as it is for many others. It’s like the Olympics of boundary-setting because patterns have been established for decades. There is a belief that being a good family member means always putting them first, but this is a misconception. Just like in an airplane emergency, you must put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. During a recent visit for my mother’s birthday, I kept my plans a secret, partly as a surprise, but mainly to avoid the pressure of setting expectations. This allowed me to show up as my best self and enjoy the visit without feeling overwhelmed.

Creating boundaries isn’t easy, but it’s necessary for self-care and the ability to show up as your best self for loved ones and colleagues. Boundaries enable me to show up as open, light, fun, and easygoing, rather than guarded and protective. Without boundaries, my less desirable qualities, such as sarcasm, can surface.

A key to setting healthy boundaries is to prioritize your own needs and well-being while also being respectful and considerate of others.

Examples of Healthy Boundaries

· When attending your kid’s soccer game, establish a boundary to fully engage and be present in the moment, rather than getting distracted by work emails. If you do end up working during the game, make a clear boundary that you will not continue working once you get home and for the rest of the evening.

· Set an emotional boundary with your spouse by communicating that you are not willing to listen to repetitive complaints about their parent(s) without any effort to improve the relationship. This will help protect your emotional well-being and prevent resentment from building up.

· It’s important to respect your spouse’s effort to clean the kitchen, even if it’s not up to your standards. Don’t redo the task unless you genuinely want to take charge of the household chores. Instead, consider having a conversation with your spouse about dividing up the tasks more equitably to prevent frustration and resentment.

Boundaries in Leadership

I once had an employee who was a pleaser. This was back when I was a new manager and not as emotionally attuned as I am now. I valued directness and expected the same from others. I assumed (a mistake on my part) that if I delegated a task and the person needed help, they would let me know. How wrong I was!

The issue was, I was also overwhelmed and didn’t model the behavior I expected from my team. I would say one thing but act differently. I struggled with setting boundaries and often agreed to whatever my boss asked of me.

One of my team members was an extreme pleaser. She never said no, struggled to share her feelings of being overwhelmed, and would become paralyzed by inaction when pushed to her limits (a fact I discovered the hard way).

The breaking point came on the morning of a crucial regional conference my team was hosting, with this employee in charge of logistics. She completely fell apart and became non-functional. Thankfully, we managed to get through the day without the attendees noticing anything amiss. However, it was a tough lesson for me to learn.

If I had been less stressed, had set boundaries for myself, and acted as a role model, I might have had the capacity to foresee the impending crisis and take proactive measures.

If she had felt comfortable sharing her feelings, we could have worked on a plan together.

A common misconception is that as a leader, you must be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and you must sacrifice a bit of yourself for the benefit of the team. While this style may be rewarded, it is not sustainable if practiced regularly.

As a leader, setting and role modeling healthy boundaries is critical to maintaining a positive work environment and supporting the well-being of both you and your team members.

Here are some examples:

Time management: Leaders need to establish clear expectations around working hours and time off to help their team maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout. If you are someone that works during vacation and checks (and responds) to email at all hours of the night, you are setting the tone for your team. Even if you don’t expect your team to work in this manner, your actions speak louder than any words. As a leader, you set the work culture. Leaders who don’t set these boundaries are sure to burn out and take their team with them. Instead, set limits around your work and availability to allow time to recharge.

Delegation: Effective delegation is an important boundary-setting skill that leads to building trust. Crucially, it also empowers your team to take ownership of their work by putting the responsibility (and repercussions) on the person, so they can learn. If you step in, there is no learning – you rob them of that and it doesn’t fix the issue in the long term. The old “teach a person to fish” parable.

Saying no: Leaders need to be willing to say no to requests that are not in line with their priorities or values. This can help to avoid over-commitment and maintain focus on important tasks.

Boundaries for Pleasers

For those who identify as pleasers, setting boundaries can be particularly challenging. However, it’s necessary to avoid overcommitting, exhausting yourself, and becoming resentful. This also reduces the emotional burden on your colleagues, who might struggle to gauge your limits and well-being.

Before setting boundaries, consider taking these smaller steps:

• Regularly assess your feelings and needs in low-stakes situations. As a pleaser, you may hide your true feelings or needs to avoid conflict or to please others.

• Practice honest communication by expressing your feelings and desires to a friend. This helps build stronger, more authentic relationships, as you learn that your friends genuinely care about your feelings and needs.

• Prioritize self-care. Pleasers often sacrifice their own needs for others. To be the best version of yourself for those around you, make time for self-care, and strive for a balance between giving and receiving. Schedule self-care time and treat it as sacred.

• Accept feedback and criticism. Pleasers may find it challenging to receive feedback or criticism, often perceiving it as a personal rejection. To address this, ask your manager to check in with you before providing feedback. Ensure you’re in a centered and open mindset before receiving it. After hearing the feedback, thank the person and let them know you’ll process it and respond later. Setting a boundary around feedback can help you create space to process it and view it as an opportunity for growth, rather than a personal attack.

Setting boundaries can be challenging if you’re used to prioritizing others over yourself. Start small, be patient and compassionate with yourself, and seek support when needed (yes, you can ask for help – people are more than willing to offer it!).

How to Say “No” Gracefully

For every yes, you need to say no to something else, and if you’re a pleaser, that no is to yourself. There is no class to teach how to say no gracefully, but Greg McKeown tries to by providing eight ways in his book Essentialism:

1. Use an awkward pause. People hate silence, and if you pause long enough after somebody requests something of you, they’ll eventually fill the void and find a reason to withdraw their request.

2. Use a “no but”. Use this in situations where you don’t want to take on a task now, but would consider it in the future. You can respond by saying “No, but I would love to help you a few

months from now…can we connect on this then?” Most times you won’t hear about this request again.

3. Use the “Let me check my calendar and get back to you” method. This gets you off the hook for responding immediately, and if it’s something that you ultimately don’t want to do, you can simply say that unfortunately, you’re not available.

4. Use an email autoresponder. If you are really courageous, you could set up an email autoresponder that replied to each of your emails letting people know that you aren’t available to respond to emails for a period of time.

5. Use the “Yes, what should I reprioritize” method. This works especially well when receiving requests from superiors. By letting your boss or teammate know that you’ll have to drop something else in order to get their request done, they’ll frequently move on to somebody else who can squeeze the task into their schedule.

6. Use a bit of humor. This one is difficult to pull off well, but it’s a good way to diffuse a potentially uncomfortable situation.

7. Use the “you are welcome to X. I am willing to Y” response. Mckeown gives an example in the book about his friend asking to borrow his car. His response would be “You are welcome to borrow my car and I’m willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” This way, he’s letting his friend know that he is able to take the car if his friend is willing to pick it up. And it’s clear that he’s certainly not willing to take his friend himself.

8. Suggest somebody else do it. It’s much easier to say “I can’t do it, but X might be interested” than it is to reject their request outright. You are able to come off as being helpful, without having to do the task for yourself.

Remember, none of these responses are you shirking your responsibilities; they’re simply ways to create boundaries so you don’t burn out.

Don’t Forget Yourself

A common boundary broken is the one to ourselves. But if you can’t keep a commitment to yourself, how do you expect others to believe you will keep it to them?

Here are some common commitments we break to ourselves:

· Promising to exercise regularly, but consistently making excuses to skip workouts.

· Deciding to limit screen time before bed, but regularly staying up late scrolling through social media.

· Committing to a healthy diet but giving in to cravings or unhealthy take-out food frequently.

· Setting a goal to prioritize self-care, but consistently putting others’ needs ahead of your own.

· Planning to take breaks throughout the workday to avoid burnout but allowing work to consume all your time and energy.

It’s important to recognize when we’re not keeping agreements with ourselves, as this can lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, and disappointment. By identifying these patterns and taking steps to make changes, we can work towards creating healthier habits and meeting our goals.

In conclusion, setting and maintaining boundaries is essential for personal well-being and fostering healthy relationships. By prioritizing one’s own needs and being considerate of others, individuals can achieve balance, prevent burnout, and cultivate a positive environment in various aspects of their lives.