The topic of boundaries comes up in one form or another with pretty much every single one of my coaching clients whether it’s in reference to juggling work/personal responsibilities, dealing with a challenging person in their life, or finding more time for self-care. Because this is such an important topic, I devoted an entire Facebook Live 20-minute session on it which you can find here. If you prefer to read the highlight reel, here are some of the key points I shared.
My definition of boundaries is “the concrete manifestation of an intention.” Here’s an example of what I mean in normal speak. My husband and I recently discussed our intention around signing our kids up for extracurricular activities. We decided that we didn’t want to feel rushed on the weekends and stressed about a jampacked schedule so the boundary that we agreed upon was signing each of the kids up for one activity each. We could have adopted an alternative intention, such as exposing the kids to a variety of activities, keeping them physically active and off screens, or meeting new friends, which would have lead to us to draw a different boundary. There are no inherently good or bad boundaries, and boundaries are neither right nor wrong. The key is to align the action with the intention.
In my experience, issues arise when 1) people don’t consciously set an intention and/or 2) there’s a misalignment between intention and action. One of my coaching clients shared a recent situation in which she was trying to schedule a meeting with a number of colleagues. She communicated the times that she was available and then blocks when she would be unavailable. For whatever reason, the meeting was scheduled at a time she had stated she would not be available. She was annoyed and resentful, but she agreed to take the call from her car. Her intention was to be a good team player, which in her mind meant being accessible and available whenever it was most convenient for others. However, as we were talking through the situation, she realized that being a good team player, in this case, would have been to say no and request a time change because she would not be able to be fully present for the meeting while she was driving in her car. Not only would she not be able to contribute in the way that she wanted, but she was annoyed and resentful on top of it which certainly didn’t help in her quest of being a good team member.
To help combat this disconnect, I encourage folks to think about their “to-feel” list instead of their “to-do” list. I had this epiphany a few months back when I had committed to exercising a few times per week doing an online workout video in my basement. I prefer to exercise first thing in the morning to help start my day feeling more energized so I started making that a priority. However, my kids didn’t get the memo and were knocking on the door, jumping on me, and (literally) fighting for my attention. I stopped ten minutes in because I realized that I was crossing something off of the to-do list, but not achieving what I wanted to on the to-feel list. I decided to shift my exercise time to later in the day after taking the kids to school, which allowed me to actually feel energized.
After you figure out what your intention is (hint: it’s usually the top one or two items on your to-feel list), use it as a North Star to guide your decision-making. Situations will start to become more clear once filtered through this lens, and allow you to move past the noise to focus on what’s most important to you. This works for organizations and teams just as well as it works for individuals. For example, a coaching client shared that lately her team had been feeling untethered, overwhelmed, and unfocused, and she was not sure how to reign things in to get them back on track. As we were talking through the situation, she mentioned that the organization had been focused on being flexible, nimble, loose, and adaptable at the start of COVID, which had been driving their decision-making and organizational culture. However, now eighteen months in, she realized that wasn’t working for them anymore. She decided her new intention was going to be focused on being impactful, intentional, and strategic. These new intentions provided the framework and mindset that would then serve as a filter for her, individually and collectively, about what projects they would take on and prioritize, how to re-configure their staffing, and how to devote resources accordingly.
I recognize that for many, setting and keeping boundaries feels hard because it means saying no to something and that something might be really important to you. However, saying no to one thing also means that you are saying yes to something else. I have seen this in my own practice as I am in the fortunate situation of being able to set my own hours and calendar. When I first launched my business, I wanted to be as accessible as possible so that I could be more inviting to prospective clients, including offering evening and weekend hours. I quickly noticed that I didn’t feel what I wanted to feel so I re-evaluated. Rather than “accessible,” my intention evolved and landed on “spaciousness” because I knew that guiding principle would allow me to be a better coach. That meant that my boundary also evolved and instead of setting up my Calendly to reflect options throughout the day, I set it up so that I don’t have back-to-back appointments, which gives me time between sessions to decompress and I don’t get stressed if we go a few minutes over the hour. I only designate slots for 3 coaching clients each day because I know that more than that would deplete my energy and I wouldn’t show up fully present as the best version of myself. I decided that saying no to the number and spacing of appointments in exchange for the quality of the interactions was worth it to me and, therefore, better for my clients, as well.
There are usually signs that show up when a boundary has been crossed or there is a misalignment between the intention and the action. You may experience it as resentment, frustration, exhaustion, overwhelm, or anger. You may notice that you have a short fuse or feel easily irritated. That is your body’s way of telling you that you need to reassess the situation and either shift your intention, your boundary, or both.
As you think about your intentions and how to re-align your actions, sometimes it feels impossible or that things are beyond the scope of your control. However, someone recently shared with me an acronym for BUSY: But You Said Yes. Oof! That one stings, but it's a good reminder that we always have choices even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
Good luck! Let me know what is helpful and what is working for you. I am happy to set up a consultation to determine if one-on-one coaching could support you as your build better boundaries.
If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.