Setting Boundaries that Work in 3 Steps

Jan 29, 2018

Have you ever approached a new year afraid that it is going to be the same as the year you just had? That nothing will change? Does the thought of another year like the last fill you with dread, irritation or sadness? Are your boundaries working for you?

Well, that’s exactly how I felt at the end of this year.

The last year has left me feeling a bit BLAH and not very positive. Yet, it’s unfair to say that the whole year sucked, because that would be untrue. There was so much good stuff too.

Yet, as the year unfolded I got lost in the events that caused me deep grief and constant uncertainty, and by the end of the year was left completely exhausted.

Given the circumstances that I experienced, (the passing of my Father), it was understandable that I felt saddened with grief.  I know that I can be forgiven for not being my most positive self. And at the same time, I knew that I couldn’t let it overwhelm me as it had been as I moved into the new year.

I acknowledge it was a tough year.  But, I didn’t want to go into the new year feeling like this. I was determined that something had to change. But I struggled to know what or how.

Have you ever felt like that? You want things to be different, but you struggle to know what or how?  It’s important that you look after yourself to be an impactful leader in your organisation, you are not immune to the struggles and challenges that life presents. Take time to periodically reflect, and recalibrate when you need it.

Over the break I was reading the book “BRAVE” by Margie Warrell. It appealed to me because I know I need to be braver in the coming year. To step up.

It’s a good book, and there were many quotes that appealed to me, but there was one single line that jumped out and stuck to me – like it was SHOUTING at me.

So, the question begged…. “If I don’t want the same as last year…what is it that I am tolerating? And how am I teaching people to treat me?” and not just for me, but for my organisation also.

Immediately the power and responsibility shifted…It shifted back to me.  There it is.  I had forgotten that I am in control of me. That I could take it back.  I have the power to set, and if need be, change the boundaries.

Time to get to work. To take action, so I took pen to paper and got honest with myself in three steps.

  1. Take Responsibility
  2. Define Success
  3. Set Boundaries

Take Responsibility

It is completely empowering when you take responsibility for that which you are responsible for.

Ultimately, you are responsible for yourself.  How you choose to show up and step up.  You are equally responsible for how you share the responsibilities that are not yours alone with the right people.

As the leader in your NFP or social enterprise, the ripple effect on your people, organisation and those you serve is massive. By taking responsibility for your own boundaries you are honouring all those around you at the same time.

That old adage “you get what you allow” is certainly true.

If you want things to be different for you, or your organisation, then show up differently.

So what are you are tolerating right now or last year? Really identify it:

  • The situation you are in
  • The things that you don’t like about the situation you are in
  • The feelings you don’t want to have any more.
  • The things that happened that you did not like

Knowing that you are in control of yourself, what role did you have in the things you were tolerating? How were you showing up? Did you:

  • take on other peoples opinions?
  • Do things that didn’t sit right with you?
  • Go along with whatever was happening?
  • Take on jobs and responsibilities that weren’t yours or yours alone?
  • Give away your responsibilities to others?
  • Give away your power?
  • Compare yourself to others?
  • Did you let yourself get paralysed into inaction?
  • Or try to do it all yourself?

Moving through this process you’ll become aware of the back stories running through your head shouting all the reasons why you did what you did.

The stories you have been telling yourself about whatever it is that is going on start to become clear, and based on that story you have created boundaries that allowed it to be so. It could be that you had no boundaries – which in itself is a chosen boundary.

Define Success

 Once you know what you don’t want, and you know your role in it, you can start to paint the picture of what you do want.

A great way to do this is to define what “success” means to you. It can be success at work, in your job, in your home, relationships. Anything.  What does being successful look like to you? How are you showing up when you are successful?

If you find it hard to define success it may help to define what “failure” means to you. What would “failing” look like to you? Generally from that you can flip that definition into the opposite of that to come up with what success would look like for you.

When I had my definition of what success was for myself personally, and for my organisation as we transitioned through change, it felt almost impossible to fail. How could I, or we, fail if we are embodying all that is our definition of success?

Set Boundaries

Time to set clear and attainable boundaries. The kind of boundaries that become your default ‘go to’ in any situation as you move towards your definition of success.

This can’t be a long list of prescriptive inflexible rules. That won’t work.

Instead try the  “okay/not okay list”. A list that is:

  • Broad enough to be flexible
  • Specific enough to be clear
  • Align with your core values
  • Apply to a range of situations
  • Supports positive self-belief and self-worth
  • Moves you towards your definition of success
  • Helps you progress towards your goals

Here are  some examples to give you a starting point:

Its okay……

  • To speak my truth with kindness and respect the truth of others
  • To value my contribution to the world and those I serve
  • To receive value in return for giving value
  • To spend my time doing those things that align to my passions, values and talents
  • To respect my time and others time
  • To learn and grow from my experiences and feedback
  • To look after myself – mind, body and spirit
  • To ask for help, and help others when appropriate

It’s not okay……

  • To be taken advantage of
  • To not be paid for work completed and agreed
  • To accept behaviour that is not in my highest good such as bullying, disrespect, dishonesty, manipulation
  • To prioritise work over family
  • To say ‘yes’ to the things I really want to say ‘no’ to that won’t move me towards my definition of success.
  • To take on responsibility of everything
  • To put myself last
  • To not value and honour my time

These may or may not resonate with you, they are just examples that may help you get started. You create your own okay/not okay list.

An Okay / Not Okay list has given me a framework of what I will accept in how I treat myself, and how I will allow others to treat me. It holds me accountable to what is important to me. It is also beneficial to write an Okay/Not Okay list for your organisation that aligns to its purpose, values and mission, and how you want to show up and stand up for your beliefs in the community you serve.

Here’s what I have found since going through this process:

  • Boundaries are healthy. They benefit both you and those around you.

  • Having a personal clear definition of success is like having a compass and feeling like you can’t get lost.

  • Knowing what’s okay and not okay holds you accountable to yourself.

  • There is great personal power in taking responsibility for what you have created and what you have allowed.

  • This works just as well for my organisation as it does for me personally.

I have put together a three-step workbook that can be downloaded to assist you in identifying your “go to” boundaries. You can get it by clicking the download button below.

Setting Boundaries That Work – Workbook

Walkthrough this workbook to identify a clear set of personal and / or organisational boundaries aligned to your values, purpose and mission that you can implement with confidence.


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