You likely have many words to describe your 2020 experience — some of which probably involve a few words of profanity. One we can probably all agree on is ‘flexibility,’ as a global pandemic forced us all to adjust our expectations, our daily routines and our plans for the year. In many ways, this meant saying ‘yes’: to more work, to teaching our children, to consistently cleaning the house, and so on. If you felt overextended and overwhelmed, you may think of 2021 as a year of scaling back your agreeability. What this really means is learning how to set effective — and appropriate — boundaries that maintain your happiness (and sanity).
As psychologist and author Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., explains, without good boundaries, you will find yourself giving away more and more of your time and energy in ways that steal your health, joy, and creativity, as well as productivity. “With increasing demands, now is the time to set good or better boundaries,” she urges.
Here’s how and why you should exercise saying ‘no’ this year:
Remind yourself of your why.
Check-in with yourself at the end of every day: do you feel exhausted? Is your energy depleted — and your creativity burnt out? Do you feel as if you have nothing more to give? If so, Kubacky says to spend some time figuring out ‘why’ you are experiencing these emotions. Perhaps it’s an over-demanding boss, an unsupportive partner or a circle of friends who take more than they give. By understanding the source of these emotions, you can pinpoint your reasoning for setting boundaries, making it easier for you to stick to your guns. “Remind yourself of what you gain by setting boundaries. Boundaries are for you, not against the other person. They are for your good health and the health of the relationship,” she adds.
Set personal goals, as you would professionally.
Your employer likely asks you to set goals on what you intend to achieve every quarter and year. This serves as a benchmark for review season and provides tracking toward promotions and salary increases. However, very few people do the same practice for their personal life and aspirations. This is a missed opportunity, since Kubacky says, since knowing what we’re chasing makes it easier to say ‘no’ when something interrupts your diligence. “This will allow you to maintain a consistent focus on what you value, rather than on what others want you to prioritize, and you will continue to make progress in your emotional life,” she explains.
Teach people how you want to be treated.
Motivational author and photographer Peter Alessandria views boundaries as rules or guidelines between people. Their primary purpose, he explains, is to help us feel safe and/or respected in our relationships. This is a significant investment to make, since saying ‘no’ should be part of your routine personally and professionally. However, you can’t expect others in your life to know your limits if you don’t communicate with them, live by them and correct people when they push them. “A big thing most people overlook is that we teach other people how it’s OK to treat us,” he continues. “If we accept the unacceptable in a relationship, that sends a message to the other person that what they’re doing is OK. Thus, it’s up to us to nip any offending behavior by another person in the bud.”
Keep the group texts going.
Because boundaries are not only difficult to set but to maintain, having a cheering section — aka, friends who hype you up — can help you remain consistent. That’s why it’s crucial to stay in frequent contact with people who bring you joy and remind you of your strengths, according to Umbreen Bhatti, the director of the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College. As she explains, our close pals can serve as an anchor and compass, reminding us of the commitments we’ve made to ourselves and why it’s vital to keep them.
Disconnect from your phone.
One of the reasons the pandemic has been overly stressful for many is the new accessibility our managers have in our homes. In other words: if your boss knows you’re home and you’re not checking your email, then they may become frustrated at your late reply. This, however, is an unreasonable expectation since everyone needs to disconnect from work and tune in to self-care or family time. To combat this, Kubacky recommends having clear communication about when you will be online and active and when you will be entirely away. Perhaps it could be a ‘no checking email’ rule after 7 p.m., or a later start to the day so you have time in the morning for intention setting. “You need to have time for restoration, personal connections, health practices, and to think about things other than work in order to perform most effectively Monday through Friday,” she urges.
Allow your boundaries to change if they need to.
What you needed six months ago likely isn’t what you need now. And that’s not only okay but normal. As Bhatti explains, boundaries can and do change all the time. And if you are still warming up to saying ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean that you’re bad at setting boundaries. Instead, it means you’re working toward it, and you’ll make strides as you continue. As you go about setting these work and life separations, allow them to be fluid and flexible so that they can grow with you and your lifestyle.