Baby steps to make saying no easier and understand the impact.
In the wake of Jacinda Ardern stepping down in New Zealand because she “has nothing in the tank” and countless clients bringing up the goal of setting more boundaries in the New Year, let’s talk about personal boundaries. While I would love to say that the best way to do it is just to set a hard and fast rule that you are going to stop working after a certain time each day, the reality is that it’s not always that simple. If you are anything like me, anytime you even think about saying no personally or professionally, there are a million other thoughts swimming around in your head from “Am I letting that person down?”, “Am I letting my team down?,” or “Will that impact consideration for my next promotion/next contract?” It takes time and practice to reduce the guilt and let go of the stories that keep us tied to our desks long after we truly want to be there.
So, let’s talk about some smalls steps you can take on the road to setting boundaries:
Create a “baby.”
- Say No FOR something. I do not recommend kids as a way to set boundaries but I do recommend a commitment. I’m always struck by how many parents somehow find a way to set boundaries and maintain them at work when forced to keep a tiny human alive (myself included). It’s easier to start setting boundaries by creating a commitment you can say no FOR THE SAKE OF rather than just saying no.
- Start with ONE commitment. Decide what your “baby” is going to be for the next few weeks. Is it creating some kind of artwork, getting better at running, reading more, or meeting your friends for bowling league once a week? Choose something you really WANT to do as opposed to what you SHOULD do. As you build up your muscles, you can start to expand your boundary setting but the first boundaries are more likely to stick if you center your goals around something that you are truly looking forward to.
- Decide what you need to say NO to. What do you need to do keep that “baby” alive? What time do you need to commit? When will you do it? And, most importantly, what do you need to say NO to to make it happen? Be specific. Remember that the point is not to squeeze more into your already full calendar, it’s to clear space for this new “baby” by reducing working hours or saying no to personal obligations.
- Make it real. Have a little fun with it and give your “baby” a name and/or even put a picture up at your desk or on you phone that reminds you of your baby. I have a commitment to “Barry” (aka my art project) may give your first goal a little more weight and make it feel more “real.”
Find an accountability partner.
- Retrain your brain with support. This is a great way to start setting boundaries and tap into that want to not let people down. Find someone who will check-in with you on how often you say no and/or nourish your “baby.” It could be as easy as agreeing to text them when you leave work on time or make it a celebration and toast each other for all of the things you said “no” to once a week. Celebrating saying no or setting a boundary can help re-train your brain on it’s default response to the word “no” and make setting boundaries easier over time.
Understand what saying no means for you.
- Measure & reflect. I often invite my clients to keep a journal and/or do a daily check-in. What’s different for you on the days you were able to say no and focus on your “baby’ – or over time? Often times, the swirl and stress of work and our very full lives makes it easy to forget the impact of yesterday (or even the last few minutes). It can be as simple as writing a word at the top of your work calendar each day that describes how you feel or something you are celebrating. If you are more visual, create a picture journal and add an image that represents your thoughts each day. Do what resonates for you and keep it simple. Then, just reflect on it over time and see what you notice.
Setting boundaries is tricky for many of us. We are often raised to respect authority, to strive for more, to not let people down – and all of these learned values that we live by can be extremely helpful but can also hurt us when we don’t take the time to consciously choose where we want to use them. Remember when you learn to say no, not only do you help yourself recharge, you help your organization and/or team 1) create clear priorities, 2) be efficient, and 3) plan for the future resources they need by drawing attention to what they can and cannot get done with the resources they have today.
As always, if you need help setting boundaries as an individual or organization, do not hesitate to contact Livthentic for an exploratory discussion or schedule directly on calendly. I see your spark and want to help you grow it into a flame. You can also join our mailing list to stay in touch or follow us on Linkedin, Facebook, or Instagram.