As any parent will tell you, a key part of raising a happy and healthy child is your ability for setting limits.
And as it turns out, as adults we need the same setting limits skills – just for ourselves. Setting limits and boundaries for yourself and others, and having the confidence to stick with them, is absolutely critical to self-empowerment, your self-confidence, and your self-esteem.
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Read on to learn how best to set limits and boundaries in our increasingly limitless world.
Why setting limits is so important
First off, why should you go through the effort of setting limits and boundaries for yourself and others?
We’re under all sorts of different pressures in our modern world. And with an ‘always on’ business model the norm for freelancers, corporate executives, and shop owners via e-commerce, it’s hard to separate our lives into positive categories.
The result of all this is that it’s extremely difficult for us to stop stressors from one from spilling over into the other.
Now, let’s be clear: we’re not talking about being a totally different person depending on where you are. The cognitive energy needed for that sort of ruse is astronomical, and you’d be burned out after just one day.
Rather, it’s easy to end up in a situation where the stressors from one naturally end up spoiling other categories.
For example, imagine that you have a stressful job. Every day is challenging as you juggle tight timelines and high-quality demands. Without correctly setting limits for yourself and others, you end up taking that stress and compression home with you.
It means that you’re shorter and more stressed with your spouse, it’s harder to be present with your kids, and you struggle to fully relax.
This is the circumstance that literally thousands of people are in every single day.
No longer can you simply walk away from the factory floor, punch out and leave the stressors of work behind. Now, it’s normal to blur work and play – and the erosion of that natural boundary means that stress becomes the norm, rather than the exception.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do. Here’s how you can set and maintain boundaries to keep your work and play mentally separate, allowing you to enjoy both.
Set your limits
The first thing you need to do to establish and maintain your new boundaries is to actually set your limits. This isn’t an abstract thing that we’re talking about either. It’s not a mental task like ‘make sure not to over-invest in others.’
It’s a very real thing.
For example, you might find yourself blending work and life and struggling to maintain that balance. An easy way to help with this is by setting limits:
- Tell your manager that you need to leave on time
- Structure your own time to stat winding down at 4:30 instead of working right to 5 PM
- Build in a buffer – either a drive home or a short walk around the block when you get there.
By establishing physical boundaries (a distance before you see your family) and time boundaries (working to wind down a little) as well as taking agency over your own schedule by teaching others how you want to be treated will all work to help you maintain the mental boundaries.
Tell other people your boundaries
Of course, if you’re embarking on a mission of self-improvement by setting limits that impact those around you, you need to make them aware that that’s what you’re doing.
In the example above, this might be you telling your boss that you want to get out of the office on time. But it can be other things as well. For example, you might tell your spouse that you want to take more time for yourself or tell a particularly emotionally demanding friend that you simply don’t’ have time this week.
If you don’t tell others about your boundaries and objectives, you can’t expect them to respect them (after all, they might not know where they are, or even that they exist at all).
Track your mental indicators
Now that you’ve set your boundaries, built them into your life, and told others about them, you need to track how your setting limits project is going.
And to do this, you need to establish your mental indicators.
These are basically emotional and mental warning lights that you can use to link emotion and behavior as well and attribute a particular problem you’re having to a specific boundary that’s been crossed.
Generally, these will be behaviors that you notice yourself doing because it’s easier to be self-aware about behaviors rather than emotions.
For example, you might bite your nails when you’re stressed. If you find yourself worrying a finger when you’re not in a stressful situation, that’s a warning light that your boundaries have likely been crossed.
Grounding yourself is about forming a positive emotional anchor so that you’re more capable of sticking to your boundaries. It goes by lots of names – self-awareness, mindfulness, being centered, being Zen. All of these are really talking about the same thing: keeping your own emotional self healthy so you can better invest emotion and time in others.
This isn’t something that will just happen, though. It’s about taking some action to actually make it happen. Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can do this.
Some people find that exercise (especially running/swimming) is a good time to let their minds drift. Others find solace in meditation or yoga. Some have a morning mantra, and others repeat or chant positive affirmations to themselves as they start their day.
Grounding yourself is about trying a few options and seeing what one work best for you to deepen your emotional core so you can fully embrace the world around you, expanding your boundaries and letting you be open and honest with the world.
Remember: setting limits doesn’t mean setting limits in stone
Finally, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself or those around you.
Setting limits is about building a clear idea of what you can invest in others and letting them know what they can demand of you.
But we’re all human. Sometimes, people need more of your time and sometimes, you give more than you can. And that’s ok. Don’t be too hard on yourself, regroup, and keep building and setting limits and loving yourself.
You’ll get the hang of it.