Do you ever feel that you are experiencing overwhelm? It’s something that’s so common at the moment for lots of people.

Overwhelm can be where our personal boundaries have been blurred or misshapen. But the good news is, is that when you do set clear boundaries, and you stick to them, it can be a great source of calm in your leadership and in your life.
So let me ask you, have you ever asked yourself, ‘why on earth did I just say yes to that?’ Or ‘why am I allowing that to throw me off course from what I was actually already doing?’ Because we do that to ourselves, don’t we? We allow other people and other things, other circumstances to throw us off course.

What I wanted to share with you today was some ideas around what boundaries are, and what happens when they become blurred or misshapen, and what you could do.

I am going to take you through a simple exercise today of what you can do to help you look at your boundaries to make them empowering and healthy for you.

What do I actually mean by boundaries?

Boundaries are how you set limits for what you’re okay with and what you’re not okay with, in any circumstance, in any walk of your life. They’re not about creating hard divisions between you and other people. They’re actually a way of creating respect, respect for you, and respect for others.

Why should you have them?

Ultimately, it boils down to emotional, mental and physical wellness. It’s really about you taking care of you, and not waiting for circumstances or somebody else, to allow you to feel calm, and to feel less overwhelmed.

Let’s have a look at what it can be like when boundaries get blurred.

You may find that you do feel that that’s happening for you at the moment. Maybe you’ve got a hard time speaking up for yourself or asserting yourself, or maybe you find it hard to say, no?

This may show up for you at work, in meetings where you feel you can’t get your opinion across, or maybe you’re with your team and you’re taking too much on your own shoulders.

Maybe it’s that you’re available for other people all day long and then you’re not actually getting around to getting your own work done.

It may show up at home. It may show up socially for you, where you’re committing to things that you know aren’t good for you. They may show people even within your own family.

So taking too much on, putting others needs consistently before your own and working too long are a good examples of where your boundaries may be blurred and I’d like to just get you to think about where does this come from? Sometimes it’s driven by fear. The fear that if I don’t do all of this, something bad’s going to happen. Or more often, it’s fear of ridicule, ridicule from other people, judgement from other people.
It can sometimes come from a place of guilt. We’ve got this inbuilt guilt, that it’s our job to look after everybody else.

And sometimes it’s driven by our worry of just what other people think of us. So what happens? You find yourself too much in yes mode, making yourself available, too much, giving everything of yourself to other people and before you know it, you’re the only person that you’re not saying yes to.

If you’re struggling with setting healthy boundaries for yourself, you’re possibly actually struggling with people pleasing. A sure sign of this is when you do say no, you feel guilty about it.

If you recognise any of this in you ask yourself, what access do people have to me right now? Is it all hours? Do I feel the need to respond quickly to anybody’s messages? Do I find that my big priority work gets pushed into the evenings because I’m spending all day being there for others? Or even my big priority work gets pushed so far down the line that I don’t get it completed and then I feel bad about that because actually what I’ve done is jumped on the hamster wheel of just doing more and more for other people?

Is it because I want people to like me, is it because I’m trying to help others to be a good person to do the right thing to subconsciously prove my worth. We actually make ourselves less worthy by giving too much of ourselves, more of ourselves than is good for us. And we teach other people how to treat us by the way that we treat ourselves. Someone once said to me Giving everything of yourself and saying yes to everybody and bending over backwards is actually devaluing in leadership, it devalues a business. What I thought was a good thing to do to be kind was actually counterproductive. So boundary setting is not selfish, it’s necessary. The result of unclear and non existent boundaries is that you become the bottom of your own priority list. So you’re scraping from the bottom of your own barrel when you’re trying to give to others, hence the connection with overwhelm. Do you recognise this? And how does it make you feel when you’re in that space of ‘my boundaries have been shot to pieces I’m giving to everybody else’? You might feel resentment, you might feel burnt out, overwhelm on the inside, feeling quite depleted or frustrated or irritated even. And remember, it’s nobody else’s responsibility to help you feel calm and to reduce your overwhelm. It’s something that you’ve got to do.

I really experienced a shift in my boundaries during lockdown. I was working from home all of a sudden, while my husband was still going out to work every day because he was a key worker, I was trying to find and navigate new technologies and ways to continue to add value to my clients to protect my business. All whilst I was trying to figure out how to homeschool two children. I was giving. I was in giving mode to everybody. And my boundary physically of my workspace, and my home space went out the window. My boundary to do with time also went out the window. My working hours seeped into the evenings, I felt like I was constantly on the go. My children saw me working all hours, I created no time for me. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel. And all of a sudden, I realised that what had worked for me once upon a time was no longer working for me and I had to take a really good, long, hard look at my boundaries again, in these new circumstances because I got to the point of realising I was overwhelmed and it wasn’t sustainable. Something had to change. So I took a bit of time to deliberately explore this, allow me to focus on what did I really want to achieve in that time? And what was the most effective way of doing that? What would I allow myself to do? And what would I allow myself to not do? reminding myself I could not be all things to all people and get clear, healthy results, if I was just doing everything for everybody else. So I wanted to make my priorities happen and happen effectively. And in a way that I came out the other side still feeling good about myself. So once I’d had a look at my boundaries, and I committed to them, the result was I got more done by doing less. And that might be something that you recognise as well. So if you want to have control over creating calm within your leadership impact, within your life too, it’s important for you to learn how to set your boundaries, and to be able to say no, when requested outside those boundaries, and to keep coming back to them. Because as your situation shift, so too will your boundaries. Otherwise, you’re going to end up dragging yourself from commitment to commitment with little or no sense of passion or purpose, because you’re simply trying to please, to keep everybody happy. So I want you to take a little look now at starting to create some boundaries for you. So if you’ve got a pen and paper, this is a good time to use it. Because when you commit to writing down your thoughts, it creates a bigger commitment to your word than if you’ve just kept those thoughts in your own head. And I want you to imagine your leadership or your life with clear boundaries that are unique to you. Nobody else has set them for you. And that allow you to feel effective and feel calm.

What would those boundaries be like? Just imagine you’re at a point in your life where you’re committed to those boundaries, and you are sticking to them. What’s it giving you? What difference is it making? Just let that sit with you for a minute.

What’s it like for you to have that to be operating your life or your leadership in a space where you know that you are protecting your boundaries and that you’re creating that sense confusion, what’s it like?

Because once you get really, really clear on that, that’s your motivation to keep going when you feel tempted to say yes, in the wrong place, when you feel tempted to take more work on, that’s your motivation. You’ve got to know why you’re doing this, what it’s going to give you. So write that down. It might be more confidence, or you’re being more purposeful, or you’re more true to your values. You might be communicating with more intent. You might be doing things that you’re actually passionate about, instead of dealing with day to day issues.

So from that place that you’ve just imagined, where you have boundaries, and you feel calm, I’d like you to write down now what your yes’ and your no’s are. So what’s inside the boundary and what sits outside the boundary? Take a piece of paper and draw this grid and use it to list your boundaries.

Then have a think: Okay, so to have clear boundaries for me, what will I do? And what will I not do what sits outside my boundary that I just say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that because that’s not going to be good for me’?

You can do this on a weekly basis, you can do this on a project basis, you can do this when something changes, you can do this every time you set yourself a goal or an objective.

Go back to the boundaries. ‘Okay, so in line with this goal, what will I do? And what won’t I do? What things do I need to leave to one side? Because they’re not going to be helpful to me. If I take those on as well they’re going to overwhelm me. How will I be? And how will I not be? Will I be somebody who is putting out fires every day, somebody who is at the beck and call of everybody else? Or is that something that I’m going to say I won’t be that, I’ll be deliberate in my communication, I’ll be available for people, but in a structured and controlled way.

You get to choose.

So getting to think about what your healthy boundaries are, and take some time to work on this. If you need to come back and reread this article then do but once you’ve got this grid have this grid in mind. You can do this for your family. You can do this for your workplace. You can do this, as I say towards a particular goal. But really getting attuned to what your boundaries are, is going to help you to feel so much more in control and so much less overwhelmed. Because let me tell you anything that you’ve been telling yourself up until this point has had you create blurred or misshapen boundaries, has all just been you telling yourself a bunch of negative made up stories.

So you get to be in control. When you create boundaries, one thing I will share with you is it will shake things up. It may even upset some people who you’ve been who’ve been used to us saying yes. However, when you do you get to uphold your standards. You get to be clear on when to say no in the kindest way. And you get to explain why. And when you do say yes, it’s because you really mean it. Not because you feel you should, not driven by fear, not driven by guilt, not driven by worry of what people will think of you because you mean it.

I’d like to end on this. There are three things to consider with boundaries, self respect, respect for others, and knowing your limits.

Self respect – first of all, think of self respect, like a body part and ask yourself, ‘Am I willing to amputate this body part just to keep somebody else happy right now?’, because the minute you dilute your boundaries, you’re cutting off your self respect. So I want to encourage you stand up for yourself, respect yourself, stand in your worth, mentally, physically and emotionally. This includes what you will say yes to and what you will say no to.

Secondly – Respect for others. You can disagree and say no with kindness without minimising and without trying to change their mind. And this is about spending the time with people to help them understand why.

Thirdly – it’s about knowing your limits. So this is about you gaining a strong concept of what is acceptable to you and what is not. Too often through life and in our professional work. We don’t spend time thinking about this. Be specific. And if you don’t, the problem is you get stuck in a trap of giving a little bit more and a little bit more, until you’ve got nothing left. You jump on the hamster wheel, you do a little bit more you do a little bit more until you’ve got nothing left. So be clear on your limits of what you’ll give your time, your efforts and your energy to.

Research shows that the most boundary orientated leaders are also the most compassionate leaders. Because when we take our healthy boundaries, and take responsibility for that, because we’re taking our self care seriously, then we also show greater respect for the needs of other people around us. So my tip for you is to take this tool and come back to it weekly, come back to it every time you’ve got a goal or a change of circumstance, look at what you want to achieve, to take the week ahead. What do I want to achieve this week? What’s the real key outcome? That if I get to the end of this week, and I’ve achieved these things, I’ll be super happy. So how will I create boundaries to allow me to achieve that, without experiencing overwhelm? What will I do? What won’t I do? What sits outside that boundary? How will I be and how will I not be. Again, to protect yourself to create the calm because we can all get to an outcome in ways that are overwhelming, they stress us out, they make us feel tired and exhausted and there’s nothing left and we can act in ways that put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list all the time. We can also achieve the exact same outcome by respecting ourselves, respecting other others, knowing our limits, and creating those boundaries. It actually makes us more focused and more effective.
I really hope that you’ve taken something from that today and that this tool will be something you can take away and use. You can also do this with your teams. But I would say start with yourself because you deserve to feel effective and also feel calm.