How to Bring More Love into Your Life with Boundaries
When we talk about decluttering, usually we focus on the piles of clothing you never wear or the external stuff around you that puts a serious crimp in your routine.
But what about the other things in your life that could be dragging you down: your relationships and the events, tasks and activities you’re allowing to fill your calendar, your heart and mind – and your life.
If people and situations leave you feeling super drained physically or mentally, that’s a cue that some boundaries are needed, says Carley Schweet, a self-care coach and “recovering people pleaser” based near Seattle.
Setting boundaries is a way to preserve your time, your energy and your attention not only for you, but for those in your life who are willing and able to give it back to you in ways that are (to use Carley's words) “an equal exchange.” If you want more love in your life, the best – and first – place to start is by giving it to yourself.
“We can only control what we can control, which is our personal thoughts and behaviors," Carley says. "In the past, I’ve found myself trying to please others, with the unconscious intent to control, in a way, in hopes they’ll magically become the person I felt I needed. In reality, all we can do is work on ourselves and watch who not only comes into our lives, but also take note of who falls away.”
In her work, Carley helps everyday people just like us learn the power of saying No and teaches them how to set boundaries in many areas of their lives, from intimate relationships to work to friendships.
She’s here to help us understand what “setting boundaries” really means and how we can do it, using the Start. Sort. Style. steps.
Let’s Start. at the beginning. What does “setting boundaries” mean?
In the simplest terms, setting boundaries means making it very clear what behaviors/energy you allow in your space and what behaviors/energy you won’t tolerate. Of course, in order to set effective and loving boundaries, it’s important to first be in touch with who you are and what you stand for.
You say it’s an internal as well as external process? How so?
The process of setting boundaries not only includes those we come into contact with throughout our day, but also our own thoughts, emotions, and feelings. It’s important to remember that boundaries aren’t static, meaning they’re constantly changing depending on what situation you find yourself in.
External boundaries typically have to do with physical space. External boundaries can span from opting out of attending an event that you makes you feel uncomfortable to declining a hug from someone who you wish to keep out of your personal space.
Internal boundaries include taking responsibility for our own behavior. This could include not letting our anxious thoughts or feelings determine the way we treat others as well as owning our feelings and communicating them in an effective manner.
Re-assessing your schedule or limiting your interactions with people who aren’t giving you what you call an “an equal exchange of energy” might feel harsh at first. I know we don’t need permission to do this in our lives.. But what if we feel like we do?
I think that experiencing this feeling that we need to ‘get permission’ ties back to our own personal self-worth. When we feel confident, self-assured, and worthy of living a life we love, we no longer feel the need for permission. We know within our authentic self that we are deserving of love, happiness, and more. No permission required.
If you’re struggling with giving yourself permission, try repeating the following simple, but powerful, affirmation to help: "I am worthy of creating boundaries, and I have permission to do so as needed."
"When we feel confident, self-assured, and worthy of living a life we love, we no longer feel the need for permission."
When it comes to setting boundaries in different areas of our lives, where do we Start.?
Where to begin...that's the hardest part, right? The best place to start setting boundaries is to get super clear with what you want. My Boundaries with Soul™ Digital Course will walk you through this entire process, but start with thinking about how you want to feel. What's standing in your way? How can you navigate those obstacles (realistically, of course)?
Setting boundaries within our professional lives can be extremely tough, especially because our society tends to value hard work and ‘giving it your all’ over everything else, including personal happiness. Due to these beliefs, we overextend ourselves and find it difficult to say No when someone asks for our help in the workplace, even if the request goes above and beyond our pay grade or job title.
You can start to set professional boundaries by:
Remembering that your mental health is more important than any job.
Creating digital boundaries once you’re home from work - leaving your phone to charge in another room at night, cutting off push notifications for texts/emails, etc.
Creating and communicating clear standards (work/life balance, lunch breaks, leaving early when needed) with your boss or teammates (yes, this can be very scary, but hopefully your employer has your best interest at heart.)
In our personal lives, we’re either really good at setting boundaries with those closest to us (especially if there’s no fear of abandonment or pushback) or it’s really scary.
I think the most important thing to remember when setting boundaries in your personal life is that you are still a kind, loving person, and you’ll be fully supported by those who hold your well-being as a priority.
Recently, my therapist mentioned to me that a good place to start when communication feels scary or difficult is to simply state how you’re feeling. Starting a sentence with, “What I’m about to say is hard for me, so thank you for listening...” is a great tool to express that you’re nervous/anxious/scared and also thank the person for being supportive.
Our Sort. step can be all about putting a plan together. What are some actions we can take to get everything organized – what we want & how we can take action to get it?
Being prepared is key! I've had clients pick one or two boundary-setting responses that feel good and soulful to have prepared for the real moment. Spend some time thinking about what response feels most accessible to you right now. It's a way to politely decline a request or to communicate that the request just won't work for you.
A few simple ones are:
"Thanks for offering, but that's not something I can do right now."
"As much as I'd love another drink/slice of pizza/piece of cake, I'm feeling pretty good right now!"
"You know, this just isn't something I'm super comfortable talking about right now. Maybe we can catch up later?"
Some ways that you could communicate a new boundary at work include:
"I know XYZ was expected of me in the past, but I am going to try doing XYZ this way. It feels better for me and, in the long run, I think it’ll be better overall".
"This behavior/expectation no longer works for me. Here’s what I can do instead…"
"I’m not comfortable with this decision/behavior/expectation. How can we make this work for both of us?"
Once you've found a few responses that feel approachable, practice in the mirror. I'm not kidding! Get used to what it feels like saying these words. Most importantly, notice how it feels and keep practicing!
Our Style. step is when we have a plan, we've taken action, and then we “let it ride” and enjoy the results (tweaking, as needed, as we go). Once we take action, what should we expect?
The truth is, it might be awkward at first, but you'll probably feel a lot better about the interaction in the long run. If there's ever an awkward silence after you politely set a boundary, I've found it's always easiest to back up your boundary with love. This might look like asking your prying family member a question about themselves, their family, kids - whatever feels authentic and accessible to you. Push yourself past that awkward moment and re-engage with a genuine curiosity. Try not to get too caught up in the actual boundary-setting itself and remain engaged.
For instance, if a friend asks you a question that feels uncomfortable - how much money you make, what your apartment costs, when/if you’re having kids, etc. - a simple response like, “I’m not really comfortable sharing that right now but I can tell you XYZ...”
If you’re feeling awkward tension at work after setting a boundary, first and foremost don’t apologize. In fact, don’t ever apologize for setting a boundary. When in a professional setting, set your boundary and then follow it up with how said boundary will support you in becoming a happier, and perhaps more productive, employee.
"Don’t ever apologize for setting a boundary."
What kind of practices can we use to stay connected to our priorities and boundaries and feel good about staying true to them?
Listen to your gut! If something feels off to you in any way, don't write it off. Examine it. Ask yourself:
Why are you feeling this way?
What's causing it?
How can you respond to it?
What's happening at this moment?
Also, always remember why you started this journey on the first place. What behaviors (always saying Yes, being a pushover, chronic people-pleasing) are you ready to outgrow and leave in the dust?
What are some of the best ways you’ve found to not only work through these types of practices, but to celebrate progress, too?
In general, creating awareness of the situations is imperative. It allows you to not only work through what’s going on, but to be cognizant of what’s happening in the first place. To help create awareness, I suggest journaling and meditation as both of these practices allow the brain to calm down and process. Also, therapy is a great way to work through the process of setting boundaries and will bring to light any wins worth celebrating!
At the end of the day, keep in mind that the practice of setting boundaries is a practice. It takes trial and error, patience, and a lot of grace with yourself to not always get it right.
Carley says that even if it doesn’t feel great at first, setting (and keeping!) boundaries will get easier the more you do it. And the positive life results – more time and energy for you and for those who are able to give it back to you and feeling good about making positive improvements to your life – will quickly outweigh the challenges.
“What’s important about learning to set boundaries is to remember that we are not perfect and trying is better than not doing anything at all,” Carley says.
"Trying is better than not doing anything at all."
Big thanks to Carley for lending us some of her expertise, and big cheers to YOU for setting and keeping new boundaries for yourself this year! Let us know how you do, or if you have questions: email us or DM us on Instagram!
Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Start. Sort. Style. is not a promotional partner and isn't compensated for any of the products or services described above – we simply love bringing you the information.