Yesterday I was preparing for a call with a coaching client by reviewing the homework I’d given her. As I read through her various "assignments", most of which involved noticing, reflecting on, and changing behavior around boundary issues, it struck me that they would be useful to share with you.
Hopefully just reading each one will help you increase your awareness and empower you to guard your energy and boundaries more carefully. For maximum impact, get out your journal and write out your thoughts and plans with respect to each item:
1) Start noticing (and keeping a list of) the people and activities that energize you, and those that drain you
I really integrated this into my life after doing Marcus Buckingham’s Career Intervention Workshop on Oprah.com. There are some handouts that come with the course ("red cards"/"green cards") that help you document situations and activities from a perspective of "I loved it" or "I loathed it". I keep a bunch of these on my desk: whenever I’ve had an interaction that drains me I make a note of it on these sheets, as I do for experiences that energize me. I’ve found it really helpful in identifying what I need to do to protect my energy and then focusing on operating in environments and situations that strengthen me instead of draining me.
2) Make a list of specific relationships that have become stressful or draining for you, and see if you can identify when it was that you allowed a boundary to be crossed
For example, you might be starving for an evening off yet you committed every Thursday until Christmas to something you don’t really want to do, because you were scared to offend the person who begged you to volunteer for their cause. If something is draining you or making you resentful, it’s not necessarily the person or situation’s fault – it could likely be your fault, for not putting boundaries around the person or situation that honor your own true needs.
3) Whenever a new commitment or demand comes along, ask yourself (and your body) if you truly want to do it.
Practice listening to and honoring how you really feel, by saying no when you need to.
4) When you feel compelled to binge on sweet fatty food, or drink alcohol, or go shopping (or anything else you use to numb your feelings) try to identify what brought it on
If your urge followed an interaction with someone, or a certain situation in your life, try to identify what specifically upsets you about it and what you could do to change it in the future. When you’re tempted to numb out with food or some other compulsive behavior, use it to learn more about what is causing you distress and how you could change that.
5) Notice when relationships cross over into territory you’re not comfortable with and don’t be afraid to draw a line
Some people you might like, but simply don’t have time to go for lunch or coffee with (so don’t agree to it!). Another client of mine finds that people love being around her a little too much – people she has professional relationships with often want to turn it into an intimate friendship. She lets it happen too often, in spite of her own preferences.
Are there people you let in closer than you’d like because you don’t know how to guard yourself and your time? What is a gracious, loving way you could learn to draw the line? I might say this: "I would really love to hang out, but I haven’t seen some of my closest friends and family in too long so I’m making that my priority right now." It’s the truth!
6) Know the difference between feeling obligation vs. genuine enthusiasm
So many of us make social and time commitments out of a sense of obligation. I pointed this out to a client the other day:
Obligation blocks opportunity.
How can the inspiration, opportunities, and amazing experiences that are waiting to come into your life find their way in if all your energy and time is taken up by things that you don’t really want to do?
7) Get clear about what a protected, on-purpose life would look and feel like
In your journal, describe what a "just-right" life would be composed of. Who would you be spending time with? What activities would you be involved with? In what way would you find time to express what you believe to be your purpose in life? How much alone time, fun time, play time would you have?
Once you’ve written this out, identify the people and activities in your life that are making it hard or even impossible to live the way you deeply long to. See what you can do to clear out time you need, right now.
You can change your life into something that feels right for you. You are here for a reason, and we need you to be at your best. We need you to be rested, and to have time available to do what you were put on this earth to do, no matter how big or small. You need time for you and for those you love most, in order for you to be happy and healthy and a blessing to all of us. This is really important, it isn’t selfish.
Guard your life energy, it’s the most important currency you have.
What has your experience been? Do you struggle with any of these? Have you had any recent triumphs? Let me know in the Comments section below.
Great article. Wonder what to do about my Mum though – love her dearly AND have always found her terribly draining. Is it her neediness or my sense of obligation; or both? Can’t stay away from her but can’t get rid of that sense of steeling myself every time I visit (and staying away as much as I can – then feeling guilty). It’s been going on for over 50 years !