Do: Set Up Boundaries | Don't Say Yes to Everything

We, as human beings, are social creatures. As such, we want to be liked and thought to be earnest in our efforts to please those who matter to us.

This means we often misconstrue what it means to set up boundaries.

Often, when I bring up setting boundaries, I see a lot of uneasiness and discomfort. Putting up boundaries means saying no. And that is really scary because if we say no, then people will think we are stuck up and not team players.

This is absolutely not true.

Setting up boundaries is how we as individuals communicate to the world around us where our passions and priorities lie. It’s how we make sure that we are spending our time where we want to spend our time.

So, how do we set up good individual boundaries and, more importantly, how do we stick to them?

Well, there are three main steps you need to follow.

1.     Individual Core Values

Your core values are how you define yourself. They are your non-negotiables and deal breakers. Your line in the sand.

If you are sitting there thinking, I think it would be better if I held these values, stop right there. You are “shoulding” yourself. You are convincing yourself you should be a certain way either because you think that’s what someone in your position should be like or others around you have convinced you that you should be valuing specific things.

That is not the point of this exercise.

For this to work, you have to be honest. Forget what Sally and Jim Perfect are doing. If you spend your life constantly working on someone else’s strengths, you will neglect your own.

The “Who Am I” Exercise?

Before we get into the exercise, let me elaborate on what I mean by true north. Your personal true north is what you pride yourself in and look for in others. It is what you gravitate towards without really thinking about it.

It’s the path you follow even when you don’t have a map.

To find your core values, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my true north?
  2. What makes me unique?
  3. What is my deal-breaker?

To give you an idea, I have included my answers.

  1. What is my true north? Integrity
  2. What makes me unique? Authenticity
  3. What is my deal-breaker? Dishonesty

Mine are succinct and to the point, yours may be a bit broader and wordy. That’s okay! They are your values, after all.

When I was trying to nail down my core values, as someone who is very career and achievement-driven, I was a little surprised to realize that neither power nor money were in my core values. But ultimately, I love working and innovating with clients and partners, and it isn’t really the career progression or money that motivates me. It is the people that I work with and the amazing minds that come together that get me up in the morning excited to work. If money was no object and I could do whatever I wanted, I would still be right where I am.

2.     Make it Crystal Clear

Once you have your core values, the hard work begins.

Now that you know what matters to you, you don’t have an excuse to compromise them! Make a conscious effort to reevaluate your life, all facets of it not just work, and see if you are keeping true to your core values. The best way to do this is to let the people you interact with regularly know your values. Let them know the things you hold important and your deal-breakers. Communicate it to your friends, family, colleagues, etc., and have them hold you accountable if they see you straying. And if those around you don’t support you, then perhaps it’s time to read about how to recognize and deal with toxic relationships.

3.     Never Cross It

The only way these boundaries work is if you hold to them. Allowing people or situations to cross your line removes the boundary you’ve set.

For example, my deal-breaker is dishonesty. Let’s say I have a good friend who lies to me about something important. If I continue to be friends with that person, especially if I’ve told them my values and deal-breakers, I’ve completely invalidated that boundary.

If you allow your deal-breakers to be violated then they’re not deal-breakers.

Let’s look at a more positive example. My true north is integrity. This means that I hold myself and my friends and clients to that same standard of integrity. The result is that I have cultivated a personal and professional network that I love and know that I can rely on to be honest and earnest in their communications with me and on any mutual projects. And they know that they can rely on the same thing from my end.

Your Boundaries and You

Ultimately, your personal boundaries are here to help you. They are here to make you a happier and more productive person, in and out of work. By knowing what matters to you, and holding true to that, you will be more confident in the decisions you make and understand where, how, and with whom you want to spend your time.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


  • Dana Look-Arimoto

    Author, Coach, Speaker, and Founder of Phoenix5 and

    Dana Look-Arimoto is an author, coach, speaker, and founder of the leadership and executive coaching company Phoenixand She is also behind the mindset, method, and movement of Stop Settling®, which aims to end the myth of work-life balance by focusing on the integration of the various facets of life and conscious prioritization. With over 20 years of experience leading teams and corporations, Dana has accrued a wealth of knowledge and experience in understanding how people best work together and how teams that work well together make corporations successful. She is the author of Stop Settling, Settle Smart: Rethinking Work-life Balance, Redesign Your Busy Life and is currently working on her second book.