“We need to re-create boundaries. When you carry a digital gadget that creates a virtual link to the office, you need to create a virtual boundary that didn’t exist before.” — Daniel Goleman

I’ll still remember this day like it was yesterday. One day, sitting in my inbox, there an email from a client with an ominous subject line “what have you done?”

Obviously, I end up asking myself “what HAVE I done?”

I haven’t got any kitten on my conscience, the kettle was definitely not left on, and no butt-dialing had happened.

No, what happened was I decided to limit my coaching and consulting time to a few days per week, taking off my availability on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The client who received my notice did not understand why there were not as many days to choose from.

The short answer is — boundaries.

The art of saying NO

“Time is the most valuable thing wo/man can spend” — Theophrastus

Psychologist and philosopher Svend Brinkmann wrote an amazing book, The Joy of Missing Out, as a passionate and well-reasoned argument for cultivating a profoundly counter-cultural ideal: the art of deliberately missing out on things.

In the book, he argues that we’ve created a society dominated by endless choices, offers, and invitations to read more, consume more, enjoy more, and even become more.

In order to put our wellbeing (and overall sanity) first, we have to learn to say no.

What are some of the reasons why we may struggle to set up boundaries for ourselves?

Though standing up for yourself doesn’t need to be scary or something to psych yourself up to do, many of us grow fearful that they’ll be perceived as rude or aggressive if they take the steps to do it.

“In personal life, I would say prioritise your time based on what you get out of it.” admits business and sales consultant Chelsea Cox

“Is it friend that makes you feel real good? or is it a friend that uses you to offload? is it a workout class that makes you feel great or does it make you feel rubbish after? Protect yourself and your time.”

Truth is, saying NO is not always easy.

In fact, it can function as essentially the most powerful word of all time when you’re looking to manage your anxiety and stress.

Creating boundaries with your time

Your time is precious, and you should set boundaries from the get-go when talking to people and liaising with potential clients.

Business coach for wellness entrepreneurs Vicky Shilling set up a very simple booking system that helps her keeping track of her commitments: “I set boundaries around my time by having a calendar available for my clients to book into. This means I can keep empty times that I want for myself to do content creation, forward planning or go to the gym. With a calendar that people can book into I don’t have to explain why I’m not available — just that I’m not!”

The art of staying in your own lane

You have to remove the mindset of busy = success.

Comparison, dear old friend. Being able to say no easily means accepting you won’t be able to be everything for everyone, and this means not saying yes to every opportunity.

“You have to remove the mindset of busy = success, it’s simply not true.” shares Chelsea Cox “Every opportunity, client, project, PR piece that comes your way, take a moment before firing a response, think about how that opportunity is truly going to serve you, is it of financial benefit? If you break this down and you are struggling to see the return for yourself either personally or professionally then say no. There is nothing wrong with saying no to something that doesn’t serve you.”

Strive not to compare yourself to others in regard to anything — and this includes the number of social events you attend, the amount of time you can commit, or the nature of your contribution to an event.

One way to respectfully stand up for your needs is to take a time out to consider what’s best. In cases such as this, you can simply say, “I’d love to think about this. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Get started with creating better boundaries

Your words help to frame your sense of empowerment and control. Furthermore, the words that you use create a feedback loop in your brain that impacts your future behaviours.

For example, every time you tell yourself “I can’t”, you’re creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations.

This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

In comparison, when you tell yourself “I don’t”, you’re creating a feedback loop that reminds you of your control and power over the situation. It’s a phrase that can propel you towards breaking your bad habits and following your good ones.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University, explains the difference between saying “I don’t” compared to “I can’t”:

“I don’t” is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. “I can’t” isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction, it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking “I can’t” undermines your sense of power and personal agency.

Overall boundaries are a form of self-care and respect towards yourself. Being able to evaluate your priorities, creating systems and ask yourself the right questions can truly change the way you make time for yourself.

Just in case you were wondering, my client happily settled to my new schedule in the end, and our relationship still stands strong.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brene Brown

Take time to celebrate YOU today: have you ever tried writing a love letter to yourself?