Celebrate Black History Month . . .
When You Set Boundaries, You Protect Your Focus
If saying “yes” to every opportunity and request for your time and energy feels like your default response, it is time to explore how setting healthy boundaries can help you focus and achieve more.
Many of us, women especially, are so programmed to please that we struggle to say no or even to alter the parameters of someone else’s request. We fear rejection, confrontation or guilt. But over-extending yourself is a quick route to under-performance and even burn out as it sucks up energy and resources in areas not tied to your key priorities. When you’re constantly responding to other people’s needs and requests at the expense of your own, you lose control over your own work and the quality of your results.
This can be an especially challenging area for Black Americans and other people of color who already carry a disproportionate share of stress and trauma within our society and are often subject to stronger ramifications for the same workplace behaviors practiced by white colleagues. We often feel we must perform above and beyond simply to be seen as equal.
“Communities of color are resilient, but even resilience has its limits,” says Rheeda Walker, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Houston. “We often get overwhelmed before we know it. When that happens, we feel as if we cannot take anymore, mentally. Because we need our minds to accomplish everything in life, it’s a good idea to protect them before feeling overwhelmed and even if we think we can ‘handle anything.’ Everyone has a limit.”
You make the call
One of the greatest contributors to stress is a feeling of having no control. We can actually handle a lot of demanding situations as long as we see a connection between our actions and outcomes. That’s so important to internalize because quite often we do have the power to decide if, when and how we do something. When you learn how to set and communicate important boundaries, you gain better control over your time and energy and that degree of control is a big stress reducer.
Without boundaries, you can end up feeling frustrated, burned out, overwhelmed and even resentful. With them, you can feel empowered. Best-selling author of Set Boundaries, Find Peace and licensed therapist, Nedra Tawwab, says, “Boundaries are needs and expectations that make you feel safe and comfortable in your life and in your relationships.” Boundaries will not turn you into negative naysayer, or someone who cuts off communication, but rather can help you expand communication by making sure you have what you need to succeed and can engage in dialogue with others about if, how and when you can help them succeed.
Picture yourself in the future
A powerful way to think about setting a boundary today is to consider the impact it will have on the “you” of tomorrow, next week or next year. Author of the best-selling book, Stumbling on Happiness, and Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., explains how we make choices each day for our future selves. “We do indeed inherit the world from the people we used to be,” he says. “I think we split our time between indulging our wants and desires in the present moments and working hard for the people we’re about to become.”
The more you can imagine what your future self will actually need and want, the more you can make choices she will appreciate. If your boss asks you to take on a new project when you already feel swamped, your immediate reaction might be to say yes because you feel pressured and want to look like a team player. If you can stop to imagine how you will feel next month as you strive to meet what you know will be an impossible goal, you may respond differently. Perhaps you will negotiate the hand-off of a less important project to someone else or additional support in getting routine tasks covered.
Protect your time
A high-impact place to start with boundary setting is around how you manage your time. A survey of 2.5 million Americans by the Gallup Organization found that 80 percent of respondents did not have the time to do what they wanted to each day. Many of us also succumb to the idea of being “always on” because connective technology is at our sides 24/7. But always being “at the ready” is mentally and physically exhausting and even shuts down important free time for your mind to wander into more creative and innovative territory.
Consider setting specific hours for checking and responding to emails and scheduling blocks of time for uninterrupted work. In your personal life, you might only schedule one activity per weekend or only attend some of your kids’ games and events. When you say “no” to something, you are saying “yes” to your own needs.
Rather than feeling out of control and disempowered, setting boundaries is a way of taking personal responsibility for your performance and outcomes. Even if others balk at first, most will come around when they experience a more focused team member, relaxed parent or engaged partner.