HOW TO SET PERSONAL BOUNDARIES IN LIFE AND WHY THEY MATTER
Boundaries are statements of intent that you put in place to protect you from the conflicting demands of daily life. Ease the pressure and reduce the number of decisions you make every day. Learn how to set personal boundaries in life and why they matter for a simple, intentional life.
WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES IN LIFE?
Boundaries are like an invisible forcefield that protect you from everyday life. They are a set of strategies or intentional decisions that draw a line to clearly define what you let in and what you keep out of your life.
Perhaps the best way to describe boundaries in life is to give you an example that, I think, many of us can relate to…
Consider the example of when someone asks you to do something that you don’t really want to do right now such as volunteering at the next school cake sale. Maybe you don’t have the time, energy or emotional bandwidth to say yes. However, without clear boundaries in place to protect your time and self (which we’ll look at in more detail later), you end up saying yes to the request, only then to feel tired, grumpy, frustrated, resentful or depleted.
Can you relate to this example? Although there are times when we all have to do things we don’t want to do, I think having clear boundaries that we honour makes these times happen far less than otherwise!
In this article we’ll be looking at some different types of boundaries you can set in life and how to set them. There’s also a free printable Boundaries Worksheet that you can request to help you set purposeful boundaries of your own!
WHY ARE PERSONAL BOUNDARIES IMPORTANT?
They take away some of the stress of decision-making. Instead of getting caught up in making micro-decisions throughout the day, having general boundaries in place will help you make broad, more sweeping, decisions about what you do, want and accept and don’t do, want or accept.
To use another example to illustrate this, you might say that one of your boundaries is to only spend money intentionally and if you really need to. So, if you find yourself browsing your favourite internet shopping site, you might hop off it straightway if you have that boundary set because you know there’s nothing you REALLY need.
Without that clear boundary in place, you might spend a while longer checking out the latest offers, waste time and ultimately be tempted to click the ‘buy now’ button anyway. Sound familiar!
Having broad boundaries about where and how you spend your money (not mindlessly scrolling shopping sites) will have saved you time, energy and potentially, money.
Boundaries set your expectations for yourself as much as what you expect from other people and your life around you.
Setting personal boundaries is an important part of your own self-care and can help you honour and respect your own emotional, psychological and physical needs.
“Boundaries protect the things that are of value to you. They keep you in alignment with what you have decided you want in life. That means the key to good boundaries is knowing what you want.”Adelyn Birch
BOUNDARIES FOR A SIMPLE AND INTENTIONAL LIFE
Boundaries aren’t just yet another set of decisions you have to make, or a list of To Dos on your task list. They are broad guidelines, of your choosing, for how you live your life and the decisions you make.
Clear, strong boundaries are vital for a simple, intentional life. If you’re not sure what it means to simplify life, I mean a life that’s focused on the meaningful and keeps out the stuff that’s just empty padding and clutter.
Life can be very complex and it throws a variety of challenges, opportunities and distractions at us daily. It’s hard work to make tiny decisions on the value of all these so instead, it’s easier to rely on clear boundaries to ward off the majority of the clutter that tries to invade our life.
There are so many different types of clutter, in our schedule, our minds, our hearts, our homes, that it’s quite a job to curate a simple life. Clear, consistent and strong boundaries are there to reinforce the distinction between the meaningful and the meaningless with more ease, less stress and less energy.
HOW DO YOU SET PERSONAL BOUNDARIES?
So, boundaries sound like a good idea for pursuing a simple, intentional life but how do you set boundaries? Well, different ways work for different people but I find that keeping things simple is always best. It’s more likely you’ll remember them and put them into practice!
The first step is to get clear on your priorities and what’s most important to you in life. This might change as you move through different phases and seasons in life but some common examples might be family, home, leisure time, work, and money.
What are your priorities right now? Would you have any to add or subtract? Grab a notebook and pen or you might like this free Define Your Priorities Worksheet to help you brainstorm!
Write down some broad boundaries for each of these areas.
Here’s an example related to my internet shopping above…
I want to spend money intentionally on things that I really need or love so that I can spend less, save more and free myself from the burden and stress of debt.
I think boundaries should be specific, start with a positive statement of intent (I want, I will, I can…) and have some indication of the result.
In the above example I said that I wanted to save more, spend less and get out of debt so I’ve set a definite purpose for my boundary. There has to be a reason for your boundary otherwise you’re telling yourself to do or not do something without being crystal clear on the ‘why’ behind it. If we’re not clear on our ‘why’ then it’s easy to lose focus or motivation.
TIPS FOR SETTING PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
We’ll look at some different types of personal boundaries you can set in a moment, but I think there’s a few helpful points to bear in mind when you’re exploring boundaries in your life.
1. Boundaries should be flexible
Boundaries are broad statements of intent which save you time and energy in making lots of mini decisions about your daily life but, of course, they can be broken too! So, if you need to make an exception to the rule every now and then, go and do it! Boundaries should support not hinder you! They need to fit around you, your family and your lifestyle as it changes over time.
2. Boundaries are different for different people
There’s no one-size-fits-all and just because one person has a set of clearly defined boundaries for a particular area of their life, it doesn’t mean that you should too. Choose your own boundaries that reflect what you want out of life and your priorities.
3. Boundaries don’t have to be big
Boundaries can be broad statements of value or intent about your life, but smaller, specific boundaries can be just as effective. Keep reading for some examples of smaller boundaries you can try today! There’s a free Setting Boundaries worksheet you can download too further down the post!
4. Boundaries shouldn’t make you feel guilty
Remember that they’re designed to protect you so there’s good reason to have them. Just because you say no to something now, it doesn’t mean no in the future. It just means not right now.
5. Boundaries take practice
It may take a while for your boundaries to be effective. The more you use and practice them, the better they’ll work for you. Think of them a bit like a muscle as boundaries become stronger the more you use them.
TYPES OF PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
Sometimes it’s difficult to grasp the concept of boundaries so it may be helpful to read the following for tangible examples. Here are some types of personal boundaries which you might like to try and tips to help you put them in place.
1. Boundaries for your relationships
Healthy relationships are mutually supportive and both sides should feel the benefit. Of course, we all go through tough times when we need a little more support than normal from family and friends. Relationships that, over the longer term, are too needy or make us feel bad in some way, aren’t the healthiest.
Protect yourself from these relationships by putting in place boundaries. Decide to invest your time, love and energy into positive, mutually supportive and beneficial relationships and find a way to remove yourself from unhealthy relationships that no longer work for you.
Here are some examples of simple relationship boundaries you could put in place:
- Setting aside time for date night with your partner once a week/month
- Taking your child/ren out for a hot chocolate after school each Friday to spend time with them
- Deciding to prioritise and develop your friendships with a few close friends rather than surface friendships with lots of people you just happen to know
- Stepping away from relationships that feel toxic, controlling or unhealthy in some way
Read these tips on how to communicate boundaries in relationships.
2. Boundaries for your time
Time is the one thing that we can’t get back and every time you say yes to one thing, you’re indirectly saying no to another. Guard your time wisely by setting boundaries for what you choose (and choose not) to do with your time. Decide to prioritise free time and learn to say no to things which don’t feel right or you don’t want to do. Be firm that you’re not going to allow yourself to feel pulled in lots of different directions because of how it makes you feel.
Examples of other boundaries you could put in place to protect your time are:
- Turning off non-essential notifications on your phone and avoid mindless scrolling
- Not answering your phone (unless in an emergency) after a certain time each evening
- Maintaining a good work-life balance and leaving the office on time
- Allowing your kids to do only one or two after-school activities each term
3. Boundaries for your self-care
Establish boundaries for looking after yourself by deciding what self-care looks like to you and how you’re going to find the time to make it happen. Boundaries will help you make sure that self-care doesn’t slip to the bottom of the priority list without you having to constantly think about how and why you’re going to squeeze it in amongst everything else. Let’s face it, self-care needs to be simple and easy if it’s to be realistic and practical for most of us!
Examples of self-care boundaries could be:
- Curate your social media feeds wisely so they had value to your life instead of pulling you down
- Changing your morning routine so that you have time to read a chapter of your book before you need to get ready for the day
- Deciding to avoid sugary or processed foods when making your food choices
- Turning the screens off after 9pm (or earlier) each evening so you can unwind and relax before bed
4. Boundaries for your money management
Boundaries for how you manage your money can help you save money, invest wisely, shop more mindfully and avoid those impulse buys we often later regret! Decide, in broad terms, what you want from your money and establish clear boundaries to set up systems to help you spend, save and manage your finances.
Examples of financial boundaries for your money might be:
- Deciding not to use credit cards and instead spend only what you have already
- Putting aside a percentage of your monthly income into your savings account as soon as you’re paid
- Creating a household budget for the month and sticking to it
- Avoiding the shops during the sales to avoid temptation!
I hope you found this article helpful. Boundaries help us create broad statements of purpose and intent about our life. We can set them to protect the things that matter most to us in life. In this article I’ve shared some boundaries you could set for your relationships, time, self-care and money but there are many others!
Busy, modern life has a way of grabbing our attention and resources but setting boundaries for ourselves helps us create an invisible forcefield to buffer us from the outside world.
I don’t know about you, but my brain is too filled with the details of every day life to keep making repetitive, good quality decisions about where and how to spend my time, energy and love. Honouring my boundaries helps me stay true to myself and how I want to live my life with much less stress and much more ease.
Setting boundaries is an important tool for creating an intentional and meaningful life. For more on this topic and another perspective on how to set and enforce boundaries, without feeling bad, I encourage you to check out Jonathan Field’s article on how to set boundaries.
HELPFUL RESOURCES ON DEFINING WHAT’S IMPORTANT
Here are some articles and resources on simple and intentional living which you might enjoy:
- How to define your priorities in life and why it matters – Choose your own priorities before busy life dictates them to you
- 30 journal prompts for self-discovery – Reflection prompts to help you get clear on what you want from life
- How to be less busy – Learn the value in slowing down and creating space in your schedule
- 20 ways to look after yourself – Tips and ideas for practical, effective self-care
- How to stop living for the weekends – Tips to help you enjoy your week more
- What is intentional living? A beginner’s guide to living on purpose, not on auto-pilot