You’ve probably never heard of psychologist and philosopher Svend Brinkmann, which is a shame, since he is the kind of person we need right now (as we learn the need to set better boundaries).
His most recent book, The Joy of Missing Out, is 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?
Time is the most valuable thing wo/man can spend” – Theophrastus
If you’ve got a finger in every pie and you’re feeling overstretched, you may have difficulty saying ‘no’. You probably feel resentful because you are doing too much, but you know there’s no one else to blame for this predicament. Even when you really want to, or know you have to, and even if you’ve given yourself the pep talk beforehand, you feel the ‘yes’ slipping through your lips!
When you say ‘yes’ to something, you are always saying ‘no’ to something else, and it’s usually yourself or those closest to you.
A ‘yes’ to attend a breakfast meeting might be a ‘no’ to your health because it means you’ll miss your morning run. A ‘yes’ to bringing forward a deadline so someone else can take an early holiday might be a ‘no’ to your family because it means you need to stay later at work each night. A ‘yes’ to a networking event might be a ‘no’ to some much-needed me-time to recharge your batteries. Learn here about the important of rest to rejuvinate your success.
Too often we only look at half the equation, letting responsibility, guilt, obligation, fear, or avoidance of conflict drive us into being just a bit too agreeable. “Yes, I can do that,” you respond, and regret follows a moment later.
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.
Wellness industry business coach 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
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 business and sales consultant 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?
And if so, is it paying what you are worth? Is it beneficial from an awareness point of view? If so, how much awareness can you get in return?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.”
The art of saying NO
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 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.
Next time you’re faced with a request, simply ask yourself
“If I say yes to this, what will I be saying no to?”
It will give you a fighting chance to make a decision that feels more right for you. And you might just find that saying ‘no’ really is ok.
I bet you have many things you really want to do: things you are passionate about, things that will make you healthier and happier, the time you want to spend with family members, priorities that will move your life in the direction you’ve dreamed of. When you lease rare and precious spaces in your life out to other people’s requests, it’s like shuffling yourself to the back of the queue, deferring your dreams, delaying your priorities, and robbing yourself of the precious time you have been given to live a full life.
It’s ok to say ‘no’ without doubt or fear because a ‘no’ to something might just be that desperately needed ‘yes’ to the things that deliver the achievement, meaning and contentment you deserve.
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 the the need to set boundaries is 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.