How to Set Healthy Boundaries

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As I explore the concept of followership in the workplace, one skill has popped up again and again as simultaneously the most critical and also the most difficult: setting boundaries. Setting boundaries, of course, is not only for work - we all need to set healthy boundaries for ourselves in many aspects of our lives, regardless of whether we’re playing the roles of leader or follower. Professionally speaking, though, I see boundary setting as a followership skill because it primarily addresses the execution of individual or collective labor, whereas leadership qualities tend to address the organization of that labor.

What’s a boundary then? For me, no one defines it better, and more succinctly, than Brené Brown: “It’s what’s ok and what’s not ok.” Or, in the work place, perhaps “what I can/will do and what I can’t/won’t do.” Different from expectations, which are typically set by leaders in advance, boundaries are maintained and communicated by followers in the ongoing course of work as they realize what is realistic, safe, or possible.

For example, you may wish to set a boundary around the scope of a given task or assignment, or around how much you can accomplish given the external constraints of a project and the time available. In my observation, expectation and boundary are often in dialogue, and of course each impacts the other. In an unhealthy work situation, you may experience this dialogue as leaders “making demands” and followers “pushing back,” but in a more functional dynamic, it might look more like leader and follower sharing distinct perspectives in order to collaboratively refine the timeline.

When these boundaries are not clear, your stress level is likely to rise. You may notice that you miss deadlines, skip lunch, and feel exhausted at the end of the day. Not only that, but because our work is directly connected to others’ work, our lack of healthy boundaries around what is possible and sustainable can disrupt project timelines, budgeting, or client relationships when inevitably, expectations are not met.

You may also set boundaries in your life to negotiate work, family, and personal time. Agreements not to work on the weekends, lunch breaks, family dinner times, and date nights are all examples of boundaries that balance multiple priorities to maintain a healthy well-being.

How do you know if you have need a stronger boundary? Here are a couple of ways to explore that question, whether at work, at home, or in your personal life:

1. Are there situations where you have trouble saying no?

2. Do you feel drained or tired around a particular activity, place, or person?

3. Are there situations where you tend to complain or feel resentful about “having to do” something?

4. Do you long for more time to yourself?

If any of these questions brought a specific situation to mind, I encourage you to spend 10-15 minutes writing in a journal about it. Write freely without any censoring whatsoever! The first step in establishing healthy boundaries is identifying where you need them! This simple exercise may reveal some potential changes that could help you to live and work in a healthier, more sustainable way.

Even though setting boundaries may seem difficult or even impossible at first, I promise that everyone can learn how to do it. Often, it is the most effective way to create more peace and freedom in your life. If you are curious about how to make that happen, please reach out to schedule a free no-obligation coach consultation with me. We’ll explore how empowerment methods might be able to support you and decide together on a path forward.

 

 

How to Navigate Strong Emotions

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Do you ever feel that physical or emotional sensations are simply “happening to you,” and that you don’t have much control over them? When you feel tense, anxious, angry, frustrated, or anything else, does it seem that you have no choice in the matter, even if a part of you would truly prefer to feel differently?

Along with so many other things that have been labeled “feminine,” emotions are regularly dismissed as either irrelevant or bothersome, especially if they are unpleasant or painful. Strong feelings tend to catch us off guard in our places of work or in our personal relationships, triggered by events that may otherwise seem ordinary.

We can’t ignore our emotions though, without negative health consequences. Sooner or later, neglected emotional material returns as a weakened immune system, depression, distraction, or disease. Squashing our feelings is, unfortunately, a pretty reliable way to create tension and conflict both in ourselves and in our relationships, whether professional or personal.

However, when we are able to witness our feelings with steady attention, they start to feel less like a burden and more like a source of useful insight. We learn what's important to us and what we want and need, and are then better equipped to move toward those things. The greater this emotional awareness, the clearer our life and career choices become.

The good news is that it’s possible to track your own internal state by matching thoughts with corresponding feelings, and setting or resetting them in advance. With this technique, challenging situations become less mysterious and more malleable. You begin to be able, in many cases, to actually choose how you feel, and to make the way you communicate with others more deliberate.

This is a large and complex topic, but I hope the three exploratory steps below may still help you begin to see how even a small amount of focused attention can improve your emotional well-being.

1. Bring to mind a situation where you regularly experience conflict or tension of any kind. It may involve other people or not. In your mind, recall as many details of the experience as you can, noting any physical or emotional responses that occur in the present.

2. In your mind, observe the feeling, even if it is uncomfortable. Is it located in some part of your body? Does it feel warm or cool? Concentrated or diffuse? Notice how there are now two parts of you – the part experiencing the feeling and the part of you observing that experience.

3. Staying connected to those two parts of yourself, ask this question: “As I am feeling this way, what am I believing to be true?” OR “As I am feeling this way, what am I fearing might happen?”

Note: What you discover here may very well seem "irrational" to you. Emotional logic does not always “make sense” according to our intellectual thinking brains. Noticing this, in itself, can often help to ease and reset our emotional system. The key is not to dismiss, but rather observe whatever your feelings are telling you in a neutral way. This kind of mindful acceptance is the first step in any process of softening strong emotions. After that, there are various techniques coaches use to transform one thought/feeling pattern into another.

If you are curious about this process and have a situation or relationship in your life where you’d like to create a healthier dynamic, please reach out to schedule a free, no-obligation coach consultation with me. We’ll explore how empowerment methods might be able to assist and decide together on a path forward.

And if you try these sample steps in your own life, please leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

 

 

How to Make Work Meaningful

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All work is creative, no matter what your job description. No matter what you are producing or generating, whether it be digital, material, or ephemeral, you are a creator. Once we begin to look at our jobs this way, a new line of inquiry sometimes appears: What are we creating? Is it something we consciously chose? Is it something we enjoy or feel satisfaction from? Are we making a contribution that we consider valuable? These can be surprisingly unfamiliar questions in a capitalist society, where the primary measure of success we’re encouraged to consider is how much money we receive for our labor. Who cares what we’re doing as long as we get paid? Sometimes it might even seem that the more we get paid, the less important it is that we enjoy what we are doing.

We don’t have to think this way! Money is necessary to live in the world we’ve constructed for ourselves, and there are many beautiful and useful things that can be done with it, but making it the sole criteria by which we measure our hours and days does not generally result in a meaningful life. On the contrary, engaging in work that is very far out of alignment with our personal values or interests can lead us toward feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction, even illness. The good news is that, usually, you don’t need to change your job in order to align with it more closely, although finding new employment might sometimes be an appropriate choice.

Regardless of your current work situation, you were not born into this life solely for the purpose of making money, of that I am certain! If you feel at all restless or uninspired by your work, start by asking yourself this open-ended question: “If I didn’t have to work for money, what would you do with your one and only life?” The answer(s) may surprise you. Make a list.

Next question: "Is there anything on this list that I can scale down and act on immediately, within the parameters of my current work situation?" You may need to miniaturize your list items quite a bit. For example, if you want to travel the world, maybe you start by taking a walk at lunch. If you want to end homelessness, you might arrange to donate company services to an organization that is doing just that.

Final question: "What is the one thing about my current work that I feel the most engaged by?" Engagement is a secret backdoor into creativity, meaning, and purpose. Calculations, research, collaboration, facilitation, planning, writing – whatever it may be, identify a tangible feeling of being engaged, interested, stimulated, challenged, or curious. Focus on that aspect of your work, and celebrate the time that you are able to devote to that thing. Perhaps, investigate whether there may be any way to spend more of your time in that sort of activity.

What do you find meaningful about your work? Leave your stories in the comments!

If these questions feel challenging for you, it might be time for a deeper exploration of your  work and career. This is a common theme in my coaching practice and I would be happy to set up a free consultation call to see how I might be able to support you in bringing more creativity into your work life or identifying specific changes you’d like to make in the near future. Set up a free call for yourself, or forward this post to a friend!