By Tyler Calder
In my early 20s, you couldn’t pay me to say no to anyone or anything. If you were having a party, I could probably come by early to help prep. Heading to a sporting event? I would be there with my finest foam finger and a few friends in tow. Did you need someone to help you move all your earthly belongings on the coldest day of the year? We’d figure it out!
When people made broad sweeping statements suggesting I might want to start “setting some boundaries,” I couldn’t see it. It’s not until you’re deep in the throes of burnout that you realize something’s gotta give. Lesson #1 is learning that sometimes saying no is necessary for self-preservation. One day, sleep-deprived and barely able to cover my most basic needs (like staying hydrated), I surrendered to it. But then came the next question: How do I do this day in and day out?
Learning how to effectively incorporate this big scary idea of “boundary-setting” into your everyday life is a tough one. But it’s doable, especially with actual strategies for getting there. Recently, in this Instagram post, we asked for your actionable advice for setting boundaries at work, with family and friends, and with yourself — here’s how you’re getting it done.
“Recognize that while setting boundaries is a thing of strength, it can come with emotional weight (guilt, sadness, loneliness, etc.) and that’s normal. You can be sad AND strong at the same time. Find an outlet for these emotions, and maybe let someone/something else in a bit more.” - Nikki
“Recently I’ve been trying to set more boundaries in my personal life. When I’m feeling emotionally drained, and as if I cannot be the best friend or family member possible, I communicate accordingly. For example, instead of letting texts and calls go unanswered, I say: ‘Got your message and looking forward to chatting soon! I’m running on empty right now though. Once I recharge, I promise I’ll let you know!’” - Olivia
“I struggle with this. The first thing I do is try and get clarity on my own emotions. If I feel down or threatened when I interact with someone, it’s a sign that I need to set a boundary. I’m still learning how to communicate that boundary though.” - Alisha
“With friends - I’ve been working on giving myself 24 hours to respond to a social invite (dinner, happy hour, a big trip) so I can truly reflect on my energy, finances, and what I truly need. Sometimes I fail at it as my instinct is “yes yes yes” with people I love. But as I practice it more, I realize it makes me more present with friends. With family - still a work in progress. #thankyoutherapy” - Molly
“Preemptively say It means so much that you understand how important this is to me! or something along those lines because it’s so much harder to argue or push a boundary when you’ve already been thanked for respecting it.” - Caitlin
“My husband has a penchant for doing favors when he doesn’t need to. Years ago I came up with a three-part strategy to help him. 1) Is it a reasonable request? 2) Is it a reasonable time of day to make the request? 3) If the situation was reversed, would this person do the same for you? 2 out of 3 need to be “Yes” to move forward with the favor. This obviously doesn’t apply in truly emergent situations.” - Amy
“Setting boundaries is never comfortable and the only strategy that works for me is to be totally transparent/honest and consistent from the get go, whether the receiver likes it or not. In the beginning, I always find that people act all oblivious or victimized as an attempt to ignore the boundaries. That’s where consistency comes in.” - Celeste
“In my opinion, I think it’s better to practice saying no when the stakes are low and it’s not that big of a deal for either side, so that they get used to hearing it and we get more comfortable saying it. That way, when it is a really important situation for us to say no to, it doesn’t come as such a shock for them.” - Kyla
“I’m actively working on this. I’m great at boundaries at work, but less so in my personal life. One thing I’m telling myself is saying “no” to someone/something else is saying “yes” to myself. I’ve also put some non-negotiables in place to reference when different asks come up and I get excited in the moment. Also I’ve been using “let me get back to you” more frequently, instead of committing to asks in the moment (when I’m most likely to say yes out of peer pressure and/or obligation).” - L’Oreal
“For work: I don’t receive push notifications for email, and don’t check email when I’m off the clock. I encourage (or demand) my colleagues set boundaries too. We help each other set boundaries by agreeing they’re necessary, and honoring them.” - Elizabeth
“This is a little less of an emotional answer, but a good work boundary to set for yourself if you have Slack is to decide which hours you get notifications and which you don’t! Be transparent about it if possible. There are always big projects and exceptions, but you will burn out if you make yourself available around the clock.” - Tyler
“I try to be more vague, especially when it comes to setting work boundaries around family. It’s not up to them to judge why I need to leave early or have a day off. I value what I value, and it’s my responsibility to protect my time.” - Anonymous
“I’ve tried to set more boundaries at work in the recent months by leaving my work laptop at home. If I REALLY need to do something I could log into email on my personal computer. Also, [I’m practicing] not feeling guilty about having plans after work and leaving at a decent time. I have a busy season so I know there’ll be plenty of late nights in my future. Time to enjoy the lighter days!” - Alix
“I reframe the concept of boundaries from negative to positive — I remind myself that a boundary creates a container of open space for me to expand and explore. Also, remembering that saying No can be an effective and empowering tool.” - Anonymous
“I’ve had to learn to prioritize myself sometimes, and not just tell others what they want to hear. I opt out of social events when I don’t want to go, I say no to certain people when doing them a favor really inconveniences me, and I don’t go out of my way for people who I know would never do the same for me. It’s a constant reminder to stick to these things because my second nature is the opposite, but it makes me a happier person in the end and strengthens my relationships.” - Tori
“I check in with myself and listen to my difficult feelings honestly. After that, I plan how to effectively communicate to relay my vulnerabilities or feelings openly. If the person who is listening is defensive or unresponsive, I re-think how to compartmentalize that friendship and sometimes realign expectations.” - Hana
“Set boundaries based on how much time and energy you want and need left for yourself. Setting boundaries isn’t selfish. Your priority is taking care of yourself and this actually helps you better care for the people you love. I’m a Virgo, an enneagram 2, and an ESFJ so I have natural inclinations to help/please people and be needed. Sometimes I go overboard. But I’ve learned that the best tool in boundary setting is simply saying no.” - Maggie
“If you’re looking for a solid, confident way to say no (which can be so difficult!), a friend of mine once suggested saying, ‘I can’t commit to that right now.’ BOOM. Simple, clear, and doesn’t leave you feeling the need to explain or feel guilty about prioritizing your time your own way.” - Ashley
“I’ve found that following through is super important in communicating boundaries. For example, if you’re saying you’ll be out of town on a weekend and unable to answer work emails, turn off the notifications and do not give in!!! The second you show that you don’t follow your own boundaries is when others will continue to take advantage of you.” - Kate
“I just always remind myself: You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm. (Shoutout to Glennon Doyle for that one!).” - Randi
How do you practice setting boundaries? Share strategies that have worked for you in the comments below! 👇
Illustration by Tyler Calder.