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Boundaries – Why They Work for Some People and Not Me

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

We hear people mention boundaries all the time. I’m in a few Facebook Support Groups to offer advice when asked. Most days, someone posts something about feeling used or resentful. Often, people respond by saying, “You need boundaries”. But what are healthy boundaries and how do they work?

Boundaries can be used in all areas of life by people of any age & culture. Boundaries are vital in our careers, hobbies, passions and relationships. The American Psychological Association defines boundaries as, “A psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.”.

But why do some people seem to hold their boundaries in place, while others repeatedly fail? To illustrate, I’ll tell you a few stories about myself that weave this all together.

Something you may not know about me is that my top two gifts are also my kryptonite or my downfall. I love to serve people and I love to achieve big things. Both things fill up my cup and make me happy. On the surface, these two gifts are awesome, until I overuse them. Shirzad Chamine author of the New York Times best selling book "Positive Intelligence" explains we all have super powers, but when we overuse our strengths, they become our ‘saboteurs’. These saboteurs are like voices in our head, that dissuade us from becoming our best selves. There’s more to say about this, but for this article, let it suffice that these voices lie to us, and give us a momentary feeling of success, but block us from truly thriving.

I needed something in place to prevent me from falling into the trap of becoming a workaholic or a hyper-achiever. For years, people would tell me to slow down or just say no to people. I knew what they were saying was a good idea, and I tried and failed for years.

In the life & health coaching world, we are taught the 5 step coaching sequence. We are trained to ask questions with a specific objective. The 5 objectives for the questions are:

1. Step Back

2. Let Go

3. Say Yes to Self

4. Take Specific Action

5. Build Support and Accountability

Once I learned this concept, I began applying this sequence to everything in my life. By doing this, I found it easier to overcome the challenges that were running my life.

Step Back: For an example, let’s take the please saboteur. One thing my mom taught me was, “Everything in Moderation”. I genuinely like to serve or help people. When I was little, I was an altar server in church and loved it. When I was 16, I was a busboy and then a waiter and then a cruise director. I loved those jobs and excelled in all of them. As a scout leader, I loved mentoring the scouts to help them advance to the next level. As I’ve matured, I fell into mentoring others when asked, and now I have certifications in coaching. I love to coach and the people that I’ve worked with know that I’m all in. I’m extremely passionate about helping people achieve the outcomes they desire. I love this profession SO much, that I could literally do it 16 hours a day. Another word for hyper-achiever or over-achiever could be workaholic.

Do you see where I’m going with this? When I over-achieve in one area of my life, there’s a good chance something is suffering in another area.

Letting Go: By stepping back, it was clear that my life was upside down. I was spending too much time in one area and neglecting other areas. I had to let go of the idea that saying no to something or saying no to someone was bad, but how?

Saying Yes To Self: It starts with finding what you want and why you want it AND understanding the big, motivational factors that will pull you towards your goals or vision. I started to understand that by saying no to others, this created space for me to say YES to other things that aligned with my long-term goals. This step in the 5-step process is difficult for people that enjoy giving. It took me decades to finally understand that self-care is not selfish. Saying yes to myself helped me grow stronger emotionally and physically. Paradoxically, when I become stronger, I can help others even more than before! This will build your self-esteem and confidence and reduce stress and anxiety.

Take Action: Another wise thing my mom taught me was, “Poop or get off the Potty”. (Did I just actually say that? Yup, you did Johnny😊.) The first three steps are vital but without action, it’s just dreaming. I found myself volunteering several hours a day, helping anyone that would reach out to me, but there was a cost. I had other responsibilities that were being neglected, as was my relationship. When I went through the 5 steps, I learned that what I wanted most was I wanted to thrive and have balance in my life. My biggest motivational factor was my marriage. We have a strong marriage, but when I became an over-achiever, it became clear that I was sacrificing what I hold most dear. Once this was crystal clear in my mind, I found it easier to say no to people and or opportunities that conflicted with my biggest motivational factors. From this vantage point, I erected boundaries, to protect my vision and my future. When people asked me for help, I began referring them to others. I mentioned my love for coaching, and just last week, one of my mentors reached out with an incredible offer to sign up for a high level mastery coaching class. The offer was fantastic and I was tempted to say yes, but then I stepped back and remembered my big motivational factor. If I had said yes to this opportunity, I would have had to say no to my wife. Because I have locked in my vision of my future, and remembered my motivational factors, it was easy to say no. I’ve put into place ‘best practices’ or boundaries to help when I am tempted. In my coaching practice, I have limited space. I only have time for 16 sessions. Because I have healthy boundaries in place, this has helped me grow my business and change my thinking. Because I have this pull to help everyone, but only have 16 spots available, this created positive anxiety within me. When we have positive anxiety, we become resourceful and more creative. Because I held my boundary with limiting my time to 16 sessions, I came up with a way to help over 150 instead of 16. I restricted the number of 1:1 clients, to an exclusive 10 people. This has left 6 sessions available for group coaching sessions.

Support and Accountability: This final step is why so many people start off strong for a few months, and then fall off the wagon and go back to their old way of doing things. Having someone to offer you support and to hold you accountable is crucial. I have built support and have found people and practices that hold me accountable.

If you want to get to a place where you have less stress in your life, that you feel comfortable saying no to someone or something, then I encourage you to learn more about boundaries, locking in your vision and finding your motivation. A life coach trained in this area can help unlock your vision and help you find your motivational factors. Contact me if you’d like to experience a complimentary 1:1 coaching session. I offer 2 complimentary sessions each week. If you know in your heart that developing healthy boundaries will benefit you, then perhaps sign up for my group sessions this summer using the link below. Remember, self-care is not selfish, and boundaries can help you and others in your life thrive. The healthier your boundaries are, the easier it will become to say no and enrich the lives of all the people you love the most.

· Complimentary 1:1 Coaching Session: (Limited to 2 people per week)

Johnny is a mental fitness coach with Positive Intelligence and holds certifications as a Life Coach and a Health Coach. he also holds a certificate to facilitate John Gottman's workshop based on his critically acclaimed book, "Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work".

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