Guest post from Patricia Spadaro
Do you automatically say yes when someone asks you for help? Do you allow unexpected events to constantly pull you away from what you planned to do? Do you place your own self-care at the bottom of your to-do list?
We all know we’re supposed to draw boundaries and make time to nurture ourselves. But if you’re anything like me, saying no to others is just plain hard. You may be so used to giving, giving, giving that it sounds cruel and uncaring to say no when your best friend asks for a last-minute favor or your boss begs you to work late to finish a rush project. “How can I possibly say no when they need me?” you say to yourself.
I’ve found that an effective way to begin setting boundaries is to turn that question around. Instead of “How can I say no to them?” start asking: “How can I say yes to myself?” The issue is not about keeping others out but about counting yourself in. It’s about learning to honor yourself, to value your own needs, so that you can give creatively and abundantly to your loved ones, your community, and the world.
Of course, we all need to sacrifice at times to support those who do need us. But not everyone and everything deserves that kind of attention all the time. If you have a hard time staying in balance and drawing the line when you need to, try these five tips to set healthy boundaries and start honoring yourself now.
#1 Practice. When you are not used to drawing boundaries, it can feel uncomfortable at first. All new habits take practice and begin with baby steps. Martha Graham, the celebrated twentieth-century dancer, and choreographer, once said, “I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same.”
Try this: Each week, practice setting boundaries in the small, everyday issues that arise. When you need to concentrate on a task, ask your children to turn down the sound on the TV. Turn off your phone for a certain amount of time so you are not at everyone’s beck and call. If you want to spend time alone on a weekend, tell friends you’re not available to go out. As you learn to set boundaries in situations like these, you’ll find it easier to recognize and resolve the larger issues when they surface.
#2 Communicate. Most people aren’t mind readers. They won’t know that you’re exhausted, hungry, or need a break unless you tell them. Rather than complaining and playing the part of the victim, be specific when expressing what you want and need.
Try this: State your feelings and requests lovingly but firmly. Couch your requests in terms of what you need, not what you think the other person is doing wrong. Remember that drawing a boundary does not mean you have to make someone else wrong. It’s about stating what you need and deserve.
#3 Schedule. How often do you set aside time for yourself and your own self-care on your to-do list? Are you on the list at all? Even Mother Teresa, the embodiment of selflessness, taught that renewal is a prerequisite for garnering the power to serve. Recharging your batteries is not optional. It’s a bona fide part of your schedule and your life.
Try this: When making your to-do list, include things you need to do for yourself so that your own self-care isn’t the item that constantly gets bumped off the list. Don’t wait until you’ve checked off all the tasks you do for others to give yourself what you need. Schedule specific self-care tasks as a priority with their own time slot on your calendar.
#4 Pause. Resist the temptation to automatically say yes to every request or demand that comes your way. Exercise your freedom of choice and give yourself permission to say no.
Try this: When someone asks for a favor, rather than responding with a knee-jerk reaction of “yes,” pause and tell that person you’ll check and get back to them with your answer. When you’re alone, ask yourself: “What do I really want and what do I feel is right for me in this situation? Is sacrificing in this case appropriate?” If you decide it’s not the right choice for you at this time, be honest. Let that person know that you have another commitment you need to fulfill. And don’t feel guilty, because what you said is true. You do have an important appointment—with yourself!
#5 Play. Part of saying yes to yourself is fueling your creative energy by regularly doing something you love. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if your valuable time and energy aren’t engaged in what is meaningful and fulfilling to you, someone or something else will rush in to fill that space. If you have a clear idea of your own personal priorities and commit to them, others’ needs and demands simply cannot eat up all your time.
Try this: Take a piece of paper and write down activities you enjoy doing—activities that feel like play and that energize you. It could be anything that’s fun for you, from walking in nature or dancing your heart out to learning to paint or cook Thai food. And just because your spouse or best friend loves to watch football or go rock climbing doesn’t mean you have to love it too. Find your own talent, interest, or hobby that you want to develop because it fulfills you. Then schedule that into our life, even if you have to ask a family member or neighbor to lend a helping hand while you’re immersed in that activity once a week. Claim your right to stay true to yourself—and have fun doing it!
Patricia Spadaro is the author of the award-winning book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving. She is dedicated to empowering others to live more deeply, fully, and authentically. Her books are published in more than 20 languages worldwide. For more tips for inspired living and to learn more about Patricia’s work, visit www.HowToHonorYourself.com. Listen to and read Amy Medling’s interview with Patricia Spadaro on “The Most Important Habit for Thriving with PCOS.”