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Traps of our own making: setting boundaries

Coaches often see their clients (or “coachees”) caught in traps of their own making. A great example of this is demonstrated by the boundaries that we protect and those we don’t. Lawyers, accountants, and other professionals working in busy environments, often at the mercy of their client’s demands, might find it hard to see that they have the power to set boundaries at all. “I’m just too busy” is both a badge of honour and a shield.

This article aims to give you back control by understanding what might really be getting in the way of protecting your boundaries.

What needs to be protected?

Before we start to think about boundaries, we first need to think about what we need to protect. Each of us will have some non-negotiables. A family wedding, a child’s sports day, a doctor’s appointment. There will be a list of things that take precedence. We might book a day’s holiday, or work around these things to fit them in. We will protect them and if we cannot we will become increasingly disillusioned with whatever it is that gets in the way; often work.

Now, for some, outside of these non-negotiables, there will be little else that is protected. These individuals might be thriving. However, when we invite coachees to explore the aspects identified as enhancing wellbeing, it is common that some are often notably absent from the professional’s life. Once examined, many decide that they need to change the balance that exists for them.

There are many different constructs of wellbeing. The wellbeing wheel that we regularly share is one of them, and it comprises seven aspects (its origins can be traced back to Dr. Bill Hettler’s dimensions of wellbeing).

Wellbeing Wheel Coaching Tool

Consider the wellbeing wheel above. How you would rate yourself against each of the elements on the wheel? What activities could you list against each to enhance the number – or if high, maintain it?

Perhaps you will jot down that you could go for a run to improve your physical health. Maybe you could set aside some time to reconnect with friends that you haven’t seen for a while to enhance the relationship segment.

Now, think about how good you are at protecting the different parts of your wheel. Maybe you are good at setting time aside for a run, but fail miserably when it comes to seeing friends. Can you see any patterns?

This exercise will start to provide some insights into the boundaries you protect, and those you don’t. You might want to think about how you already protect the boundaries for the things you do. Perhaps you set a recurring appointment in your diary for your run. Maybe you let other people know that running is important to you and that you will be going out. Your clients and colleagues know not to contact you at a certain time because of it. In a coaching session, we might explore these boundaries and the patterns that emerge a little bit deeper.

What gets in the way of saying no?

Hopefully, you have started to reflect on your boundaries. What has hopefully started to emerge is that we are able to protect some of them better than others. Whether that be for our non-negotiables only, or for the aspects of wellbeing that we succeed at. What makes us able to protect some boundaries, but let things encroach on others?

It is at this juncture, when we coach, that coachees start to offer external reasons: work requires that we give it our all; technology means we are connected 24/7; being a parent demands that all our free time is spent with our children; etc. The reality is that these things are precisely what destroy the boundaries that we fail to protect. The reason that we allow them to do so, actually has a reason that is closer to home: the reason is often found hidden in the beliefs that we hold.

Those beliefs might be limiting beliefs that stop us from succeeding – they might come from our family of origin and the belief system that travels with us as a result. Often, when a light is shone on what might be happening, we see that we are better able to protect that which we currently have on a nice-to-do list, rather than on our non-negotiable list.

To discover what might be holding you back from saying “no”, why don’t you book a work-life balance coaching package? Our systemic approach to work-life balance helps you to understand your baseline and then explore your priorities and boundaries. We will provide you with insight that will help you to consider what needs to change. ​ In a follow-up session, we will think about the changes you have been able to implement and help you develop a personal plan for the future.


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