Category Archives: Boundaries

Establishing Boundaries and Priorities

glenn-carstens-peters-190592By Karen Starns 

Starns is a seasoned global brand and marketing leader who is poised to begin her next chapter. She has held senior positions at Pearson, Amazon and Microsoft and is a friend of Simple Intentions.  

The first time I read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown was the Spring of 2014. At the time, I wasn’t ready for how it would eventually transform my outlook on priorities and contributions. The premise of being disciplined about where to invest energies and where to step away resonated, but I’d allowed my time to be swallowed up by other people’s needs and agendas for years. As a leader, family member and friend driven by accomplishment, I felt the need to do it all. This modus operandi had become so ingrained and rewarded, the reason for change wasn’t obvious enough. 

Several months later, I took on a new global job that required 50% travel – a good portion of it spent in London. This professional change spurred a complete reset of how I spent my time. The juggling that had been challenging became infeasible and I realized that if my in-person relationships with my husband and kids had to get packed into weekends and every other week, I was going to need a system to support me. Having less time at home was catalytic in helping me take that first critical step toward committing to the things that were most important to me and becoming aware that embracing other people’s expectations and drowning in to-do lists was taking me off track.  

With the premises of Essentialism as underpinning, developing a system that works for me has been a 2 ½ year process of discovery and fine-tuning. While having very little time flexibility, I’ve found more balance and internal peace than ever before by investing in the fewest number of important things. As I prepare for another career transition, I’m delighted to celebrate how full my life is. These are the steps I took: 

I first clarified my “non-negotiables.” This included creating a clear distinction between those things in life that were most important to me and separating those from everything else. My list was intentionally short: family and work. Deep relationships with my husband and kids, coupled with rewarding work that I love is where I make the highest contribution. Energy and time devoted to my non-negotiables come first. 

 I then examined “everything else.” This is a huge bucket and it probably goes without saying that all things in this category are not created equal. I’ve further segmented this into “to-dos,” “opportunities,” and “personal priorities.” 

There are a lot of “to-dos” in life and if we’re not careful, the tasks and errands on our lists can run us ragged and leave little time for anything else. I’m a list maker and have spent years measuring progress via scraps of paper and piles of note cards. Today, I embrace the realization that while there are must-do tasks, crossing things off a list every day does not move me toward my highest contribution. 

There are also “opportunities,” invitations, and possibilities. These are optional. They are not obligations and it important to remind yourself that you have a choice. Not wanting to disappoint someone else is not a good reason to say yes. If they are aligned with your priorities, make them priorities. If they are not, let them go – even if they are good opportunities. While I devote just a couple of sentences toward this topic, it is huge. Greg McKeown has a lot of provocative and useful commentary on this if you struggle with this like I do. 

The third category I created to sort through everything else has provided the most upside for me: “personal priorities.” The label itself has been incredibly empowering and the things I’ve put here have enriched my life. This category and what I’ve done with it has been the difference maker. 

Personal priorities are a mix of the aspirational “someday” things that rarely get attention and some really important things that are easy to let slip. Here’s my current list: 

  1. Side Project (I have some business ideas to cultivate) 
  2. Write (like this article, I want to write/publish more frequently) 
  3. Read (for pleasure, for knowledge, and to escape) 
  4. Board/Advisory Work (I’m on a non-profit board and mentor a woman leader who runs a social enterprise and a non-profit) 
  5. Learn Spanish (my mentee’s organization is based in Mexico and I’m using Duolingo every day to learn Spanish) 
  6. Marathon Training (I’m in the midst of a 20-week program training for the NY Marathon, this is a big mental and time commitment) 
  7. Career Planning (meetings, correspondence, and network engagement) 
  8. Time with Friends (an important thing that I’ve let slip) 

While eight personal priorities may seem like a lot, I am actively working on all of these. I’m using a reminder app that allows me to establish a prompt and track momentum for each priority. For example, I want to do 15 minutes of Duolingo every day and write 3 times a month. 

There are other things that I’m not doing because I have my two non-negotiables and I’ve also declared my eight personal priorities. This is not just ok. It is great! Having this level of clarity has been tremendously freeing. As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism, “Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” 

Being unapologetic about establishing non-negotiables and personal priorities has been a game changer. Now more than ever, I am confident in my ability handle curveballs that come my way and embrace new opportunities in life that are aligned with what’s most essential to me.  

 

 

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How Far Are You Willing To Go?

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

061517_LimitsWe live in a society that tells us: there are no limits, you can always go for more, you can always achieve more, you can always produce more, you can get more “likes” on social media, you can lose more weight, you can have a better job, you can have a more loving partner, and the list goes on and on… And this is what I want to reflect on today: How far are you willing to go?

Sometimes we find ourselves stretching far beyond our limits and well-being, reaching a point where our relationships and health start to deteriorate. We begin to lose some quality in our lives the moment we start to race to the end of our limits – And there are many consequences along the way, our health often being one of them.

Sometimes we push ourselves beyond our limits because we might feel there is a sense of freedom associated with breaking out of the box. However, when we ignore our limits, too often we end up completely exhausted and suffering from burnout. And, by the time we realize the cost, it is sometimes already too late to prevent a significant impact.

This is why it is so important to set limits in our lives. When we don’t set appropriate boundaries for ourselves, it often may feel that others are (unintentionally) disrespecting us. When we do not know when and how to say “ENOUGH”, we feel at the mercy of others or even things (like material possessions, jobs, unhealthy routines, etc.). A lack of boundaries means we are often unable to take accountability for the events that happen in our lives. We might try to find an external cause or justification for our suffering, which sometimes leads us to resignation (ultimately, reinforcing our lack of boundaries and creating a vicious circle).

Before we can communicate boundaries to those closest to us (such as friends, family, partner/spouse, boss, coworkers, etc.), it is important to figure out for ourselves what they are. Most of us do not pay conscious attention to how, why and what boundaries we must set in order to lead the life we wish. Once you are clear on what your boundaries are, then it is time that you clearly communicate them with the people you share your life with. Remember that if those around you do not know what your needs and limits are, it gets harder for them to support you in what you seek by respecting those limits.

A boundary is like an instructional manual that you can give to yourself and to others that clearly informs what your limits are. Once you’ve done that, it becomes easy to say how far you’re willing to go – in any situation.

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The Benefits of Comfort

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing & Program Manager

comfortzone_012617Neale Donald Walsch says that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. It is true that the things that make us uncomfortable or afraid can also create an unexpected joy or sense of fulfillment. Moving abroad, taking a risk on a relationship, pursuing a new certification or degree, even taking a literal leap and cliff jumping, all may naturally be outside our comfort zones. Pushing beyond the “shoulds” that society creates for us (or more often that we create for ourselves) can allow us to expand our horizons and accomplish things previously considered unachievable.

Though life cannot fully be embraced if we solely stay in “the known”, we must also respect the boundaries we each have put in place to protect our most precious values. Often when we are uncomfortable, it is because our values are being threatened – and it would therefore be harmful and draining to remain in that state.  There lies the complication: determining when going beyond our comfort zone challenges and benefits us, and when crossing that border is actually a result of someone or something violating a deeply rooted value. So how do we tell which is which? And what do we do if it’s the latter?

Determine the What

So what is it about “Co-Worker Todd” that makes us uncomfortable? The answer may be simple or surprisingly complex – and so may the solution. Reflect on what makes you set your teeth on edge when talking to “Todd”. Delve deep into the specifics. Does he stand too close to you when he talks? Do you find his tone irritating since his recent promotion?

Examine the Why

When you uncover the specifics of what action or statement has made you uncomfortable, examine the why. Which of your values feels threatened? If Todd is standing too close, he may be violating your value of personal space. If you’ve found his tone insufferable since he beat you out on a promotion last month, your value of respect may feel threatened. Alternatively or in addition to that, it could be that his presence is triggering feelings of unworthiness, as you again wonder why you were rejected for said promotion. Whatever the why is, acknowledge it without judgement. Understanding the reason behind an uncomfortable situation is the first step to alleviate it.

Communicate Your Boundaries

Often when we feel uncomfortable, the situation can be improved with a conversation on boundaries – either with the offender, a loved one, or ourselves. Todd may simply be unaware of his too-close-for-comfort proximity (as obvious as it may appear to us). Or if his actions are indeed intentional, speaking up may make him rethink that choice in the future. If the thing that’s making us uncomfortable is further away from our day to day – say a politician’s latest statement or an undesirable policy being passed – our communication may take the form of a letter or phone call.

Just the act of sharing our feeling of discomfort with a friend or loved one can also help disperse the unpleasantness in a situation. Lastly, correcting negative self-talk and addressing internal criticism can also be a way to guide us back to our comfort zone. After all, a positive affirmation or two can go a long way.

Go Beyond

Sometimes communication is not enough to create change and additional action may be needed. If Todd continues to breach your personal bubble, consult with a trusted mentor or your manager. If you are unhappy with local politics, sit in on a City Council meeting or attend a protest. If a new policy is threatening a value you deem as a global human right, volunteer at an organization fighting for something you hold dear. If you feel you are being attacked online by a stranger, determine if some small part of you believes those words to be true. Then pursue whatever action would lessen that belief – it could be meditation, education (whether individual or institutional), therapy, or a more heightened and informed awareness of yourself and the world. Whatever your next action is, ensure it is authentic to you and your values.

Repeat

The beautiful thing about our brains is that they change. A statement that made us uncomfortable 6 months ago may not have the same effect now. Todd may still set our teeth on edge but the reason why may be different. This means we must be persistent with our detective work, as our what’s and why’s are constantly changing.

All that we have control over is our own actions (and reactions). Next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, get to the bottom of the what and the why and take the needed steps to move forward. Let go of the idea of external control, determine what can be done to protect your values, and then, like a resolute cliff diver, take the leap back into your comfort zone.

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The Power of “No”

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Magazine]

Have you ever said yes to a request at work when you knew deep down you had no intention of doing it? Maybe you said you’d meet a colleague for coffee, take someone to lunch, or participate on a committee, but you really didn’t have the time or desire to follow through. That’s okay. We’ve all said yes to things we knew weren’t really going to happen. In fact, this happens a lot, all over the world, in both personal and professional life. Why do we do this, and how can we shift our responses so they reflect our true intention and capacity?

The behavior of saying yes to things we know we either don’t want to or are unable to do is called “hedging.” It consists of using phrases like “I don’t know,” “maybe,” and “we’ll see,” when really your answer is, unequivocally, no.

When we hedge, our intentions (most times) are good. At work, we hedge to avoid disappointing others—like our customers, our managers, and our coworkers. It’s easy to feel that if you say no to a request at work you’ll be perceived as selfish or rude, or that it might impact your performance review. It’s natural to want to be liked and accepted, and to be considered a team player. That said, hedging can have many negative impacts.

For instance, when we commit to too many projects, assignments, and “five-minute favors” and we know we will be unable to complete them, we wind up creating false expectations, and can become the bottleneck in the system—which is the exact opposite of what most people intend when they say yes. Hedging also tends to create more work (that may or may not be part of your role), causing stress, resentment, and frustration. At the team level, hedging erodes trust, damages reputations, and can cause widespread role confusion.

Break the Hedging Cycle

Start by paying attention to when you hedge and get clear on what you really can, and cannot, do. “No” doesn’t have to be dismissive. A strategic no can, in fact, be a powerful productivity tool and a way to set clear priorities. It can mark the beginning of a thoughtful, intentional conversation about workload, role definition, and office dynamics. When you give a mindful no, you contribute even more to your team by being clear about what is realistic, which allows the organization to better understand needs, plan for resources, and set priorities. This is especially important for companies operating with limited resources.

Say It Right

It’s not all about just saying no—the way you say no is also important. Use a respectful tone and provide as much context as possible to the person making the request. Explaining why you’re unable to oblige a coworker’s request can go a long way—not just in increasing efficiency, but also in building trust. A phrase to experiment with is “that’s not going to work for me, because….”

If you know you can get to the request, but just not right now, set expectations up front on timeframe. “That’s not going to work for me right now, can we talk again in three weeks?” Another option is to offer help in whatever way you can: “I know this is important to you, but right now the core priorities for my job are x, y, and z, and I’m not able to support this request. Can I help you find someone else who might be able to help?”

Most times, when people feel respected, they are willing to work together to find a solution that is realistic and supports the team and organization—even if the conversation begins with “no.”

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The Linchpin To Balance: Boundaries

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post]

Boundaries_081816

Setting and communicating clear boundaries is the fulcrum to creating sustainable balance in whatever way you define balance for yourself (and for your team if you are a manager). Odds are strong that when you are feeling out of balance, it has to do with values. Sometimes it’s because your values may feel threatened, or you have gotten away from them, and a lot of the time it is has to do with the boundaries you set (or don’t set) to protect and honor your values.

This is just as much true at work as it is outside of work. On a simple level, boundaries teach other people what your values are and how to treat you. Communicating your boundaries helps those in your life to be clear around how to treat you, what your limits are and how far you are willing to go (or not go) in certain situations and circumstances. At work, boundaries keep you clear on your business purpose, priorities, and time management. Regardless of whether or not they are talked about at work -boundaries exist in the workplace.

Boundaries are tricky because you cannot see, smell, taste, or touch a boundary, but you know when it has been crossed, and you know when you are in a relationship with someone at work who is crossing the line. A good indication someone has crossed the line with you is that you might find yourself pretending that you didn’t actually see what you saw or hear what you heard in order to avoid conflict or confrontation. For example, “I can’t believe he sent that as a text message!” or “I can’t believe he said that to the room of customers.” Or, “That’s not part of my job!”

Before you can set and maintain workplace boundaries it’s important to figure out what you need. For most people, not much conscious attention is paid to how, why and what boundaries we set at and about our work. Boundaries as they apply to work can be divided into team boundaries and individual boundaries.

At the team level the best example of a boundary is a job description. (We all know what happens when one is not clear — it causes confusion, frustration and the team is not very productive.) Other common boundaries include your actual work and workflow. Question to help define team boundaries include clarity around reporting structure and who generates assignments, which isn’t always the same in many offices. Also worth considering is who sets your work priorities? (Answer: it’s a trick question as often times many people play a role.)

At the individual level the best example of a boundary is when you arrive and leave “work,” which in today’s world doesn’t always mean a physical space. Other commons boundaries include accepting meetings over lunch or breakfast, blocking time out for yourself to do work, attending (or not attending) every meeting you are invited to, how often you work from home and if you take vacation (and work from vacation).

When setting and maintaining boundaries, it is helpful to become aware of the choices you make around your needs and see where your actions support what you need. Answer the questions for yourself. Share the questions with your team and your family. Be consistent about the boundaries you set and have the courage to have the conversation.

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Saying Yes to No

By Chelsea Elkins, Program & Marketing Manager

Crossroads

I am a yes-man. Or, rather, I am a yes-man in recovery.

What can I say? I really thought I loved Yes. It is the great unifier, the unapologetic people pleaser, the limitless connector of any language. So you can imagine my discomfort when I found myself abruptly thrust into an alien world of No when I was diagnosed with a fatigue-inducing health condition earlier this year.

I have to admit I was a bit surprised by my own explosive reaction to having to say no more often than I could say yes (courtesy of my tired and protesting body). But when I thought about it, it made sense how I got there. The culture and mindset among my peers and social circle has largely been one of Yes (my generation coining the terms FOMO and YOLO into modern vernacular), so it seemed logical how Yes became so deeply saturated into my being.

My debut with No was not an easy one. My biggest challenge came with having to turn down things I genuinely wanted to do. Having to decline or cancel brunches and Star Wars-themed parties was amazingly difficult even when my body was begging for sleep.

The true trouble came from my over-active mind, imagining that whoever extended the invite would start questioning if I even wanted to be invited at all. Perhaps they felt I was making excuses or no longer shared their interest in French food or outdoor concerts. “They probably won’t be inviting you in the future!” my delirious brain cried.

And voilà, we reached the root of my problem with Yes. Why, for years, I over-extended and stretched myself thin as paper, both with things I wanted to do and things I did not.

For me, what it really boiled down to was fear. Fear that if I said no x amount of times, I’d stop being asked. Fear that if I’m not the one constantly organizing hang outs, I’d never hear from anyone. Fear that I’d offend. Fear that once I finally emerge on the other side, healthy and shiny and new, I’ll find that all my friends and friendly acquaintances have moved to Mallorca and failed to invite me.

Ultimately, fear that I am not enough.

Quite a pill to swallow.

The positive thing was I was not alone with this issue and could access an abundance of wisdom on the matter. Lena Dunham and Whitney Cummings both shared their intimate histories with No, and Shonda Rhimes started a beautiful and intentional relationship with Yes. I was inspired to start to restructure my own relationship with my decisions, and slowly I began to find strength and even delight in my no’s. Gradually, I found I was taking control of my life and health.

I still think Yes is great. Yes can lead to new connections and unforgettable experiences. The trick, as with everything, is to find balance. Saying yes enough to lead a wondrous, joyful existence but not so much that you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of commitments, whether desirable or not.

In this way I’m carrying on, bravely owning my answers, whatever they may be, and remembering that a resounding No will always be more beneficial to my relationships than a reluctant Yes.

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Change Starts with Ourselves

By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Consultant

mobile deviceAs a parent, I try to limit how much time my 6- and a 3-year-old kids spend in front of a screen. I read articles by folks like Sheryl Turkle, who speaks passionately on the topic of lost conversation in a digital age. My wife and I discuss strategies like setting specific “iPad time” each day. I mask my frustration by turning a blind eye, pretending it’s not an issue, that I’m not really bothered by my kids staring blankly at a screen.

And then it struck me: the gap between my desires and actions. I’ve become painfully aware of the amount of time I spend on my own mobile device. At work, certainly, but especially at home around the kids. While walking to grab a glass of water I’ll peek to see if any new emails have come in; in between playtime I’ll check if I have any new Facebook notifications, and on and on.

We’ve all heard and likely repeated the relevant clichés: “Change starts with oneself.” “Be the change you want to see.” “Lead by example.” We know it’s hard to change a habit, especially when it provides a real and immediate reward, like the mini dopamine rush we receive each time we see a Facebook Like or a retweet of an article we just posted.

We tend to look externally for strategies and solutions to changing habits. Yet, the clichés are true: We must first look internally and become aware of where our actions misalign with our desires. For me, it’s being aware each time I pick up my mobile phone while I’m playing with my kids.

We can extend this to the workplace, to a broader team context. As a manager and leader, what are some behavior shifts you seek for your team, and how are you going about shaping the changes? Do you start with creating strategies and communicating “the plan,” or do you start by trying to model the behavior change yourself? If you want your team to take more risks, what is the risk you took this week that felt a bit scary? If you want your team to collaborate better, what are you doing to reach out and cultivate stronger relationships yourself?

As you work on shifting your own behavior, are you sharing your stories and including the team in this conversation, thereby creating permission for them to learn from each other as well? I’m not likely to sit down with my toddler and have a conversation about my struggle with setting and enforcing electronic boundaries, but you have the choice to do that with your team. And it starts with an authentic conversation with yourself.

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