Boundaries - setting yourself up for success

Do you ever feel part of you is driven and motivated and wants to push to achieve your goals but this other part of you just feels like retreating and hiding when it gets too much and you feel drained and burned out?

In my 9 to 5 corporate job as a Leadership coach. I ended up in burnout, and the reason why? Because I didn’t have boundaries.

At this point, I had already set up my business, The Happiness Branch, but I was running it more as a hobby than anything else. Finally, I found myself in a situation where I was brave and cut down my hours at work with the self-belief that I could make this work for me.

Initially, I had Wednesdays free from my corporate life. Every other part-time person seemed to have picked Friday as their day off. I decided against this and chose Wednesday to break the week up a bit. Unfortunately, even though it was only mid-week, I was so burnt out that I found running my own business a real struggle.

Tuesdays often found me visiting London for meetings and so I was exhausted on Wednesday, mainly due to me not having these all-important boundaries. I would reach London with a brain fog because the experience was so draining for me. I cannot remember an instance where I travelled back home on the train and didn’t cry. I got myself into this state because again I hadn’t set any boundaries.

I was blocking fun and joy from my life too, which was another part of it. I’m now a recovering people-pleaser, but back then, on those Wednesdays, someone would message me and ask me to meet for a coffee, in fact this used to happen a lot, I used to get so many messages from people wanting to meet me. My head informed me the idea that networking is great for your career and business and so I would agree, most of the time I would either end up totally drained and needing to rest or I would turn up and someone would be promoting or selling something to me or they wanted free coaching, advice, mentoring etc. As a result of not doing value activities for my business, giving my time and energy away for free and pushing through my corporate job, I stopped bringing in any money.

Growth mindset is a great thing. The belief that you will improve is really powerful. However, I was almost excusing this pushy behaviour as growth mindset. I was telling myself to just keep pushing. This led to me being burnt out. I wasn’t setting any boundaries. I was just hoping that I would get stronger by continuing to push.

One time I remember I was so stressed. I had been on a call with a colleague, working from home, meaning I was unable to excuse myself by saying I needed to leave the office. It was 5.30 and I said I would give her five minutes, but then I would have to go. Unfortunately, she said she had so much to tell me and probably was talking at me for a further fifteen to twenty minutes. I could feel my anxiety building and I felt more drained.

She kept pushing me, telling me I had so much more work to do on this project and needed to do it quickly, this was a pivotal moment as I just lost it. Thankfully this was not a video call. Tears started to stream down my face because I had kept pushing, hoping to prove myself to her. Once the call finally ended, I went to cook tea, midway through, I began to sob so much that I couldn’t continue. I fell to the floor. The tea was burning in the process. It was through this event that the realisation that I had to change something came.

I was totally in pushy mode, aiming to do more. I had neglected the side of me that wanted to inject some fun into my day. I simply needed to have some pleasurable parts to my working day. The more I didn’t do this, my body was screaming at me. My Mindfulness practice drew my attention to it daily, I assumed most of it was my anxiety, but this was actually the result of me not having established any boundaries so I absorbing everything from everyone else but also my body was telling me I wasn’t following my true purpose (more on this in a later blog). As soon as I listened to my body and shifted into energy of fun, the flow, embracing who I was and my freedom of choice, things changed.

My Wednesdays became more focused on the success of my business. I set myself boundaries and I stopped meeting people or changed to Zoom meetings (less draining for my energy) on these days. I would work in the garden if the weather was nice. I tapped into my creativity and started to enjoy my work at the same time as seeing the success building.

As soon as I began to focus more this side, things changed for the better. As soon as I surrendered to what I needed, I managed to manifest leaving my corporate job too. Every morning, I visualised myself handing my laptop to my boss. I made myself focus on how it would feel to follow through with these hopes and dreams, considering what it would take to make this happen.

Scientifically, we know that the Law of Attraction works because of the Reticular Activating System in the brain (RAS). It doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined experiences. As soon as we bombard it with these thoughts of how we would like our life to be, it creates cognitive dissonance. This then leads us to acting, both consciously and subconsciously, in a way that makes stuff happen to us. By tapping into that energy, I was being myself, having fun and that was ok, but I also managed to leave my corporate job behind and focus entirely on the Happiness Branch. That was key.

Positive psychology brings some further science to support this and this is where science and spirituality meet. If we are honouring ourselves and our strengths (go back and check out my live training on strengths in the group if you haven’t already) it’s about finding joy in the moment. If we are honouring ourselves, we are allowing ourselves to have the experiences to give ourselves the happy chemicals in our brains. By using our strengths, we can get into that joy, that flow.

When I use strengths in my business, I do better and enjoy it. I did some social media posts this week, I wondered what it would be like to make that a treat. So, I sat on the patio with a cup of tea and put some music on through my headphones. I sat there with my laptop for a couple of hours focusing on my social media and it was beautiful. I was getting lovely images to use and writing for me is a top strength. Being able to be in that flow was incredible. Thinking about strengths helps to set boundaries as you know what does and doesn’t bring you joy. You don’t have to do it all.

Coming out of the corporate world, a lot of the time focused on weaknesses and how to improve. That pushes you out of your boundaries. You’re not using your natural energy, your strengths. Ultimately, that drains you. Ask yourself what you need right now, what you need to honour yourself. Tap into that joy every day as that is setting a boundary in itself.

There may also need to be physical boundaries you need to set. If you are introverted or highly sensitive, these physical boundaries are really important. I found that I would want to do creative work one day but find I had calls to make, so now I set aside certain days for calls and creative or detailed work. It wasn’t very mindful either to start with. I found that my attention would be split in several directions.

You can also set boundaries around who you work with and who you help. I’ve not set boundaries in the past and have had people either not pay me or not actually committed to doing the work. If someone is not my ideal client I don’t work with them, I make sure I can give my energy to those I can really help, so important as a HSP and Empath too.

When I was in the corporate world, this was key for me. I was brave, but it took me a long time to get to this point. If this sounds like you, please don’t leave it as long as I did. This may have got easier for you in lockdown perhaps.

I set boundaries with my work as a lot of my team were all over the UK so I didn’t need to be in the local office. I was brave and told my boss I needed to work from home, going into the office everyday was too much for me as an introvert and HSP. I wouldn’t get much work done, too many distractions, people, the stressful drive in, the technology, phones ringing, I could go on argh! Genuinely thought I had a physical condition as I was exhausted by 4pm, I would get complete brain fog and unable to even see properly to drive home some days.

On days I worked from home, it didn’t happen. I was strong with honouring what I needed. Of course, I went in for a meeting, if a supplier came in etc. I did this with London too. I would only go every other week that was the deal I set myself. I pushed back where I could, could it really not be done over skype? Lockdown has shown this is possible now! Set yourself physical boundaries around how and where you work. Of course, home schooling now during lockdown may add extra pressures, but if you are finding that this way of working is helping, use this as your opportunity to change that.

Of course, there are some scenarios where you can’t avoid it e.g. going to the hospital if someone is unwell but the important thing is being kind to ourselves. My intuition started to tell me what my boundaries were from a really early stage. About six months before my kitchen floor incident, I started to feel different with different scenarios and people. My body was telling me to get out, it was making me ill with physical symptoms of headaches, sickness, a stiff neck.

I would have situations where I had planned to see friends on a weekend, if I’d had to be in the office that week, I would say 85% of the time I would have to cancel those plans as I didn’t have the energy for them. I accept that as an introvert, I need more down time, time to recharge. However, if I’m putting my life on hold because of my job, because of my corporate career, is it really worth it? That’s not in being in flow. It’s not fun.

The best and easiest tip is set a morning routine, this starts your day in a great way with a boundary to protect your energy and give you joy for the day ahead. What would be non-negotiable on this for you? Even a few minutes. My morning routine does not give, yes, I sometimes need to tweak it slightly. E.g. meditation happens regardless.

My morning routine of some Pilates stretches (while the kettle is boiling, Time Optimiser strength here!) , meditation, oracle cards and journaling is a non-negotiable at the moment. With the journaling, for me, it’s quite random. For some of you, you might prefer structure. I do what I feel like that day, write about my dreams, my goals, general feelings, prompts from oracle cards, what do I need to release or if I feeling a little bit low I’ll write pages of gratitude to bring myself back into that space of joy

So in summary, the things you can do to create boundaries are:

- Set physical boundaries, how, when, where you work, who you see, who you work with.

- Set Emotional boundaries, protect your energy, use Mindfulness to tune in and build awareness around the situations and people that energise and drain you.

- Tap into joy daily and many times a day, fill up your fuel tank of your brain, this will help with your resilience (scientifically proven!)

- Set a morning routine, what would be a non-negotiable for you? Even a few minutes?

If I can help you with boundaries further please get in touch as this is only scratching the surface of everything I blend together in science and spirituality.

Gemma - Intuitive Entrepreneur, HSP, Mindfulness Teacher, TEDx speaker

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