Dear June: How to Set Boundaries in a Wise Manner

Advice to manage your time and relationships
September 22, 2020 Updated: September 22, 2020

Dear June,

I don’t think I am good at setting boundaries for myself. Not having boundaries has resulted in problems like over-scheduling, having too many relationships I can’t do justice to, and taking on more jobs than I can actually do because I can’t say no. I like the idea of having firmer boundaries because I think it prevents a lot of problems, both for myself and others. But I worry that when I start setting stricter boundaries, I will come off as cold or uncaring when I say no. How do I know when I’m setting boundaries out of selfishness versus practicality and good forethought?

Gail K., New Jersey

Dear Gail,

For starters, you can defer decisions until you have time to think them over. This means not saying yes to an invitation or job offer on the spot, but letting the other party know you very much appreciate their offer and need some time to think it over. The decision may be clear immediately when you are no longer face-to-face with the other person. Then you can find a way to graciously decline, which will prevent you from seeming cold.

If the decision is not clear immediately, you will need to do more reflection. You could do this either intuitively, which will address the question of selfishness, or logically, which would address the question of forethought.

The intuitive approach would be to sit quietly and listen to all the thoughts and emotions you have around the decision; it may help to free write. Then try to discern the superficial from the wise.

Some people thrive on superficial relationships, but for others, a few close friendships are what is most enriching. If you are in the latter category, then politely decline social invitations with people you don’t feel you want to get to know better. This is not selfish—it’s saving your time and energy for the people and things that matter.

A more logic-driven approach would be to write up your goals for your life, including career and relationship goals. Think about a timeline for these goals, then break down the steps you need to achieve these goals, and a timeline for these steps. Include your most important relationships and how much time you want to dedicate to them. Then make a comprehensive calendar with all of your duties, goals, steps, and current important relationship commitments. With this calendar in place, you should gain a very clear sense of what else you might actually have time and energy for.

One final thought: As humans, we all need to learn to operate in a balance of cool-headed logic and sincere, warm empathy. Neither extreme is desirable. People who are warm-hearted but not level-headed often are not dependable, and when logic is disconnected from empathy, we err toward cynicism, perfectionism, and harsh judgment. Usually, the people we trust and admire have a balance of both.

Sincerely,
June

======

Dear June,

I seem to have a hard time sticking to a schedule. What is the best way to discipline myself with this?

Tatianna D., Virginia

 

Dear Tatianna,

A good schedule is one that allows everyone in your family to be happy and successful. It should reduce stress by making sure the most important things get done but not be so rigid that it directs life. Effective schedules are actually built on good habits, so you will want to consider your daily routines and adopt new habits if the current ones are not serving you.

Secondly, consider why staying on a schedule is so hard for you. Do you like schedules, but life seems to always work against them? Is it a willpower issue where you get distracted by social media or other things? Or is it that you feel happier when your life has more spontaneity?

If life seems like it’s working against a schedule—maybe you are a caregiver, for example—it might help to create a simpler schedule. Plan to tackle fewer things in a day so you have more time to deal with unexpected events. You may also want to plan head for those times when the day is really off track so you can still be organized.

If it’s willpower that is holding you back, you will want to do some things to strengthen it. Examples might be doing the hardest thing in your day first; setting a timer and making yourself finish a task in the set time; or setting a work-before-play rule. Even doing the same thing at the same time every day (it can be a small, quick thing) can help build strength of will.

If it’s your love of spontaneity at the heart of the issue, then first accept that this is probably part of your nature—some people love an unplanned day. Then create a schedule that allows you to fulfill your obligations but also leaves time for freedom. For example, maybe you batch prep all your dinners for the week so that you can be sure they are always timely, and then you have evenings free for other things.

Sincerely,
June

Do you have a family or relationship question for our advice columnist, Dear June? Send it to DearJune@EpochTimes.com or Attn: Dear June, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001.

June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.