Turn Boundaries Into Opportunities For Success

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How To Be Successful By Overcoming Obstacles & Turning Boundaries Into Opportunities

There are benefits and risks to setting boundaries for opportunities and success. The word boundary implies "limits," but setting boundaries with other people can actually improve your productivity and help yout transcend obstacles.

Emotional boundaries with other people can be guidelines for creating reasonable ways to encourage and define the behavior you want from them and help get through your limiting habits. 

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Boundaries benefit you by avoiding misunderstandings and continuing issues that don’t serve your interests, which will guide you on the road to success.

They can also support effective, healthy relationships for you as well as the people you choose for connections that have meaning to you. In today’s messy, sometimes chaotic world boundaries offer comfort and provide some predictability as well.

Yet the flow on a two-way street of clear mutual expectations can still contain emotional traffic jams when unsettled issues continue to simmer or even boil over. That’s a risk to consider when you clarify how you want to be in and sustain a relationship of commitment and caring.

Sometimes the choice is between staying mired in a problematic relationship with destructive or draining aspects and cultivating a new understanding based on improved trust, shared interests, and growth.

Set boundaries well to protect yourself from being:

  • Exploited in relationships by people who expect you to conform to their styles of living and needs, immediate and continuing
  • Exposed to unreasonable demands, whether professional or personal
  • Involved with hollow distractions

There’s another opportunity embedded in boundary. Bound can relate to leaping forward to improve your situation. Then your opportunities lie in how the limits you set help you bound forward.

The following are four suggestions for you to consider:

1. When and with whom to set boundaries 

People who take advantage of you can range from friends and family to colleagues and bosses. Perhaps they have learned to make demands and requests, reasonable and unreasonable, because you continue to be accommodating.

Your assistance could express your generosity as well as habits of pleasing others and unquestioning loyalties. To make good choices, I hope the following will help you distinguish between actions in your interest and what just serves others’ needs ─ possibly to your and even their detriment.

Here are some possible cues that some boundary strengthening is due:

  • Requests are continuous or periodic, often without notice and sometimes abusive, or at least thoughtless or impulsive
  • Assistance sought can be provided by the person, someone else, or easily purchased
  • Need is understandable, but not well-related to your priorities, resources, or preferences for use of your time
  • You do not enjoy the activity requested and/or find much meaning in it
  • You often feel drained, used, or bored while or after acceding to the request

2. Ways to bound forward

Whatever the circumstances, how can you say no firmly and gracefully? This is easier said than done, especially if you’re motivated by pleasing people or long-term loyalties. But since you have to start somewhere, consider and adjust the following suggestions to your situation, adding your own ideas and language as you bound forward:

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  • "I wish I could help, but I’m already committed; perhaps you could find other assistance by …"
  • "I sense you have the ability to do this without my assistance. Let’s discuss how you could best figure out how to do that."
  • "We've agreed on other priorities that seem to conflict with what you’re requesting. Shall we discuss what’s important to do first?" (for work especially)

3. Avoid realities that bite

For example, if problems or issues are papered over in the short run they are likely to keep resurfacing, possibly becoming more difficult to address as they get entrenched.

People will keep making inappropriate demands or foist their questionable or intrusive habits on you ─ to both their and your disadvantage. You may also continue to succumb to distractions that keep you from worthwhile, important priorities, better relationships, and enjoyment of daily life.

As you continue to clarify and honor your priorities, take more proactive or assertive approaches with others. Sometimes you can transcend mutually constraining or unproductive situations by developing ways to collaborate, coordinate, and delegate.

Instead of just reacting to or decrying others’ behavior, create win-win outcomes together. If they resist or ignore such an approach, that probably confirms they are uninterested, unable, or unwilling to acknowledge your interests and needs ─ and perhaps their own longer-term ones for self-sufficiency. Then strengthen your own boundaries, making them clear to others.

Practically speaking, though, some behaviors, issues, and matters will linger and simmer. This is made worse by human tendencies to choose what’s comfortable, or even passive, rather than what’s smart, challenging, or new behavior. Then, determine what you will do now as well in the longer term to support your goals for outcomes that benefit you and potentially others.

As part of your boundary clarifications, choose the degree of attention and focus you will give situations to promote valuable outcomes. Identify formal and informal influence you have in a situation. Use or strengthen it.

In addition, look into negotiating processes such as those suggested in this oldie and goodie: Getting Together: Building Relationships As We Negotiate.

4. Keep bringing together your opportunities

To enjoy life more and continue making effective boundaries, identify one or two strategies and growth opportunities for follow up action. They could include improving your knowledge, enhancing and using soft or transferable skills, and modeling effective behavior.

With your insights, skills, and options in mind, you’ll be increasingly better equipped for applying your strategies, taking action or, when necessary, letting go.

You can also benefit from being alert to the story you are telling yourself about all of this. Assessing your assumptions can give you additional insights for improving boundaries you need to establish and strengthen. Try recording your own internal narrative for deeper understanding.

Think of effective boundaries as an investment in your quality of life, including your emotional and physical health and longevity. They also protect your precious, nonrenewable time, while containing a range of opportunities to benefit yourself and often others.

I hope your choices to improve boundaries add opportunities to your current life and lead to a better future. As Georgetown University professor and preacher Michael Eric Dyson says, “What you ignore you give power.”

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Ruth Schimel, PhD, is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon. Obtain the bonus first chapter of the upcoming, Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future on the Books page at her website, where you’ll also find your invitation for a free consultation.

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