I don’t know about you, but I am totally inspired by the NYC marathon every year. I am not a runner myself, but I volunteered at the finish line for several years. Watching thousands cross the finish line, I think about all the dedicated hours these runners spent in preparation, culminating in achieving this monumental goal.
After all, if you run a marathon, you don’t just wake up on the day of the race, don your sneakers and hope for the best. Of course, not! You train to build endurance and confidence.
With that in mind, I want to encourage you to start training for the marathon that is the holiday season. (Yes, it does seem to be starting earlier every year!)
Every year, people feel overwhelmed and pressured to over-deliver for their loved ones. Rather than feeling the gratitude and joy of the season, they feel exhausted.
How can you train for the holidays? By taking a good, hard look at your personal boundaries.
Personal boundaries are the imaginary fences we build around ourselves to maintain balance and protect ourselves from the behavior or demands of others. Boundaries help us to confidently express who we are and what we want in life. Unfortunately, many allow themselves to maintain weak boundaries believing that this will win the love and respect of others.
The single most powerful tool you can use to establish and maintain healthy boundaries is a tiny word: NO.
Most people who struggle with boundaries find themselves caught between a rock and hard place: the rock of guilt and the hard place of resentment.
If they say no, they feel guilty but if they say yes, they feel resentful.
Resentment usually comes from feeling taken advantage of or unappreciated. Resentment often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits or that someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us. It may seem like a simple solution but most people never learn to say no because they want everyone to agree with them and approve of them. They fear that they aren’t good enough or deserving enough without doing for others
To train for the marathon that is the holiday season, I want to encourage you to put the NO in November!
Here is your training program:
1. Examine your past and present relationships.
How you were raised and your role in your family can be obstacles in setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. People may have expectations of you based on your roles of child, parent, coworker, friend, spouse, sibling etc. Ask yourself, “What am I comfortable giving in these roles?”Consider the people you surround yourself with. Are your relationships reciprocal? Is there a healthy give and take? Which relationships energize you and which drain you? Say NO to those energy drainers.
2. Give yourself permission.
“Because that’s what I’ve always done” is not a good reason to keep doing something that doesn’t work for you. Maybe you’ve always spent Thanksgiving at your Aunt Susie’s house. Unfortunately, Susie and your mother are critical of your parenting and not shy about telling you all the ways they can (and did) do a better job. The result is you spend your Thanksgiving miserable, unable to get in the spirit of the holiday. After all it is hard to connect to your gratitude when you are constantly defending your parenting. It really is okay to opt out and have a smaller Thanksgiving with your friends or your nuclear family.
Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. So give yourself the permission to set healthy boundaries and maintain them.
3. Start small.
Like any new skill, asserting your boundaries takes practice. Train as you would train for the marathon. Start small (like saying no to volunteering on yet another committee), and build up to more challenging boundaries, (like saying no to watching your friend’s daughter when she never returns the favor).
4. Honor Yourself:
Healthy people say no more they say yes. That’s because they’ve learned to honor their own values and priorities. The word HONOR is important. When you honor your boundaries, you are being honest about who you are and what is important to you. When you act with this integrity, you need not feel guilty. When you say NO when something doesn’t fit with your values, you are also saying NO to overwhelm, stress, negativity, and self-created drama.
Doesn’t it make more sense to say YES to your own health, well-being and sanity?
I’m not going to sugar-coat it: some people will be upset when you assert your boundaries and say no, especially if they have grown accustomed to you always saying yes. You will have to train yourself to face your feelings of guilt and fears of being seen as selfish. You will have to train yourself to resist the knee-jerk reaction of saying yes before really considering the cost to you.
However, just like going for a run, once you get past the initial discomfort, you will love the feeling of space that is created by saying NO. You will feel more confident as you experience the empowerment that comes from acting within your boundaries. You (and the people in your life) will learn that NO does not mean you are not a loving, kind, and giving person. Rather, it means that when you do say yes, it is coming from a place of genuine willingness, without the nasty aftertaste of guilt and resentment.
Yes, setting and maintaining boundaries is challenging but it is completely worth it. Give it a try for 30 days and let’s put the NO in November!