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The importance of personal boundaries and how you can maintain good ones

How boundaries cultivate symbiotic relationships

The ultimate key to staying in control of your agenda while still maintaining genuine working relationships is to set and enforce clear boundaries. Personal boundaries are tricky because human expectations are constantly changing. As a result, boundaries expectations not only pervade our relationships with other people, but also with ourselves.

How many times have you set unrealistic expectations for yourself and promptly gotten upset when you failed? How many times has have your (or others’) perfectionist expectations and need for control sabotaged a work project or personal relationship? Take a look at the graphic below to see how many of these ‘violations’ you frequently participate in – both for your own boundaries and those of others.

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Most of us struggle with setting boundaries and saying “No” on an ongoing basis. Not wanting to hurt feelings of others, not wanting to seem irresponsible or worse apathetic, we continue to let people invade our boundaries. And inevitably this leads to burnout. Whether we are pushing our boundaries to impress our colleagues and seniors or merely ourselves, there can be dire consequences for breaching your sacred boundaries over and over.

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When your boundaries are breached repeatedly (burnout, feeling incompetent, self-sabotage)

Our boundaries, both personal and professional, are meant to create a sense of security. They exist so that we may value and appreciate our own existence. They literally define who we are. How many times have you heard words like, she’s a pushover, he’s passive-aggressive or she’s too bossy?

People view others and themselves in the light of the boundaries they set. By allowing people to breach our boundaries time and again, we risk feeling burnout, incompetence and even self-loathing. If we are continually sidetracked by other people’s agenda, we lose sight of our own. In this tug-of-war with competing agendas, we rarely win – and believe it or not, the other person doesn’t win either.

Consequences of living with unhealthy boundaries can range from minor irritations to full-blown physiological problems. People with unhealthy boundaries:
•    Are unable to say no for fear of rejection or abandonment
•    Have a weak sense of identity often living to serve others
•    Feel disempowered – giving their power and responsibility to others
•    Let others make decisions for them
•    Are unable to protect their physical and emotional space from intrusion
•    Feel responsible for other’s happiness and satisfaction
•    Expect others to read their minds and anticipate their needs
•    May frequently breach others’ boundaries themselves

Healthy boundaries on the other hand lead to empowerment, strong limits and mutually beneficial relationships. People with healthy boundaries:
•    Are assertive and vocal with their opinions, thoughts, feelings and needs
•    Convey their point of contention in a respectful manner
•    Freely say yes or no and also are okay when others say no
•    Recognize that they have separate needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others
•    Make healthy choices and take responsibility for themselves
•    Have high self-esteem and self respect
•    Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship
•    Protect physical and emotional space from invasion or intrusion
•    Create equal partnerships with shared responsibility and power

Do you need to make changes? What changes could you make to help prevent further boundary violations?

Continue to Part 4 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.

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What you need to identify your personal vision and stop others from sidetracking you

Identifying your personal vision

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Steve Jobs’ productivity was legendary, but it wasn’t accidental. According to Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs annually walked Apple’s leaders through the following exercise: He would ask ‘What are the 10 things we should be doing next?’ After all the brainstorming they would come up with a list of top10 priorities. Jobs then slashed the bottom seven saying ‘We can only do three.’
The beauty of this is that by focusing on the top two or three priorities, you, like Jobs have the power to create whatever reality it is that you aspire to with a laser-focus. In a to-do list of twenty items , you may lose track of the most significant or impactful captivities, but when you only focus on a couple, you know exactly what to do in order to move your vision forward.

Know when other people are intercepting (consciously or unconsciously ) sidetracking you

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Though it sure may seem like it sometimes, people are not intentionally trying to screw us over. They have their own stressors and they cope by offloading or throwing their tasks and responsibilities onto others. Considering the fact that they are literally taking advantage of you, how can it be anything but conscious malice?

Its hard to wrap your head around this concept but try this: Think back to a time when you asked someone for help out of desperation. Try to imagine how they felt about picking up your task. Maybe they never said anything to you but they felt extremely cornered and being taken advantage of.

Putting yourself into someone else’s shoes for a while may help you see their point and see how it aligns with your vision OR it may allow you to empathize with their differing perspective and identify what points of conflict you can work through in order to ensure that your agenda isn’t being sacrificed when assisting someone in fulfilling their vision.

Personal and professional relationships are the catch-22 of success. They can hinder, sidetrack or ruin your plans. They can also be incredibly powerful agents that propel you in the right direction when they help you to fulfill your vision.

No matter how rich or poor, educated or illiterate, socially endowed or painfully awkward we live, work and play among other human beings. These human agents of change are all around us all of the time. Just as other people tend to use you in achieving their ends, you can ask others for help in achieving yours.

Try to think of it from a perspective of symbiotic assistance the next time you groan as a superior dumps an awful task on you. So when that nurse asks me to do the sixth bed bath for the morning, I get up with a genuine smile instead, reminding myself that once I am done helping HER, how much more willing she will be to allow me to practice my wound care skills on the same patient.

Helping others and expecting help in return is not opportunistic or inconsiderate of other people’s agenda, it is the cornerstone of all human interactions, innovations and personal success.

Continue to Part 3 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision Series.

 

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Goals are misleading- this the only tool you’ll ever need to get things done

I recently started a new clinical placement. As nursing students still learning the trade, we are the very bottom of the hospital hierarchy.

We are treated well, don’t get me wrong. Still, there are instances where we are overworked and hijacked to meet other peoples’ agenda. Tasks that the nurses are either too busy to do or don’t want to do are often delegated to us lowly students. Not wanting to rub them the wrong way, we often take on the unsavoury chore with a smiling face.

Now this is all well and good, until these chores start taking over our time on the floor and impinging our own ultimate goal – learning clinical skills. When this work starts to affect students’ personal mindset and self-worth, it becomes less conducive to the rapid learning that we are expected to undertake in order to blossom into competent nurses.

There’s only so many bed baths we can do and only so many call bells we can answer before we start feeling undervalued. While the subtle pressure to please our nurse preceptors may not be intentional, it is pervasive, nonetheless, as a consequence of being at the bottom.

On the long drive home, up Toronto’s picturesque Don Valley Parkway, I thought hard about this phenomenon of hijacked agendas and how they affect us mentally.

It struck me that this so-called ‘runt of the litter’ problem isn’t just limited to healthcare. It is universal regardless of the line of work that you are in. In every profession, there will always be superiors giving away their tasks as if they were presents – and its hard to say no.

An over-loaded senior staff member decides to bite off more than they can chew, who ends up doing the job? The junior of course. I guess with experience, and the climbing of the proverbial ladder, it probably gets easier to say no and set clear boundaries over time. For the newbie navigating the murky waters of professionalism though, sticking to your own agenda is not just difficult – it is imperative in order to succeed in our increasingly chaotic workplaces.

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Goals vs. Agendas

Even if you don’t work in an environment where you are constantly interacting with other people, it is very, very likely that other people’s agendas often intersect, support or hinder your own. The first step in staying true to the direction you want your life to take is to understand the difference between a goal and an agenda. Notice how we’re using the word agenda here. For decades, personal management experts have touted goals as the holy grail of success and productivity.

Goals are misleading.

With goals, you think that once you have the entire plan set-up, and you follow it, you will get what you want. Bam! Instant gratification.

Life is rarely straightforward though.

There are always curveballs. Delays. Interruptions. Setbacks.

Goals make you think that work is always linear. Achieving goals requires you to make a plan and stick to it. But its really not that simple, is it? A personal agenda is a non-linear system that allows for unexpected changes, interruptions and the vagaries of life.

Oddly enough, after we wrote the first draft of this article, we found the following excerpt by James Clear.

“You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.) But every time we set a goal, we try to do it…”

He suggests instead that you should build feedback loops. Sound advice for a world in which we are overwhelmed with an influx of relevant and irrelevant information.

“Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything. Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.”

You can find the original article here.

Your life process is rarely ever linear, and your working systems shouldn’t be either, especially where other people are involved in the work that you do. It is human to get sidetracked from your personal vision or agenda.

To move forward unfazed however, you need to keep reminding yourself of what it is that you are working towards.

Continue to Part 2 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.