How to build boundaries and why it’s a good thing

Career coach Claire Brown has some useful advice on how to set boundaries and keep to them.

Claire Brown headshot


As a working mum, it’s easy to be pulled in endless directions with constant conflicting demands placed upon your time. The juggle, particularly during the pandemic, has been a huge challenge for many and it can feel difficult to establish healthy boundaries to ensure that your own needs are met.

So, how do we go about setting and sticking to our boundaries? And how do we communicate these in a way that helps you to feel understood and enables others to react positively?

1. Start by reflecting on your core needs and the different ways that clear boundaries could have a positive impact on your life.

Do you need more time to work, rest, exercise or connect with others to promote your sense of health and well-being?

Perhaps you need less of something? Fewer commitments to the things that drain your energy levels? How would it feel to create more space for things that really matter to you and do less of the things that don’t?

So often we can hear the word ‘boundaries’ as a negative, saying no to things, being less fun or letting people down. By being specific about your needs and the benefits brought about by setting boundaries, you can reframe it as a positive, which in turn makes you more motivated to stick with it. Our time is finite, so by saying no to something unfulfilling you’re freeing yourself to say yes to something much more life giving.

2. Consider your limits and define your non-negotiables

As you consider what is and isn’t currently working for you, begin to identify your limits. What will make the biggest difference? Maybe it’s choosing not to attend events out of obligation; not working beyond your contracted hours or declining to step in and help at school events when you’re already stretched.

You are allowed to determine the things that are non-negotiables in your life so that when requests on your time are made – or opportunities arise – you can make an informed decision and reach a conclusion that’s most reflective of your values and priorities.

3. Start small

If setting boundaries feels daunting and you worry about the potential relational fall out, start small by being more assertive in situations that matter less. For example, if you’ve been given the wrong food whilst dining out, politely correct the error with the waiting staff. If someone at work asks you to take on tasks that are outside of your remit, start to challenge it. It may well be they’re just unaware who the right person is to speak to.

4. Communicate these to the people around you assertively and effectively

Effective communication is key to establishing and embedding boundaries. As research professor Brené Brown says: ‘Clarity is kind’. People like to know where they stand so set and manage expectations with those around you, whether that’s family, friends or colleagues.

This also models to others that it’s ok to say no sometimes. Permission-giving can be freeing for others, allowing them to follow suit. Explain the thinking and motivation behind your decisions to enable empathy and understanding. If you’re nervous, it can be helpful to prepare phrases or conversation starters to use in these situations to ensure you share your thinking without defensiveness or confrontation.

5. Be consistent and notice the benefits

When you’re stepping outside of your normal behaviour patterns, it can feel stretching and uncomfortable but by clarifying your boundaries with others you’re valuing yourself and honouring your most important priorities. Ultimately this is incredibly empowering.

Be consistent and acknowledge the difference it is making by writing a journal or simply making a mental note. This will spur you on to maintain those changes and identify further things you’d like to change to better reflect who you are and what’s most important to you.

*Claire Brown is a qualified Life & Career Coach. She specialises in career change, career confidence and clarity. She works with clients across all industry sectors.

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