This article first appeared on Happify
You’re likely reading this article because you struggle to set boundaries with others. Perhaps it’s with the colleague who is always off-loading their work on you. Or the emotional vampire friend whose constant need for attention leaves you feeling drained. Or a child or partner who expects you to do everything for them.
And you’re beginning to resent this.
I get your pain. I’ve been there and coached hundreds of people who are tired of drifting through life because they can’t set the boundaries they know they need to without feeling guilty.
But just as often, I’ve coached people who are so single-minded about what they want that their boundaries are cast in stone. They’re oblivious to other people’s needs, and people have stopped asking them for help.
That’s certainly not where you want to be, either.
So how do you find the right balance? I’ve found that thinking of boundaries as a 2×2 quadrant helps, where Self and Others are the two columns and Open and Closed are the two rows. Where are you?
Quadrant 1: Open with Self
This is you if you struggle to discipline yourself. You finish the entire bag of chips or give in to the third cookie. You scroll your social-media feeds even though you know you should be sleeping or focusing on your work. You’re driven by your emotions, which is why you probably don’t feel as emotionally stable as you’d like.
What you can do: Keep temptations to a minimum. Don’t shop on an empty stomach and close all your social-media tabs when you’re working. Create reminders to help you stay disciplined—set up an alert every hour to remind you to get up and move; change your screensaver or laptop password to “Eat Well” or “Be Focused”.
Quadrant 2: Open with Others
This is where most of us struggle. After all, we’re a social species and we often fear coming across as unhelpful or inconsiderate. But if we’re letting other people’s priorities become our own, we’ll end up feeling angry and resentful. Or we’ll beat ourselves up for not being more disciplined or confident enough to say, “No.”
What you can do: Get clear on your ideal life. What are the passions you’ll pursue? How much time will you spend at work, and how much time with the people you love? What and who will you need to say no to as a result? It’s far easier to say no when you’re being drawn by a much more compelling “Yes”. And there’s no apology or guilt needed either!
Quadrant 3: Closed with Others
These are generally the people who Wharton professor Adam Grant calls the “takers” in life. Those who expect others to do things for them without having any desire to reciprocate. Narcissists can be found in this group, as can those who feel that taking much and giving little is the only way they’ll get ahead in life.
What you can do: Build empathy and helpfulness. If you’re only focused on your own success, life can be a pretty lonely ride. And you won’t have many friends eager to support you in your time of need. In fact, they may even celebrate your downfall. Open up to other people’s dreams and challenges, and find ways, big or small, to help them.
Quadrant 4: Closed with Self
This is the person whose self-discipline has sucked the joy out of life. Someone who can’t stay up late for a friend in need because it’s past their bedtime. A person who refuses to celebrate with cake because it’s outside their range of “healthy” foods, or who’s unable to appreciate the big picture because their entire focus is on the little details.
What you can do: Work on discovering what brings you joy. Even if you come up empty, experiment and see how each new thing makes you feel. Do things that you would generally say no to. Take small steps, because it won’t be easy letting go of the rigidity that makes you feel safe and in control. But remember, life happens outside your comfort zone!
Showing up fully in life is about the ability to go with the flow without going adrift. When you’re deeply connected with what you value, your boundaries automatically fall in place. From there, it’s the day-to-day work of ensuring that you respect the boundaries you set for yourself before you expect others to do so.