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Eliminating Negativity and Guilt with Boundaries

By Emily Crookston

I’m starting the 6th week of a 12-week visioning period around creating boundaries in business. And if you find yourself wearing a lot of different hats, setting boundaries is key to keeping your sanity. Whether you’re feeling stuck with productivity, efficiency, or generally being a working woman of your own free accord, I bet setting some strong boundaries will help.

This weekend, I caught myself in some negative thought patterns about working. As I continue on patterns of thought as they relate to creating good, better, and best boundaries, ensuring that I enforce them for both myself and with relevant others, negative thoughts come to the surface.

My inner critic rears her head and flares up in a nasty way. It’s just the way it is. The more you look at yourself, the more you’re going to see what you can work on, and if you’re even a little bit hard on yourself, or a little bit of a perfectionist, you’re going to have some negative thoughts about what it is you’re seeing. The key is to catch your mind talk before it gets out of control and drags you down into the land of the unproductive.

I create boundaries that ensure that I work when I need to work (and break when I need to break), and oftentimes, Sundays, the days when most people take rest, are chill relaxed days when my creative energy flows the most. So I like to work on Sundays. That’s not to say that I have to, or that I always do (“have to” and “always” should be outlawed), but I know that I can be very productive on Sundays.

I also know that one of the reasons I find myself working on Sundays is because I do not enforce my boundaries during the week. It’s the networking meetings and the lunch meetings and the meetings about meeting and the meetings about not meeting and the meetings about learning how to create better boundaries about meeting (yes, it gets ridiculous!) and all the things that stop me from being really productive during the week.

All these stupid meetings that I attend are during the week, and all the correspondence with people that I do is during the week. So productivity is almost inevitable on a day when most people don’t work.

I know, that if you’re reading this, you’re in the same boat. And if you’ve gotten into the jam of somehow not getting a day off, it’s probably because you overbook yourself doing too many unproductive things that should really be kept off of your to-do list altogether.

Here are the boundary transgressions I’m guilty of most often and have to be constantly on guard about:

Your Own Boundary Transgression #1. Don’t do things that you aren’t sure will benefit you in the short term.

And so there it is, the inner critic comes out and you have a dialogue:

“You idiot, why did you waste so much time all week doing those other things? That’s what you get: no weekend. You don’t deserve a break because you wasted all that time.”

And you say, “But I’m tired and I really wanted to have a rest day and hang out with my family.”

And your inner critic says “You barely work as it is. You can’t just put in 2 hours today?”

And you say, “But I can do about 8 hours of work in 2 hours, so it doesn’t matter how many hours I work if I’m actually fully productive. I still need to unwind.”

And your inner critic says, “Well then, Ms. Productive, you should get to work!”

And you either say, “Ugh, okay…” or, “I’m going to go out to dinner with my partner instead.”

So one of two things happens.

A. you get to work, and everything you accomplish in that time period is something that your negative self-talk created, and it’s sub-par work that you’re probably going to have to re-work because it was forced.


B. you stress about the work that you should be doing while you’re out to dinner with your partner. Either way, the negative lines of thinking have ripped you from any semblance of productivity (either in whatever it is that you were trying to accomplish for work, or being present with your love, who deserves your undivided attention).

Your Own Boundary Transgression #2. Be present with what you’re doing, or just don’t do it.

Note: If I were queen of the world, there would be a few words that would be wiped clean from all languages, and in so doing, a lot of negative self-talk would vanish. Avoid the following words and be instantly more present.

Your Own Boundary Transgression #3. Using the word “Should.”

The word “should” isn’t real. It’s imaginary. And spending time worrying and fussing about things that do not exist is a huge waste of your productive energy. How can you be fully invested in what you’re doing when you’re consumed with something you “should” be doing instead? It’s absurd. The imagination is helpful when it is creating something that is about to come to fruition. It is otherwise a tremendous waste of energy and propagator of stress.

If you’d rather take a nap on a Sunday because you just worked too many hours and exercised your body and mind too much and you need some sleep in order to wake up and do something golden, then anything other than taking a nap is a waste of your energy. Accept yourself where you are and take a damn nap. Own it! Take responsibility for yourself! Don’t think about doing something else when you know that what you need to do is what you’re doing NOW because of the circumstances that you either can’t overcome at the moment (it’s okay, you’re only one measly little human), or the circumstances you’ve created for yourself to flourish with your own willpower.

Your Own Boundary Transgression #4. Using the Word “Always.”

This is just outlandish. The the only time you can use the word “always” is if you are discussing the fact that everything is always changing all the time. Don’t assume that you know everything by using the word always. And, when you use the word always around others, you look like a pompous arrogant fool. Why? Because there’s no such thing as always.

You can’t even count on the sun to come up and down every day (I could explain why this is the case in philosophy-speak, but I won’t). You definitely can’t apply always to what you do or what other people do. The only thing that you know that will always happen is death and taxes and change. Nothing else “always” happens. Accept this and there will be much less that you freak out about on the regular.

Your Own Boundary Transgression #5: Using the word “Never.”

This is the flip side of using the word “always” but it’s probably worse. When you say never, the potential that you have for tricking yourself into thinking that there are things that you never do is pretty darn high. What will likely happen is that you will neglect to realize that you DO indeed do the thing that you think you never do, and then when you catch yourself doing that thing that you never do, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and you’re bound to send yourself into a pattern of negative thinking followed by guilt and embarrassment.

Generally, uses of the words “always” or “never” are assumptions of extremes. And we don’t live in extremes any more than your brain will work for you on a Sunday if you need a break. And if you need a break, you need a break, whether you like it or not.

AND THE BIGGIE…Your Own Boundary Transgression #6: Using the phrase “I have to.”

Let us be very clear: there is absolutely nothing that you HAVE to do. Saying that you have to do something is the ultimate in playing the role of the victim. And there is no power or worth or productivity or incredibleness in being a victim.

When I hear someone suggest that there is something that she has to do, I ask her what the worst thing that would happen if she didn’t do whatever she thinks she “has” to do. Usually, we can drill it down into a very clear and concise plan of action with a step-by-step process, where, at the end, the thing doesn’t have to get done, but it will, and that’s gratifying. Most “have to” talk comes from an overwhelmed psyche. And an overwhelmed mentality is an unfocused one.

Make a checklist, make a plan, write it down, create a timeline, and adhere to your deadlines. When you start checking things off your list, you will feel grateful for your own focused mindset (because you’ve actually gotten some stuff done), and more importantly, you’ll bring on a new pattern in your mind that will keep you focused and grateful.

Have I mentioned that you can’t be grateful and angry at the same time? Overwhelmed people are angry, unfocused, negative, and guilt-ridden. Grateful people are happy, focused, positive, and productive. That’s just preschool stuff. If you haven’t figured that out, start listening to Oprah (talk about “Hatitude!”). She’ll remind you to write down 5 things a day you’re grateful for before you go to bed (it’ll help you sleep better too).

Successful people don’t have to write stuff like that down. They live it.

You see, the trick to getting out of the negative thought mindset is not to get there in the first place and so creating rules for yourself ensures your success. Everyone has the potential for negative thought patterns followed by guilt. It’s the way our culture wants us to operate. But when we turn the tables and play by our own rules, the likelihood of us breaking our own rules is lower, even if there is a training period that is required to get away from the old ways of thinking and into a healthier and efficient state of being.

So if it’s boot camp, then it’s boot camp. Get to work on finding gratitude, focus, realistic mind talk, focus, and unapologetic productivity.

And if you need more tips on boot camp training for becoming better at life, let me know. I’m pretty good at it ;)