5 steps for setting personal boundaries that actually work

Let’s be honest here, no one’s going to respect you any more than you respect yourself. If you don’t set some personal boundaries for yourself, then no one’s going to do it for you.

This article details 5 steps for setting personal boundaries that actually work.

Here we go.

What are personal boundaries?

“Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.”

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

In essence, personal boundaries are rules and principles for which define the ways you expect other people to behave towards you.

It means you’re no longer going to simply allow other people to walk all over you or take advantage of your generosity. Instead, you’re going to put your foot down. You’re actually going to speak your mind and say “no.”

Rather than making decisions based upon what’s best for others, you’re going to make decisions based upon what’s best for you.

According to licensed therapist, Haesue Jo, people with personal boundaries generally have a strong concept of self and a high degree of self-confidence.

While those without personal boundaries are generally people pleasers that lack self-confidence.

With that quick refresher, let’s get into the steps:


1. Understand that having personal boundaries improves self-esteem

“Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.” – Nathaniel Branden

In his book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden said that people with high self-esteem tend to take personal responsibility for their own actions and don’t blame others.

Not having or respecting personal boundaries is to do the opposite. It’s to allow other people to take responsibility for your actions and have very little self-respect.

“All progress starts by telling the truth.” – Dan Sullivan

Hence, until you can honestly admit that you haven’t previously been confident in yourself, then there will be no change — lessons are repeated until they’re learned.

2. Decide who you are and what you stand for

“If you don’t set a baseline standard for what you’ll accept in your life, you’ll find it’s easy to slip into behaviors and attitudes or a quality of life that’s far below what you deserve. You need to set and live by these standards no matter what happens in your life.”

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins has also said, “You get in life what you’re willing to tolerate.”

Indeed, if you don’t decide who you are and what you stand for, then your life will very quickly become a wreck.

photo of person covered with brown textile 906052 5 steps for setting personal boundaries that actually work

You’ll find yourself drifting off in all sorts of directions and wind up in someplace you do not want to be.

So, who do you want to be? What do you want your life to look like? How do you want to feel on a regular basis?

Once you become very clear on what you want, you can then work out what you don’t want, which is where setting boundaries comes in.

Simply think about what things would be the most important for living the life you want, and then create boundaries around protecting that.

For example, getting up at 5 am is something that’s important to me. It’s when I’m most productive and sets the tone for the rest of my day. In order to live that reality, however, I have to protect my evenings.

I must get to bed by 9:15 pm and ensure that I get enough sleep.

So, my personal boundary is that I won’t do any work and nor will I be reachable after 9 pm. Any phone calls or emails after that point won’t be answered.

Sure, friends, relatives, or clients might be trying to reach me. However, I don’t live my life for them; I live it for me.

Jesse Itzler has said, “If you don’t take time for yourself — you’ll resent the people who are taking those things away from you.” And he’s completely right.

Not maintaining any personal boundaries doesn’t just hurt yourself; it hurts your relationships.

So, you must decide the most important boundaries in your life and then keep to them.

The next point will help:

3. Decide the consequences ahead of time

Ultramarathon runner, Dick Collins has said:

“Decide before the race the conditions that will cause you to stop and drop out. You don’t want to be out there saying, ‘Well gee, my leg hurts, I’m a little dehydrated, I’m sleepy, I’m tired, and it’s cold and windy.’ And talk yourself into quitting. If you are making a decision based on how you feel in that moment, you will probably make the wrong decision.”

And the same is true with personal boundaries. You don’t want to decide the consequences at the moment because, in truth, that’s probably not going to lead to a good decision.

Instead, you want to know beforehand and then simply communicate that.

For me, I’ll tell people on the phone that I’ve only got until 9 pm and won’t be able to communicate after that.

If it’s a client sending me an email with more work to do, I might say, “Thanks, I’ll get to this tomorrow.”

However, I also think it’s important to be flexible. Don’t think you need to write your boundaries in permanent ink. There will be instances where it makes more sense to not to follow your boundaries than it does to follow them.

Although, you must be smart about it. Make the decision based on instinct and intuition rather than impulse and addiction.

For example, I may have to work after 9 pm if the work is both urgent and important. I may need to stay on the phone if it’s a loved one that needs comforting.

Said Thomas Monson, “Never let a goal to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

4. Don’t try to change other people; change yourself

When someone’s constantly pushing your boundaries or seeing how far they can go, don’t wish for them to change. Instead, change yourself.

Ryan Holiday has said:

“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

Indeed, it’s all perception. The way you view the problem is the problem. So, don’t expect the problem to change. Instead, change your mind.

“If you can’t change a situation, change your mind.” – Unknown

5. Learn to say no

The word “No,” is not a word you should be afraid to say. Instead, it’s something you should get really good at saying because your success, happiness, and abundance depends upon it.

Said Warren Buffett, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

If it’s not going to be something that moves you towards living in alignment with your ideal, then you absolutely can and should say “No.”

You must be mindful of your own happiness and health before worrying about anyone else’s. As they’ll tell you on an airplane, “Put your oxygen mask on first.”


How to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries

Of course, respect is a two-way street. You can’t expect someone else to uphold your personal boundaries if you’re constantly distributing theirs.

So, how do you recognize and respect other people’s boundaries?

man wearing baseball cap and backpack at golden hour 1586663 5 steps for setting personal boundaries that actually work

This will be something that’s as important as keeping your own:

1. Watch for subtle cues

Marriage and family therapist, Steven Reigns said:

“Noting social cues is a great way to determine another’s boundaries. When talking with someone and they step back when you step forward, you’re being given information about their comfort level with closeness.”

There are other verbal and non-verbal signals that indicate you’re pushing someone else’s boundaries.

For example:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Looking away
  • Stepping away
  • Folding arms or stiffening posture
  • Change in voice tone
  • Awkwardly laughing
  • Limited or shortened responses in conversation

2. Ask

If you know or presume that something isn’t quite appropriate, then ask the person if they’re comfortable before you do it. Don’t do the action and then gauge a response.

Instead, get the green light before going ahead.

For example, it may be more appropriate to inquire before kissing someone or asking a personal question.

To not do so, is invasive of their personal space and will likely only damage the relationship.

3. Listen

When someone says “No” or communicates to you some way or another that they’re feeling uncomfortable, then don’t try to push it. Don’t force things to be your way.

Instead, simply listen and respect they’re boundary as you’d expect them to do for you.

For example, if someone says, “No, I don’t want to talk about that right now,” then leave it and come back to it later from a different perspective.

To push through the boundary would only compound the problem. Sure, you may have got what you wanted. However, you’ve disrespected the boundary, them, and the relationship, which only leads to greater conflict.

Hence, the golden rule is very simple: Treat others as you wish to be treated. There is no room for a double standard.

Boundaries are here to help us

Boundaries don’t take away our choices or introduce limitations. Rather, they give us freedom; too many choices simply leads to bad choices.

So, rather than having to make a decision, just put a boundary around it.

Decide who you are and what you stand for, and you’ll hardly have to think about it again.

Said Michael Jordan, “Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.”

In conclusion

“Setting boundaries is about creating healthy emotional limits–I’m not the owner of other’s feelings, worries or reactions. It is not my job to fix them or to make life better or easier for anyone else. I want to love and be healthy so I will let others fix themselves.” – Unknown

Personal boundaries are a crucial part of life. They give us space and time for ourselves. Without them, our lives would very quickly become a mess. We would be living for someone else rather than ourselves.

The first step towards setting effective personal boundaries is to admit that we haven’t had the confidence or self-esteem to fully believe that we deserve to put ourselves first in the past. However, you absolutely do!

Secondly, once you work out what you want in life, you can then work out what you don’t want and set boundaries around avoiding that.

However, you must decide the consequences ahead of time. You don’t want to decide any consequences at the moment. Instead, you want to know beforehand and then simply communicate that.

Changing others is something you’re simply never going to be able to do. So, don’t even bother trying. Instead, change your mind. Every event is what you make of it.

Finally, you should never feel guilty or selfish for saying no and keeping your boundaries, simply know that you’re putting your own oxygen mask on first.

When it comes to other people’s boundaries, know that respect is a two-way street. If you don’t treat others with courtesy, then you’re not going to get any yourself.

Thus, you must be aware of subtle cues. You must learn to recognize someone is feeling uncomfortable or uneasy around their personal boundaries. For example, you may note that they’re stepping back or looking away.

It pays to sometimes ask before overstepping what could be someone’s personal boundary. This shows respect, and you’d expect the same.

Lastly, you must learn to listen when someone communicates that you’re overstepping their personal boundaries. To not do so, only puts the relationship in a worse place than it was before.

So, how are your personal boundaries going?

What’s working and what’s not?

How respectful and mindful are you of other people’s boundaries?

What needs to change?

Where will you begin?

We have a free masterclass on embracing your anger and turning it into constructive potential. It will help you to become someone who easily sets personal boundaries in your life. Learn more about the free masterclass here.

Reece Robertson

Reece Robertson

I write interesting and practical ideas designed to encourage and inspire individuals to adapt how they think and engage themselves in the world.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.