Reflections at 40 – Boundaries – 27/40

To celebrate turning 40, I’ve challenged myself to blog for each of the 40 days leading into my birthday. This is post number 27. You can read all the posts here.

Whenever I’m asked why overwhelm and burnout are so common in people like me (highly-driven, Type-A, serial over-committers) it always comes back to boundaries.

As in: we don’t have any.

We want to do everything and help everyone because we love the feeling of gold stars raining down on our heads.

Until they don’t.

Because, you don’t get gold stars for melting down into a puddle of resentment and anger.

So, how do we set boundaries effectively?

The first thing is to identify what kind of boundaries need to be set:

  1. Emotional: whose thoughts and feelings are we taking responsibility for?
  2. Mental: how much are we overthinking things that don’t need to be overthought?
  3. Physical: how much clutter are we allowing into our lives?
  4. Time: how are we spending the limited hours in our day?

There are more boundaries than these, of course. But, they’re the main ones.

How do we go about setting better boundaries around these things?

The main thing we need to do is give ourselves permission. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think:

  • If I say No, this person won’t like me anymore.
  • If I don’t do this thing, who will?
  • We’re helping people who refuse to help themselves by investing a lot of time and emotional energy into their problems.

The facts are:

  • If someone doesn’t like you because you’ve said No to them, that’s fine. It’s one less person you have to worry about!
  • If you’re not able to do something, there is always someone else. They might not do it as well as you, but that’s not your problem to take on.
  • People who refuse to help themselves need professional help. Not your help.

My approach to setting boundaries has always been to:

Have no boundaries > burn myself out > hate the world and set extreme boundaries (say no to everything and everyone) > free up time in my life > feel better > have no boundaries again > repeat, repeat, repeat.

You know how I mentioned ‘people who refuse to help themselves’ above?

That was me.

Did I have people in my life pointing out my ‘boundaries cycle’ and suggesting it was, perhaps, a little counterproductive?

Of course.

Did I listen to them?


Did I complain to them a lot about how burnt out I was always feeling?


When did I finally make the changes I needed to make?

When I got professional help.

How did I make changes that lasted?



Photo by Nick Tiemeyer on Unsplash