An often-forgotten part of self-care is evaluating and setting healthy boundaries. Boundaries are the rules or limits that we set to clarify what we feel is reasonable, safe, and permissible during interactions with other people. They also help us to clarify how we will respond when someone behaves in a way that is outside our set limits.

Making sure that you have good, healthy boundaries is a critical part of being able to make realistic changes to your health or any aspect of your life. Have you ever decided to make a change to your health and failed to stick with it? Or wanted to eat more vegetables but continuously find yourself grabbing a cookie instead? Maybe you wanted to work out in the morning but kept hitting the snooze button.

You’re not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you if you relate to these scenarios. Logically, it can be easy to know what you need to do or which steps you need to take but putting the steps into action can be more challenging without clearly defined boundaries. Your boundaries define you as a unique individual and are directly linked to your values and what gives your life purpose. As you can imagine, if you have loose or undefined boundaries, it can have a profound impact on multiple aspects of your health.

Evaluating your boundaries

To set healthy boundaries we need to better understand ourselves. This can be done through learning what our values are and deciding what gives our life purpose. Regularly evaluating our boundaries is an important and often forgotten part of self-care, and something a certified health coach can help with.

There are six types of boundaries to consider:

  • Physical boundaries related to your personal space and physical touch
  • Emotional boundaries related to your feelings
  • Time boundaries related to how you use your time
  • Sexual boundaries related to your emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of sexuality
  • Intellectual boundaries related to your thoughts and ideas
  • Material boundaries related to your money and possessions

It is easy to forget that when we decide to make what we perceive is a small change in our routine, there will be an impact on many other areas. For this reason, it can be important to reflect on your personal boundaries when you decide to improve your health. Let’s explore more of how some of these boundaries can impact your ability to implement long-lasting change.

Intellectual boundaries

It’s important to stop and evaluate the intellectual boundaries around your expectations and mindset when you set out to make changes in your life. If each week you are working a typical 40 hours, are eating out for most of your meals, and have no idea what it means to “fold in the cheese”, an expectation to immediately become vegan may not be realistic.

A better approach may be to set the expectation of meeting this goal in six months to allow for smaller changes over time that fit your schedule, skills, and the foods you enjoy.

Maybe instead of changing how you eat, you want to exercise more. The mindset with which you approach your new goal can influence your chances of success. If you want to work out every morning but believe you can’t be motivated to do it, this would be having a fixed mindset — the belief that your abilities are set and cannot change.

Instead, if you reframe your thoughts so that you believe you can become a person who enjoys exercise with the right plan and practice, you are employing a growth mindset and increasing the likelihood that you will become someone who works out regularly.

Time boundaries

The most difficult boundary to adjust is around time. New behaviors require more time to complete because the related neural pathways in your brain have not become automatic yet. Until this happens, it will not only take more time to think about the new behavior, but it will also require more time to complete the new routines.

Evaluating your schedule for any commitments that can be put on hold or removed completely as you start to make your changes is an important part of creating change.

Emotional boundaries

One of the most overlooked boundaries in relation to implementing change is around managing your emotions. Will this cause you to feel guilty for making time for yourself? Will you feel shame if you are not immediately successful? Do you have a plan for managing frustrations that will happen when it takes you longer than expected to achieve your goals?

Taking the time to be aware that there will be an emotional component to making any change in your life and having a plan for dealing with it can go a long way towards preventing you from failing. A simple, yet effective, approach to this emotional response is to pause and take a deep breath. Allow yourself to explore where in your body you feel the emotion, and then accept that this is okay.

Adjusting your boundaries

One of the biggest obstacles to making changes is adjusting the boundaries in our lives. Specifically, these are the boundaries around how we manage our time, the commitments we currently have or ones that may come up, and the emotional boundaries around guilt and shame that we feel when we take time to take care of ourselves.

The last step is to really evaluate if you want to make the change. Logic dictates these positive changes will bring better health, but perhaps the reason you haven’t been able to implement those changes is because you really don’t want to make the change. If this is the case, can you modify your approach to something that works better, or determine if it is time to move on to something else.

No matter what changes you are trying to make, adjustments challenge existing boundaries. Taking time to evaluate how the desired changes will fit in your life and modifying current boundaries to fit with what you are trying to achieve is a big part of what a health coach does.

Health coaching can help people implement changes when they find the process difficult to navigate. A health coach is uniquely skilled to help people refine their goals, define their boundaries, and create realistic plans to implement healthy changes. If we find something we really care about, we’ll make the time to do it.

Do you have a health goal that you’ve been wanting to make yet find yourself continuing to follow the same old patterns? Maybe it’s because your current boundaries are getting in the way. Take some time in the next couple of weeks to sit down and practice some much needed self-care by evaluating one of the changes you want to make. Which of the boundaries from above are getting in the way? What is one small change you can make today to improve your chances for success?

Erika Zink is a certified health coach, having earned her original training from the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy and then completing the requirements to become a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. She is passionate about helping others find their inner strength to make lasting lifestyle changes to improve their health and wellbeing.

Before her health coaching career, Erika received a Master’s of Science in Chemistry from Washington State University, Tri-Cities. For 12 years she worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory where she prepared research samples for proteomics and metabolomics projects. Her personal health journey led her toward functional medicine, positive psychology, and health coaching.

Erika grew up in Kennewick and graduated from Kamiakin High School. She then moved to Pasco and finally settled in Richland with her husband. When she is not researching the latest in positive psychology or behavior change, she is in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes and fresh ingredients.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash.