The next shift that I want to move onto is boundaries. We talked a little bit about boundaries today, working evenings and weekend as standards. The boundary somehow has slipped. Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and they say yes when they really mean it.
The definition of boundaries are simply a list of what’s okay and what’s not okay for us. The way in which we’re going to look at boundaries is through a little exercise. It’s called The Hearth and the Realm. So, I will need to get a clean sheet of paper, unless you have somehow managed to print out the workbook since we’ve all been sat here, I’m sure you probably haven’t. I want you to draw these three circles on your piece of paper. There’s a circle for you, a slightly bigger circle, for something called the hearth; a slightly bigger circle for something called the realm. I’ll explain which each one is in a moment.
We’re going to have a look at where you’re giving away time and energy indiscriminately for, and where we need to place some new boundary lines. Let’s have a look at the workbook. So, we always want to make sure that when we are thinking about time and energy, that you are at the centre of everything, making sure that you’re meeting those basic needs for food, sleep, water, exercise, fresh air, connection time, and alone time. Because those things are like a phone battery, whenever they’re on the red zone, we’re not showing up as a resourced person, we’re going to show up in a disempowered state of some sort.
There is a boundary line then between you and the next sphere of your life, which is the hearth. So, if you think about the word hearth, it is a fireplace. It’s a small number of people who can sit round your fire, those people who you will give time and energy to and go into deficit for. I think of my children, no matter how many times they get up in the night, I’m going to keep responding to it and sorting it out. I will go into energy deficit willingly for those specific people, my husband, my mum, my dad, one of my best friends, and my three children, but that’s it. So, it’s a small number of people who you’re willing to go into the red zone for, and hopefully, you’ll be able to top yourself back up to to green. We’re not always so great at doing that though.
So, I want you now to put the names of the people, not how you would like it to be, but the people you are currently giving indiscriminately to your time and energy, even if you’re in energy deficit. Even if you don’t really have enough to give, you keep giving to these people. Who are those people in your life currently? Should work be in the hearth? So, we’re thinking about specific people, and, yes, your boss might be in the hearth, your colleagues might be in your hearth, your postdocs might be in your hearth. Who are you giving time and energy to, working evenings for, weekends for, doing things when you’re not okay in yourself? Who are the people that you are still giving time and energy to? Right here, right now, today, as things currently stand. So, if the people in your hearth are the people who you are willing to give time and energy to, even if you don’t have enough to give, then the next boundary line is your realm.
So, the realm is all the people that you want the best for, that you care about, but you’re not willing to go into energy deficit for. So, again, I think about my brother, my nephews, I love them, I want the best for them, but I’ve got three of my own. I can’t give any more if I’m already in energy deficit. I think about I go swimming in the mornings. All the people I talk to at the swimming pool, I like them, I want the best for them, but it’s a no if I don’t have any more to give. I’ve got other friends that are in the realm. I have other people, groups of people, in my life. I have my clients. Who else should be in your realm, as things currently stand? So put the names or a group of names, just give it a title if it’s a group, to represent all the people that you care about, but you’re not willing to go into energy deficit for, as things currently stand right here, right now, today, not as you would like things to be.
Then there’s another boundary line between the realm and the rest of the world, of course. Those people beyond your realm will be in other people’s realms. We don’t need to worry about them. If someone’s calling you on the phone about Bitcoin, we don’t need to give time and energy to it by apologising or listening. You can just say no because they’re not part of your realm. So, I want you to have a look at the hearth and the realm. Is there anyone who’s in your hearth currently that shouldn’t be there? If you find anyone, just circle them, and draw an arrow across the boundary line into the realm. Do that first. Have you found some people there that shouldn’t be there really? Then the same with the realm. Is there anyone in your realm that actually should be outside the realm? Anyone in your realm where you think, ‘My hearth’s looking a little bit bare right now, maybe I need to fill an extra few seats by the fire, and I need to bring more people into my life.’ So, either draw an arrow outside the realm or bring some people in closer to your hearth.
Then when you’re faced with an opportunity or a phone call or a request, you can have a check-in with yourself. Where am I in terms of my energy levels today? Do I have enough to give to this person in my realm, or do I have to say no? Or if it’s someone in my hearth, and I’m going to give to them, how am I going to top back up those energy levels and focus on myself to be able to then serve and give to other people?
The last thing I want you to check for in this map are what I call crazy-makers. So crazy-makers are these people in your lives that drama follows them everywhere. I think of my sister-in-law. If you get a phone call from this person, they’re going to be on the phone for a long time, like an hour or so, just talking, talking, talking. It’s just going to be a complete drain on your energy. So, if you have a crazy-maker, just note that you have them, and just decide where in the picture do you want to put them. Do they need to be right at the edge of the realm? Do they need to know their place with you? Do they need to be cast out of the realm? What is it that you need to do to protect yourself from the crazy-makers that are occurring in the world today?
So, as we talked about, if there’s anyone that needs to be moved across a boundary line, draw it, and then you will be able to refer back to this whenever a request comes in. ‘Wait, where are they? Okay. Do I give, do I not give? What do I need to do here?’ That’s when boundary-setting conversations come into their own. Having done this, you may have your postdocs at your hearth, when actually they need to be in the realm. If they’re at your hearth, you are probably at their hearth too. So, they may also need you to set that boundary to help them have that boundary as well. It works both ways.
So, we’re going to have a look at some boundary-setting conversations, because the best way you can allow them to be able to have boundaries with you is for you to set boundaries with them, and model them really greatly. So, we need these boundary-setting conversations to help them. So, we’ve got a reclaiming space. This is where you have tried to put a boundary in place in the past; somehow, it’s not really worked, and you want to reclaim that boundary and make it work.
There are general boundary settings for people in a realm that happen in the moment, we just need to come up with a boundary. There’s saying no gracefully, which I’m sure we all need; then there’s boundary-setting for people outside of your realm. So, these are all non-confrontational conversation templates that set both parties up to win and do not result in conflict. It’s a win/win situation. It’s polite and it’s every time you use these conversations you can build on the wins and go, ‘It actually did work. I’ll use that again.’ So, let’s have a look at reclaiming space.
Let me give you an example, or you can drop me examples in the chat box. Where have you said, ‘In the past, I’ve always?’ It might be, ‘In the past, I’ve always,’ I don’t know, ‘responded to your emails within one hour,’ then set the boundary, ‘I’m not able to do that anymore.’ So, my intention is not to drop my level of support with you; actually, if we put in place two specific time blocks every day where I will respond to messages, you’ll be able to work your experiments around my ability to respond to you.
That’s just one example. For a postdoc, it might be, ‘In the past, I’ve always said yes to everything you’ve asked me to do. I’m no longer able to do that.’ My intention isn’t to not be productive or not do great work, but what I need from you is to understand what the priorities are here and where there is leeway to drop things that are not the highest priority. So, it works both ways. You modelling it will allow them to as well, and you can talk them through a need to put a reclaimed space boundary in, ‘You might need to do this as well.’ We have general boundary-setting. So, these are for people in your realm, and this is for things that happen in the moment. So, you want to acknowledge the person, ‘It’s fine if you choose to,’ let’s, for example, say, smoke, and then state the boundary, ‘but that doesn’t really work for me in my office.’ Consider if it’s a dealbreaker, ‘If it continues, I won’t be able to work with you anymore.’ If it’s not a dealbreaker, collaborate then straight away on a way forward.
So ‘It’s fine if you choose to smoke, it doesn’t work for me in my office. So, if you go outside to the smoking shelter, when you come back upstairs, we can continue with our meeting.’ I’m just making stuff up here, but you get the idea of how to use this conversation template. The next one, which you will all need, is learning how to say no gracefully. Who here falls into the trap of saying yes when someone asks you to do something first? Yes. Or you do that hesitating thing, which allows the other person to wheedle their way in until you do say yes.
It’s really hard sometimes, really hard, especially if those requests are coming from someone maybe more senior to you, that can cause problems and sometimes getting better at avoiding it. Yes. So, this is a template for anyone who does struggle with saying no, but you can also teach it to your postdocs as well. So instead of saying yes or no, start the sentence with thank you, ‘Thank you for asking me to bake a cake at the cake sale at school,’ then state the boundary, ‘but I’m not able to do that with my current schedule.’ Again, consider if it’s a dealbreaker. Baking cakes is not a dealbreaker for me, so I’m going to collaborate on a way forward. So, ‘Let me see, is there anyone else who might be able to help you with that?’ And then if you do really like doing the thing, you just literally can’t do it this week or on my timescale, so ‘I do actually really like baking cakes, so next time that comes up, do please come to me first, and I’ll make sure that I have enough time in my schedule if it is at all possible.’ So that way, we can be polite, because we’ve said thank you to start with.
We’ve been helpful in collaboration with the other person, and we’ve set them up to win. We’ve told them how we want to interact in this process. The only issue with this is if you still come from a position of ‘They’re probably going to wheedle around me anyway, but I’m going to say the words,’ they will get that vibe off you and they will manage to find a way. So, I really need you to come from a position of authority from within. Sometimes I tell people to think about putting their crown on, like the king or the queen, saying no. How would you say no if you were to do that? If you were to be the king or the queen? Like, thank you, you would speak differently. You would probably stand differently. You would probably project with a different kind of authority. So come from that place.
Finally, we have boundary-setting for people outside of the realm. You get the phone call, do you want to give your life savings to this particular charity? It might just be a no. It’s not, ‘I already support other charities.’ It’s just a no. We don’t need to give additional time, energy, or attention to people outside the realm. So don’t feel guilty, just don’t give it a second thought. So, the actions for you from this section, number two on boundaries, are to model good boundaries.
The best way you can help a postdoc is to model what good boundary-setting looks like and support them to facilitate boundary-setting conversations using these templates. So, if they’ve had an example of you’ve discovered that they’ve said yes to something from somebody, another PI, and they’ve asked them to do something, whereas actually, they should have said no, teach them how to say no effectively in the future, or how to reclaim the space if they’ve let that boundary slip. So, teach them how to use these two. They’re all in the workbook.
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