The key to making a difference in the world without feeling overwhelmed
Working as my own boss over the past two years has taught me a lot about energy management.
I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world (through medicine, science, policy, and now coaching others to help them make their greatest contribution to the world) and I’ve occasionally thought of what it would be like to give up and live a quiet life in a monastery. It often seems related to my energy levels…
As an employee, the option existed to complain about the boss, the organisation, the workload, etc. knowing that a paycheque will hit the bank account anyway at the end of the month…
As the person responsible for running the show, things are different. Your biggest asset is your energy. That’s what fuels the whole machine. If you run out, it’s over. Burn out is a big liability.
Saying “yes” to something you don’t really want to do may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but the consequences on your energy, time, relationships, and dreams catch up eventually.
This got me to think about how boundaries help to amplify energy and stop it from leaking into unproductive blackholes.
Here’s what I learned about boundaries:
1. Saying “no” is the linguistic expression of boundaries (but there are other forms)
“No” is how we express a boundary verbally in response to a request. Here are four ways your “no” can be expressed outside a conversation:
- Not going to places that drain you
- Not spending time with people who drain you
- Not doing things that aren’t aligned with your values and therefore drain you
- Not engaging in thought patterns that drain you.
It’s not really about the specific people and places you identify. It’s the courage to be intentional about where you invest your energy that matters.
2. Boundaries can be too porous or too rigid
You may have had conversations where the person was so reserved that despite your best intentions you couldn’t hear what they were saying or trying to say (rigid boundaries). This happened to me in a complimentary coaching consultation this week.
At the other extreme, you’ve met people for the first time who are so expressive that within minutes you know an inordinate amount of detail about their life (porous boundaries).
Similarly, there are people who seem to do very little and appear bored and uninspired (rigid boundaries) while others seem to pick up all the work and feel frazzled (porous boundaries).
I’ve certainly been all of these!
It takes consistent self-awareness to check in with myself and course-correct.In general, we thrive best when our boundaries are neither too rigid nor too loose, and are appropriate to the situation and values we hold.
3. Your intuition will always guide you…
How do you know when to tighten or loosen your boundaries? Your intuition is key.
Hearing and understanding your intuition is a practice that top performers in all areas of life, whether the arts, sports, business, learn to develop. It’s a self-awareness and self-leadership skill.“
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Einstein.
4. Boundaries are external and internal.
Most people understand boundaries in relation to external demands on their time and energy. But the most powerful boundaries with the greatest return on your effort are the internal ones.
Here you have a chance to shift things exponentially in your life, if you understand the mechanism – which leads me to the next point!
5. Boundaries are the secular and softer replacement for what used to be called “renunciation”
When we feel out of balance, lost, and uncomfortable in our bodies (either bored or overwhelmed) it’s often that somewhere we haven’t used our “yes” or our “no” in alignment with our values and deepest potential.
When I ask clients why they feel uncomfortable saying “no”, it’s usually to do with not wanting to disappoint others. Disappointing others is outside their comfort zone.
Conversely, the possibility of pleasing someone or ticking a box and getting the validation may feel irresistibly compelling.
These ways of thinking and behaving are habitual and become hard to break out of i.e. they are compulsive i.e. it’s easier to give in than to refrain from the habit.
And this is where the positive psychological use of renunciation comes in: you renounce the easy option to put your energy in the right place. Boundaries are “renunciation Light”!
Your greatest contribution in life relies on good energy investment.
Like in relationships, which thrive on reserves goodwill: if you run out, there’s trouble.
Energy and goodwill are your life capital. With these two ingredients and a healthy dash of wisdom, you’ve got a good chance of fulfilling your potential!
So next time you’re faced with a decision and are under pressure to do something that doesn’t feel right to you, rather than caving into the misplaced guilt of saying “no”, focus on the courage you’re tapping into to let go of a habitual compulsion to say “yes” that is no longer appropriate to the scale of your mission in life.
You’re putting in place boundaries that ensure your energy is invested in the right places - in alignment with your values and vision.
The more you do this, the more powerfully clear, resilient and energised you feel, and the more your potential has a chance to be fulfilled and benefit the world.
Have a great week,
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