How to be a 'boundary boss' as events, gatherings resume

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As people emerge from the pandemic and social calendars fill up, experts say now may be the time to set some boundaries, especially if you're a people-pleaser or someone who always says "yes."

I spoke with an author and psychotherapist about why now is the time to hit the reset button, breaking old habits.

After more than a year of limited events and gatherings, invitations are pouring in again.

As we re-enter, we can create a better balance going forward by becoming what Terri Cole calls a "boundary boss."

First, let's think about why we say, "yes."

"We're doing it to avoid conflict, a hard conversation, letting someone down or having some be disappointed in us," Cole said. "We don't know how to deal with that, so we work to death, overwork, over commit, over feel, over function and automatically accommodate others to avoid being uncomfortable. But eventually, the chickens come home to roost."

Cole is the author of "Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free."

For more than two decades, she's taught stars, CEOs and everyone else how to say "no."

And there's an art to it.

"Stop being an instant 'yes' person," Cole said. "How can you ease in? Where you can buy time? Instead of just saying 'no,' because that might be too hard, you can buy time. Don't give anyone an instant answer. You can say, 'Hey, thanks for thinking of me. I'll let you know tomorrow.' It's so much easier to say 'no,' when you haven't already said 'yes.'"

And she adds that you don't have to give a reason for saying no.

Also, we're all at different comfort levels at this point of the pandemic and so are our boundaries.

Maybe you're more cautious and you want to stay distanced and outdoors.

Maybe you always said "yes," but you found you enjoyed a slower pace.

"Ask yourself: 'What did I love about sort of being locked down? What did I discover about myself? What do I not want to go back to?' We have the power right now to create a new normal that is more aligned with who we are, and how we want to live," Cole said.

At this moment, Cole said we have to get better at saying 'no' and hearing it too.

"You can say, 'I'm not comfortable yet, but I hope you guys have a great time and I'll let you know when I'm re-entering. I know other people are but I'm not there yet.' Another part of being a boundary boss is accepting the boundaries, and the 'no' of others, and realizing we are all so different. So you can say: 'Let's pick it up in a month from now, when you're feeling more comfortable. We can negotiate. That's okay.' But they're not wrong. And neither are you. And that's a big part," says Cole.

Cole has a 13 question boundary quiz that helps you figure out where you are in the process.
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