When I talk with business owners, some variation of a boundary issue often comes up. You have a client who keeps cancelling at the last minute or requests appointments on short notice. Your business partner doesn’t value your time or ideas. Friends and family ask for your time or expertise for free.
Emotional Body Mechanics
We learn boundaries from family, school, religious institutions, or people with whom we spend a lot of time. We may learn great boundaries in one are but not so much in another area. For example, you might be very frugal with your money but you can’t ever say no when someone asks you to volunteer your time. Quite simply, boundaries are a challenge for all of us in some area of our lives. You can think of boundaries as the emotional equivalent of body mechanics or alignment; when you’re providing your health & wellness service you need to be aware of how you’re using your body, so you don’t get injured. The same goes for boundaries around your time, energy, and emotions.
How do we establish boundaries as health & wellness professionals and business owners? By setting our rates, our hours of availability, methods by which we can be contacted, and our policies for lateness, cancellations, and no shows, for starters. You can read more about the importance of having policies here.
Also, be clear about what services you do and don’t provide. For example, my law practice focuses on advising health & wellness business owners; when someone approached me about helping with a tech startup, I referred them to another attorney who’s a better fit. While it can be beneficial to move outside our comfort zone, we still need to ensure we have the knowledge and skills to provide the services requested.
Setting boundaries is fairly easy. Enforcing them is another matter. I find that whatever boundary issues we might have, we tend to attract the people who will test them. Think of it as an opportunity to learn! If you’re a business owner who doesn’t value your own services and has a hard time setting your rates, you might attract people who don’t value your work and try to get your services for free. If you have trouble saying no, people who demand more and more of you might come knocking. Boundaries are an act of self-care, and when we don’t enforce them we can become depleted, resentful, or lose our passion for our work.
Here are some tips on enforcing your boundaries:
- Notice how you feel. As a health & wellness professional, you work with the body, so you’re likely in tune with your own much of the time. When someone makes a request of you, take a moment to notice how it makes you feel. For myself, I notice that even if something sounds like a great idea, if it makes me feel tired and my shoulders slump, it’s not for me. If I feel energized just thinking about it and it keeps coming up in different ways, I’m in. You might notice different signals in your own body, particularly in your gut, chest, or throat. Pay attention to these areas next time someone requests that last-minute appointment or a donation of your time or services.
- Take your time. If you can, buy time to make the decision. I often find that my first response isn’t necessarily the best. It can be motivated by fear or stress. Or your initial response might be exactly right but you immediately talk yourself out of it. As an example, even if you’re tired and already saw your max number of clients that day, you might say yes to that last-minute appointment because you feel like you need the money. Since your body is your tool, this is how you might get injured or, at the very least, exhausted, which could harm your future income if you’re not able to work for a while. If you need to decide quickly, try taking 3 deep breaths and then decide. Even that momentary pause can make a difference.
- “Not right now.” Saying “no” to someone is hard for many. You chose your profession because you want to help people, so how can you turn someone down? If you find it hard to say no, consider using some variation of “not right now.” You’re not saying you’ll never do it because it may be something you’re interested in doing in the future. If you can, put a spin on it so you’re taking the other person’s interests into account. For example, you had marked yourself unavailable on Friday afternoon because you have a family event on Saturday that you need to get ready for. A regular client asks you to squeeze her in Friday afternoon. You’re already exhausted because you had a full week. Try saying, “I want to provide the best service for you and I can’t do that this afternoon. I’d be happy to make time for you on Monday at 11:00.”
Just as you will find your body mechanics or alignment slipping when you work with clients, your boundaries will slip as well. I find that when I’m depleted from letting my boundaries slip, I catch myself and tighten them up again, much like you might do if you realize you’ve been overspending and then tighten up your budget. The further you veer off course with boundaries, the harder it will be to correct. Boundaries require your regular attention. If you’ve encountered a difficult situation with a client, talk with a mentor, colleague, or friend. While I was providing massage and private yoga sessions, I regularly saw a professional supervisor to discuss boundaries and other business-related challenges. It was a worthwhile expense that helped me notice sooner when my boundaries were being challenged or slipping.
If you’re interested in learning more about boundaries for health & wellness professionals, I recommend “The Educated Heart” by Nina McIntosh and “The Ethics of Touch” by Ben E. Benjamin & Cherie Sohnen-Moe.
If you have any questions about boundaries or business issues for health & wellness professionals, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.