The world would be in shambles—shambles, I say!—without boundaries: the Mississippi River couldn’t delineate the East from the West, the 49th parallel north wouldn’t demarcate Canada from the United States, and those individuals ocean bodies would just smash together, spilling over into each other. Well, maybe that last example wasn’t so strong—hopefully, you get my point.

The existence of boundaries cannot be ignored—your backyard, city, state, country—yet, more often than not, we are wildly unaware of our own personal limits, and the importance of defining and maintaining those self-imposed guidelines. I think it’s easier, sometimes more than others, to forget where we have drawn a metaphoric line in the sand—our definitive Do Not and Will Not Cross It, No Matter What line.

Simply spoken, self-sabotaging mentalities are the problem, including:

  • “If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s all good”;
  • “I’ll do what I want, when I want”;
  • “Love everybody and everything, all the time”;
  • “If it feels good, it can’t be bad”;
  • “Everything in moderation”;
  • or “I deserve to be happy.”

By adopting any or all of the above mentalities, you will eventually find yourself steeping in a steaming hot bath of trouble. Each of the five ways pave a road to the inevitable Grass is Always Greener way of thinking, which leads to feeling unsatisfied, hollow, and empty.

Without direction, it’s easy to get lost; without boundaries, it’s easy to lose sight of the line between here and there, mine and yours, and right and wrong. Boundaries are invisible guides to how we manage our time, our resources, and our relationships. They shouldn’t be perceived as restrictive dead-end boxes that we place ourselves within, but rather helpful fences that protect us from harm. The effectiveness of our self-defined boundaries will be most noticeable in our finances, our friendships, and interactions with other human beings.

Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures ~ Edwin Louis Cole

Boundaries come in many shapes and sizes and labels: your occupation, your marriage, your children, your finances, your faith, your ethics and morals—definition and expansion of any of those, fall way outside the scope of this narrative. But the importance of said boundaries, can not be understated.

We’ve established the importance of today’s topic, but how do you go about defining healthy boundaries for your life? I can think of four basic strategies that should encompass any and all scenarios that life may deal you: Learn to Say Yes, Learn to Say No, Learn to Say It’s None of Your Business, and Learn to Say It’s None of My Business.

Learn to say yes: healthy living includes expanding your own boundaries. If that weren’t true, you’d never meet new people, venture into new neighborhoods to try unusual restaurants, or meet the love of your life. Say yes to new personal adventures, as long as they fall within your comfort zone.

Learn to say no: no to harmful experiences, toxic people, and morally challenging ground. The world is full of personal booby traps and snares—presented as sugar-coated and shiny morsels—that seem enticing, on a superficial level. Discerning the experiences that you should say no to requires…well…experience in previous failures or successes. No one ever said life would be easy!

Learn to say it’s none of your business: applicable in friendships, around co-workers, within a family circle, members of the opposite sex, or complete strangers. Some of the most healthy relationships maintain a respectable buffer between personal and professional lifestyles. Not all friendships should be 100% full-disclosure in nature.

Learn to say it’s none of my business: equally important, in the art of boundary-making, is the ability to recognize when a situation or circumstance doesn’t have anything to do with you. Sometimes, the circumstances of friends, co-workers, or family members doesn’t warrant your involvement—or even your knowledge of said situations in their life. You don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of every person that falls within your circle of influence.

Lastly, something must be mentioned about maintaining consistent boundaries. The world loves to spot hypocrisy, and those who practice and preach it. Are you authentic? Seems like an easy question, although it’s rarely anything of the sort:

  • If you’re married, are you maintaining the promises and boundaries that define your marriage?
  • If you’re a person of faith, do your work ethics and business practices align with the spiritual fundamentals of your life?
  • What is your personality like at home, at work, in the locker room, and at church?
  • Are your behaviors, language, and actions the same, across the board, no matter where you are or who you’re with?
  • Do you maintain the same morals and ethics, from day to day, regardless of where you find yourself?

Take a moment, do a pulse check now. How do you register on all of the above points? I wish that all moments in my life were and will be perfect, but I’m not perfect either. In my experience, there is always room for self-improvement, room for more boundaries to be drawn.