Creating wellbeing boundaries can seem like a daunting task. I mean, how can you put your needs before those of the children or the demands of SLT? Is it even possible? When you think about saying ‘no’ to things, does it leave you in a cold sweat?
Probably… But you’re not alone. Not by a long shot.
Many teachers struggle to put their needs first and it’s one of the many reasons why they leave the profession in droves. Any sense of work/life balance has flown out of the window, along with their self-esteem.
Quite often, the thought of saying ‘no’ or putting wellbeing boundaries in place is worse than actually doing it. So that’s where this post comes in. Ready to help you when you’re creating wellbeing boundaries, but also giving you the confidence to stick to them. Giving you the confidence to have those tricky conversations.
So let’s dive in, shall we?
Creating Wellbeing Boundaries Starts With Mindset
If you want brutal honesty, I’ve got it for you. Unless you put yourself first, no one else is going to. Yes, you may have a fantastically supportive headteacher or a brilliantly encouraging partner, but unless you take control, your wellbeing is never going to be your own.
It’s always going to be under someone else’s control.
By developing the right mindset when creating wellbeing boundaries, you’re able to put yourself in the driving seat. But before you strap on your seatbelt, sister, you’ve got to know where you’re going. You can’t just pull away and hope that you’re driving in the right direction. If you do that, you’ll just end up back where you started, letting someone else dictate your work/life balance.
To build the right mindset, start with your ‘why’. The reason behind your desire for better wellbeing and work/life balance. The driving force that’s pushing you to develop boundaries and make better decisions.
By establishing your reasons, the journey ahead becomes clearer. You’re more motivated to make wellbeing your top priority.
Grab a notebook and answer the following questions:
- Why do you want to develop better boundaries for wellbeing? Why is it important to you?
- What are the benefits to a better work/life balance? Who, other than you, is going to benefit too?
- When you think about creating wellbeing boundaries, what excites you? What worries you? Why?
Understanding Where You Are Now
Now you know your motivators, it’s time to think about what your new wellbeing boundaries might look like. Before significant change can happen, you have to take into consideration where you are now.
You can do this by doing a simple exercise called: Start, Stop, Continue. It enables you to reflect on what you’re doing now when it comes to your wellbeing, but it also gives you the chance to see what is working, rather than just focusing on what isn’t.
Once you’ve taken stock of where you are now, it’s time to focus on where you want to go. Planning out your ideal day is just one way of thinking through your boundaries. It stops you having vague ideas of what those boundaries will look like, and gets you to think in more detail. Our brains love detail! It helps them execute our plans much more easily.
With only vague ideas of what work/life balance truly looks like for you, you’re never going to achieve the balance you want. You’ve got to get crystal clear. Once you know your boundaries, you can start living by them!
In your notebook:
- Draw 3 columns and write Start, Stop, Continue as the headings. In bullet points, think about what you want to start doing, stop doing and continue doing when it comes to work/life balance and wellbeing boundaries.
- Plot out your ideal day – what time do you arrive at work? What time do you leave? What does your lunch time look like? In the evening, what kinds of things are you doing?
- Jot down some ideas for your wellbeing ‘non-negotiables’ – look at the start, stop, continue work and your ideal day. If you were in control of your daily wellbeing routine, what would you not negotiate on?
Remember, these are just brainstorming activities, so let your mind run free. It might be that you realise that you’re not going to get the work/life balance you want in your current school. Don’t worry.
Equally, you might realise that teaching is never going to give you the balance you crave either, that’s okay too. It’s just an opportunity to reflect and consider your options. You don’t need to take those kinds of big steps just yet.
Putting Wellbeing Boundaries in Place
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The stuff that’s going to make the difference. All the notes you’ve made so far are options for you, nothing is set in stone…yet.
Sometimes, when we try to make changes in our lives, we plan for big change. Massive. We want to show the world we’re serious and that we mean business. And this works…for some people. But for a lot of people, true change happens when we shrink it. When we make it small and manageable, and a lot less daunting.
So that’s what we’re going to do now. We’re going to take your ideal day and we’re going to shrink the change, so that it’s no longer daunting. It’s going to feel manageable and motivating instead. Because if we make new habits and changes smaller, we’re more likely to stick to them.
And that’s going to make all the difference.
- Look at the lists you’ve made – your non-negotiables, your ideal day, etc. Circle three things that seem manageable to try right now. Just three. If you can only think of two that’s fine.
- Now look at your top 2-3 choices – which one appeals to you the most? Which one makes your heart dance a little at the thought of it? Which one is likely to work at this stage? That’s the one to start with.
- Take the one that you’ve chosen and think about how you can shrink it to make it more manageable to start with. Here are some examples:
- You’re determined to leave work by 4.30 on a Friday. At the moment you leave at 6pm. Knocking 90 minutes off is a big change, so we need to shrink it. Why not start by leaving at 5.45? When you’ve done that for a couple of weeks, you can move it to 5.30 and so on.
- You want to start making lunches for the week ahead on a Sunday. Start by making lunches for just Monday and Tuesday. After a couple of weeks, add in Wednesday.
- You’re keen to do a workout before school. Choose something that will take you 5 minutes rather than 30 minutes to start off with. Once you’ve managed 5 minutes each day consistently, increase it to 10 minutes.
- Write your new wellbeing goal down somewhere prominent. If it’s time-bound, block off that time physically in your diary.
Big change happens when small changes are done consistently. Will power and enthusiasm will only take you so far. Once the novelty has worn off, you’re back to where you started and life feels out of control again.
Keeping Boundaries in Place
Now, you’re probably someone who has tried all sorts of things to get a healthy work/life balance. You’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt – except it’s now soaked in your own tears.
I get it. I’ve been there too.
You see, boundaries take practise. You can’t just hope you’ll be able to keep them in place without working at them. That’s why I advocate such small changes. Success spurs you on. Big changes make you overwhelmed – and that’s the last thing you want.
But there’s more to it than just creating manageable habits. It’s about having the courage to say ‘no’ when people test your newly created boundaries. And for a lot of people, me included, saying ‘no’ is a challenge.
But when it comes to wellbeing and work/life balance, it’s crucial. And, just like keeping your boundaries in place, it takes practise.
Top Tips for Saying No
- Start off small – say ‘no’ to easier things, i.e. shrink the change. I used to say ‘yes’ to things that I immediately regretted, e.g. going out on a Friday when I was exhausted. Build up your confidence with smaller steps.
- Be respectful – when saying ‘no’ to someone’s request for your time, it’s important to do it right. Give them your reasons. Practise saying ‘no’ in different ways, e.g. At the moment I’m not able to do that because…
- Stick to your guns – people are savvy and will try really hard to appeal to your good nature. This is when it gets tough – repeat your reasons though and stick to your wellbeing guns.
- Prepare to compromise – is there a way that you can still do what’s being asked but at another time? Get out your diary and show willingness to help if you possibly can. But if you can’t, that’s something that they will have to deal with.
Of course, there will be times in school when you can’t say ‘no’ very easily at all. But try saying it as often as you can, if you know it’s going to impact on your work/life balance and goes against your non-negotiables.
Creating Wellbeing Boundaries Takes Practise
Anything that’s new takes practise. You didn’t just get up one day as a toddler and walk across the room, waving at your astonished parents. You practised walking and fell over…a lot. Little old you persevered and, over time, you started to get the hang of this walking thing.
It’s no different with any new skill or behaviour you’re trying to implement. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll ‘fall down’. Despite your best intentions, your wellbeing boundaries might fall apart a bit. It’s bound to happen because you’re human.
What’s important is that, with your growth mindset, you keep learning all the time. Maybe an idea you had for a boundary didn’t work. Instead of throwing in the towel, why don’t you try something else or shrink the change even more.
Because, as I said at the start, unless you take control of your wellbeing or your work/life balance, you’re going to be walking to the beat of someone else’s drum. You’ll have your time dictated to you and have no control.
Control is where it’s at. Once you start to control your wellbeing and work/life balance, you’ll start to have greater confidence and people will begin to respect your boundaries.
That work/life balance is out there, you’ve just got to find it, practise and hold on with both hands. You can do this.
I know you can.
Interested in learning more about this? Head on over to my IGTV video – Creating Wellbeing Boundaries
If you’d like some coaching support to develop your boundaries, head on over to my Coaching page and we can work together.