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How to set personal boundaries (and say no!)

Setting, and maintaining, healthy boundaries at work and in your personal life can prevent you from feeling overworked, underpaid, undervalued and overwhelmed. So why do so many people struggle to set and uphold their boundaries?

People pleasing, imposter syndrome, and not being able to say ‘no’ are a few reasons, but the good news is that we can learn how to set healthy boundaries and uphold them – we just need strategies to try, to practise them, and become experts in upholding our own boundaries. 

So, with that in mind, here are some ways to set, and maintain, healthy boundaries in the workplace and at home. 

Setting personal boundaries

Firstly, what is a personal boundary?

By definition, a boundary is “a line which marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.”

Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.

What are the different types of personal boundaries?

The main types of personal boundaries include: 

  • Physical Boundaries (these protect your space and body)

  • Sexual Boundaries (They define what kind of sexual touch and intimacy you want, how often, when, where, and with whom.)

  • Emotional or Mental Boundaries (Your right to have your own feelings and thoughts, to not have your feelings criticised or invalidated, and not have to take care of other people’s feelings.)

  • Spiritual or Religious Boundaries (Your right to believe in what you want, worship as you wish, and practise your spiritual or religious beliefs.)

  • Financial and Material Boundaries (Your right to spend your money as you choose, to not give or loan your money or possessions if you don't want to, and your right to be paid by an employer as agreed.)

  • Time Boundaries (They protect you from agreeing to do things you don’t want to do, having people waste your time, and being overworked.)

Freedom written on wall for personal boundaries

How to set and uphold personal boundaries

When setting personal boundaries, it’s important to get clear on what areas you need boundaries in. One way to identify your boundaries is to think about the areas of your life where you're experiencing problems. 

Here are some tips for identifying boundaries in different areas of your life, and setting them. 

Know your role and responsibilities at work

This may seem obvious, but when you have clarity on your responsibilities and role and the tasks associated, you then know where the line is and what’s outside of scope. Armed with this information, you can use this document to reference and back you up if you have too much on your plate and need to say no to additional tasks or responsibilities.

Clarify expectations

Everyone has different expectations and ways of looking at the world. That’s why getting written or verbal clarification of expectations will help you to understand where the bar is. This clarity helps you set realistic boundaries around your workload and tasks at home and at work. 

Establish personal policies

Develop personal policies for the most important boundaries in your life, such as only responding to emails during work hours, taking breaks at work, not having sex on the first date if that’s not your thing, or setting limits on the number of social events you attend in a week if you know you need to recharge your social batteries. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate! 

People won’t know your boundaries unless you openly talk about them. Communicate your boundaries openly and assertively where relevant both at work and in your personal life. Unless you say something, people will assume you have capacity. So communicate, communicate, communicate! 

Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise! 

Sometimes we get asked to do things that are, in fact, somewhat urgent. At least from their perspective. If that happens, tell them what you have on your list and the order of your priorities, and tell them what could be sacrificed in order to fit in their request. Then, together you can determine what’s more important, and they may realise that what they believe to be urgent, isn’t quite so urgent after all... 

Think about your personal values when you’re prioritising things in your life. For example, if health and exercise is really important to you, but your workload is so heavy for a project that you only have a small amount of personal time left, make sure you prioritise your health and fitness to ensure that value is taken care of first. 

Prioritise self-care

Prioritise self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, and sufficient sleep. Taking care of yourself is crucial for maintaining optimal performance at work. 

Create a weekly plan

Plan your tasks and priorities for the day or week. This helps you stay organised and ensures that you focus on the most important tasks first. A Sunday evening is a great time to get set up for the week ahead and create a plan, helping you to ensure what’s most important gets done. 

Regularly assess and adjust

Regularly assess your workload, stress levels, and overall well-being. Adjust your boundaries as needed to ensure a healthy work-life balance.

Get aware of the beliefs preventing you from upholding boundaries 

If you’re unable to establish and uphold healthy boundaries at work and in your personal life, it’s usually because there are some limiting belief systems and fears happening underneath the surface. Getting clarity on what these are is the first step to understanding how to overcome them. 

Seek support 

If you find it challenging to establish boundaries, discuss your concerns with a trusted friend, manager/colleague, counsellor or coach. They can help provide guidance or solutions.

Getting support with coach for personal boundaries

Examples of upholding boundaries (and what you can say)


  • When someone sits uncomfortably close to you, you move away or say, “I need a little more personal space”.

  • Telling someone you're not a hugger. 


  • “I'd like to be touched like this.”

  • Alisha has a personal policy of not having sex on the first date.


  • “I don't feel comfortable discussing this.”

  • “I feel embarrassed when you do that. I'd like you to stop.”


  • “I'm going to take a moment and say a silent prayer before we eat.”

  • Anna goes to church alone because her partner doesn't share his beliefs.


  • “I reserve my evenings for family time. I'll respond to all work emails first thing in the morning.”

  • “Dad, I don't have time to take you shopping this week. I'll place an order for you with the grocery delivery service, and show you how to do it.”


  • “I'm on a budget, so I brought my lunch from home and won't be ordering lunch today.”

  • “Please don't borrow my car/eat my food without asking.”

  • “I’m saving money at the moment so won’t be able to join you for dinner. Would you like to go on a walk instead?”

How to say no

Learning how to say no is key to keeping your boundaries intact. Assess your workload and commitments before taking on additional tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and say no to anything that doesn’t fit. 

If you feel compelled to give a reason for saying no, you can tell them you’d love to help out but don’t have capacity to take that on at present; that you have other commitments; that you’re not interested in the opportunity as you’d rather focus your efforts on your current projects/opportunities; that it’s outside the scope of your role/project/JD. The options are endless! Say it with me now: No! 

Different ways to say no

To social events:

  • “I won’t be able to make it this time, sorry.” (and leave it at that, no explanation required). 

  • “I have other commitments so won’t be able to make it.” 

  • “That’s not something I’d be interested in, but thanks for the invitation.” 

  • “I appreciate the invitation but I won’t be able to attend.”

To work-related tasks/projects: 

  • “I don’t have the capacity for this task/project.”

  • “I’d love to help, but I already have a lot of priorities.”

  • “That’s outside of the scope of my role/responsibilities, so is not something I can help with.”

  • “I am currently working on these projects which would not allow time for this request. If you would like me to shift priorities from one of those projects to this one, let me know and we can discuss the possible impact of this.”

  • “I appreciate your idea/request, however my team has a number of important projects to progress currently, and I must ensure there are no distractions to impact our ability to meet our deadlines. So we can revisit your request later in the year if.”

  • “What a great idea. My team has a number of important projects on the go currently, and we’ll look into this after we have delivered those and have capacity.” 

  • “I’m going to have to say no to this right now, however we can revisit in the future.”

Remember that setting healthy boundaries is a continuous process that may require adjustments over time. You’ve got this! 

If you need help on your journey, book a free consult with me – I’m a certified life coach and accredited cognitive behavioural therapy practitioner who specialises in helping ambitious peeps like you to design their lives and achieve their biggest goals. I know I can help you get the accelerated growth and progress you otherwise probably wouldn’t think is possible! 

Thanks for reading! If you want more, check out my other blogs, follow me on Facebook: @Janellekeesue, TikTok: @janelle.keesue, Instagram: @janellekeesue. You can also book a free session with me here

About the author, Janelle Kee-Sue

Janelle Kee-Sue is a Certified Life and Mindset Coach, accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Practitioner, Self-Hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner, and is completing a Diploma in Advanced Clinical Hypnotherapy and NLP with the New Zealand School of Professional Hypnotherapy. Based in Wellington, New Zealand, she specialises in helping people to change their thinking so they can change their lives; to reprogram their negative thought patterns, banish limiting beliefs for good, learn techniques for being less stressed and anxious, more emotionally regulated, positive and resilient, so they can achieve any goal, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the gym, working on her novel, or hanging with her floofy Samoyed Zeus and her husband Ricky. Learn more.


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