The “Yes Girl’s” Guide to Setting Boundaries

Ambitious and over-committed? Knowing when to say no is your survival guide.

Practice with Mary Beth LaRue at a Wanderlust event this summer. Click here for Festival lineup and locations, or here for the Wanderlust 108 schedule. Can’t make it? Practice with her right in your home on Wanderlust TV!

To protect my energy it’s ok to change my mind.
To protect my energy it’s ok to cancel a commitment.
To protect my energy it’s okay to take a day off.
To protect my energy it’s okay to not answer that call.
To protect my energy it’s okay to not share myself.
To protect my energy it’s okay to do nothing.
To protect my energy it’s okay to be alone.
To protect my energy it’s okay to speak up.
To protect my energy it’s okay to move on.
To protect my energy it’s okay to let go.
To protect my energy it’s okay to change.
To protect my energy it’s okay to say no.

Boundaries have been my biggest work in the past year. This might be due to my upbringing; my sweet parents will do absolutely anything for anyone and I was raised in the Midwest, where politeness reigns above all. The word “no” was not a word that was in my vocabulary up until my thirties. For years, I often looked at my calendar only to find that it was packed with so many obligations and “get to know you” coffee dates that there was almost no space for “me” anywhere.

I think in some ways my “unconditional yes” started as a survival mechanism when I was a kid. If I was always accommodating, always helpful, always available then people would like me… Right? Wanting too much or being too much myself might rub people the wrong way. (Spoiler alert: It does and it’s amazing.) So I stopped doing that. I did what I was asked, showed up when I was needed, and was who I thought people needed me to be. Screw my own needs and expectations!

I met Jess, the founder of the Folk Rebellion movement, soon after I turned 30, and I was floored by how she spoke about her boundaries, her schedule, her email inbox. She was the boss, and she was in control of what she could be. Lucky for me, she’s become one of my best friends and someone that I look up to like a sister. One of her secrets was saying no.

In my mind saying no to things you didn’t want to do was a revolutionary, rebellious act. And the idea of using ‘no’ was terrifying. Today I use the word “no” quite a bit, mostly from a loving, confident space. It took time and baby steps and practice, and it has been so worth it. As Danielle LaPorte says, “Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence. This isn’t ‘wrong.’ This is loving. For yourself, to others, for the world.”

Along the way, I’ve asked just about everyone I admire about their own boundaries and how they manage their time. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

1. You don’t have to explain yourself.

I am the queen of explaining exactly why I can’t teach that yoga class or make it your kid’s second birthday party. I think it goes back to that middle school people-pleasing syndrome. I’ve since found that my close friends and family deserve an explanation, but I don’t need to explain myself constantly. It’s freeing. It’s liberating. It even feels a bit rebellious.

2. A “no” makes way for a bigger, better yes.

I had my first taste of this when I was dating in my twenties. I’d often say yes to dinner or a coffee or whatever because I didn’t want to make some dude feel bad. But while I was out to dinner listening to Mr. Boring talk about the stock market or his workout I was missing out on meeting someone really interesting or, better yet, an evening out at a dive bar with my girlfriends. This applies everywhere. Say no to what doesn’t light you up so there’s room for that job, opportunity, person, or ice cream that will.

3. Teach people how to love you.

My husband, my family, my close friends, even my dog all know this: I may love the shit outta you, but I must be alone for a little bit each day. I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert, and even though that party sounds really cool, so does my pajamas and Stranger Things 2.  You can tell me all about it tomorrow over coffee.

4. You are not for everyone.

And vice versa. Man, I’d love to wrap little middle school me in a bear hug and tell her she was perfect in all of her awkward glory and to keep at it. At 34, I own who I am. I laugh really big with my mouth wide open and one eye closed. I would likely pick an evening in with girlfriends over some Hollywood bash.  The more truth-telling and more vulnerability, the better. And guess what? Not everybody’s down with that. But it sure weeds out the ones that aren’t for me and shows me the gems that are on my path.

The word “no” has opened up far more doors than those skim milk, heavily diluted “yeses” ever did. Start saying no and start living from your real deal self.

This piece originally appeared on Mary Beth’s blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Curious for more? Practice with Mary Beth on Wanderlust TV or at a Wanderlust Festival. 

Mary Beth LaRue is a yoga teacher, mentor, and co-founder of Rock Your Bliss, a yoga-inspired coaching movement for the mind and body. Mary Beth has taught at multiple Wanderlust festivals, and has been featured in Yoga Journal, National Geographic Traveler, LA Yoga, and Mantra Magazine. Her mission is simply to lead people toward their bliss.