Are you the sort of person who finds yourself wanting to please others, taking on extra responsibility without getting your own needs met? Or are you simply someone who has competing demands that are impossible to meet?
Keeping your sanity in the midst of competing demands requires the ability to observe your own limits and those of others. Whether legitimately or otherwise, people often want or need something from you that you are unable or unwilling to give. Children need books read to them and towers built right now, friends need you to listen to them, the house needs to be cleaned, work emails need attention, projects have deadlines and calls need to be returned.
Continually stretched limits causes extreme stress. Extreme stress leads to reactivity and interferes with your ability to clearly think through how to resolve the problem.
Often, when we can’t fulfill everyone’s needs we feel guilty and inadequate. Rather than give in to the guilt, try to view pushed limits as a problem in the fit between what someone needs from you and what you’re willing or able to provide. There is no ‘correct’ balance between home and work responsibilities. Seeing your stretched limits as a problem to solve can reduce anxiety and help you get more active in finding a solution.
Steps to observe your limits include:
- Self Awareness. Everyone has personal limits. What are you willing to do and what expectations are tolerable for you? Remember that limits change over time. What might have been tolerable before may not be anymore.
- Telling People Your Limits Ahead of Time. You can avoid a lot of problems by letting people know your limits ahead of time. Giving a supervisor ample notice that you’ll need 2 weeks off in December for your sister’s wedding or that you need to leave early on Tuesdays to get your daughter from school make collaboration more likely.
- Stretching Your Limits Temporarily. Sometimes work or family expectations increase temporarily. Being aware of when you’re temporarily stretched and how long you’re able to maintain the temporary change can help you plan how to get through it.
- Knowing limits for the Long Haul. What’s ok for you over time? Are you OK with sending work email from home so you can get home earlier? Do you want to meet work expectations, but let go of the long hours required to be a superstar?
- Planning for Specific Problems that Stress You Out. I get extremely stressed when I’m late. For some, being a few minutes late isn’t a big deal, but for me it’s important. We all have specific things that stress us out. Knowing yours and arranging to take special care that those limits aren’t pushed will reduce your stress.
- Addressing Limits When Crossed. Don’t let it go when your limits are crossed. Tell people when your limits are stretched and adopt an attitude of problem solving.
There is no one way to balance the competing demands of life. However paying attention to your limits can help reduce stress and keep life more manageable.