Dr. Henry Cloud

Boundaries That Give you Control of Your Life

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by Dr. Henry Cloud

It’s a normal question: “How are things going?” But the real question is, can you answer it?

While some people can, if they were honest, their real answer would have to be “I don’t know until I check in with all of the control freaks, manipulators, irresponsible and everyone else who has control of my life.”

For others, it’s the sheer volume of work or personal life demands that derail them, and their sense of accomplishment or fulfillment. They find themselves getting to the end of a day, a week or even a year and somehow not moving the things forward that most matter to them. It can be true professionally, and personally as well.

What is the answer?

It’s something called “boundaries.” A boundary is a personal property line, or limit, that defines where you end and someone else begins. Think of your home…or your apartment. There is a property line and you are in control of what goes on there, who is allowed to visit, and on and on. In short, you have control.

In the physical world, like your home, these lines are easily seen—a door, a fence, a gate. But in the personal and professional world, these boundaries are invisible, and immaterial…but just as necessary. And for them to be seen, you have to communicate them.

The harsh reality is if you don’t set these boundaries clearly, you will end up with a lot of things on your “property”—your life—that you did not invite, and certainly do not want.

So, what is the first step in establishing these crucial boundaries?

In my experience, there are two words that can change everything: “create” and “allow.” Most times, whatever state I find myself in, I am either creating it or allowing it to exist.

I am creating it by:

  • Taking on more than I actually have time and energy to do
  • Failing to plan and budget my time to attain the specific outcomes I desire
  • Neglecting to figure out priorities and guard time for them first
  • Not ever clearly defining what I want to accomplish or have in the first place

I am allowing it by:

  • Not saying “no” to other people’s agendas without considering the cost to my own responsibilities
  • Not confronting someone who is not pulling their load in a shared goal or project and, consequently, paying for their non-performance
  • Not confronting or setting limits on bad behavior that is leaving a lot of “trash” or “toxic fumes” in my life or work

If you look at the ways that we either “create” or “allow” a lot of misery and missed opportunities, the road back begins with one step: ownership.

Taking Back Control

When you stop perceiving yourself as a victim who has no control over your time and energy, and begin to own it, you have begun to take control of your life.

Own the reality that most of the time you are creating or allowing this scenario, and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What are the “main” things that I want, personally and professionally?
  2. What are the specific activities (time and energy) that must occur for these to be realized?
  3. When, specifically, will I do those activities?
  4. What, or whom, do I need to say “no” to in order for number 3 to happen?
  5. What misbehavior or non-performance by others must be stopped for my priorities to be reached?

The failure to get specific about these questions produces the vast majority of unrealized desires and goals. But if you’ll take a few simple steps to work on them, huge changes can happen.

Steps for Moving Forward

First, don’t go it alone. Chances are if you’re overwhelmed in some of these areas, you will need support and accountability in order to make the necessary changes.

Second, face the fears that are keeping you from doing what you need to do. Is it fear of someone being mad at you? Rejecting or disapproving of you? Fear of being “both feet in” and making a full commitment?

Third, ask these questions as an ongoing discipline, not as a one-time event. Life, other people and many forces will always be vying for your time and energy, so you have to stand strong as the guardian of your purposes, goals, values and life. It is up to you…own it.

Fourth, answer and act on these questions in all of the important areas of your life: relationships, personal goals, work, health and spirituality. We have to take ownership of all aspects of life; otherwise, life will “happen to us” instead of be “lived by us.”

Forward progress won’t happen by accident. It takes ownership and courage to create the life God has planned for you to live, and not allow the one He doesn’t.

Dr. Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert, psychologist, and bestselling author of over 45 books.

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