I see so many people these days, and have done so over the years as a coach and consultant, who are totally stressed by the constant drudgery of their day to day existences. People who feel that the pressure from their bosses or their staff, customers or suppliers and even their partners and their kids, not to mention their own practical stressors of trying to create or run a business in difficult economic circumstances, are dragging them all over the place. They haven’t got time to do the things that they know they should be doing because all of their focus and efforts are going into just responding to these wide and varied demands. 

In fact the image of the puppet comes to mind with each string representing another external (external to self) draw or tug on some part of us, taking away our power and enslaving us to forever remain in that prison of reactive behaviour. The one in which our standard response when someone asks us to ‘Jump’ is to ask ‘How high?’ followed by ‘How am I doing? Please tell me I am doing well!’

Why do we do this? Well mostly because we expect some pay off whether it be not to be criticised or to gain praise. In more extreme circumstances we do it because we are fearful or being sacked or of not getting that promotion …. many business owners I encounter justify bending over backwards because they think they will lose a customer’s business or because of the possibility of getting more business in the future. Is this really how it is supposed to be?

The sad irony is that the impact of such behavior is that we end up being a victim, a puppet, there to be manipulated by everyone that wants a piece of us … and the reality is that there is no payoff for our compromising ourselves! On the contrary, I have seen it lead to personal breakdown, frustration, being fired, a business going under, relationship devastation and even illnesses ranging from depression to addiction and more! Serious stuff!

There is, however, way out of this devastating spiral. It begins with believing in yourself, trusting in the quality of the work that you do and the service that you provide and then backing it up with a very short but big word called ‘NO’!

This in itself it doesn’t solve the problem completely but it begins to erect boundaries. Boundaries which for some reason, at some point in your life, you decided to take down or, at least, allow to be ignored for fear of upsetting someone or incurring their displeasure. People will always push if you allow them to do so, not necessarily with any intention of malice but just because, as human beings, we tend to do that. If you recognise and understand this behaviour then you can adapt to it – the saying ‘If you don’t want to be treated like a doormat, don’t lie down on the floor’ sums up the situation very aptly.

The thing is, achieving changes in how you are being treated and heading off the many stresses described above will only happen once you decide that you WANT to change it …. and then acting from that place. You have choices about how you act and react in every moment. You can decide whether you want to get your things done or whether you want to do what you know or believe that someone else wants. If you create the habit that you always do what they want then they will keep asking. If you say ‘Stop’ or ‘No’ then, just like a farm animal that moves close to an electric boundary fence, they will get a jolt. They might try it again but another jolt of ‘No’ will give them the message that is needed – they rarely try a third time. If it is a boss (or a customer) asking you to do something unreasonable perhaps ‘No’ is a little strong but the question ‘Which would you like me to prioritise?’ followed by some negotiation and agreement would begin to erect those boundaries. It would say ‘I am here to support and serve you but not to be your slave!’

Remember that the thing about having boundaries is not about being awkward, they are just about creating the space that you need in order to create the project, the business, the life, the relationship that you want. It’s about you taking control and directing your own circumstances.

It’s about you moving from being the puppet to the puppeteer!