May 11, 2023

Want To Have Better Boundaries? Here's How with Nicole Tsong

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In this episode, special guest Nicole Tsong joined me to share stories of the events and experiences in her life which helped her make the transition from being motivated by external reinforcement to being in true alignment with her internal world, her inner self, and her inner voice. Listen in as we discuss boundaries and explain the different boundary tendencies: the encroacher, the pleaser, the breaker, and the brat… so you can recognize your own patterns and make an alignment shift for yourself.

Nicole Tsong, bestselling author of 24 Ways to Move More and work/life balance coach, helps high-achieving professional women step into their aligned life path. The founder of Nicole Tsong Coaching, she reached hundreds of thousands of readers as the former Fit for Life columnist for The Seattle Times. She is an award-winning journalist and for 3 years, taught yoga at the White House Easter Egg Roll during the Obama administration. She has been featured on nationally syndicated show The List, on Good Morning Washington on WJLA, on Your California Life in Sacramento on ABC10, New Day NW on KING-5 TV in Seattle, and in The Seattle Times.

•[5:00] Nicole discusses her first disruption in her definition of success.
•[13:39] Nicole shares how yoga changed her relationship with herself and her work.
•[17:02] “What is it in my life that's keeping me from speaking up?”
•[23:24] Nicole explains different boundary tendencies: “I think it's always good for us to understand where we're starting from with our boundaries.” 

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Christine Li  0:01  
Welcome back to the Make Time for Success podcast. This is episode number 126. 

In this episode, you're gonna hear me say the word or wow a lot because I'm listening to my special guest, Nicole Tsong, Nicole shared so many different stories of the events and experiences she's been through that I've helped her to make the transition from being someone who is motivated by external reinforcement to someone who is in true alignment with her internal world, her inner self, and her inner voice. Nicole is the best selling author of 24 Ways To Move More, and she is also a work life balance coach who helps high achieving professional women to step into their aligned life path. She has reached hundreds of 1000s of readers as the former Fit for Life columnist for The Seattle Times. She has also been a yoga instructor who has taught at the White House Easter Egg Roll during the Obama administration. She's been through a lot. And she's also been featured on many TV shows including the list. Good morning, Washington on W J. LA, and your California life in Sacramento on ABC 10. I have a feeling that you're going to be saying wow a lot to during this episode. And I can't wait for you to learn from Nicole all about what it takes to become your own success and how to have great boundaries. Let's go listen to this wonderful woman and this episode now.

Hi, I'm Dr. Christine Li, and I'm a psychologist and a procrastination coach. I've helped 1000s of people move past procrastination and overwhelm so they can begin working to their potential. In this podcast, you're going to learn a powerful strategies for getting your mind, body and energy to work together so that you can focus on what's really important, and accomplish the goals you want to achieve. When you start living within your full power, you're going to see how being productive can be easy, and how you can create success on demand. Welcome to the Make Time for Success podcast.

Hello, my friends. Today I am extremely excited to welcome Nicole Tsong to the show. She and I are just getting to know each other as friends and colleagues. And I'm already so excited that I know her Welcome to the show, Nicole. 

Nicole Tsong  2:38  
Thank you so much for having me, Christine, it's such an honor to be here with you. 

Christine Li  2:42  
Thank you for being here. It's my honor to have you here. Nicole is a work life balance coach for career women. And she has an extensive history as well. So she's doing a lot of work in the current times. But she has a very, very long CV, let's put it that way. And I can't wait to dig into the entire story of your life. Nicole, please let us know where you'd like to start letting us in on your journey. 

Nicole Tsong  3:11  
Sure. I usually start probably around the college era, because you don't have to go all the way back, although sometimes it can go earlier than that, especially with like the name of your show and talking about success. And I've been thinking about this one a lot recently, especially for this conversation around where did I start to understand or define success for myself? Like, where did I get that from? And I would say growing up, Chinese American kid in the Midwest, you know, was very much based on the standards of other people. And like achieving, essentially, and I was always a really good student. And so I did it through through that through my activities. Like I played tennis, I did violin, I did all these things. And the whole goal was to get to a really good college. And so I was thinking about it that way. And it was sort of funny, like my 1516 year old self thought the pinnacle of life, was getting into the crack college, right. And so then, and I did and I went to Dartmouth College and went to an Ivy League, and then you get there and like everybody else very smart, and also very successful. And you know, and I think I still had in me for a very long time from there, trying to figure out what success was. And I didn't really go down any kind of classic route in college, I studied comparative literature. And I sort of on a whim was like, I guess I should be a journalist, because I'm a writer. And I didn't want to be a creative writer. And it just made sense to go to something really practical. So I became a journalist after that. And it was interesting, because I feel like during that whole stretch of my life where I was starting to climb the ladder of journalism, I was interning I was in very random small towns around the country, working at newspapers, earning my way up the ladder. And then there's this whole experience of like success is when you get on the front page, or success is when you get to that next place or when you get to the metropolitan newspaper, the bigger papers all of that so well.

When I first was hired at the Seattle Times as a intern, that was a measure of success, right. But then the next one was when I got my first full time job, and it was in Anchorage, Alaska.

And so this whole trajectory, I'm in my 20s, like I'm in this whole trajectory. And the first really big disruption to the understanding of success came when I was in Anchorage, because I was there and I was, you know, covering federal courts and doing the regular reporting thing. And then I happened to cover at that was at the time, there's a lot of Catholic sex abuse was coming out in the news. And so we had our own version of it in Anchorage, where a principal of a high school came out and said he had been abused by a local priest, I just happened to be the reporter on the night shift. So I wrote that first story. And then at the next day, they said, Hey, Nicole, we're going to do a bigger project about this an investigation, we'd like you to do it. And of course, I was like, in newspaper world, this is like the primo kind of gig to get. So I was like, Oh, my gosh, like I'm gonna get you covered this really big story. And they took me off my regular beat for three months. And I was interviewing the victim, victims of sex abuse from Catholic priests in the in the area. So as you can imagine, this is like a pretty intense, rather traumatizing experience to actually cover and talk about. And I felt very proud because I was like, Okay, I'm doing like really important work and changing the world. I'm like, being of service. And so you know, we finish the story, we go on to win all these awards. And then a year after all this started, one of the victims dies by suicide. And so I had to cover this. And so as you can imagine, this was very intense for me, I had never gone through anything like that in my life. And on top of it, I was in a really weird way, like I was a reporter, I was not part of the family, I was not part of any of the experiences the family was going through. And so they were pretty, and they were upset with us for various reasons. And so I just remember, I went to the memorial service, which I didn't want to go to, and I'm just in the bathroom, bawling, like crying, I'm like, I can't take it. And then my editors are trying to stay with me. But they're like, you know, middle aged nice men editors who like have no idea how to handle this, like young reporter who's freaking out losing her mind at that moment. And I ended up having to go through some therapy at the time to really help myself and I really, at that time, started to understand that, that was not my definition of success like that. That to me was like, I'm like, This is not worth it. This is not worth money. This is not worth anything. And so I tried to divert myself, I decided to try to change within journalism. And I ended up moving into features. So I moved to the Seattle Times, I was a features reporter for a while. But then a few years in, they were going through layoffs. And they decided to move me over to the newsroom. And I was like, in my mind, I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I could go through that, again, I really don't want to, and I was like, I need to get out. And so that was the first time when my wife and I was in my early 30s, then of like, I really need to make a change, I really need to change how I'm running my life, and the choices that I'm making. And that was probably the first really big intuitive moment. I mean, it took me seven years. From the time, I had that tough experience to the time where I was like, I really need to make a major change in my life. Wow, thank you for sharing some of the details of your journey. And I was just thinking how courageous you are to even have tried journalism, let alone going to Anchorage, let alone doing that very intense story, let alone being in the bathroom, expressing your feelings and feeling your feelings. And finding your way through even more stress after that. But also finding yourself to a way of taking care of yourself. After a lot of hard work and a lot of struggle and a lot of striving. And I find myself wondering, through that period, while you were a journalist, were you feeling successful? Or were you thinking that it's just around the corner? I guess what was your relationship to yourself while you were doing all that hard work? I don't ever feel like I felt that successful. I mean, it felt successful on a surface level and that I had won awards. I was working in a major metropolitan paper. And it didn't feel like true success. Like I didn't feel that deep level, I felt still felt like there was always something out there for me to go get and to go after. Like in journalism, in particular sort of the ladder you climb is you get to the New York Times, and like that's the pinnacle of success. And then I know people at the New York Times, and I would argue that's not how you would feel even at the New York Times, like it's not it's this external circumstance defining success for yourself. And I did not understand that at the time. And I would say it took me a very long time to understand that it was not about these external factors. Like I'd even say, you know, I left the newspaper to become a yoga teacher. Because that was the only place I felt good was the only place I felt connected to myself. It was the only place where I was like, oh, like I could be present. My only job is to be myself. And there is still at the same time this feeling

thing of like, well to be successful now like, I have to really go teach a lot of different classes, I have to, you know, lead teacher trainings, I have to be instill some kind of external version of success and learning and and at the same time yoga did teach me to connect inward to myself to connect much more deeply into my intuition. And I started to learn what it was that would drive me to be in a choice that I think of success now is like a choice that's self expressed, versus a choice that's pressured, like somebody else might think that's a good idea. Because during that time, when I was a yoga teacher, I actually started writing a fitness column for the Seattle Times. And I was freelancing, that, and that was like the best gig I'd ever had at the newspaper. I was like, This is so much fun, I just get to try new activities all the time. And then during that time, I heard the call to write my first books. And so that happened. And it was interesting, because it's like, I had actually never wanted to write a book when I was a journalist. And when I left, I was like, Oh, this seems so strange that I would write a book now. But I think it was at that time, me starting to understand that when I was making a choice from expression, I was making a choice from service, I was making a choice from something that felt really like my higher calling and purpose, which is really what I work with women on, like, what is it that's calling you, versus what is it that everyone else expects you to do? And when you can distinguish and discern that for yourself, that's when you can start to make choices that feel really fulfilling, really gratifying. And then, and then your life actually opens up. And I would say me deciding to write that book. And even to leave the newspaper, both of those choices helped me start to open my life to a new pathway.

Christine Li  11:34  
That's so beautiful. And I find myself thinking about what you mentioned about your Chinese American background. And I'm wondering along the way, what thoughts have you had about the cultural influences you've had? And maybe that pressure to conform to some of the cultural norms there maybe having high status things or high status period? Or accomplishments that you can maybe see that are very notable. Can you comment on that for me? For sure. I had a lot of push pull. I think with that, even as a kid, I was always rejecting the idea of like, what success was for Chinese American kids. And I saw the kids were like, really into science and math and like, went on to Harvard and became doctors. And I was like, I don't do that. Right. So I would reject, like, you had to go be a doctor or go be a lawyer and my parents to their credit, never, never pressured me and my sister around the career path we were in. And when I wanted to be a paleontologist, my dad definitely nudged me away from that, because like, that's maybe not. What about journalism? And so that's how I kind of went down that track. But I feel like there was the pressure around being a certain level, you know, like, for sure. And my family, like all of my cousins, on my one side, all went to very good colleges. And so there was pressure to be like, Oh, can we achieve from that level of education. I never really felt pressure about how much I made in terms of money. But I felt pressure, like journalism was a prestigious kind of job. So there was always it was like a more subtle version of it, because I didn't go down a more traditional route in terms of the kind of career I chose. But within the careers that I had, there is that level, I think of success and pressures still, that I experienced. And I internalized. You know, I always was like, okay, like I have to achieve, I'm not going to achieve that way. But I'm going to achieve a different pathway. And I thought it was independent, but it was still really being affected by the idea of how what what success looks like.

Yes, beautifully said, I find myself now wondering about the yoga effect. And what did you learn from the practice of yoga? How did it change your relationship with how you are with yourself?

Nicole Tsong  13:54  
Well, I don't, I didn't realize before yoga, that I had an internal dialogue that was running things all the time and criticizing me and telling me I was bad at all these things in my life. So that was the first place. I think, when I was first started going, I had moved to Seattle, I didn't want to join a gym. And it was like a very functional choice as like, I'm just going to join a yoga studio. And so I joined and then what I realized is like, I would enter feeling very stressed about a story, thinking my editor might call me, you know, worrying about all those things. And then you can't bring your phone into the room. So we're just like, leave everything in the cubbies. And then at the end of class, I would no longer be worried about it. Like I might check my phone, but I wasn't feeling anxious and stress. And I was like, Oh, wow, like this is so phenomenal. Like, I can feel so much better from 90 minutes of yoga practice. And then I just wanted I started craving and like I started wanting to feel like that all the time. And I wanted to go more and more consistently. And really at that time when I was trying to work at the place of like, what kind of career do I want? That's when I was like the only thing that actually really makes me happy is yoga. So that was like a big part of the reason I went down that pathway. But I would say

On a deeper level, so there was like this really physical strength that I got from it that I really loved. But on a deeper level, you know, yoga means union, it's a union to self. And it's like, how do you be in that exploration with yourself. And it was my really first place where I started to explore my relationship with myself, how hard it was on myself, and learning to navigate that like learning to have an outlet to be kinder and gentler with myself, whether it's like my physical form and a yoga pose, or just how I was in the world, and to be kind, and then that and it still helps me like I still practice all the time, because it's so just gives me that grounding into my body. And then what is real and what is true, that is like physical in that moment, versus all the stuff that's chattering around in my head. Yeah, I find myself wanting to cry when I hear you talking about the yoga piece. So it can feel the, I guess, natural beauty of it for you. As we're talking, I just wanted to relate that to our listeners. And now I want to ask how you started to be interested in coaching other people how to bring this kind of awareness into their own personal sphere, I think we are all taught to look towards the external in some way or the other, we're all taught that getting into a good college is a good idea. We are all taught that. Sometimes high stress situations might carry a lot of benefit in some way. And I'm wondering how you work with the clients that you have? And what kind of philosophies do you bring to your clients? Beautiful, thank you. Well, I would say that yoga is naturally a transformational practice, especially when you start going into yoga teacher trainings, the idea of yoga teacher training is like what is it that's keeping you from being able to be yourself in front of a room of people? What is it that stopping you from being able to be self expressed when you're standing in front of 30 people you're teaching yoga to? And so a lot of the work in teacher trainings was really around that. And so I love that part of it. Like, what is it in my life that's keeping me from speaking up? Like, I was so quiet as a kid. And I think people now think that's weird. But I really was like, I was totally, I never spoke up. I never said anything, teachers would be like, I can't hear you, Nicole. And so you know. And then here I was now needing to project my voice, speak up, have people listened to me and do what I said. And so that experience alone was really big for me to understand how to just own a room, stand in my power, and speak and teach. And then really, over time, when I started to realize it, was it that it wasn't yoga specifically that I really loved. It was the deep transformation of my students and my own self, in that. And so during that time, and I was starting to train a lot of teachers because I was full time, I was a full time yoga teacher for eight years. So I was training teachers and working with a lot of people mentoring them into class. And what I realized over time, like the stuff I loved the most was actually a really deep level of personal transformation. And then, you know, I really came to it also with one of my teachers, Suzanne Conrad, I met her at a yoga teacher training. And she used to be the Director of possibility for Lululemon. And so she was used to facilitating like, all these really amazing experiences. And I remember I went up to her in a class, and I asked her a question. And then she took my left hand and looked at it, and at the time, you know, not married, and she's like, are you married? And I was like, Nope, I'm not. She said, Do you want to be? And I said, Well, yes, I do. She said, Well, let's go find me one. And I had never met a teacher in my life, who would ask me something like that, who actually cared about my personal life, as much as my career. And she, she also had brought her husband to that training. And there was something really remarkable about who she was how she showed up in the world. And I was at the time really wanting a woman as a mentor. And so I started working with her, and she trains coaches and certifies people. And so that's really where I started on the journey of working deep, more deeply into certification. And I would say that she really changed my life, and that I started to understand how important all components of life are, that beer focus just on career, where achievement, like you're never really going to feel fulfilled, until you have all the components of your life in place, your health, your family, your personal life, all of those pieces are so much more important, like so many people come to me. And this is the funny thing to say, because people come to me for career a lot. We always end up working on personal, always it's and really what people ultimately come out of working with me often is improved relationships with their parents, or with their siblings. And it's sort of an interesting thing, because I don't think people think I want to hire a coach to help me with those things. And yet at the same time, like, is there any, could you even say what that value is, you know, could you even put a monetary amount on that because it is so important to all of us like me too. And so it's been really interesting for me and like in that really helped me also in my relationships with my family, learning to set clear boundaries for myself around who I am, like, how do you start to really evolve and grow and that's where I see

throughout that journey with her about a decade ago, and then while I was doing that, so I was kind of combining yoga and that kind of coaching work. And then I really got clear that I just wanted to coach and support people into that flow growth and expansion. And that's really what I do today.

Christine Li  20:13  
That is beautiful. Well, I think we're all wondering, did you find your husband? Yeah, that's definitely on the air. The whole relationship stories? Yes, of course. Well, seven weeks after I met her where I was in that training, I met my ex husband. And so I did, she worked. I mean, two months. Two months later, I met him, dated him he had stepkids was married. And then she also really helped me navigate divorce, which I think a lot of people don't really realize how important it is to have helped with that. navigated a divorce. I separated from my ex right before the pandemic, and then I dated through the pandemic. So I feel like I feel very proud of myself for that. So I dated all the way through the pandemic. And that my now fiance, and we're getting married in April. Congratulations. I knew the end of the story. But I wanted to hear, did Suzanne have a role? And it sounded like she had a big role, which is wonderful. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials also, thank you. You mentioned boundaries. And I think, I think the term can be, in some ways confusing to people. And I'm wondering what your take on the whole concept is and what you've learned, and how you teach people that have better boundaries?

Nicole Tsong  21:27  
I feel like the biggest thing I see with people around boundaries is they tend to always think that boundaries are about other people. It's very easy to be like, well, I need to have boundaries with that person. Like it's always about the external still, instead of actually starting inside to be like, Okay, what is it that's going on with me that I need to have boundaries with people, or I'm not reinforcing them? Or I'm not owning who I am to actually have that happen. And so I always the boundary start with you, and really having boundaries with yourself, like how can you start to enforce boundaries, other people, if you can't even manage the boundaries of your own your own self care, your own mental health, like, if you're not setting any boundaries with yourself, it's gonna be very difficult to reinforce. And on top of it, if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to be in a mental place where you can actually enforce it, like you can't even be in a clear place, I find a lot of people set boundaries from reaction. Like I'm just mad at you or like, that's wrong, etc. But if you're in a clear, grounded place, you often don't actually have to do that much with your boundaries with other people. Because if you're in a good clear place, things roll off your back, you're not so worried about it, it doesn't become such a big deal. If you do need to set some you can do it with real kindness and compassion. If that word is missing a lot in the conversation around boundaries. It's like how can you be kind? How can you be loving to me boundaries are simply a way to be more loving in the world. And sure, there's some people who try to encroach, I have a boundary quiz. And we talk about different boundary tendencies. And I'm a boundary pleaser, myself, which is the kind of person who wants everyone to be happy. He's always like trying to make sure everything works for everybody else. And you'll say yes, without even checking your calendar. So if you're like that kind of person, your job is to start to really work on those boundaries with yourself. And then there's also boundary breakers. And there are people who tend to push boundaries pretty hard sometimes. And so those people you do have to work out like how would you set a boundary with them. And then there's ones I call a boundary brat, which is someone who's really rigid about their boundaries, like they're kind of self righteous about it, they're like, I've got a boundary, and you better stick to it. And so I think it's always good for us to understand where we're starting from with our boundaries. First, and not what everybody else's. And like, it's always tempting to want categories everybody else, but really to start with your own boundary tendency. And then when you can recognize your own patterns, then you can start to make some shifts for yourself, set boundaries with yourself start to be kind about it, and then you can start to find a way to navigate it. But I found is, as long as you are really being kind to yourself about it and doing it from response instead of reaction boundaries are much, much easier to navigate than then people think it is. A lot of people think it's super hard. They think it requires confrontation. And it really does it. Like it can be a really simple practice. As long as you're clear.

Christine Li  24:10  
Yes, I hear a lot of undertones of getting to a point of safety within yourself. And once you feel that way you can be more vulnerable with other people. Because you know, you're going to be able to keep yourself safe and that you're not going to violate your own

strategies for keeping yourself well, which I think is just general piece and that piece can be extended to other people at that point. As you so beautifully said. Thank you so much for bringing I think this these lovely stories of growth and change and transformation to this show. I'm so glad you're in my life right now and going forward. And just Could you share with us how anyone who's interested in working with you, I'm sure there are many how people can connect with you and what would the first

EPS be for working with you. 

Nicole Tsong  25:02  
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'm on all the social media platforms mostly as Nicole song on tick tock, you have to add an underscore, but you'd still find me. And then you know, my website, and if you're interested in finding out, especially around the boundaries piece more about it, it's Nicole And there, you can actually take the boundary tendencies quiz, and you can find out more about what your boundary tendencies are. And I will be, by the time this comes out, I think it will be out already, I also have a podcast coming out. And the podcast is really around self worth. And it's around that feeling for yourself, like, how do you claim your self worth? How do you experience it? And also, how does it shift and change as you evolve, and it'll be featuring amazing people like Dr. Christine Lee, who will be talking about that experience in that, in that growth is one thing I wanted to say, because I feel like I probably hopefully shared that today is that our self worth has to change and evolve as we grow. It's not like a set and done thing. And I think a lot of times people feel that. But you have to, you know, experience your own self worth, when you have a new job. When you become a mother, when you get divorced, when you you know, you lose a parent, like there's all these stages of life, where we have to reclaim and re own what our worthiness is, and our self worth isn't. So what I really hope with the podcast, which is called School of self worth, is that for everyone to really understand and experience that in from really powerful women understand that this is a lifelong journey for everyone. It's not like an exclusive club that all of a sudden you have it, and you never have to work on it again. In fact, it's something that is a constant evolution. And actually, I think really one of the greatest growth paths we can take for our shops. 

Christine Li  26:38  
Oh, wow, you know, this podcast that Nicole is is putting together as we're recording, this is going to be a smash hit. I just know it. So thank you, Nicole, for doing the work that you have for being so brave over the years and for bringing your wins to the world in this show. And in your podcast coming up. And in your books. You want to mention the titles of your books, so people can watch out for that as well. 

Nicole Tsong  27:03  
Yes, yes, absolutely. So 24 Ways To Move More is my most recent book. And that one is based on the fitness column and it's really around moving your body with joy. And so if you're feeling a little stagnant or tired or not motivated, that book is a great one to go to. And then my other ones are yoga books. So Yoga for Hikers, Yoga for Climbers, so if you're a hiker or a climber and wanting some sequences for that, check those ones out. 

Christine Li  27:25  
Fantastic. Wow. Thank you. I feel so lucky to have had you on the show today. Nicole, thank you for sharing your time and wisdom with us. 

Nicole Tsong  27:34  
Thank you, Christina. It's been such a pleasure. 

Christine Li  27:37  
All right, everyone. You have a new friend now and Nicole and I do as well. I will see you next Thursday when I introduce you to another beautiful soul. We'll see you then. Bye.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Make Time for Success podcast. If you enjoyed what you've heard, you can subscribe to make sure you get notified of upcoming episodes. You can also visit our website for past episodes, show notes and all the resources we mentioned on the show. Feel free to connect with me over on Instagram too. You can find me there under the name procrastination coach. Send me a DM and let me know what your thoughts are about the episodes you've been listening to. And let me know any topics that you might like me to talk about on the show. I'd love to hear all about how you're making time for success. We'll talk to you soon!

Transcribed by

Nicole TsongProfile Photo

Nicole Tsong

Nicole Tsong, bestselling author of 24 Ways to Move More and work/life balance coach, helps high-achieving professional women step into their aligned life path. The founder of Nicole Tsong Coaching, she reached hundreds of thousands of readers as the former Fit for Life columnist for The Seattle Times. She is an award-winning journalist and for 3 years, taught yoga at the White House Easter Egg Roll during the Obama administration. She has been been featured on nationally syndicated show The List, on Good Morning Washington on WJLA, on Your California Life in Sacramento on ABC10, New Day NW on KING-5 TV in Seattle, and in The Seattle Times.