Seeking improvement? Make friends with vulnerability.

Have you ever wanted to improve at something? Shooting a basketball, playing a guitar, public speaking - the task doesn’t necessarily matter. If you’ve ever thought “I could do this better than I am right now,” then you clearly wanted to improve. But did you actually take the steps necessary to create that improvement?

The problem is that there is a lot that goes into any improvement: seeking guidance, planning, good old-fashioned work, patience, practice, discomfort, commitment, nasty emotions, vulnerability. Improvement arrives only with overcoming these obstacles.

By trying to become better at anything, you open yourself up to the judgment of others and to self-ridicule. After all, we are often our own worst enemy.

I understand that for patients to seek treatment for an injury they are sticking themselves out there, making themselves vulnerable to some stranger’s judgment. But once that ball is rolling, it’s unusual to see someone regret the momentum.

Fear of failure is undoubtedly most of the reason we fear vulnerability. And there are also those who have a fear of success. Perhaps it’s just fear of change. Change leads to other obstacles, more demand, and the cycle never stops.

In any circumstance, it’s easier to maintain the status quo. You are less likely to attract attention or to be exposed to your peers. Maintain at all costs, we think, simply because it’s comfortable.

Improvements in performance (and often in life) are made when you venture outside the zone where you are comfortable. Without the discomfort of the unknown, there is no learning, nothing gained, probably no real experience you will recall at a later time when faced with challenge.

It can be oddly addictive to enter the unknown provided that some good experience comes of it. If you succeed, the psychological reward is substantial and probably reinforcing enough to have you sustain your behavior.

Of course, if you fail (whatever that means) then your attempt to go beyond your perceived limitation is punished. Maybe that has already happened with enough potency or frequency that you don’t seek the unknown any longer.

I suppose this risk versus reward balance is why some people jump out of airplanes. Now that’s definitely a place of vulnerability. A significant adrenaline rush counteracted by the potential for an ultimate failure.

But I’m not asking anyone to jump out of an airplane. I’m suggesting that if you want to truly improve at a task that you must venture into it without thinking too much about the concept of failing.

Because, really, what is the result if you “fail”? Nobody dies. The consequences are rarely as inflated as we make them out to be. You could take comfort in knowing that you can often return to the status quo. Or should you?

There is a difference between feeling vulnerable and truly being vulnerable. Failing makes people feel vulnerable but really it is just a step in a process to making gains. Left unchecked, emotion won’t lead to development, but that is what most of us use to make our decisions. It’s perfectly okay to feel vulnerable but letting it be a barrier to forward progress is where most people succumb, so they never realize improvements.

Success is a potent ingredient in the formula to overcoming any fear and vulnerability. Really you are the one providing your personal definition of success. Perfection does not exist, therefore success cannot be perfection. Success is a belief that you can achieve something greater. The reality is no one else is analyzing the daily minutiae of your life. If they are then they must be really bored, or perhaps jealous.

You don’t ever know exactly what is going to happen, even by taking the comfortable solutions and sticking to the norm. Why not try something different? Make yourself vulnerable.