There’s an instinct that kicks in when something comes up that triggers an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability. It’s the instinct to protect, and though its designed to serve us well, it often takes us away from the very place we need to go. It operates in the semi-conscious, but I’ve learned to tune in to it (one day I’ll write a post on how). It will kick in, with a kick to my gut or a sudden, insatiable urge to check my emails, grab some food or change the topic. I’ll remember something that “needs” to be done or something else that “really can’t wait.”

And when that happens, I listen. I stop, pause for a second, and ask myself what’s going on. More often than not, a topic has come up that I’d rather run away from. Something has hit a little too close to home and I want to run and hide.

The “What Would That Take?” exercise can trigger that kind of feeling. It is really powerful, and because it is really powerful, it can leave you feeling kind of vulnerable. It involves digging into what we really believe about ourselves and our lives, and facing up to why we do the things that we do.

Sometimes that feeling of vulnerability comes from realising how we feel in our lives as they currently are. Perhaps, for example, one of your desires is to have a romantic shared life with your significant other, and as you answer the “what would that take?” questions, you realise how far you are from that reality right now. That can be a hard thing to face up to. If that is how you are feeling, then I understand. Writing down answers that highlight the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be is incredibly brave; it’s so much easier to live in denial.

I find one thing that really helps with this is reminding myself that if what I write is true, however hard it is to acknowledge, then it was true whether I faced it or not. Bringing it out in the open doesn’t make it true. What it does do is give me a starting point for changing things. If I live in denial then things will be the same, or worse, in five years time, whereas if I’m brave enough to face up to reality, things can actually get better.

Sometimes the feeling of vulnerability comes from realising what it would require of you to get to where you want to be. For example, maybe you want to feel more supported by your family, and as you ask yourself what that would take, you realise that ultimately what is needed is an honest but difficult conversation with those you love. Or perhaps you realise that a key answer to one of your “what would it take?” questions is “having a courageous conversation with my boss.” Writing down answers like “it would take being honest,” or “it would take courage” is scary, but remind yourself as you do that you’ve got what it takes.

There’s another, maybe even tougher, variation on this which is that going through the exercise sometimes highlights blocks that you know you can’t shift on your own. Perhaps your answer to “what would it take?” ends up with something like

  • “it would take not being addicted to work,”
  • “it would take actually liking myself”
  • “it would take being able to say no”
  • “it would take not being terrified of people in authority”
  • “it would take getting past my grief.”
  • “it would take knowing how to forgive”

Blocks like that can’t be changed by sheer willpower, but they can be changed. I have had blocks like this myself and I’ve known many, many people who have dealt with similar blocks too. The truth is, these blocks can be moved. I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it. I’ve seen these kind of blocks be dismantled through counselling, through prayer, through hard work and through the loving support of friends and family. Usually, they are shifted by a combination of all four. The really exciting thing is that they definitely can be changed, and changing them often changes everything.

I’m a HUGE believer in getting professional help. I’ve had various forms of counselling myself and it’s been a  game changer. I’d recommend it to anyone, with the one caveat that if you find it is awkward or doesn’t feel right, then try another counsellor/therapist before you give up. The chemistry really matters.

Either way, whether you know you just need to get up the guts to have a tough conversation or whether you think you need some support in dealing with deeper stuff, IT IS WORTH IT. I firmly believe that.

I definitely found doing the exercise vulnerable at points. One evening,  I was doing part of the exercise and I found myself clicking over to Facebook on my laptop. I barely even noticed myself make the transition, but when I did I stopped and turned back to what I had been writing about. As I did so, I felt this wave of exhaustion hit me. I looked more closely and realised that I had been writing about an area of my life that I had left unexamined for too long and that now I felt like hiding from. Things are fine in that area of life, but I knew they could be considerably better than fine if I would honestly acknowledge to myself where I was at, and what it would take to get somewhere better. Doing that took, oh, maybe five minutes? Sometimes I forget how much quicker and more effective courage is than cowardice.

So if the idea of writing down how you feel about your life now, how you would like to feel about it, and taking an honest look at what it would take to bridge that gap makes you feel kind of vulnerable, well, you’re not alone. Just remember, if you live in denial, things will be the same, or worse, in five years time. If you’re brave enough to face reality then you’re in a really powerful position. Then, things can actually get better.

Featured Image by Daniel Santalla via