Why Vulnerability Is So Important
Rich Hua stashed this in Emotional Intelligence
Vulnerability deepens relationships.
You know how important it is to break out of your comfort zone, say yes more often, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. But what if that vulnerability makes you so anxious you find it hard to function? The key is learning to embrace vulnerability without allowing it to take over.
When I first started writing about my own personal finances over at Get Rich Slowly, I’d literally start shaking the morning a new post went up. My personal thoughts, feelings, and fears were out there for any stranger on the Internet to see, and the Internet is a scary place. I opened myself up to criticism, judgment, and mockery. On those days, I found it hard to focus on work because I kept wondering what people would think. I poured over every comment, analyzed it, and took it way too personally, good or bad. Vulnerability consumed me.
Think about your deepest relationship—whether it’s your spouse, a good friend, your parents, or a sibling. Chances are, you’ve shared some vulnerable moments with this person. For the first time in almost ten years, I recently got into a fight with a friend. It wasn’t pretty, but it strengthened our friendship. I learned more about how she functions, she learned what makes me tick, and that empathy made us closer and more comfortable with each other. We went from okay friends to really good, ride-or-die buddies for life. Granted, you don’t need conflict to get closer, but it forces you to open up about how you feel and be honest, which can be vulnerable. Either way, vulnerability isn’t just part of a meaningful relationship, it’s crucial to one.
Vulnerability also challenges your confirmation bias. It can be uncomfortable to ask questions, express your opinion, or talk about your emotions with people. You expose yourself to their criticism and judgment, but you also expose yourself to answers and opposing views, which is a lot more fulfilling than stagnating in the comfort of what you already know. A little stress and anxiety are a normal part of leaving your comfort zone.
Breaking out of your comfort zone makes you feel vulnerable, but that feeling works in your favor. It improves your performance, according to Yerkes-Dodson Law. Psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of comfort equals steady performance, but if you want to improve performance, you need some amount of stress and anxiety. So when you feel anxious, exposed, and vulnerable, you’re growing.
On the other hand, as Yerkes and Dodson explained, too much anxiety will make you too stressed to be productive. If vulnerability sends your stress into overdrive, your goal is to find your “optimal anxiety.”
I still dread interviews, but I’ve gotten better at handling the anxiety that accompanies them. Mindfulness has helped more than anything.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, mindfulness is simply focusing on what’s going on around you, rather than being distracted or unengaged. Numerous studies, including this one published in JAMA Internal Medicine, have found that practicing mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and depression. A few of the ways I practice it:
- Meditation: Mindfulness meditation seems to be a cure-all these days, but it really does help. Sometimes I use an app (Breathe, free on iOS and Android), but mostly I just set a timer for five minutes to sit and breathe.
- Reminders: I set reminders to focus on different activities. For example, I use the tomato-timer app while I work to focus on 20 minutes at a time. The app reminds me to take a break, then it reminds me to refocus on my work. I do the same thing with dinner. I remind myself to focus on the process, take it one step at a time, and stay engaged. It might seem silly, it’s just dinner after all, but it helps me stay present with one more task in my life, which helps me stay mindful in general.
- Journaling: For me, journaling serves as a daily check-in. I can release my anxieties so they don’t sneak into every other activity throughout the day. I get them out of my head and on paper, where I sort them out. And then I can focus on the task at hand.