It’s the month of love. Valentine’s Day. And at 99 Walks, the theme of the month is “love fiercely”. And by that, we mean strive to love with your whole heart. With honesty and without reservation.

For many of us — maybe for all of us — that kind of loves feels incredibly risky because somewhere along the line, we have all learned that opening your heart opens you to heartbreak. And seriously, who wants that? Better to armor up and keep your distance. Better to be prickly with your partner and keep your friends at arm’s length. As one woman explained why she doesn’t have any friends and she’s okay with that: “I’ve been burned too many times.”

But what would happen if you chose to love fiercely? What would happen if you put down your guard and opened your arms?

I believe you will find a connection that will give you joy — enough joy to make it worth the risk.

How? How do you dismantle might be decades of protection and walls that are keeping you from loving fiercely?

First, you need to decide it is something you want to do. Yup, it starts with something as simple as intention.

Second, you need to begin to get curious about yourself, your patterns and your relationships.

Third, you need to do the work. That might mean reading books, taking long walks by yourself to process, having honest conversations with your partner. It might mean seeking out the therapy that will enable you to work past the trauma, fear, and habits that are keeping you from forming the most meaningful connections.

Finally, you have to accept that this process, this journey, is going to be two steps forward, one step back. Those old habits and patterns are tough to change, but bit by bit, you can make progress.

Now, I’m no expert. I can be hyper-critical and quick to anger. I can set impossible standards or quickly revert to thinking “I can do this on my own, I don’t need you.” I have a fear of betrayal, a fear of disappointment, a fear of waking up and thinking “is this all there is” and — the ultimate fear of all — a fear that the people I love will die and leave me for good.

Like all of us, I’m a work-in-progress.