The point of trying something new is to try something new. I frantically repeat this Radically Open DBT principle in my mind while standing with wobbly legs and then falling from my paddle board into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This wasn’t even my idea! Embarrassment knocked at the door of my mind as my chin came into firm contact with the board on my way down. My pride and my chin were sore for several days later. Impress the beach onlookers I had not, yet empress myself I had. I did it! I tried something new! I checked my hesitancy and pre-planning on the beach. I dove into the ocean with my paddle board just moments after receiving a five-minute tutorial. Even though weather was looking a bit ominous that day and this was my friend’s idea and not mine; I surfed the urge to cancel or avoid with another too familiar excuse. This was going to be the day I left the ‘what ifs’ and ‘who’s watching’ behind and embraced the unknown. I did it!
Now, let’s not be mistaken, paddle boarding was a total disaster. Me with my bruised chin and my friend almost being swept to sea. Yet as we laid on the sand in infectious laughter at our novel experience, I never felt closer to her. I was living fully in the present and loving every minute. I was connecting with a member of my tribe and I could see how, with a little practice, paddle boarding could be something I would actually like to do again.
As a person with over-controlled temperament, there are many moments in life where I have played it safe for fear of the unknown or failure. Skipping my senior AP exams after a year of preparation. Not trying out for the dance team in college, even with 15 years of jazz and musical theater performance. My goodness, I refused to try kiwi until I was fourteen because I was convinced it was another disgusting green vegetable. If only I had practiced VARIES then, my experiences in life may have been very different. It makes me wonder, what else have I stopped myself from experiencing while hiding behind the murky lenses of my perceptual bias?
Like many other OC’s I am overly-cautious. I experience an aversion to uncertainty, a desire to control all the variables and a guarantee of success before trying something new. And yet, trying something new and behaving differently is the only way to learn. Much like the Nike slogan ‘Just Do It’, the RO-DBT skill VARIEs provides a roadmap to new experiences.
V – Verify one’s willingness to try something new
A – Check the Accuracy of one’s hesitancy, aversion or avoidance
R – Relinquish compulsive planning, rehearsal, or preparation
I – Activate one’s social safety system and Initiate the new behavior
E – Non-judgmentally Evaluate the outcome
(Lynch, 2018, Worksheet 5.A)
Many OC individuals want to be excellent the very first time they try something new and, sometimes without this guarantee, won’t try anything at all. Unfortunately the consequence of this is life can get smaller and monotonous, we may be leaving ourselves out of the tribe. Taking risks and making mistakes is the only way to learn something new. That’s right, risks and mistakes are not bad! In fact, we celebrate them. Woo Hoo! The awkwardness and discomfort you may experience along the way are wonderful learning opportunities and signs that you are really growing.
Each time we allow ourselves to let go of compulsive planning and try something new with an open and flexible mind, we are strengthening our ability to fully participate in life. Using VARIES allows us to break down our overly-cautious habits and inhibitory barriers, to not take ourselves so seriously and join the tribe. Alexander Pope is well known for his quote, “To err is human” and I agree. We are all human, we are all fallible, we are always learning and when we can share these moments of spontaneity and imperfection with others it is a strong social signal of affiliation and trust.
The most successful people in life learn something new every day and so can you. Daily risks may look like cooking a new meal, going to a new yoga class, asking for a promotion, or sitting next to a new person at lunch. Consider what would taking a risk and doing something new look like for you? And now do it. Happy mistake making!!!
About the Author: Heidi Petracco, MSW, LCSW
Heidi is an intensively trained Radically Open DBT therapist in Tampa, FL. She specializes in treating adolescents and adults with temperaments of over-control struggling with chronic depression, anxiety, perfectionism, poor social connectedness, and other social signaling deficits. Heidi facilitates both adult and adolescent RO-DBT skills classes, as well as, leads a family program specifically designed to support and provide education for the loved-ones of those receiving RO-DBT treatment.