It’s human nature to be scared when we try something new but we are also scared when we don’t! Social psychology shows that avoidance of something novel impacts our well being just as much as actually doing it. So, we simply can’t escape the emotional impact of every action we make. Life has conveniently built in ways to increase our competence and improve confidence- it’s called taking risks.
RO-DBT (Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy) emphasizes the importance of embracing new experiences. Taking risks and making mistakes is how we all learn. Learning new things usually involves making mistakes. Otherwise, we would already know how to do it! For those who tend to be perfectionists, this can be challenging. Keep in mind that compulsive planning or rehearsal may feel like wisdom but in reality, it is typically a disguise for avoidance. Perfectionism does not necessarily have to be put to the side. Instead, be mindful of those tendencies without judgment and have a willingness to question whether preparation is really necessary in order to try something new.
It has been said that the most effective people try something new every day. Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote “Little House on the Prairie” didn’t write her first novel until she was 65. Thomas Edison made 1000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Trying out new things involves active learning and practice. People learn by not only trying out new things but by being open to change. Feeling awkward when trying anything that is new simply means that you are learning, not that you are failing or doing something wrong.
Tom Lynch, who developed RO-DBT, identifies four stages we all go through when we are learning something new:
1. Unconscious Incompetence- An example is at one point in our lives, we didn’t realize we didn’t know how to tie our shoes.
2. Conscious Incompetence-This involves knowing what it was that we didn’t know but not knowing what to do about it; or becoming aware of one’s lack of knowledge.
3. Conscious Competence- That is, knowing what to do but not being very proficient at it when we do it.
4. Unconscious Competence- We become so proficient, we don’t have to think about it.
For many of us, the only stage we desire to experience or acknowledge being in is the fourth stage (seeing oneself as an “expert”). The downside is when we are fixed on this stage, we assume that learning is no longer needed. It’s important to remember that the goal of doing something new requires a willingness to tolerate uncertainty. Learning to be “comfortable being uncomfortable”. The good news is that we feel more confident when we take on those things we fear the most, and then learn from them. Celebrate our mistakes, learn from them, and always keep in mind, you are in good company.