The Discoverer: Learning Through Trial and Error

teen making choices

By Louise Hayes, PhD

The discoverer helps us push out to the edges and learn through trial and error.

Harnessing the power of the discoverer is one of the coolest aspects of DNA-V, the youth model of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Step inside the discoverer with me for a moment, and imagine it for yourself.

You are a baby discoverer. One day at meal time you push that sippy cup right to the edge of the highchair tray, watch it fall to the floor, and listen to the pleasing clatter. Your parent laughs, picks it up, and places it back on the tray.

Woah, did you see that? You have power baby. You are discovering your agency through trial and error. The world is waiting for you to push it, poke it, and climb over it.

As childhood rolls out your discoverer behaviour expands, and you learn to move in the physical and social world. Trial and error is your guide. Eventually, you learn there are only so many times your parent will pick up that sippy cup.

You emerge as a teenager. Independence becomes your holy grail and childlike treatment is loathed. You dye your hair, slash it, change your clothes, transform into a new you, moving with a body you hardly recognize. You constantly stare down risks by trying new loves, friendships, and going out alone. Sometimes you go too far and your desperate parents try to hold the end of the rope while you tug hard. Other times you speak up, assert yourself, unleash your passion on the world and demand it does better. You despise corruption, greed, and adults who talk at you. As a discoverer you engage in trial and error. Your task is to push hard until the world shows you its edges.

The discoverer in DNA-V aims to harness developmental aspects of engaging, experiencing, trying and testing. We help young people build their strengths and create value through trial and error learning. When young people have the space to discover their self-talk and learning history (advisor) can become flexible. Today we are seeing teenager discoverers in action as they stand up and speak their voices to adults.

See also: The Thriving Adolescent: Guest Post by Louise Hayes

We adults have two tasks for our teenage discoverers:

  • Can we listen long enough to hear the opportunities where they might teach us with new eyes?
  • Can we hold the rope and be their support while they learn to pull hard—falling, but with a safety net?

If we can do this, we stand to gain as adult discoverers.