Dialectic Behavioral Therapy | How BOLDFISH ‘Rides The Wave’


Under your sun umbrella, partially exposed to shade and shine, little beads of sweat string into translucent pearls that iridescently litter your torso. Off the edge of your beach towel, your toes flex as you excavate sand with every digit. With nothing but meandering legs to carry, your jaunt ends at the tip of the ocean. Like a receding hairline, the sea retracts in spasm. A gust flicks at your hair then falls dead. The ocean draws back to reveal cracks in the sand. You stand there, stupefied, as an ineffable wall of water blots out the sun. Shimmering glass-blue flecks of sunshine limn the dried beach’s expanse, portending an impact. The pit in your stomach deepens as it barrels towards you. The deepening dread of anticipation, of raw unadulterated fear, benumbs you into paralysis. But, it never hits. The swell never gives you the satisfaction of hitting; it toweringly looms. Wave after wave, the ouroboros of tsunamis barrage your senses. You can’t run. Stuck in a spin cycle, you try to fight, but all you can see, all you can understand are the waves that encapsulated you–like a snake its prey. As you’re swarmed by urges and impulses, your body screams for release. Fire alarms blare with the strident grating of claws on a blackboard. Everything you are exists just to make it stop.

So you use.

What is DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., at the University of Washington, is a type of psychotherapy. The “dialectical” in DBT describes the process around the therapy. It deals with two ostensibly contradicting precepts: 1) the acceptance of feelings, which is achieved through mindfulness and 2) learning to use thinking to change feelings. An example would be, “‘I’m doing the best I can’ on the one hand,” notes Dr. Alec Miller, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine “and ‘I need to do better.’ That’s a dialectical truth.”

The focus of DBT is to help those who have significant trouble managing their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

The four core principles are as follows:

  1. Mindfulness. Learning to observe, describe, and live in the moment of what you are experiencing. This includes thoughts, sensations, emotions, and things happening externally. It is important to understand these sensations without judging these experiences as “good” or “bad.”
  2. Interpersonal Effectiveness. Assert your needs and to manage conflict in relationships.
  3. Emotion Regulation. Find balance and temperance by paying attention to your emotions and successfully managing them.
  4. Distress Tolerance. Learn ways to accept and tolerate distress without doing anything that will make the distress worse in the long run, e.g. engaging in behavior that perpetuates a spiraling habit. This can help you establish healthy ways to control impulsive behaviors.
DBT, reflection

DBT focuses on building skills that reduce your impulsive behaviors and increase your ability to reflect before acting. By using healthy coping mechanisms to handle intense waves of emotions, a person overcome with impulsive urges is better equipped to deal with different and difficult situations. 

All four of these skills can help treat impulsivity. But, one of the more fundamental precepts is mindfulness. For example, mindfulness techniques teach us how to tolerate unpleasant emotions until they pass. It encourages us to stay in the moment. We only act impulsively when we’re not thinking clearly and we can only begin to think clearly when our judgment is not emotively clouded. Practicing mindfulness teaches us to take the time needed to reflect on our options, empowering us to make rational decisions about how to respond to endogenous and exogenous triggers.

The Urge

When experiencing an urge and then acting on it, we make the connection that the only way to make it stop is by engaging in the compulsive behavior. However, research tells us that urges typically last for 20 – 30 minutes, which means the feeling will pass regardless if we have engaged in the behavior or not. If we adopt an open and curious attitude about the urge and let it flow without doing battle with it, the urge will subside. However, if we grapple and struggle with our urges they will subside more slowly. What’s worse is by giving in to urges we strengthen them. The best thing is to go with the flow. Instead of fighting against these waves of emotion, we should let them hit us, flow through us, and ultimately, out us. We need to learn how to “Ride the Wave.”

Riding the Wave

“Riding the Wave” is a skill that has the “surfer” embracing an uncomfortable emotion until it passes. One way to understand our impulsivity is to think of it as the ocean. Throughout our day, we might be triggered by internal or external cues that may affect us adversely. E.g. interpersonal problems; stress in our environment; etc. We can fight our impulses and have them rule over us — or we can learn to harness them. We can learn how to flow with our urges, letting them wash over and through us. We can learn the mastery of surfing the big waves and not letting them encapsulate us. We take back control by finding peace and riding the wave.

BOLDFISH is designed to help abate social media overuse, which can lead to anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression. Because of the addictiveness of these tech products, users have trouble regulating themselves. This dysregulation leads to, at the very minimum, impulsive behavior. At BOLDFISH, the goal that we strive for is a long-term solution to unhealthy mental unrest caused by social media overconsumption. Our time delay functionality is a mindfulness technique to put some space between us and our urges so as to understand that our impulses are not our masters. We derived this mindfulness technique from DBT to short-circuit instant gratification by first becoming aware of our urges then letting them pass. BOLDFISH’s time delay feature teaches us how to ride the waves of social media compulsion, instead of being swept away by them. Through habit, we learn to recognize our in-phone behaviors and to differentiate between what we want and what we actually want. Once you know how to ride the wave, you should have the skills to better handle your in-phone impulses. Our lives will become better, it just takes work and commitment.

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