Mindfulness of Thoughts

This videos expands on the DBT mindfulness skills from the last post, focusing on how we can practice being mindful of our thoughts. Relating to our thoughts mindfully helps reduce distractibility and impulsivity.

Mindfulness of Thoughts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

My first video on mindfulness and dbt was an overview of the goals of mindfulness and six of the core mindfulness skills. In this video we’re going to go into more detail about how we can practice mindfulness, and especially how we can be mindful of our thoughts.

One way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. In a mindfulness meditation we’re noticing, paying attention to, and observing whatever we’re experiencing in the present moment, focusing on our inner experiences: our breath, our thoughts, our feelings and emotions, and the physical sensations in our bodies. And then whenever we get distracted and our minds start to wander, we simply acknowledge whatever’s distracted us, and then as best we can we let it go and redirect our attention back to what we’re trying to pay attention to, which is usually our breath. And if you’d like to learn how to practice mindfulness meditation check out the videos that i link to in the pinned comment and description.

But the fact is most people aren’t going to practice mindfulness meditation on a regular basis. But all of the things we do in a mindfulness meditation, we can also do as we go about our daily lives. We just need to focus our attention on whatever we’re doing in the present moment. If we’re working, we’re focused on our work: what we’re doing, and thoughts related to what we’re working on. And we’re aware of other thoughts and feelings and emotions and body sensations that arise while we’re focused on our work, but we just observe these thoughts, feelings and sensations. We don’t allow them to carry our minds away. We acknowledge them, and then as best we can we let them go and redirect our attention back to whatever it is we’re trying to pay attention to.

Now the two main ways that we practice mindfulness in dbt are by observing, and describing and labeling. So as we go about our daily lives, we’re being mindful when we’re able to take a step back from what we’re doing, stay in the present moment, and observe what’s going on with our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and body sensations.

But often instead of just observing what we’re experiencing, we start getting pulled into our experiences. Rather than simply observing our thoughts, we get stuck in our heads, our minds racing, and we can get completely caught up in our thoughts. Or our emotions and body sensations can become so strong that they begin to overwhelm and subsume us. One way to stay mindful in the face of strong uncomfortable feelings emotions and body sensations is to practice radical acceptance, and we can also use various emotion regulation skills and i have videos that go into more details about these topics that i link to in the description and pinned comment. And in the remainder of this video we’re going to look at how to stay mindful of our thoughts by observing and describing or labeling them.

There are always lots of thoughts passing into and out of our minds. And while we can’t control what thoughts come into our minds at any given time, we do have the ability to choose which thoughts we want to pay attention to. When we’re being mindful we’re aware of and observing the thoughts that come into our minds. And then when we notice ourselves having a thought that’s not related to what we want to be paying attention to at the time, we’re mindful of this thought, we notice we’re having it, but that’s all we do with. It we don’t engage with it. We don’t think about it. We just acknowledge that we’re having that thought. And then as best we can let it go and redirect our attention back to what we’re trying to pay attention, to without allowing that thought to distract us and carry our minds away.

And the best way to explain how we practice being mindful of our thoughts is to use some metaphors. One way we can be mindful of our extraneous thoughts that aren’t related to what we’re doing at the time is to treat them as if they were just sounds going on in the background. We generally don’t pay attention to these sounds or think about them very much, and we just allow them to pass in one ear and write out the other. And we can do the same sort of thing with our thoughts: not give them any undue attention and think about them or try to figure out what they mean, and just treat them like mental noise in the background, allow them to pass into our mind and then right out again.

Another metaphor for this way of relating to our thoughts is to simply treat our thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky: noticing as a cloud or a thought passes into our field of awareness, sticks around for a while, and then continues to float through the sky or through our minds until it passes away.

Or sitting back and observing our thoughts as if we were at the movies and watching our thoughts being projected on the screen in front of us. Not actively participating or getting caught up in the action on the screen that is our thoughts, and just sitting back and watching them as they unfold. And remember that the thoughts that we’re trying to simply watch and observe and allow to pass from our minds without interacting with them aren’t the thoughts related to what we’re doing at the time, but extraneous thoughts that act as distractions that can pull us away from what we’re trying to focus on. And if you’d like to try an exercise that leads you through these metaphors with a guided audio file, please check out the link in the description and pinned comment.

But often it’s not that easy to just sit back and watch our thoughts. And so if we find ourselves getting caught up in our thoughts rather than just observing them, describing or labeling our thoughts is a great way to take a step back. When we’re describing our thoughts we’re observing our thoughts and simply describing to ourselves what’s going on in our minds.

So instead of just observing the thought, i hate my life, describing what’s going on in your mind: first that you’re having a thought, and then noting what you’re thinking about. I’m having the thought, i hate my life. Instead of just observing the thought ,what if i can’t get this done on time, describing what’s going on in your mind. I’m worrying, what if i can’t get this done on time? Or I’m wondering, why haven’t they emailed me back yet? Or I’m having the thought, how could he do that to me?

Now instead of describing the content of our thoughts we can simply label our thoughts with a couple of words or a short phrase that labels what’s going on in our minds so merely noting that we’re thinking thinking; or worrying about work; or I’m obsessing; or I’m dwelling on an argument. When we label our thoughts, we’re shifting our focus away from the content of what we’re thinking about, and merely observe that we’re engaged in the act of thinking or worrying, or obsessing, or dwelling, and the content of our thoughts loses its power.

If we’re observing ourselves having the thought, i hate my life, or why haven’t they emailed me back yet, those thoughts generate an emotional reaction that makes them more difficult to let go. But if instead we describe our thoughts with a simple label like thinking or worrying, there’s really no emotional pull to that label. So labeling helps us become aware of and acknowledge our extraneous thoughts, while making it less likely that these thoughts end up carrying our minds away from what we’re trying to pay attention to.

So even if you don’t practice mindfulness meditation there are lots of ways that you can learn to be more mindful of your thoughts. And remember that being mindful takes practice, so try to use these strategies on a regular basis to build up your mindfulness skills, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed or a crisis arises they’ll be ingrained enough that you can rely on them to help you through it. And if you missed my first video on dbt and mindfulness please check out the link in the description and pinned comment, where you’ll also find a link to my guided mindfulness of thoughts exercise.

The next post contains the Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts exercise mentioned in this video. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

ADHD and Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and negatively biased patterns of thinking that distort reality. They lead us to perceive or evaluate situations and experiences inaccurately. A lot of our automatic negative thoughts are also cognitive distortions.

The video below describes cognitive distortions in general. Afterwards we look at some specific cognitive distortions related to ADHD and ADD.

Cognitive Distortions and ADHD

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and negatively biased thought patterns that lead us to perceive reality inaccurately. They’re a way our minds have of convincing ourselves to believe things that aren’t really true. They show up all the time in our automatic negative thoughts, and they’re significant because our thoughts have such a big influence over how we feel and how we act. And when we treat these cognitive distortions as if they were facts, we end up feeling and acting based on faulty assumptions, usually in ways that contribute to things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, and countless other issues.

As we learn to identify cognitive disorders in our thought patterns, we become better at recognizing when and how our minds are leading us astray, which helps us see the ways in which our thoughts aren’t accurate; and makes it easier to reframe our thoughts and think about things in ways that are less likely to have a negative impact on our mood or mental health, and can help us start feeling better. So now let’s look at some of the most common types of cognitive distortions.

When we engage in all or nothing thinking we see things as black or white with no shades of gray in between. Something or someone is either all good or all bad. If we don’t do everything right we’re a complete failure. One bad thing happens and our whole day is ruined. Someone makes a mistake or disappoints us and they’re irredeemable.

All or nothing thinking is a hallmark of perfectionism. It leads to unrealistic standards for ourselves and others, which can negatively affect our motivation and set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. If you find yourself engaging in all or nothing thinking, try to start recognizing and acknowledging to yourself that things are rarely simply black or white, and start looking for the shades of grey in between.

Overgeneralization is when we see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of failure or defeat. You’re making dinner and you burn something and you think, i always ruin everything, i never do anything right. You’re in a rush to get somewhere and hit a red light and think, nothing ever goes my way.

Overgeneralizations are often stated in terms of always, never or nothing. If you find yourself overgeneralizing, look for exceptions, and try replacing words like always never or nothing with words like sometimes or some things. And this can help you see that one negative event doesn’t define everything, and helps make your thinking less negatively biased and more accurately reflect reality.

Mental filter refers to filtering out positives and dwelling on negatives. A mental filter is like one drop of ink that discolors a whole glass of clear water: that single drop of something negative colors everything. We pick one negative detail and dwell on it exclusively.

You get lots of positive feedback from your boss with one suggestion about how you could improve, and your takeaway is that you’re no good at your job, and you dwell on that one comment all day. You make a YouTube video that gets twenty positive comments and one person says how much they hate it, and you’re so discouraged you never want to make another video again. If you find yourself operating with a mental filter, learn to start asking yourself if there are any positives or even neutral things about the situation you’re overlooking, and then adjust your filter to let those aspects through as well.

Discounting the positive is similar to a mental filter, but instead of filtering out anything positive, we dismiss it and tell ourselves it doesn’t really count. We get a compliment or some praise and tell ourselves, well that doesn’t really count they’re just trying to be nice to me. Or we succeed at something, but it doesn’t really count because we tell ourselves anyone could do that, i just got lucky.

If you find yourself discounting the positive, take a moment to ask yourself, why doesn’t that count, what reasons do i have to just dismiss that? And most of the time we won’t be able to come up with a good answer. Which makes it harder to discount everything positive. And we can start giving ourselves at least a little credit when things go well. And there’s an exercise called three good things that i talk about in my video on depression that can help you stop discounting the positive, and you’ll find a time stamp link to that exercise in the description and pinned comment.

Jumping to conclusions involves interpreting things negatively without any facts to support our conclusions. When we mind read we make assumptions about what someone’s thinking based on their behavior without confirming with them what they’re actually thinking. If our partner is being quieter than usual we assume it’s because they’re upset with us. If we text a friend and they don’t reply fast enough we assume it’s because we’re not important to them or they don’t like us anymore.

We make these assumptions about what’s going through other people’s minds based on no conclusive evidence, it’s just our interpretation of their behavior, usually mixed in with projecting our own emotions into the situation. We’re feeling insecure about a relationship or friendship, and so we assume that their behavior confirms what we’re feeling and that they’re upset with us.

With fortune telling we predict the future, and that things are going to go badly, without any real evidence to back up the prediction. Again these predictions say more about how we’re feeling ourselves than they do about the actual reality of the situation. Fortune telling is a hallmark of the worrying that comes with anxiety or the hopelessness of depression.

If we find ourselves jumping to conclusions the best thing we can do is to simply ask ourselves, what are the facts of this situation what actual evidence do we have to support this conclusion? Is there any way to interpret the evidence to support alternate conclusions? Or is there any evidence we’re overlooking that suggests a different conclusion? And the goal isn’t to try to predict the right conclusion, but to recognize that there are lots of possible outcomes and we just don’t have enough information yet to know which one is going to come true. And so any conclusion we draw is going to involve jumping to conclusions.

With magnification and minimization we give greater weight to our perceived weaknesses and failures and to the strengths and success of others; and we give less weight to our own perceived strengths and success. It’s like looking through binoculars from each end. We look at our weaknesses and failures through the magnifying side of the binoculars, making them seem bigger and more significant than they actually are.

And then we reverse the binoculars when looking at our own positive attributes and successes, making them seem smaller and less significant than they actually are. And if you find yourself engaging in magnification or minimization, try imagining a friend or loved one in your shoes and see how you’d regard their qualities or results, and then see if you can’t be as generous to yourself in your assessment as you would be to someone else that you care about.

Catastrophizing is related to jumping to conclusions and magnification, and it’s typically what we do when we worry. We’re predicting the future and jumping to the worst possible conclusion no matter how unlikely it is. And we’re magnifying the consequences of this outcome and imagining it’ll be unbearable.

Catastrophizing often unfolds as a series of what-ifs: what if i made a mistake what if my boss finds out? What if i get fired what if i can’t find another job? What if i can’t pay my rent? And if you find yourself catastrophizing try asking yourself the following questions: you’ve already been asking yourself what’s the worst case scenario. So make sure to also ask yourself what’s the best case scenario? And then what’s the most likely scenario? And this helps you get a more balanced perspective and can help prevent you from automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

And then ask yourself, if the worst case scenario did happen, how would i be able to cope with it? How have i coped with similar situations in the past? And this can help limit magnification of the consequences that so often goes along with catastrophization.

When we use emotional reasoning, we think the way we feel reflects reality. So we view ourselves and our situations based on how we feel, rather than on any external evidence. I feel this way therefore it must be true.

If we feel like an idiot that means we are idiots. If we feel anxious we know something bad is about to happen. If we feel depressed and hopeless we convince ourselves this means there is no hope. Or we feel angry so that means we must be being treated unfairly.

But the world doesn’t revolve around how we feel, and if we find ourselves engaging in emotional reasoning, we need to remind ourselves that just because we feel a certain way about something, doesn’t make it true and not to confuse feelings with facts.

The type of should statements we’re referring to here are the arbitrary rules we set for ourselves and others when we tell ourselves that things should be a certain way. I should make everyone happy. I shouldn’t make any mistakes. People should always be on time. When we use should statements we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. When the should statements are directed towards ourselves we set ourselves up for guilt disappointment and frustration, and when we apply should statements to others we can feel let down disappointed or angry.

Often we try using should statements for motivation: i should go to the gym more often; i should stop eating junk food. But presenting these as shoulds can drain our motivation when we fail at something we think we should do, because we feel so bad about it. And should statements can make us rebel, because nobody likes to be told what they should and shouldn’t do, even if we’re the ones telling ourselves what we should do.

If you find yourself engaging in should statements, try rephrasing them with less judgmental terms like I’d like to, or I’ll do my best, or it would be nice if. That way we’re still acknowledging to ourselves what we’d like to do, or how we’d like other people to act, but we don’t have to feel guilty if we don’t, or as angry when people don’t behave the way we think they should.

Labeling is a form of all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization where we judge and label ourselves or someone else, usually in a very negative way, based on a single event or behavior, or attribute that doesn’t really define who we or they are. We knock our coffee off the table and it spills and we label ourselves an idiot. We try to make plans with friends and no one’s available and we label ourselves a loser. When someone has to reschedule a meeting and we label them a selfish jerk. Or they make a mistake at work and we label them useless.

When we use labels we don’t take context into account we don’t consider anything beyond what’s in front of us at this moment. We’re just reflexively assigning a negative label and using it to define the totality of ourselves or someone else. When we apply these labels to ourselves it hurts our confidence and self-esteem and can leave us feeling depressed. And when we apply them to other people it increases hostility and leaves little room for communication. The antidote to labeling is to recognize that one act isn’t defining: just because i made a mistake doesn’t make me an idiot; if someone disappoints us it doesn’t automatically make them a selfish jerk.

Personalization involves holding ourselves personally responsible for a situation that’s not entirely under our control. We take total responsibility for an external event that occurs and ignore any other important factors. As a consequence we end up completely blaming ourselves when something goes wrong, even when we may be only partially responsible, or not responsible at all for the results. Our kid gets sick and we blame ourselves for letting them sleep over at their friend’s house. We’re late for dinner because our partner isn’t ready on time, and we blame ourselves for not making sure they left work earlier.

Or instead of personalization, we can blame other people for things that aren’t totally their fault while overlooking our own contributions to the situation. If you’d reminded me about dinner tonight i would have been ready on time. If you weren’t always working all the time i never would have cheated on you. If you find yourself engaging in personalization and blame, take a moment to ask yourself if there are any other factors you’re overlooking that contributed to the outcome. And recognize that just because you have some responsibility for how something turned out, you’re almost never going to be in a position where you’re 100 to blame.

And if you have trouble accepting that it’s not entirely your fault, you can try using a responsibility pie, where you write down all of the factors that may have contributed to a situation, and then make a pie chart assigning a share of responsibility to each of these factors to help illustrate how you’re not fully responsible for the way things turned out.

And for some more tips on how to combat cognitive distortions check out my video on cognitive restructuring and reframing your thoughts and please like and subscribe and check out my other videos for more tips on how to manage negative thinking.

Since cognitive distortions are negatively biased, they negatively affect our moods and how we feel. Cognitive distortions are a hallmark of issues such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and anger.

Learning to recognize cognitive distortions is important in CBT. Cognitive distortions are inaccurate in well-defined ways. As a result, they don’t take as much effort to modify as some thoughts do. We can treat all thoughts that fall into the same category of cognitive distortion in a similar fashion. And this makes it easier to reframe these thoughts in ways that help us feel better.

If you’d like to explore how you use cognitive distortions in your own thinking, the Centre for Clinical Interventions has a nice PDF worksheet (they refer to cognitive distortions as “Unhelpful Thinking Styles”). If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts

It can be difficult to stay mindful of our thoughts. When we try to pay attention to our thoughts, our thoughts often carry our minds away. And this is the opposite of mindfulness.

The Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts exercise mentioned in the previous video is a guided meditation that leads us through a few ways we can practice being mindful of our thoughts.

Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts Guided Meditation

Mindfulness of Sounds and Thoughts (Extended Version)

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Simple Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness plays an important role in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and DBT mindfulness skills are helpful in managing ADHD. In this video we’ll learn the “what” and “how” mindfulness skills from DBT.

“How” and “What” Mindfulness Skills in DBT

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Marsha Linehan, who developed dbt, defines mindfulness as the act of consciously focusing the mind in the present moment. A person who is mindful is aware in and of the present moment. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on automatic pilot or being lost in habit. Mindfulness practice is the intentional process of observing, describing and participating in reality non-judgmentally in the present moment. So now we’re going to look at what this definition entails, and some of the reasons why mindfulness is so important in dbt.

Now there are seven core mindfulness skills in dbt. The first is wise mind, and i already have a video about wise mind that I’ll link to in the description. Next there are the what skills—what are we doing when we’re practicing mindfulness which are: observing, describing, and participating. And then the how skills—how do we do mindfulness: how do we observe, describe and participate. And these are non-judgmentally one mindfully and effectively

And finally the goals of practicing mindfulness in dbt: to reduce suffering and increase happiness; and to increase control of our minds and stop allowing our minds to control us.

So first let’s look at observing. Observing involves paying attention on purpose to the present moment. And we say on purpose because if we don’t deliberately choose to focus our attention in the present moment, we’re often just functioning on automatic pilot. And our minds will tend to wander away from the present quite quickly, and we’ll end up daydreaming: we’re lost in the past, we’re looking ahead to the future, and we can lose track of what’s going on right now in this moment in the present altogether.

When we’re observing we’re observing what’s going on outside ourselves—external things we’re taking in through our senses. And we’re also observing what’s going on inside ourselves with our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and bodies. Observing is important because if we’re not observing what’s going on in the present moment, we lack awareness. And without awareness we lose the ability to influence what we’re experiencing.

If we’re not aware of what’s going on around us we can’t know how to respond effectively. We can’t interact effectively with other people. We can’t assess whether our emotional reactions, behaviors and thoughts about a situation are appropriate, proportional or balanced. And we can’t tailor our responses to fit the situation.

And if we’re not observing our thoughts and not aware of what we’re thinking, then we leave ourselves at the mercy of our thoughts. Without awareness we can’t exert any control over our minds and instead we allow our minds to control us, which is the opposite of one of the goals of mindfulness.

And if we’re not observing our emotions and the body sensations that go along with them we lack awareness into what and how we’re feeling, and we can be quickly overcome by emotional mind.

And when we’re not observing our own behavior we often end up acting on automatic pilot, not really aware of what we’re doing or how we’re behaving, which means we don’t even give ourselves a chance to change how we’re acting. But if we’re observing our own behavior we give ourselves the opportunity to act differently and more effectively in ways that are more helpful to us in the situation. And that ties into one of the house skills of mindfulness we’ll be talking about later. When we’re acting mindfully we’re acting effectively.

And observing is one of the four parts of the distress tolerance skill stop, which stands for: stop what you’re doing; take a step back; and observe. Observing gives us the chance to take stock of the situation, become aware of what’s going on outside of ourselves, inside of ourselves, and with our behavior. And then it’s only once we’ve observed what’s going on that we’re able to choose how we wish to move forward. And then we can proceed in the way that’s going to be most effective for that situation.

Describing can simply involve putting words on our experience. I’m seeing the sunset. I’m hearing some birds. I’m starting to feel a little anxious. There’s some tightness in my throat. I’m thinking that person’s being a real jerk. Or I’m worrying, what if i can’t get this done on time.

Now describing helps keep us grounded in the present moment, because we can’t be describing what we’re experiencing if our minds have wandered away from the present moment. So describing forces us to stay in the moment. And describing helps us take a step back from our experiences. And when we take a step back, we’re able to observe things more clearly.

And that’s why take a step back is the second part of the stop skill. When we take a step back from a situation we can become aware of what’s actually going on. And when we’re able to take a step back from our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and body sensations, we can observe them without getting caught up in them, which helps prevent them from becoming overwhelming.

And when we take a step back from our behavior, we can observe what we’re doing and how we’re acting, and choose to act differently and more effectively, rather than being stuck on automatic pilot.

Now instead of describing the content of what we’re experiencing we can simply put a label on our experience without describing the content of that experience. So instead of describing, I’m watching the sunset, just labeling that experience as watching or seeing—so leaving out the part about what you’re watching or seeing.

Instead of describing, I’m hearing some birds, labeling the experience simply as listening, listening, or hearing, and not describing the content of what you’re hearing.

Instead of I’m feeling anxious, just labeling that experience as I’m feeling an emotion, or there’s a sensation in my chest.

Instead of I’m thinking about or I’m worried about, simply I’m having a thought, I’m worrying. Or even just the words thinking, thinking or worrying, worrying.

And where this can be particularly helpful is when we’re labeling what’s going on in our minds. Because so often when we focus on the content of a thought rather than just the fact that we’re having a thought, we start thinking about our thought, which leads to another thought, and another and another. And before we know it we’re stuck in our heads, dozens of thoughts away from what’s actually going on in the present moment. And once our thoughts get going they have a tendency to take over.

And this relates to one of the goals of mindfulness in dbt, which is to increase control of our minds and not allow our minds to control us, and when we allow our minds to control us they can set off all sorts of vicious cycles between our thoughts and emotions and body sensations that can lead us to start acting out of emotional mind.

Or when we allow our minds to control us we can be pulled into downward spirals, leaving us feeling sad and overwhelmed and maybe even depressed, and again, acting out of emotional mind. But when we’re able to observe and describe what we’re experiencing and take a step back from our thoughts, feelings and emotions, body sensations, and behavior, we make it much more likely that we stay in control of our minds. And we can assess things and make choices based on what’s best for the situation and proceed more effectively, rather than acting out of emotional mind or on automatic pilot.

Now what’s so special about the present moment. Well first of all we can’t observe or describe our experiences if our minds aren’t situated in the present. But on top of that being in the present moment helps us achieve the first goal of mindfulness in dbt, which is to reduce suffering and increase happiness.

Research shows that we tend to be happier when our minds are focused on and we’re paying attention to whatever we’re doing in the present moment, than we are when we allow our minds to wander off somewhere else. And a big part of that is because our experiences are more enjoyable and more meaningful when we’re fully paying attention to whatever we’re doing. But there are also negative effects when we allow our minds to wander away from the present.

If our minds wander to something pleasant such as fond memories or daydreams or plans that are coming up that we’re excited, about we’re only very slightly less happy than we are when we keep our minds focused in the present moment. But when our minds wander to something neutral, like just jumping around from thought to thought or daydreaming about nothing in particular, we’re definitely less happy. And when our minds wander to something unpleasant, we’re significantly less happy and we start to cause ourselves to suffer.

So for example if our minds wander to unpleasant topics from the past such as bad memories, regrets and disappointments, self-criticisms about things we have and haven’t done and the way things have worked out, we end up feeling sad, we hurt our self-confidence and self-esteem, and can pull ourselves into a downward spiral that leaves us feeling depressed.

And if our minds wander into the future and we start worrying about all the what-ifs and the bad things that can happen, we leave ourselves feeling anxious.

And if our minds wander to thinking about all the work we have and everything we need to get done, we end up feeling stressed.

And if our minds wander away from the present and onto something mean someone said to us or some wrong that’s been done to us or something unfair that’s happened, and we start dwelling on this, we start feeling angry.

So when we’re able to keep ourselves and our minds focused in the present moment we experience more happiness, and we avoid the suffering that tends to come along when we allow ourselves to get stuck in the past or spend too much time focusing on the future.

Now participating involves committing ourselves completely into the present moment. It’s the opposite of automatic pilot. We engage with what we’re experiencing in the present moment and nothing else. And participating is related to a concept from positive psychology called flow. A flow state is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, with full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. So these are the what mindfulness skills in dbt.

The hows of mindfulness are observing describing and participating in our experiences in the present moment: non-judgmentally, one mindfully, and effectively. So when we’re being mindful we’re paying attention to our experiences in the present moment non-judgmentally and as they are. We’re not judging or evaluating our experiences as being good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, desirable or undesirable. We’re simply noticing and paying attention to these experiences as they’re happening, and accepting them and allowing them to be however they are.

And we’re doing this one mindfully. We’re completely present in the moment. We’re just doing one thing at a time, and focusing all of our attention on that one thing. If we’re eating we’re paying attention to how the food tastes, the aroma, the texture of what it feels like to chew. We’re not watching TV and eating on automatic pilot. We’re not even thinking about the food. We’re experiencing the act of eating directly without judging it through our thoughts.

And if we’re talking to someone we’re listening to them and doing nothing else. We’re not daydreaming. We’re not thinking about what we’re gonna have for dinner. We’re not even thinking about what we’re gonna say next. We keep ourselves completely in the present moment. Our minds completely focused on what they’re saying and nothing else.

The last how of mindfulness is effectively. We’re mindful of our goals in the situation, and we do what’s necessary to achieve them. We focus on what works and don’t allow emotion mind to get in the way of us being effective. We do what’s needed for the situation that we find ourselves in. And this how of effectively ties back into what we were talking about earlier with respect to observing and describing, and that when we observe and describe what’s going on in the present moment, we give ourselves the opportunity to act more effectively, rather than acting out of emotional mind, or just going through the motions on automatic pilot, or falling into our habitual behaviors that often aren’t very effective and causes more harm than good.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

How To Meditate

The video below outlines five simple steps that are all we need to do in order to meditate.

Learn How to Meditate

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube.

In this video from my online mindfulness meditation course that you’ll find a link to in the description, you’re gonna learn how to meditate in five easy steps in less than five minutes.

Step 1: Pay Attention

When we meditate, we often pay attention to our breath. However, we can also pay attention to the flicker of a candle, the scent of some incense, or to a mantra, some beads who are rolling in our fingers, or even to the taste of what we’re eating. It doesn’t really matter what we’re paying attention to, just as long as we’re paying attention to something.

Step 1a: Your Mind Will Wander

Even though we’re trying as hard as we can to pay attention to something, inevitably our mind is going to begin to wander and before we know it, and despite our best intentions, we’re not paying attention to it anymore. This is going to happen sooner than we ever expected and much more often than we like, but we’re human, our minds wander, and there’s nothing we can do to stop that from happening.

Step 2: Notice When Your Mind Wanders

As soon as you can, notice that your mind has wandered and is no longer paying attention to what you’re trying to pay attention to.

Step 3: Acknowledge Where Your Mind Is

Once you notice your mind has wandered, simply acknowledge where your mind has gone and where it is right now. Maybe your mind has wandered off to something pleasant that you’re just daydreaming about, or maybe to somewhere not-so-pleasant and you’re dwelling on something or worrying about it, or maybe you’ve simply been distracted by some sounds and you’ve started listening to them, or maybe you’re just thinking about that funny YouTube video you watched earlier today. Whatever it is that’s carried your mind away after noticing your mind has wandered in step 2, in step 3 you simply acknowledge where your mind has gone and where it is right now.

Step 4: Let Go of the Distraction

As best you can, let go of whatever’s distracted you and pulled your mind away from what you’re trying to pay attention to. So maybe you’ve become distracted by some thoughts and started thinking about something, so as best you can, just let this go, stop thinking about it, and just allow those thoughts to pass from your mind, or let go of whatever you’re listening to and just allow the sounds to come in one ear and go out the other without even thinking about them.

Step 5: Gently Redirect Your Attention

Having let go of whatever distracted you, gently redirect your attention back to where you want it as you resume paying attention to whatever you’re trying to pay attention to. And we say gently because there’s no need to criticize or judge yourself for having allowed your mind to wander. It doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or that you’re not able to meditate. Because meditating isn’t about preventing your mind from ever wandering, which you couldn’t do even if you tried, but about noticing where your mind is from moment to moment and whenever you notice it isn’t where you want it to be, gently assuring it back.

So now that your mind is back to where you want it, whether you like it or not and despite your best intentions, and probably much sooner than you ever expected, your mind’s gonna wander again and again and again and again and again.

Step 1: Pay attention.

Step 1a: And despite your best intentions, your mind is going to wander.

Step 2: Notice that your mind has wandered.

Step 3: Acknowledge where your mind is.

Step 4: As best you can, let go of this distraction.

Step 5: Gently redirect your attention back to where you want it.

And as long as you’re doing this, you’re meditating just fine, no matter how often your mind wanders or how distracted you get.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Mindful Walking

If sitting still makes you restless and fidgety, traditional mindfulness practices like meditation might seem challenging. Mindful walking is a great alternative to learn and build mindfulness skills while moving around.

The first video describes mindful walking and contains a short, guided exercise. The second video consists of a longer guided version.

Mindful Walking Instructions

Extended Guided Mindful Walking

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

ADHD Tips To Improve Organizing and Planning

If we have ADHD or ADD, it can be hard to keep track and stay on top of everything we’ve got going on. Starting and completing tasks without getting distracted and sidetracked can be particularly challenging. In this video we learn strategies to stay organized and to break down complicated projects and tasks into smaller steps we can manage without getting overwhelmed.

ADHD Tips To Improve Organizing and Planning

Do you ever get overwhelmed by complicated tasks, struggle to meet deadlines, or have trouble keeping track of everything you’ve got going on? Planning and organizing, managing time, starting or completing activities, and juggling various responsibilities can be daunting, especially if you have ADHD. In this video, we’ll learn some practical strategies that can help.

The first step to staying organized is to mark everything down in a calendar. By adding all of our appointments, deadlines, meetings, social events, and so on to our calendars, we ensure we have everything all in one place where we can easily find it. We make sure to schedule notifications and alarms. For example, if we’re meeting someone for dinner at 7 and need to start getting ready at 6, and leave by 6:30, we can set notifications for 6:00 and 6:30 to make sure we stay on track. If we have a doctor’s appointment next month, in addition to a reminder on the day itself, we might also want a notification the day before, and perhaps even a week beforehand if we need to arrange time off work or childcare.

Using a calendar and notification reminders for everything can feel like a hassle, but it frees up our minds from having to keep track of any of these details, allowing us to focus our attention on more important matters.

Next is the to-do list. We start with a brain dump, taking a few minutes to write down all of the tasks we have coming up that we can think of, either on a piece of paper, or in a to-do list or brain dump app, or on a whiteboard. And then we ask ourselves, “Is there anything else I might be forgetting?” And then we set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and write down anything else that comes to mind. Once we’ve added everything we can think of, or our time is up, we now have our overall task list.

We can organize it into different categories like work or school, home, and personal. And then, since we can’t do it all at once, we need to prioritize the items into tiers like urgent, high, medium, and low priority, or tomorrow, next couple of days, this week, and sometime this month. We don’t go through this whole process every time we do a to-do list, maybe just once a month.

And then once a week, we make a to-do list for the next week. And then once a day, we come up with a to-do list for tomorrow. Or maybe we start the day off by coming up with our to-do lists for today. So, we have a few to-do lists—daily, weekly, and medium-term. If something on our list doesn’t get checked off, that’s okay; we just incorporate it into our next daily, or weekly, or monthly list.

The key to an effective to-do list is that each task needs to be broken down into small manageable steps. No steps should take more than 20 to 30 minutes to complete. And if we have trouble paying attention for that long, we can break tasks down into 10-minute chunks.

Instead of a task like “make to-do lists,” which could seem overwhelming, we break it down into smaller tasks: “make monthly,” “make weekly,” “make daily to-do list.” And then we can break these down further into smaller tasks if need be. And maybe once we start, we are able to do all three of these tasks one after another, but breaking it down like this makes it less overwhelming to get started and allows us to stop after any one component, and then come back to it again and know exactly where we need to pick up from.

There are lots of productivity apps that can help with creating and managing to-do lists. I like Goblin tools, which can break a task down into a to-do list and further break down each item on the to-do list. And it also creates to-do lists out of brain dumps. And if you have a productivity app you like, please let me know in the comments.

Now, just having a series of to-do lists can seem overwhelming, so a lot of people find it helpful to visualize everything with a mind map. A mind map is a visual brainstorming tool. It organizes information around a central topic and branches out with related ideas, subtopics, keywords, short phrases, images, and so on, just depicting things however your mind works.

Mind maps are great for things like problem solving, studying, or essay writing, and project planning because they promote creative thinking and organize complex information visually in a simplified manner. We can get started with a brain dump and then add these items to the mind map, or we can just add things as we think of them. And once we’ve broken everything down, we can start adding them to a to-do list and begin taking action. There’s no one way to format a mind map; we can use whatever makes most sense to us and be as creative as we like. For planning and organizing an essay or presentation, we might choose a visual representation like this.

And once we have the whole project laid out in front of us, we can start working on individual parts without feeling so overwhelmed. So, the keys to effective organizing and planning are to have some sort of calendar and notification system that works for us, along with to-do lists that prioritize tasks into small manageable steps, and a process like a mind map to help us break down complex tasks and projects to make them more manageable and less overwhelming.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Simple Mindfulness of Breath Meditation

Below you’ll find a couple of short guided mindfulness of the breath meditations that are a great way for beginners to get started with meditation.

3 Minute Mindfulness of Breath Guided Meditation

5 Minute Mindfulness of Breath Guided Meditation

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

ADHD: Reduce Distractibility & Impulsivity With Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to manage ADHD and ADD. Mindfulness doesn’t require meditation, it’s simply an awareness of:

  • our thoughts and what’s going through our minds
  • our feelings and emotions
  • what’s going on in our bodies
  • our actions and behavior
  • what other people are doing and how they’re acting

Learn some simple mindfulness techniques that help increase awareness, and reduce distractibility and impulsivity associated with ADHD and ADD.

Reduce Distractibility & Impulsivity With Mindfulness

Do you ever feel like your brain has a million tabs open all at once and you keep switching between them unable to focus on just one thing for any length of time or have sudden thoughts or urges to do or say something that you feel compelled to act on right away without first thinking it through? These are common experiences for people with ADHD, and mindfulness is a great way to manage them and reduce distractibility and impulsivity.

Mindfulness doesn’t require meditation; it’s simply an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, actions, and surroundings that arises from paying attention in the present moment. And mindfulness isn’t about preventing ourselves from ever becoming distracted or having any impulsive urges because that would be impossible, but about noticing when we’ve become distracted or are having an urge to do something impulsively and then, as best we can, letting the distraction go and redirecting our attention back to where we want it, or recognizing the impulsive urge and not immediately acting on it.

In this video, we’re going to learn practical mindfulness techniques to manage distractability and impulsivity in ADHD. Now, it’s usually hard to just let go of a distraction. To help, we can imagine thoughts or distractions or urges just passing through our minds like clouds passing through the sky or leaves flowing down a stream, acknowledging them as they arise and then allowing them to float away without following them or getting caught up in them.

Or we can imagine ourselves writing down each distraction or urge on a balloon and then releasing that balloon up into the air and letting the distraction or urge float from our minds as the balloon floats away. And we can try labeling our distractions, urges, and impulses. Whenever we notice ourselves starting to get distracted or have an urge to do something impulsive, we just label it as distraction or impulse, which helps us take a step back from the distraction or urge. It makes it less likely that we get pulled into it or feel compelled to act on it.

We can add the qualifier “just.” This is just a distraction, just an urge, which helps take away some of the power of our distractions or urges or impulses, making them easier to let go or resist acting on.

Next is the STOP technique, which stands for Stop whatever you’re doing, Take a breath, Observe, Plan, and Proceed. Instead of functioning on automatic pilot and just letting our distractions carry us away or acting on urges impulsively and immediately, the STOP technique is like hitting the pause button on our brains, giving us the chance to act mindfully and intentionally and choose what we want to do and focus our attention on.

Here’s how we can use it: First, we need to recognize when we’re getting distracted or have the urge to act impulsively. Maybe our minds start to wander while we’re working on something or we’re about to interrupt someone or blurt out something that might be inappropriate or jump to a decision without thinking it through. The moment we notice the distraction or urge, we silently say to ourselves, “Stop,” and hit that mental pause button.

Now we take a slow, deep breath, which calms our nervous systems and helps us focus our attention in the present. Then we observe and take stock of what’s going on: what we’re thinking (“This is such a good idea, I need to share it right away”), any urges we’re having (“I need to share it right away”), and how we’re feeling (“I’m excited and impatient”), what we’re doing or saying (“I’m about to blurt it out”), and what’s going on around us and what other people are saying and doing (“My boss is still talking”).

Then we plan, asking ourselves: What’s the most important thing for me to do right now? Do I need to refocus on my work? Do I need to take a break and do something else for a while? Do I have too much energy right now? I need to do something physical. And what’s the best way for me to act in this situation? I’ll write down my idea for now and share it when he’s done talking.

Instead of impulsively following a distraction or acting on an urge, we proceed mindfully with whatever we’ve consciously and intentionally decided to do. Now, instead of waiting until we’re already distracted or feeling a strong urge to act on an impulse and hoping we notice in time to use STOP effectively, it helps if we can integrate the STOP technique into our daily lives.

We can use external cues to remind us to initiate the STOP practice, like placing sticky notes on our computer, setting timers for regular check-ins, and doing it whenever we reach for our phones or get up from our chairs, for example. And we can use internal cues, paying attention to behavioral changes like difficulty focusing, frequent task switching, or procrastination as signals to initiate STOP, and body cues like fidgeting or restlessness, increased heart rate, or tightness in our jaws or shoulders, as well as emotional shifts like surges of anger, excitement, or anxiety – all of which can be signs of an urge to act impulsively and a good time to use STOP.

As we practice mindfulness more regularly, our self-awareness improves, and we’ll notice these cues earlier. “I’m starting to get distracted. I’m starting to have an impulsive urge. I’m starting to feel angry. I’m starting to switch tasks a lot.” Which is important because the sooner we become aware of a distraction or impulsive urge, the more chance we have of being able to just let it go

In the next few lessons we’ll learn more mindfulness techniques to help manage ADHD and ADD. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Take Opposite Action

Every emotion comes with an action urge, a way our emotion is telling us to act. But impulsively acting on this urge is often counterproductive. Opposite action teaches us to act opposite to our emotional urge, which can reduce the intensity and duration of our emotions, and may sometimes even change the way we feel altogether.

Opposite Action and Emotion Regulation

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Just like when we’re feeling a certain way we tend to have thoughts that are congruent with the way that we’re feeling, and then those thoughts feed back into how we’re feeling, making those feelings even stronger, the same sort of relationship exists between how we’re feeling and our behavior and how we act.

For example if we’re feeling sad or depressed we tend not to want to do much of anything. We can find it hard to get out of bed, or drag ourselves to work, or make plans with our friends, and we can want to withdraw from the world and just avoid doing things. Maybe just lie in bed all day, or on the couch, or sit in front of the TV doing nothing. And although when we’re feeling sad this can be exactly what we want to do or feel like we need to do, acting in this way he doesn’t do anything to help our mood, or make us feel any less sad, and tends to actually intensify the way that we’re already feeling, creating one of those vicious cycles that we’ve talked about so much.

One way we can combat this tendency is called opposite action: the idea that when we feel a certain way we tend to act in ways that are congruent with how we’re feeling, and this has the effect of intensifying those feelings. But if instead we take opposite action, and act opposite to how our feelings are telling us to act, this helps moderate our emotions, slows down any vicious cycles, and allows our feelings to subside.

And so by changing the way we act we can change the way we feel, just like how changing the way we think can change the way we feel. And so that was an example of using opposite action to help manage sadness or depression.

Now we’re gonna look at how you can use opposite action to help with anxiety, stress and anger. When we’re feeling anxious our tendency is to want to act in ways that allow us to avoid whatever it is we’re anxious about. But this doesn’t work because the more we avoid something, the more anxiety it tends to cause us. So instead we need to take opposite action, act opposite to the way our feelings are telling us to act in this situation. And rather than avoid what’s making us anxious, find a way to face our fears and expose ourselves, at least gradually, to whatever it is that’s causing our anxiety. And when we do this we start to feel more comfortable with whatever was making us anxious and as a result our anxiety starts to decrease.

And if we’re feeling stressed, what we tend to want to do is to work harder, rush around, multitask, and keep going and going until we get everything done so we can finally relax. But acting in this way only makes us more stressed. But if instead of acting based on what our stress is telling us to do we take opposite action, slow down a bit, be more mindful, take some breaks and give ourselves some time to relax and unwind, not only will our level of stress decrease; but we’ll be more productive in the long run and get things done quicker and be more efficient.

And when we’re feeling angry usually what we want to do is attack and fight back. But that only escalates situations and tends to leave us even more angry. Or we withdraw into ourselves and avoid talking about things, which just leaves us ruminating and stewing in our heads and getting angrier by the minute, often until we can’t take it anymore and explode.

But if instead of acting based on what our anger is telling us to do, and instead of attacking we take opposite action, take a step back and remove ourselves from the situation, we can we’re usually able to calm ourselves and our anger starts to dissipate. Or if instead of staying silent and stewing about something, we take opposite action and find a way to express what’s bothering us assertively rather than angrily, we’re often able to resolve situations and let go of our anger.

And so if instead of acting based on what our emotions are telling us to do, which tends to feed back into how we’re feeling and making those feelings even stronger, we take opposite action, act opposite to the urge so that we’re having at the time, and take a moment to plan what we’re going to do, we can start to reverse any vicious cycles or downward spirals, calm our emotions, and our mood will start to improve. And in the next video we’ll learn an effective way to use opposite action to help manage depression called behavioral activation.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.