In this video we’ll learn the “What” Mindfulness Skills in DBT, and the “How” Mindfulness Skills.
“What” Mindfulness Skills involve what we do when we’re being mindful. There are three “what” mindfulness skills in DBT: observing, describing, and participating. So when we’re being mindful, we observe, describe, and participate in whatever we’re experiencing in the present moment.
“How” Mindfulness Skills involve how we practice mindfulness. In DBT, there are three “how” mindfulness skills: nonjudgmentally, one-mindfully, and effectively.
“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.
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