The What and the How of Mindfulness

There are six core skills in the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Mindfulness module, separated into two groups of three. The “what” skills describe what mindfulness is and the “how” skills describe how to do it.

“What” Skills

Observe: Notice what is happening around you. Notice the environment and the people. Notice what you can experience with your five senses. Observing is not putting words on the experience, just being aware.

Describe: Now is when you put words on the experience. Tell yourself what you are observing.

Participate: Throw yourself completely into the moment. Don’t hold anything back.

The “what” skills build upon one another. You cannot describe without first observing. You cannot participate without first observing and describing.

It can be difficult to separate the three skills. My therapist gives the example of being in a room. You observe when you notice that the walls are painted. You describe when you tell yourself that the paint color is beige. You participate when you remember the paint color after leaving the room.

“How” Skills

One-Mindfully: Focus on only one task or thought. If your mind drifts, bring it back. If there is an interruption, such as a phone call, switch your attention fully to the call and then return to the original task. Do not multitask. Multitasking leads to errors, and actually takes longer than completing one task before starting the next.

Effectively: Do what works in the situation. Let go of stubbornness. I am reminded of a work situation where I needed someone’s help to complete a task. There were steps I could have taken to make progress while waiting, but I behaved ineffectively and stopped all work during my long wait for a response.

Non-Judgmentally: Let go of right and wrong. Do not label things as good or bad. If you must label, use phrasing such as healthy vs. unhealthy. If you find yourself judging, don’t judge yourself for judging. It is virtually impossible not to have some judgmental thoughts. This does not mean you have failed at being non-judgmental. Reinterpret the situation in a non-judgmental way.

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