- Mindfulness is one of the core components of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
- The six mindfulness skills of DBT are observing, describing, participating, non-judgmental stance, one-mindfully, and effectiveness.
- A goal of mindfulness is to live mindfully 24/7, not just during meditation.
Mindfulness is a word that we are hearing more and more, but what does it mean and how can you implement mindfulness in your life? If I were to ask you how to “do” mindfulness, what would you say? Most of the time when I ask folks, they freeze for a second, then say something about being in the present moment or paying attention. Which isn’t wrong, but many of us miss the “how”. That's a lot harder. If you’ve been looking for an entry point into mindfulness, I got you!
Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy and one of my specialties as a psychologist. Mindfulness is one of the core components of DBT and is often practiced through six mindfulness skills. In this article, I will discuss the six mindfulness skills of DBT in detail, and help you understand what they are, how to practice them, and their benefits.
The first mindfulness skill in DBT is observing. This means paying attention to your environment and your internal experiences without judgment. Another way to think about it is as wordless watching. This skill involves being fully present in the moment, observing your thoughts and feelings as they come and go, and noticing the world around you without trying to change it. To practice observing, use your five senses to focus on what's happening in the present moment. Simply notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. This can be done anytime, anywhere, and is particularly helpful in stressful or overwhelming situations. At this stage of the game, you’re not labeling, but simply observing what you are taking in through your senses.
The benefits of observing are that it helps you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. This awareness can help you to better understand yourself and your reactions to situations. You’re never going to figure yourself out if you won’t sit with your inner experiences in their entirety, and this skill allows you to do that. It can also help you to stay grounded and present in the moment, which can be useful in reducing anxiety and increasing feelings of calmness. You can use the skill to be more aware of your outer surroundings as well.
The second mindfulness skill in DBT is describing. This involves putting your observations into words. This skill is about describing your experiences objectively, without adding your own interpretations or judgments. To practice describing, use simple and factual language to describe what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. For example, instead of saying "this situation is terrible," you could say "I am feeling anxious right now because the driver in front of me swerved."
The benefits of description are that it helps you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, and to communicate them more effectively to others. It can also help you develop a more objective and balanced perspective on situations, which can be helpful in reducing emotional reactivity. I also find when we are able to effectively pair observing and describing, we become better problem solvers.
The third mindfulness skill in DBT is participating. This involves being fully present and engaged in the present moment. This skill is about letting go of distractions and focusing on the task at hand, whether that be work, hobbies, or relationships. To practice participation, immerse yourself in whatever is happening in the present moment, and fully engage in what it is you are doing. This can be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, and increasing feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction.
The benefits of participating are that it helps you to be more fully engaged in your life, and to find enjoyment and meaning in your daily activities. It can also help you to reduce feelings of boredom and emptiness, which can be common in individuals with depression or other mood disorders. I tell myself and my patients that if you marinate in the now, you won’t always be looking toward the future for more or to the past for why you have less than what you think you should.
Listen to my episode on this topic by clicking this link.
4. Non-judgmental stance
The fourth mindfulness skill in DBT is a non-judgmental stance. This involves accepting yourself and others without judgment. This skill is about letting go of inner monologue or distorted interpretations, and instead practicing self-compassion and understanding. To practice a non-judgmental stance, cultivate an attitude of acceptance and openness towards yourself and others, and let go of the evaluative judgments that we often make.
The benefits of a non-judgmental stance are that it helps you to reduce feelings of self-criticism and shame, and develop a more positive and compassionate relationship with yourself. It can also improve your relationships with others, as it often leads to more empathy and understanding. The important thing to remember is that being non-judgmental isn’t about being unrealistically positive or optimistic. In fact, whether our thoughts and interpretations are negative or positive they can still be deemed judgmental. For example, what if my child hit someone else at school? My first thought could be, “Not my kid. My kid’s perfect. They would never do that!” Those are positive judgments about my child. Whereas non-judgmental thinking might be, “I am surprised that my child hit someone. I should get more information about what occurred so we can find a solution.”
The fifth mindfulness skill in DBT is called one-mindfully. This involves focusing on one moment, task, or thought at a time. This skill is about letting go of distractions and multitasking, and instead focusing all your attention on the present moment. To practice one-mindfully, prioritize your tasks and focus on one at a time, giving it your full attention and effort. For instance, when washing the dishes, simply focus on that task without bringing in all the mind clutter from other aspects of your day. This can help reduce feelings of overwhelm and increase productivity.
The benefits of one-mindfully are that it helps you be more efficient and effective in your work and personal life, and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. One-mindfully can also improve your ability to stay focused and attentive, which can be helpful in improving your overall quality of life.
The sixth mindfulness skill in DBT is effectiveness. This involves focusing on what works in a given situation, rather than what is "right" or "wrong." This skill is about letting go of rigid thinking and embracing a more flexible and adaptive mindset. To practice effectiveness, focus on the outcomes you want to achieve, and explore different ways of achieving them, even if they are different from your usual approach. Being truly effective is about doing what works and not necessarily what you prefer.
The benefits of effectiveness are that it helps you to be more adaptive and flexible in your thinking and problem-solving, and effectiveness helps you achieve desired outcomes more effectively. It can also improve your ability to handle difficult situations and adapt to changes in your environment.
Practice the Six Steps
Overall, the six mindfulness skills in DBT are important tools for improving emotional regulation, reducing stress and anxiety, and increasing feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. By practicing these skills regularly, you can learn to be more present in the moment, cultivate a more positive and compassionate relationship with yourself and others, and develop a more flexible and adaptive mindset. We often miscategorize mindfulness as simply meditation, but the goal is to live mindfully 24/7, not just when we find the time. These six basic skills will go a long way in building a foundation for your life worth living.