Mindfulness “How” Skills

Posted: August 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

The mindfulness “what” skills are to be practiced one at a time. The “how” skills (described below) are to be practiced all together, in combination with each of the “what” skills.

Non-judgmentally: Focus on just the facts, avoiding labels like good and bad, should and shouldn’t. Unglue your opinions and preconceived notions from what you’re observing. & perhaps most importantly, when you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging! Just notice it and move on…

One-mindfully: Do one thing at a time! If you find your mind wandering, take note of it, then gently bring your mind back.

Effectively: Do what works (= Let go of thoughts that don’t serve you.


Mindfulness: Participate

Posted: August 12, 2011 in Mindfulness

This one is kinda self-explanatory and yet a little difficult to explain: participate completely in your experience, become one with it, lose your sense of self for a moment.

A couple of examples: when I’m dancing to really good dubstep, when the dirty, grungy bass hits me like a dropkick to the chest and attacks my neurons with a surge of happy chemicals, I am not moving my body–the music is. The experience is bigger and more powerful than I am so I give myself up to it.

Here’s another one: skydiving. When you’ve jumped out of a plane, or perhaps more accurately, allowed yourself to be pushed out of a plane by the person attached to you, there’s not much space for meditation or words or sense. This is pure experience: the wind rushing at your face and smooshing the air out of your lungs, its deafening roar in your ears, the coolness of the air at such height in the middle of a smotheringly hot & humid summer day. But not in those exact words, no, not in words at all (=

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Mindfulness skills: Describe

Posted: July 6, 2011 in Mindfulness

Narrate, put words to your experience. Be as descriptive as possible and use just the facts: we often immediately attach judgments and interpretations to our experiences, allowing them to color our perceptions.

Notice and describe thoughts as they come into your mind: “I’m having the thought…” Allow your mind to follow its own course and follow it with compassion and curiosity.

This skill allows us distance within ourselves. If you’re experiencing a negative thought, feeling, or emotion, you can use the observe or describe skill to take a backseat to the experience, rather than actively engage in it.


Protected: DBT Group 6/30/11

Posted: July 6, 2011 in DBT Group

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Mindfulness is the core of DBT: all other skills depend on it. In my DBT group in San Francisco, we revisit mindfulness at the beginning of each new module to strengthen and refine this muscle.

Mindfulness gives us choice: it cultivates in us a specific awareness, and gives us the ability to choose how we think and act, and therefore how we experience our lives. It allows us to be present for the experiences of our lives and allows us to own these experiences—not let them pass us by. I’ve also found the mindfulness skills to be powerful distress tolerance skills, effective for tolerating both mental and physical unease.

Linehan breaks down mindfulness into six skills, the “what” and the “how” skills. The “what” skills are to be practiced one at a time; the “how” skills are practiced all together, in combination with each of the “what” skills.

Try practicing one mindfulness skill a day to become better acquainted with these skills and discover what situations you find best suited for each skill. But don’t be too ambitious! It’s impossible to be mindful all the time, so pick a time (or a couple) every day to check in with yourself and practice your mindfulness.

The “What” Skills:


Just notice the experience, observing what you’re experiencing through the five senses without attaching words or a narrative. I think of “Observe” as taking a step back and watching myself having an experience. Or seeing through the eyes of a child who doesn’t yet have the words to describe the experience: Wordless thought, experience before language. Like listening to music without conception of tonality—you have no tools to describe or analyze what’s going on: you only have pure experience.

Think about having a “beginner’s mind” and approaching familiar experiences as if they were new, having a curiosity towards yourself, your mind, your emotions.

A brief synopsis of DBT

Posted: June 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

Dialectic behavior therapy was first developed by Marsha Linehan for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, a condition that I fondly refer to as my “emotional stupidity.” In DBT, “dialectic” refers to the idea that opposites can coexist simultaneously. In the dialectical mindset, we strive to use the word “and” instead of “but” when it it’s appropriate. In describing the weather in San Francisco, you might say, “It’s sunny but windy.” The “but” seems to allow the windy to detract from the sunny when in reality it is equally sunny and windy. Therefore, the wording  “It’s sunny and windy” is a more accurate description: it allows both parts of the sentence to be concurrently true.

The way that we use language to describe things affects the way we think about things, which in turn affects the way that we feel about things. Something as seemingly simple as changing the nuances of how we talk can be a powerful tool for taking the reins of our thoughts and emotions.

The dialectic at the heart of DBT is acceptance & change. Acceptance and validation of our current experiences strikes a crucial balance with the desire to change our situation. It is this balance that allows us to make successful and meaningful changes to our lives.