Mindfulness is the first skill taught in DBT because without mindfulness it’s nearly impossible to change long-standing patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting. Mindfulness is central to regulating emotions, getting through crises without making things worse, and successfully resolving interpersonal conflicts.
DBT mindfulness begins with the concept of three states of mind at varying times: wise mind, logical mind, and emotional mind. Wise mind is the ideal state of mind that we strive for from which to make our decisions. The other two states of mind combine to form Wise mind. Logical / Reasonable mind is the state of mind that people use when doing math, reading a map, and various other concrete tasks. It is described as the “cool” state of mind that we use to deal with empirical facts. The last state of mind is Emotional mind. Emotional mind is the state of mind in which we feel the depth of our emotions and act from an emotional state.
Wise mind is the state of mind in the middle of both emotion and logic. In Wise mind, we are aware of our emotions as well as how they are influencing us and how we act upon them. For example, if someone were to become angry, they would acknowledge that they are feeling anger and instead of allowing it to lead them into inappropriate actions, they could then make decisions considering their feelings that would lead to less harm for themselves.
How to become Mindful
Learning how to effectively become mindful of our feelings and internal states is a potentially rewarding therapeutic process. We do this by using the 3 parts of core mindfulness: observe, describe, and participate. For example, if we’re feeling anxious, we’d use all three of these parts and ask ourselves an open-ended question such as “What am I feeling sad about right now?” or “Where does my anger come from?” DBT assumes that without being able to identify what we’re truly feeling on an emotional level, it can be all too easy to act impulsively – so it’s all about practicing the art of awareness.
Once you’re comfortable enough with asking yourself these kinds of questions and acknowledging your feelings when they arise (rather than avoiding them), you can refine your skills by choosing which elements of this skill set you want to work on more selectively.
The first skill is to learn how to observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them or trying to change them. The second core mindfulness “what” skill is the ability to observe a specific topic as if we are an interested observer – but also learning that every thought or feeling we have is not necessarily true or real. Last but not least, it’s important to understand when something happens, it’s okay not to react – instead: remaining calm, collected, and distanced – so as not to fall into traps of impulsivity and reaction.
The final aspect of core mindfulness is about the “How” skills, which are Non-Judgmental, One-Mindfulness, and Effectiveness. Non-Judgmentally means taking a non-evaluative approach, judging things neither as good nor bad. Instead, we should focus on how these events/actions affected our lives. One-Mindfully is all about avoiding letting worried thoughts or negative moods affect your tasks. One-Mindfully is the opposite of multi-tasking in which we concentrate on one thing at a time effectively.
When it comes to effectiveness (or doing what works), it empowers us with what we want versus deviating from that objective due to judgments like right and wrong! These three skills help you stay in the moment for a greater sense of awareness, calmness and peace of mind!
The STG DBT Mindfulness training helps participants to understand many of the essential mindfulness skills. The training takes 12 weeks – weekly sessions – in a group format and online. Learn more about the STG DBT Mindfulness Training sessions.