DBT Skills: Mindfulness “How”

This is the third part in a series. Read parts 1 and 2.

Last week we looked at the “what” skills of mindfulness. These are the things that you can actually practice in your day to day life to help you be more present. This week, we’ll go over the “how” skills. You can use the mindfulness how skills in just about any part of your life, while you’re doing anything. They pair best with the what skills, but you can use them while eating or at work or while curing cancer.

The first how skill is non-judgmentally. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It means that as you go through your life, try to see things factually, without making assumptions, and without jumping to conclusions. I talked a bit about this last week in the context of describing: oftentimes we think that we are not making a judgment, but we are actually assuming things (e.g. saying someone is angry when all we actually know is that they’re making a frowny face). Try to break down the way you think of things to the most basic description possible. Rather than using loaded terms like “sucks” or emotional terms like “mean”, try to describe exactly what happened or what someone is doing.

Being non-judgmental isn’t necessarily something you want to do all the time, but it’s good to practice. There will be times when you want to be able to experience something that is unpleasant and not judge or react to it. Perhaps the hardest part of being non-judgmental is not judging your judging. Oftentimes when you’re practicing non-judgmental stance and you notice a judgment, you’ll get angry at yourself for judging. This is judging your judging. It’s a vicious cycle, so one of the most important practices of mindfulness is simply noticing a judgment and then letting it go.

The second how skill is one-mindfully. The essence of doing things one-mindfully is to do what you’re doing. If you’re eating, then eat. If you’re driving then drive. This seems simple. It is not. Oftentimes when we do things we multi task or let our minds wander. We listen to music while driving. We don’t focus on what we’re doing or notice the feeling of the steering wheel in our hands. We let our attention go elsewhere and think about what we’ll do when we get home. It is not uncommon to get in your car, find yourself at home and have no idea how you got there. This is the opposite of one-mindfully.

Again, this is something that takes practice. You may have to start with a short period of time: decide that you’re going to one-mindfully wash the dishes. Each time your mind wanders, notice, step back, and refocus your attention on what you’re doing. There are many benefits to doing things one-mindfully, but probably the best one is that it simply makes you a lot better at most of the things that you’re doing.

The final how skill is effectively. This is one of my favorite skills. This means that whatever you’re doing, try to do it to accomplish your goals. The tough part of this is probably figuring out what you’re actually trying to accomplish, but once you’ve done that it’s easy to see when you’re doing things based on “should/shouldn’t” or “fair/unfair” instead of effective. You may really, really want to scream and yell because something was unfair or someone hurt you. But if your goal is to stop that person from doing that thing again, yelling and screaming is not effective. It will not get you what you want.

For most people, using effectiveness is a complete shift in perspective. We’re not used to thinking about what we’re aiming to get out of interactions with other people or with ourselves. This might seem manipulative or cold, but in reality it’s just about keeping the scope of your interaction in mind. Your goal might be to have fun or to help the other person enjoy themselves. It’s simply about remembering why you’re doing the things you’re doing and making sure you’re doing them for good reasons.

Next week we’ll talk a bit about how these skills are useful and the larger schema in which they operate.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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