Core Skills in Mindfulness
Within dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) there are six core mindfulness skills. Understanding, and practicing, these skills will help you be more present in the moment, and understand and accept what is happening.
This is to simply notice what is happening. Take note of your emotional feelings, your thoughts, what is happening in your body, and what else is going on around you. This is about paying attention, and being aware of what is happening.
Try it now:
- what are you feeling in this moment?
- what is happening in your body?
- what is happening around you?
- what is the temperature in your room, are you warm or cold?
- can you hear any sounds?
Simply observe and be aware of these things, do not react to any of these things, just observe. Don’t avoid anything that is uncomfortable, simply acknowledge and move on, and don’t cling to any thought or emotion no matter how pleasant. It’s about being able to observe without reaction.
Describing is the practice of putting a name to the emotional feelings, physical sensations and thoughts that you observe. When you describe an experience, try saying it out loud.
“I notice I feel anxious. I am thinking nobody will turn up to the dinner I planned. I notice that my heart has sped up and my hands are shaking.”
Describing things must be non-judgmental, you are merely observing the facts.
Try this activity now, using the observations you made earlier. As you describe them, be careful not to react, simply name the emotion or feeling.
Notice when you use judgmental language such ‘I’m so stupid, everyone must hate me’. Instead say ‘I am having the thought that I am stupid and everyone hates me’. By labelling it this way, you are removing yourself from the ‘being’ of the thought, and impartially recognising it as just a thought‘.
This is the act of being fully present in the moment, letting go of judgments and self-critical or negative thoughts. It’s difficult to become fully present in a moment, but consider that you can’t fully participate in the activity if you are distracted.
Fully letting go and being in the moment takes practice, it won’t happen straight away, but it is entirely possible with time.
Here’s a good practice exercise for participation. Set an intention to fully participate in an activity, in this exercise we will use washing the dishes as an example. Turn off your TV, music and phone. Say to yourself ‘my intention is to practice participation. Set a 5-minute timer. Then do the following actions, paying full attention at each step.
- Stack the dishes that need to be washed. Pay attention to each dish, it’s shape, colour or how it feels.
- Wash each dish with warm water and dishwashing liquid. Note how each dish comes clean, and the action of using the sponge on each dish.
- Rinse each dish in clean water, noting how the water hits the plate, the sound and feel of the water on your hands.
- Notice if you find your mind wandering or you feel bored. Acknowledge it, and go back to the exercise.
Pay full attention at all stages of the excercise. Be meticiulous in the washing, rinsing and drying as if they are the only things that you need to do. Don’t check your phone, put some music on, or take a break to do something else. Practice being fully present, this is participation.
You can practice this with any activity you are doing, to help hone this skill.
This is a way to learn how to reduce our judgments. This is challening, as humans we naturally place judgments on things, and with BPD we tend to put positive or negative judgments on thins. But practicing non-judgment can help us to focus solely on the facts of the situation.
For example, let’s say you attend a lecture but are a few minutes late. You enter the room and some people turn to look at you. You slink into your seat and immediately think:
‘oh my god this is so embarassing, I feel terrible. Everyone is looking at me, it makes me feel even worse’
This is a judgmental stance. We can replace this with a non-judgmental stance:
‘I notice I am feeling anxious. My chest feels tight and it makes its harder to breathe. I notice my heart is racing’.
Reducing judgments takes practice, be kind to yourself as you work on noticing your judgments, and replaing them with non-judgmental observations based on the facts of the situation.
Do one thing at a time. We are a culture of multi-taskers, because we are busy and feel like we don’t have enough time. Learning how to do one thing at a time is a key skill in mindfulness, and makes it easier for us to be present in the moment.
For example, while chatting to a colleague on the phone, I am also checking my mobile phone for messages and looking at my inbox on the screen. It would be too difficult to be present in the moment and describe what is happening. But if I put down my phone, and turn away from the screen, I can focus on the conversation with a colleague and be fully present.
One-mindful also allows us to be fully present by only focusing on one time – now. We don’t dwell on the past or think about the future, we are only in this one current moment.
Few of us can really multitask, if you consider that be doing two actions you are dividing your attention, giving only 50% to each action. It’s far better to focus on one thing at a time and give it 100%. The other activity will most likely still be there when we finish this one.
This is the skill of doing what the situation needs, doing what works rather than wishing reality was different. It’s the act of asking yourself would I rather be right or effective? In DBT, being effective means shifting the focus away from fair or unfair, right or wrong, and focusing on what will work.
The first step in being effective is knowing what you want from a situation. Articulate that want, and conside the most effective way to get there.
For example, let’s say you are at work and go to get a coffee. You see a colleague leaving the kitchen, and when you get to the coffee machine it’s empty. You notice that you consider your colleague to be selfish and inconsiderate in not filling the machine for the next person, and how unfair it is that you have to do it. You notice you are annoyed, and consider going right now to talk to them about their behaviour.
This may seem a silly example, but ofetn people with BPD act in the moment. In this example, consider whether going to talk to your colleague would resolve the issue? Would that be effective and save you time in your goal of making coffee?
Being effective in this example means taking a moment, and realising that the most effective thing would be to not escalate the situation. Take a mindful deep breath, take care of yourself and accomplish your task with minimal upset to you or the other person.
Bear in mind, in this moment, you don’t know what is going on with the other person. Perhaps they recently had a loss in their life, their relationship has hit a rocky patch or they are worried about money. Perhaps they are simply distracted, and weren’t thinking about the coffee machine as they are worried about other things.
Mindfulness is a skill we can practice every day to make our day-to-day stresses a bit easier to manage, but this can also be effective for other peoples wellbeing. The colleague in the above example doesn’t need conflict about coffee, and neither do you. Mindfulness benefited you both in this scenario.