‘What’ Skills – Describe
Now that we have learned how to observe, let’s look at describing. It is the act of putting into words what we have observed.
“I notice that I am feeling anxious”
“I notice that my heart rate is increased”
Describing distinguishes what is observed from what is not observed. Confusing the facts of what we observed wth the mental concepts can lead to unecessary distress and confusion.
Describing is also useful in gaining feedback from others. Different people will have different memories of an event, so it can be useful to describe what you witnessed and ask others if they saw it the same way. This is also a useful skill in resolving interpersonal problems at work or home.
Describing follows obersvations, it is labelling what is observed, but true describing involves only sticking to the facts. If it wasn’t observed, it can’t be described.
Try this activity. In front of a mirror, make an angry face, then a sad face, then a happy face. What did you observe? You may say that your observed anger, but actually you didn’t. You observed the features of your face – pursing your lips, creasing your forehead, scrunching you eyes – which led to the conclusion of anger, but you didn’t actually observe an emotion.
Imagine that you looked at an angry expression on someone else. You would observe the features that indicate anger, but you have no way of knowing what the person is feeling or thinking unless they tell you. You may look and think ‘they are so angry with me, they think I’m awful’. But the fact of the observation is that ‘I keep thinking that you think I’m awful’.
Assumptions of what another person is thinking is just that – an assumption in our own mind. It’s important to remember this when describing what we observe. In the above example, we aren’t observing that the other person thinks we are awful, we are assuming that. And so we say that we keep thinking that’s how they feel.
- assumption: “you are manipluating me”
- description: “I feel manipulated”
- assumption: “you did that to hurt me”
- description: “I feel hurt”
When we discussed observationm we noted that the emphasis was on being fully present in the moment, excluding the past and future, and focusing only on what we can observe. When we then move on to describing, we need to remind ourselves of the observation stage – we are only looking to describe that which we actually saw and felt, not what we assumed. 26