How often do you find yourself on your smart phone, scrolling through Facebook or playing Candy Crush, with no memory of having picked it up or why you felt the need to be on it? Or how often do you realize, in the middle of driving to work, that you have no memory of actually making the turns to get there? These are examples of mindlessness, and they happen more often than you might realize. Some of this is born out of habit, such as reaching for your smartphone because your hands aren’t doing anything, and some out of familiarity, such as driving to work. However, it can also happen as a defense mechanism if you struggle with anxiety or trauma or other extreme emotions. No matter the cause, living mindlessly can be more harmful than you realize, and the benefits of practicing mindfulness can be much more far-reaching than you would expect.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, at its core, is being present and aware as you live out your life day by day and moment by moment. Mindfulness means choosing to experience the present moment instead of dwelling in the past (which can lead to depression) or the future (which can lead to anxiety). However, there are many aspects and nuances to the practice of mindfulness. For example, as you are present and aware, observing and participating in life, mindfulness asks that you refrain from judging what you observe. This means noticing without evaluating or pushing away what you notice. It can be as simple as noticing the sounds around you, such as traffic, air conditioning, or your children, without having such thoughts as “I wish I wasn’t right next to such a busy road” or “My children are driving me crazy!” This practice can also apply to emotions: “I feel sad” instead of “Why am I so sad? I shouldn’t be sad, what is wrong with me?”
Mindfulness skills in DBT are categorized as Wise Mind, “What” Skills, and “How” Skills.
Wise mind is the state of mind that exists between your reasonable and emotion minds. Your reasonable state of mind is rational, logical, and task-oriented, and your emotion state of mind is more reactive and emotionally driven. We may tend to see these states of mind as opposite and without reconciliation. However, wise mind is the state of mind that exists when you are able to accept and integrate both reason and emotion. PYou may practice wise mind through guided meditations or by asking yourself in the moment what state of mind you are in and considering what wise mind would look like in whatever situation you find yourself.
“What” skills detail what you do when you are practicing mindfulness: Observe, Describe, and Participate.
- Observing means noticing what is going on with you, such as your thoughts, feelings, and engaging your five senses, as well as taking in your environment. It is important not to push away or hold onto anything, but rather to objectively observe and allow what you notice to enter and exit your awareness as it will.
- Describing is acknowledging by putting what you observe into words without judgment or evaluation. Simply label and state facts, such as “I am thinking about my mother.”
- Finally, participating means letting yourself be in the moment and immersed in what is happening, rather than getting caught up in the past or the future. Be spontaneous, let yourself fully experience the present moment or activity, and intuitively respond to whatever happens.
How do you practice mindfulness? What attitudes does mindfulness express?
- First of all, you practice mindfulness nonjudgementally. This means seeing, accepting, and acknowledging without evaluating or judging. This may sound redundant, but that is because avoiding judgment is so integral to mindfulness. Even if you catch yourself making judgments, don’t judge yourself for doing that!
- Second, practice these skills one-mindedly. This means that you cannot multitask while being mindful. Instead, do one thing as thoroughly as possible. Eat and notice the flavors, the textures, the sensations. Walk and notice what it feels like to move, what the scenery is like around you, how the weather feels on your skin. If you notice yourself becoming distracted, let it go and refocus. You will probably have to do this over and over again, but that’s why it’s called a practice!
- Finally practice mindfulness effectively, with your goals in mind and utilizing any and every skill you have. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing to the best of your ability.
What does mindfulness look like?
Ultimately, mindfulness looks like applying these skills and principles to your daily life as often as you are able. However, as it is a practice, it can take time to work up to this point. The best way to start is by practicing meditation. Religion and spirituality are not requirements for meditation; it can be as simple as sitting in a quiet place and counting your breaths, in and out, for five minutes at a time. There are plenty of apps and other resources out there with guided meditations as well, if you need some help with focusing your mind. Make a habit of meditation, and you will find yourself living more and more mindfully without even trying.
I would love to walk you through the process of becoming more mindful through DBT in person! You can schedule a session by contacting me at 940-222-8703 x705 or LauraL@acorncounseling.services, or schedule an appointment online!
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.