How to IMPROVE the Moment


Let’s face it—life is full of curveballs. Things may be going smoothly one minute, and the next, something turns your day upside down. There’s a mix of good and bad surprises every day. How do you deal with daily challenges?

Generally, people act impulsively—meaning that they put their emotions before their logic when they face unexpected and overwhelming situations. But sometimes, this is not the best option. Do you need a better way to keep your cool during surprising or frustrating circumstances?

A dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skill called IMPROVE the Moment can help you manage difficult emotions during stressful situations. By reducing the intensity of emotion, you can feel more in-control when life throws you a curveball. Here’s how it works…

IMPROVE is an acronym for strategies to improve your mental and emotional situation. It stands for:

  • I: Imagery

  • M: Meaning

  • P: Prayer

  • R: Relaxation

  • O: One Thing in the Moment

  • V: Vacation

  • E: Encouragement

            Imagery: Use your imagination to create a better situation than the one that you’re currently in. Transport yourself to a safe space in which everything will turn out okay. Visualize a soothing situation. Allow yourself to tap into the details of the image; imagine how you would feel different physically if you were present in the scene.

            Meaning: Tap into what is most important to you in life. Consider what your values are, and shift your thoughts and actions so they are in line with those values. In addition, find a purpose or reason for what you are going through. What meaning can you find in your experience getting through previous crises?

            Prayer: Prayer does not have to have a religious connotation. Reap the benefits of prayer by using mindfulness to focus on your presence in the world. You can use a mantra, a quote or even a song lyric to ground you in the moment when you're feeling troubled. Connect to something greater and open yourself up to the moment.

            Relaxation: Relaxation helps reduce the bodily tension often associated with emotional distress. To shift out of the painful moment, try deep breathing, stretching, or progressive muscle relaxation. Help your body feel more comfortable and calm. When your body is calm, you mind will likely feel calm as well.

            One Thing in the Moment: Using mindfulness to deliberately focus on just one thing at a time can be a powerful way to slow down your thoughts. Tune in to the present and focus on your breath in this moment, your sensations in this moment, your thoughts in this moment, etc. Letting go of the past and worries about the future can help you refocus your energy on the task at hand.

            Vacation: A vacation does not need to be an actual trip. It can be a brief break from your regular routine. Break out of your typical schedule for an afternoon to do something that you haven't done in a while. Whether it's meeting friends, walking outside, or taking a long, hot shower, this mini vacation allows you to escape your thoughts and enjoy.

            Encouragement: Be honest with yourself and provide realistic, yet hopeful encouragement in order to get through a difficult time. For example, remind yourself that the emotions you are experiencing are temporary and that you have gotten through times like this in the past. Or, tell yourself, “This too shall pass.” Keep your focus on the positive consequences that lie ahead and direct your thoughts on a healthy track.

IMPROVE the Moment can be quite valuable when dealing with overwhelming emotions or unexpected situations. There are many strategies involved with this skill, so find the strategy that works best for you. The goal is to learn to deal with difficult emotions more effectively. Take note of how have you generally dealt with crises in the past, and see if these strategies work better. It’s important to let go of old habits if they are not beneficial. Instead, establish new coping strategies that are more likely to lead to positive and healthy results.