The “What” Skills of Mindfulness


Mindfulness, a core practice in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is incorporated into almost every aspect of treatment. It is the first module or “unit taught,” and it can inform skills that are being taught throughout the other three modules as well. At its simplest, mindfulness is just a conscious awareness of yourself and your surroundings.

This is a simple concept to understand and a difficult practice to master. Practicing mindfulness has many health benefits, including improved emotion regulation, flexibility, and empathy, as well as decreased stress and anxiety, just to name a few. Mastering mindfulness starts with the “What” skills of DBT -  Observe, Describe, and Participate.

Observe: Notice your environment and what is around you. What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are you experiencing? Simply observe without having any reaction. Do not attach a label or judgment to your observations. Notice your emotions and your thought processes. Do not push anything away—open yourself to all thoughts, feelings, and observations as they arise. Use your five senses to improve your observation skills. 

Describe: Use words to describe your experience. It can be helpful to say this out loud. “I am observing that I feel anxious. I had the thought that I am in danger. I notice that my heart rate is speeding up.” Once again, be careful not to attach any labels or judgments to what you are describing. 

Participate: Practice throwing yourself into each experience—stay in the “NOW.” Integrate your observe and describe skills into what you are doing. Open yourself up to every experience, once again without judgment, expectations, or labels. Practice having a “Teflon Mind” and let go of any negative or self-critical thoughts. Don’t let your judging thoughts stick in your mind.

Mindfulness skills take practice, but with time they can become your “new normal.” Start with the “What” skills, and work your way up to mastering mindfulness. Daily practice can help you feel more at ease and more in control of your emotions. Start living a more mindful life today!