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Fact Sheet: Mindfulness What Skills
Mindfulness What Skills: Observe, Describe, Participate
Mindfulness is a core skill and is the path to wise mind
In DBT (Linehan,1993) Mindfulness is taught with what skills and how skills.The What skills (what you do to be mindful) are Observe, Describe and Participate. When you can automatically just observe and describe, without assuming or adding judgment to your experience, you will decrease the intensity of your emotions and decrease the number of times you feel overwhelmed by emotions.
Hannah walked by the library on her way to class. She saw her boyfriend talking with an attractive girl. She saw her boyfriend hug the other girl. Hannah was furious, stomped to where he was and yelled at him that he was cheating on her. She screamed at him. Her boyfriend looked shocked. He explained that the girl was his sister.
Hannah assumed her boyfriend was cheating based on what she saw. She assumed her boyfriend was cheating on her because he hugged a female. That thought would probably occur to many people. The problem was in assuming the thought was true.
If you use observe and describe in this situation you would say “I see my boyfriend hugging a girl. I feel upset and afraid because I think he is cheating on me. I have a strong urge to tell him off.” That is what you know about the situation. You can observe what you see, that you have a thought that greatly upsets you and don’t know if it is true, and observe your urge. When you can observe then you can not act on the emotions or thoughts without checking out if your thoughts are true.
You do not know the relationship he has with the girl or the meaning of the hug. When you stick with observe and describe, then you check the facts rather than make assumptions. Hannah would not have destroyed her relationship with her boyfriend if she had checked the facts first
The photo is one I took on a recent trip. Can you just observe and describe? Try it. Write your description down.
After you have written your description, notice if judged the photo in any way. If you said the photo was pretty or the colors were pretty, then that would be a judgment. If you said you like the colors or that you found the colors pretty, then you expressed it as a personal preference and that is not a judgment. Observe and describe would be to say the water is blue, there are six boats and there is a city in the background. Observe is just what you see, hear, taste or feel and describe is expressing what you observe in words. Again, if you like the photo, then you could say, “I like the photo.” That would be an opinion. The wording makes a difference.
You might want to set a time period to practice observe and describe. Observing and describing objects may be easier than observing and describing people. Choose objects or people you know to observe and describe. Be careful to only state facts, characteristics that are observable, not your judgments.
To Participate means to be fully in the activity of the moment without self consciousness. Participate means to let yourself be completely involved. All your thoughts are focused on the activity or the person you are with. Many times this is done in playing active sports or a game. Participate is a way of feeling a connection with others, activities and the world.
To participate with awareness of the universe is paying attention to your connection to objects in your life as well as other people. You might notice how the chair supports you, how your feet connect to the ground. You might notice how your chair is on the same floor as someone else’s chair, and how we are all connected by being on the earth.
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Dr. Linehan talks about Mindfulness
Video 1 (An explanation of how she developed Mindfulness in DBT)
Dr. Linehan (Video 2) Mindfulness Skills