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Section 2 - Core Mindfulness Skills

Learning Center - DBT Therapy Training

DBT Core Mindfulness Skills - Wise Mind, Emotional Mind & Reasonable Mind

Ultimately, we're all accountable for our own actions.  I know it feels like it at times, but there's no mystical force in the universe taking control of our minds and forcing us to do the things we're doing.  We are making a choice, perhaps an unconscious one, to drink that drink, take drugs, make that bet, buy that handbag, hurt ourselves, whatever it is for you. With our impulse problem, we've let ourselves go on “autopilot”, or “mindLESSly”. By learning and using DBT Mindfulness skills, we learn to live our lives consciously, with purpose, and mindFULLy.

The practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally.

To regain conscious control of our lives; to turn off that autopilot, we need to understand there's a difference between what's happening in the world around us, and our thoughts about that.  That's where Mindfulness comes in.  DBT Mindfulness skills have their root in Zen Buddhism, but has been adapted in the treatment of severe personality disorders by the psychiatric community for years.  This article discusses Mindfulness, from the perspective of someone in recovery.

Mindfulness is a skill.  It's the ability to look at the world around us and everyday events without letting our past experiences, thoughts and beliefs cloud the experience.   The Wiki defines Mindfulness as:

For a more complete introduction to Mindfulness, be sure to watch the Video - Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Wise Mind, Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind

In Dr. Linehan's book, she discusses three primary states of mind.  Take a look at the illustration (adapted from the DBT handout #1).  The three states are:

  • The Three States of Mind :: Wise Mind, Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind
    Reasonable Mind -- This is our logical side.  When in Reasonable Mind, we logically look at the facts, objectively evaluate them and decide our best course of action.  Let's use the example of someone shopping for a new car.  When in reasonable mind, we know we need a safe, fuel-efficient car, that's affordable.  We'll consider how many people will be riding in the car and make a decision based on our analysis.

  • Emotional Mind -- This is our emotional side.  When in Emotional Mind, we consider our feelings first, and often ignore or minimize logic.  We may even start justifying our feelings by interpreting the facts to suit.  So, our car shopper, in emotional mind want's something fun and exciting, something that drives fast and looks sexy.  How about a Ferrari or a Porsche?  Here, we go with how we're feeling, our gut.

  • Wise Mind -- This is our goal.  Wise mind is the fusion of our reasonable mind and emotional minds.  When in wise mind, we do the same logical thinking as in Reasonable mind, at the same time we also factor in our feelings, wants and desires.  So, in wise mind, the car shopper would look for a cost-effective, safe car that can comfortably hold everyone.... and balances that with the desire for something that looks attractive and is fun to drive.

Basically, we are in reasonable mind when logic drives our thinking as when we're working through logical problems, investigating science, using mathematics.  There is a real value to Reasonable Mind.  We're in emotion mind when our emotions drive our thinking, like when we're thinking about place's we would like to visit, falling in love, or using our creative talents to create a work of art.

Using either Emotion Mind or Reasonable Mind exclusively can get us into trouble.  Many people will view a Reasonable Minded person as being dry or cold.  Emotion mind, on the other hand, can lead us to some pretty self-destructive behaviors.  A compulsive gambler, for example, is in Emotion mind; allowing their emotions to drive them when they gamble.

The obvious question then is, how do we learn how to get to, and remain in Wise Mind?  As I'm learning, we first have to learn to see the world as it is... just the bare experience.  Drop the judgments we tend to make (whether they're reasonable or emotional).  For me, someone who's been around for many years, this isn't as easy as it seems.

I tend to instantaneously place judgments on everything I see, and experience.  I see someone with nice jewelry on, and my first thought is, "she's rich."  Someone stares at me and I instantly think, "what's his problem."  When I do step back, I realize that the jewelry might be fake, stolen, given as a gift, a family heirloom.  The man staring at me, might be staring behind me, off into space, or he may think he recognizes me.  His stare may have nothing to do with me at all.  My goal, then, is to retrain myself to simply see a woman wearing jewelry, or a man staring, and avoid those instant thoughts.  Then I can, evaluate the situation for what it is.

So then, how can we learn how to be mindful, see things for what they are and avoid our judgments? The next two sections discuss the "What" and "How" skills in Mindfulness.

As a useful reference, you may wish to check out the Mindfulness Cheat Sheet.

When you're ready to move on go to: Section 3 - Mindfulness Observe, Describe and Participate.


-3 #1 Guest 2013-08-13 08:36
control has stopped wars, saved relationships, and soothed the savage beast within us and other people. We must connect with our ego and keep it under lock and key because we understand if we let it run loose, it can only cause us and other people harm. Clearly understanding that people sometimes have no control of what they say or do allows us to be patient with other humans. It is our patients and soft words that mesmerizes people to realize, their corse of action might of been to harsh. One gentle word can cure people. Still there are people when treated kindley even though they mistreated you, think of you as being weak. That fact still should not give us the opportunity to be mean to them so they might think we are strong. We know who we are and what we are capable of in life, so we don't need to prove it for show. We are not going to loose our self respect because another person has no control of theirs. We must always be true and honest with ourselves Joseph Sheik

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