Mindfulness part 1

May 12, 2016

mindfulness1Do you ever drive home from work and not remember how you got there? How about misplacing your keys when you were just holding them? Or taking a shower and not remembering if you already put shampoo? Do you ever feel like you are living on auto-pilot and just going through the motions? I know I’ve mindlessly done these things which had me wondering how many people are also going about their day in a rote manner.

We have all read the research that mindfulness can increase our overall wellbeing, our physical health, mental health, and effectiveness, yet many people do not practice mindfulness. When I asked a group of friends about this I learned that most were not sure what mindfulness was, were unsure how to do it, and unsure why they would do it.

So I thought with the recent New Year, this would be the perfect time to share a little bit about mindfulness. Let’s first define what mindfulness is. There are many definitions floating around the internet and according to Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, “Mindfulness is intentionally living with awareness in the present moment. Without judging or rejecting the moment. Without attachment to the moment.”

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Sounds pretty simple but much easier said than done! Think back to my original questions and remind yourself how often you do those or similar things.

There is a misconception that being mindful is sitting crossed-legged, with open hands for long periods of time, confusing meditation and mindfulness, but based on our definitions above mindfulness is being in the present. Now there is mindful meditation but in this blog we are strictly focusing on mindfulness from a DBT Skills perspective. I am going to break down the what and how about mindfulness into a two-part series for ease of understanding. Let’s talk about what you do to be mindful. I have provided some basic exercises to help start your practice.

The first set of mindfulness skills are the “What” Skills, which tell you what you are doing when you practice mindfulness. These are observe, describe and participate. One can argue that you can do these at the same time which looks like multi-tasking, however to be mindful, you can only do one at a time.

  • Observe: Observing brings us into contact with the real, factual, present moment. Use your senses to notice what is going on around you and within you. Step back, be alert, and notice. Don’t react, don’t label, and don’t describe, just observe.
    • Observe Exercises:
      • Listen for sounds
      • Follow your breath and notice the sensation going in and out
      • Watch in your mind the first thing that comes in
      • Attend to your hand on a cool or warm surface
  • Describe: Describing is adding words to an experience. This follows observing and is labeling what you observe. Important thing to remember is that if it wasn’t observed, it can’t be described and true observing sticks with just the facts.
    • Describe Exercises:
      • Observe and describe the first thought that just ran through your head
      • Observe and describe a picture on the wall
      • observe sounds in a room for a few minutes and then describe what you heard
      • observe your thoughts as though they are on a conveyor belt and sort them into categories
  • Participate: Participating is completely entering into life without judgment. Engage completely.
    • Participate Exercises:
      • Throw yourself completely into activities
      • Become one with what you are doing
      • Do some origami, write with the opposite hand, do yoga, dance or play a sport- just participate fully

What is so amazing about the mindfulness skills is that they can be done anywhere, at any time. Whenever you catch yourself waiting for an appointment, have a chore to do, are eating lunch, or in an exercise class, attempt to observe, describe and participate.

What do you notice about the experience? Are you able to just observe without labeling? Are you able to label without judgment? When are you doing an activity, can you stay in the present without worrying about bills, dinner, or tomorrow’s plans?

Stay tuned for the second set of skills and benefits of mindfulness.