Mindfulness: The Rest of the “How” Skills

The following is a synopsis of a weekly Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) group lesson, based on the work of Marsha Linehan out of the University of Washington. This week’s lesson is actually outside of the normal DBT content, it is solely based on the codependency literature, specifically the work of a wonderful fellowship called CODA.

New Disclaimer: I LOVE doing this, I think it is desperately needed, and I WANT to do it. However, I have zero time to do it so, while I am committed to giving it my all, I may fall behind or skip a week or two. I apologize in advance for that, and for the fact that I will not be spell checking, fixing formatting, or doing a read through before I post. No offense, but I gotta draw the line somewhere!

Recap of Non-Judgemental; The First of the How Skills

So we spent the last 2 weeks mastering, what I believe to be, the second most important skills we learn in DBT (Acceptance being the first, which we will be covering soon in the Distress Tolerance Module). Adopting a nonjudgmental stance requires a key ingredient in DBT: PRACTICE. We are, by nature, judgmental beings. We have to train ourselves to be less and less judgmental, and to forgive ourselves when we find ourselves judging. There are times when I notice that I am thinking very hurtful thoughts about someone. It could be a stranger, a loved one, a pet…if I can OBSERVE the thought, then DESCRIBE it accurately as a judgment, then I can PARTICIPATE in that moment with everything I have. My favorite thing to do in these situations is to JUST STOP. I notice I am judging, and then I stop. A good way to o this is to put my attention something–anything–else. Remember though, if you catch yourself judging, DONT JUDGE YOUR JUDGING. Just notice it, then STOP. Over time, you get better and better at stopping this behavior, and you get less and less judgmental. This is just how it goes, it is a great way to quiet your mind. Notice you are judging, and then stop. Put your attention somewhere else.

Mindfulness: The Rest of the How Skills

The 3 How skills are: Non-judgementally, One-Mindfully and Effectively. This week, we covered One-Mindfully and Effictively, the last 2 skills of the 6 skills of Mindfulness.

One-Mindfully

One-Mindfully is just what it seems it would be. Do ONE thing at a time. Like all of the steps to mindfulness, this is a DIALECTIC. It is both simple, and difficult at the same time. It is simple in that, if you do one thing and only one thing, it is much less complex, stressful, and exhausting. However, we live in a multi-tasking society, where it may not always be realistic to do only one thing at a time. So, like all concepts in DBT, it is about finding balance. We don’t ALWAYS want to be doing only one single thing at a time, but we want to try to do so as much as possible. Research supports the reality that if we do one thing at a time, rather than multi-tasking, we can do it quicker, more efficiently, and derive more satisfaction from it. We can multi-task to an extent, but we cannot do it well. Some of us can do it better than others can. Sometimes we can do it more effectively than other times. But the bottom line is, when we do two things at once, we either split our attention between those two things and therefore the process is watered down, or we quickly shift our attention from one thing, to another, and back again. Which doesn’t sound very effective and leaves lots of room for error and overwhelm. Nevermind the fact that many of us do 3, 4 5, or even more things at once when we multitask, resulting in only a fraction of our attention being placed on each of these things.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter one bit what it is that we are doing, as long as we try to do it ONE MINDFULLY. When you are eating, eat. Walking walk. Thinking think. Worrying, worry…..The list is never ending, just keep your focus on one thing in the moment.

Effectively

The final skill of Mindfulness is also quite simple. DO WHAT WORKS. Staying mindful in the moment is worthless if it doesn’t work. But also, we have to make it work. We need to avoid self sabotaging, counter-productive behaviors, focusing on what the objectives are that we are trying to reach. It’s important to let go of useless anger and vengeance that keeps us in emotion mind or reasonable mind, striving for that wise mind balance so that we can be effective in reaching our goals. If we focus on fairness and “right” vs “wrong”, then we may not be effective. The world is very unfair and that is because it has to be. Do we like this harsh reality? NO! of course not! I want everything in my life to be fair, and even, and understandable. Life CANNOT be like that, so expecting it to be, or getting angry because it isn’t, only hurts me and interferes with my ability to be effective.

For example, some of the readers out there have siblings. Inevitably, some of you…Nay, ALL of you believe that there is a favorite of your mother, or your father, or both. Some of you may even BE the favorite of the siblings. Those of you who feel that you are NOT the favorite have pain, hurt, and anger about ways that you have been treated unfairly in comparison to your siblings. And this SUCKS. But, it is impossible for this dynamic to NOT happen in a family, because it just wouldn’t be effective. Say that you are 12 years old, and you want a laptop for your birthday. Your mother says “no”, it’s too expensive. So you SUFFER, but then you come to accept that you can’t have a laptop. 4 years later, your sibling asks for, and receives a laptop for her 12th birthday. YOU ARE PISSED! You ask your Mother why she did such an unfair thing. Your mother says it is because the family is making much more money today than 4 years ago. She adds that laptops have dropped significantly in price since you were 12, and that your sibling needs a laptop for school, while your school never required this for you. ANOTHER DIALECTIC! This is unfair, AND Effective. Thus, the world has to be unfair, because it has to be effective.

Keep in mind that there are lots of other reasons for unfairness among siblings in families, some of which are NOT effective reasons. Regardless of the circumstances, we need to strive to meet the needs of the moment as much as possible, rather than focusing on how we think things should be.

So Mindfulness as a module is complete, although we will constantly revisit it throughout other modules. It is the foundation of all of the other modules, so it has to be a focus. For example, our next module is DISTRESS TOLERANCE, where we learn very practical daily and crisis-focused coping skills. These skills will not be EFFECTIVE unless we do them mindfully, so keep that in MIND during the next module!

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