The HOW skills of mindfulness in DBT are how you practice the WHAT skills

DBT’s Mindfulness Skill: HOW Part 2

In Part 1 of DBT’s mindfulness skills, we looked at the first of the HOW skills of mindfulness – nonjudgmentally.

Mindfulness in DBT is broken up into WHAT and HOW skills

The WHAT skills are what you do to be mindful.


The HOW skills of mindfulness are how you do the WHAT skills.

You do the WHAT skills:
• Nonjudgmentally
• One-Mindfully
• Effectively

This post will focus on the One-Mindfully and Effectively HOW skills of mindfulness.

One-Mindfully in DBT

One-Mindfully is being fully present to the moment, not lost in the past or thinking about the future.

It’s doing one thing at a time, with full awareness (rather than splitting your attention between things – like having a conversation on the phone while checking your email).

Why multi-tasking isn’t effective

Doing one thing at a time is the antidote to our fast-paced world where you can feel like you have to juggle three things at once.

When you juggle three things at once, it’s unlikely that you can slow down enough to get in touch with your wise mind to help you make decisions.

You miss the beauty

One-mindfulness opens you up to the potential beauty in small moments – to the sound of a loved one’s voice on the phone, to the warmth of the sun on your skin, or to the sweet scent when peeling an orange.

If the moment is a painful one, one-mindfully helps you be present to just the pain of one moment. Why add on pain by thinking about the past or worrying about the future?

How to practice One-Mindfully

Take an everyday task and focus your full attention on it.

For example
When you’re washing your hands, notice the temperature and pressure of the water, smell the scent of the soap, feel the sensation of hands rubbing hands. Notice how the towel feels drying your hands and how your clean hands feel afterwards.

Effectively in DBT

Why focus on Effectively

This skill is about acting effectively, which means doing what works vs. sitting on your hands and wishing reality were different.

Effectively in DBT is about shifting the focus away from concepts of fair and unfair, or who is right and who is wrong, in order to do what works.

When you’re not focused on doing what’s effective, you may act in ways that are more about being right or proving a point. Trying to be right can get in the way of getting what you want or need.

How to practice Effectively

First, figure out what you want.

To act effectively, you have to know what you want out of a situation. Once you know your goal, you can choose the most effective means to reach that goal.

For example
If someone cuts you off in traffic, you might be tempted to lean on your horn in response.
Or speed up to tailgate them.
Or pull up next them, roll down your window and shout obscenities at them.

This is an extreme example, but can you see how this isn’t effective if your goal is to arrive safely and calmly to your destination?

To practice being effective in this example would be to not escalate.
Instead, use skills to calm yourself down (such as deep breathing). Remind yourself that your goal is to get to your destination safely, not to punish someone who did something dangerous or to be the king of the road.

DBT’s mindfulness skills are the foundation of DBT

When you are mindful, you are in control (instead of feeling like your emotions are running the show).

When you practice the WHAT and HOW skills of mindfulness, you can be present in each moment – with awareness and without judgment.

Interested in learning how DBT can help you get a hold of your mind?

Contact us to see how therapy can help you. We offer adherent individual and group DBT as well as couples therapy. Our office is located in the Castro district of San Francisco.