What is mindfulness in DBT

Mindfulness in DBT: How this core skill can help you

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to what is happening right now.

When you practice mindfulness, you focus your attention on your present experience; just noticing whatever is happening in each moment, not lost in the past or thinking about the future.

Mindfulness is the opposite of being on automatic pilot.
When you’re on automatic pilot, you’re doing things by rote, or out of habit.

An example of being on autopilot that many people can relate to is arriving at work but not really remembering the car ride there. You didn’t have to think, ok, first I open the car door, then I sit down, then I put the key in the ignition, etc. You just did all those things automatically and found yourself at work.

Doing things on autopilot can be quite useful; it helps save time and energy.

Problems arise, though, when you live most of your life on automatic pilot, acting out of habit and not really being present in the moment.


Why does mindfulness matter?

If you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, mindfulness is the magic ingredient that helps you take a step back from intense feelings.

When you can take a step back and just notice what is happening, you are much less likely to get caught up in out-of-control emotions.

If you struggle with an addiction or compulsion, mindfulness helps you stop the chain of habitual behaviors.

When you’re mindful, you pay attention to what is going on inside of you, noticing:

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Sensations
  • Impulses

And to what’s going on outside of you, noticing what you:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Smell
  • Feel

Mindfulness is powerful!
When you can control your attention through mindfulness, a whole world of choice opens up. You no longer have to act, and react, out of habit, fear, or rapidly changing emotions.

Research on the benefits of mindfulness has exploded in recent years. The regular practice of mindfulness has been shown to:

  • Increase emotional regulation
  • Decrease distraction and rumination
  • Increase activity in the brain region associated with positive emotions
  • Decrease anger and emotional irritability
  • Decrease depression and anxiety
  • Increase immune function


Mindfulness in DBT

What does mindfulness have to do with DBT?

Mindfulness is the backbone of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy); it is the core skill that underlies all the other skill sets.

 Mindfulness in DBT is the core skill that underlies all the other skill sets.

Mindfulness is the first skill taught in DBT. Because without mindfulness it’s nearly impossible to change long-standing patterns of feeling, thinking and acting.

Mindfulness is central to regulating emotions, getting through crisis without making things worse and successfully resolving interpersonal conflicts.

Mindfulness is also a key component to accessing your Wise Mind, another foundational DBT concept.
Wise Mind is the synthesis of Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind. When you are able to find your Wise Mind, you are able to know what’s real or true for you and act accordingly.

Learning how to be mindful isn’t complicated, but it is a commitment.

It’s saying yes to being fully present in the moment – over and over again.


For more on Mindfulness in DBT, read these posts:

Part 1 – The Observe skill in Mindfulness
Part 2 – The Describe skill in Mindfulness
Part 3 – The Participate skill in Mindfulness
More on Mindfulness in DBT


Want to learn more about how mindfulness and DBT can help you?

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