How to practice the observe mindfulness skill in DBT

Mindfulness and DBT: Observe

In our last post, we explored the power of mindfulness.

Now that you know the benefits of mindfulness, you may be wondering what you should do to be mindful.

DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, teaches you what to actually do to practice mindfulness and how to do it.

These are called the “What” and “How” skills of mindfulness.

What skills
Three skills comprise the “What” of mindfulness in DBT.

These skills are practiced one at a time:

How skills
Three skills comprise the “How” of mindfulness.

The “How” skills teach you how to do the “What” skills and they are practiced all together:

  • Nonjudgementally
  • One-Mindfully
  • Effectively

So what you do when you practice mindfulness in DBT is you Observe, Describe and Participate.

And the way you Observe, Describe and Participate is Nonjudgementally, One-Mindfully and Effectively.

I’ll describe each of these skills in detail in future posts. For now, I’ll talk about the Observe skill.


The Observe Mindfulness Skill

Observe is noticing direct sensory experience.
It’s what you feel, sense, see, taste, touch and hear without labeling it, reacting to it or judging it.

This is tricky for most people at first; our minds want to label what is happening rather than just being with the bare sensations of an experience.

When you practice the Observe mindfulness skill you are allowing your immediate experience to just happen – without pushing it away or trying to change it.

Observe, like all the skills, is experiential. This means that intellectual understanding of the skill isn’t enough; you have to experience the skill for yourself to truly get it.

Here are some exercises to practice the Observe mindfulness skill:

  • Listen to the sounds around you, just noticing what you hear without adding any commentary.
  • Watch your breath. Observe the sensation of inhaling and exhaling, noticing your belly rising and falling as you breathe.
  • Sit outside on a bench and watch what passes in front of your direct line of sight, without turning your head or labeling what you see.

The Observe skill can help you feel alive in the moment you are actually in, not lost in the past or anticipating the future.

You are in the here and now, experiencing reality as it is; you are awake.

When you are awake to what is in each moment you are much more likely to be calm, centered and aware.

In other words, when you practice Observe, you are much more likely to be in your Wise Mind.


For more on the Mindfulness practice in DBT, read these posts:

Mindfulness and DBT
Part 2 – Mindfulness: The Describe skill
Part 3 – Mindfulness: The Participate skill
More on Mindfulness


Want to know more about how mindfulness and DBT can improve your life?

Contact us to see how therapy can help you. We offer adherent individual and group DBT as well as couples therapy.