The second half, if you will, of core mindfulness skills, are the ‘how’ skills.
To re-cap the ‘what’ skills (courtesy of DBT Self Help);
First was Observe, in which we paid attention to ourselves, our environment, and others around us. When observing, the trick was to just notice things like, “I notice I’m thinking about the future,” or “I notice my pulse is faster when I’m talking to my mother.”
Next was Describe, in which we would put words on the things we observed. Some people described very simple things like washing the dishes or going for a walk, but found that by describing, they felt like they were better able to pay attention to the present moment.
Next was Participate, where we allowed ourselves to be completely immersed in the moment, focusing in a way that made us forget everything else.
So, moving on to ‘how’ skills;
1) Non-judgmental stance
“Men are disturbed not by things that happen but by their opinions of the things that happen.” Epictetus, A.D. 55-135
Some people include this under ‘what’ skills and some people include it under ‘how’ skills. Taking a non-judgmental stance involves making an observation without placing a judgment on it.
For example, the following are judgments;
- I crashed my car, so I am a bad driver
- I failed an exam so I am stupid
- There is a spot on my face so I am ugly
- That person is crying so they are weak
Using those examples, the following are the same thoughts, but after taking a non-judgmental stance (in my opinion);
- I crashed my car (it was an accident and does not reflect on my driving ability)
- I failed an exam because I did not have the correct answers to those particular questions
- There is a spot on my face which could be caused through a number of reasons but is not related to whether or not I am an attractive person
- That person is crying, there could be a number of causes but does not indicate whether or not they are a weak person
Being judgmental means labeling things is a positive ‘good’ or negative ‘bad’ way. Being non-judgmental means observing without placing these judgments on things, and you will find the more you are non-judgmental, you will start to see things in a different light.
Yesterday, I spent a little while observing my thoughts, while I was out. I spent five minutes sitting on a seat at the edge of a cafe, and watched people walking past. I realised that the majority of my thoughts and observations were judgmental;
- She is ugly
- She is too fat
- She has unfashionable clothes
- She has too many children
- She is too old
Where are these thoughts coming from? Who am I to make these judgments? I don’t even know these people – so why do I automatically judge them the moment I see them? I am beginning to see how much time I am wasting and how narrow minded I have become. Admitting this makes me ashamed, but at least I have now realised what I am doing and can start to work on it.
Another point to notice, is that even if a judgment is made, you can simply observe (‘what’ skill) the fact that you have made a judgment and then let it go, rather than acting upon it.
An example of this to help you understand, using my own situation;
My mother is in the office, and she shouts at me, in public
Immediate thought: She is shouting at me because she is angry, and because I am stupid
Immediate reaction: Get angry, shout back, situation escalates
Mindful thoughts: She has raised her voice, she is angry, other staff are watching what is happening (using the observe ‘what’ skill)
Mindful reaction: Observe that I cannot change the fact she is angry, and she is trying to humiliate me in public (Using the observe ‘what’ skill). Do not judge her, and do not judge myself. (Using the non-judgmental ‘how’ skill) (This involves not trying to analyse why she is acting this way).
I am not stupid, despite the fact that she might be trying to make me think I am. I cannot change her opinion of me, I can only change my opinion of myself. Do not shout back, and the situation will be diffused.
*Do not take on other peoples issues – her anger is not my problem in this situation and therefore I should not allow it to affect my actions
An example from DBT Self Help:
Observation = I notice that I am feeling sad.
Observation and Description = I notice that the corners of my mouth are turned down, my jaw muscles are tense, my eyelids seem heavy. I notice that I am tired and feel like I could cry. I notice that there is an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Judgment = Sadness is a bad emotion. When I am sad I am bad. Something is wrong with me because I feel sad.
Nonjudgmental Stance = Sadness is an emotion. It is not good or bad. The fact that I exhibit the symptoms I associate with sadness does not make me a bad person, nor is experiencing the emotion a good or a bad thing. It simply is. Right now, I am experiencing
sadness, that’s all. It’s okay to feel sad.
Possible results = When I judge the sadness, I am more likely to react negatively to it by acting out with destructive behavior. When I do not judge the sadness, I am more likely to experience the emotion until it dissipates.
Some practice exercises;
1. The next time you do a mundane task, try observing and describing as you complete the task. Notice when your mind begins to make a judgment. Do not get caught up in the judgment or the fact that you’ve made one. Just notice that your mind is judging and let the judgment go. See if you can continue to pay attention in more circumstances, like when you judge an observation, like when you see someone at the office or across the street or your dog greets you at the door. Whatever. The point is to begin noticing when you “judge what you observe” so that you can begin to see what it feels like and gain skill in catching yourself in judging observations.
2. See if you can observe and describe in more emotionally charged situations. Remember to notice your judgments, but not get caught up in them. Notice the judgment in the same way that you notice tone of voice, for instance. See if it is easier to let go of volatile reactions when you withhold judgments. Part of observing is also withholding assumptions. Describe your observations to the other person. “I’m noticing that you are raising your voice. Why are you doing this?” Does the situation seem different to you? Are you seeing it in another way? Is the other way more healing?
- Avoid name calling
- Avoid derogatory descriptive words ‘ugly, lazy, weird, useless’ (Notice all of these are negative and therefore judgmental)
- Don’t panic if you find yourself judging, just observe that you are judging and let it go
- Observe, but do not make an evaluation – just deal with facts
- We can CHOOSE the way we think about things, and this affects our mood
- Feelings influence your thoughts, and vice versa. If you want to change one, you need to change the other
a) You judge that someone has been disrespecful to you
b) You get angry
a) You judge that you are a failure
b) You get upset
a) You judge that someone is more attractive
b) You feel jealous
There is a concept in DBT known as ‘Splitting’ and it basically refers to the fact that us Borderlines have very black and white thinking patterns – things are either one extreme or the other, and we cannot consider the possibility of their being shades of grey. For example; things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’. Frequently, when thinking of people or ourselves, we jump from one extreme to the other; We love someone then we hate them. We put them on a pedestal then we trample all over them. This characteristic is listed in the DSM-IV criteria for diagnosis;
So how can this be related to core mindfulness? In reality, life isn’t split. It isn’t two opposite poles (this is known as polarised thinking) – it is black, white and 50 shades of grey in-between. Being mindful can help with this problem. Instead of a ‘black and white’ solution to a problem, being non-judgmental can open up more solutions, and show the bigger picture. Observing and Describing can give us to the space to step back, let go of our opinions and see more solutions instead of acting instinctively.
Non-judgmental stance by Seth Axelrod
Linehan, M – Skills Training Manual for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder
Images sourced from google images