Core Mindfulness – Part Five (‘How’ Skill; Being effective)

The next ‘how’ skill is the act of being effective. This will be quite an important skill for me to learn as it focuses on doing the thing that works rather then the thing that is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; and if you follow my blog you have have realised I have a preoccupation with doing the ‘right’ thing. Being effective is the opposite of ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’. To be effective, you must let go of your principles and do what works. Let go of emotion, anger, rage, bitterness – and do what is needed, and what works.

The being effective skill is entwined with all the other DBT skills; you must learn to apply all those other skills, in an effective way. As you learn more skills, and use them more naturally, you automatically become effective.

An example of being not effective;

You are driving, and someone overtakes you, and then tries to cut you up. Out of principle, you speed up, not allowing him to pull in. You cause an accident.

This situation whilst being effective:

You are driving, and someone overtakes you, and then tries to cut you up. Despite your principles, you slow down and allow them to pull in front of you, and avoid an accident.

So I wonder, does this mean I always have to give in? No. I just need to weigh up the situation and potential consequences, and make the decision of whether it is worth the effort to prove that I am in the right. Would it be effective to do so?

An example situation;

A friend asks to borrow £100 which you have set aside to pay your rent

An example of being effective (and not giving in);

You refuse to lend the £100 because it is for the rent and explain this. (You have considered the consequences of lending the money [not being able to pay the bill] and have come to an answer which is effective)

  • Avoid wishing things were different – wishing just doesn’t work – you need to use skills instead
  • Forget any feelings of injustice – This causes anger, hurt and stress

Some practice exercises (courtesy of DBT self help);

  • Do you remember the last time you “cut off your nose” to make a point? Have you ever played by the rules to get something you really needed, e.g.,  health care for yourself or another family member? How did that feel at the time?  (Perhaps you felt like you were sacrificing some of your self-respect for the sake of achieving your objective.)   How do you feel about it now? (Perhaps you feel like you acted effectively.)
  • Have you ever imposed your own culture or views on others? Have others imposed their views on you?
  • Are there situations in your life right now where vengeance, useless anger or righteousness are keeping your from being effective?

To re-iterate, being effective is letting go of your principles, and sometimes your pride, weighing up the consequences of your actions, and taking the path which is has the best outcome, and allows you to reach your goal with the most harmony, and least number of problems.

The main problem I think I am going to have with this skill is the fact that a lot of my boundaries and values are confused and blurred (as with a lot of Borderlines). How can I be effective if I don’t even know what is supposed to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and to be avoided?

A tip I have found is to choose the decision which will have the least negative impact on my life (and this will be the most effective one).

“Become a skillful dancer on the dance floor, one with the music and your partner, neither willful nor sitting on your hands. Imagine you are a skillful dancer. The dance floor is your life with all its opportunities and options. Your partner is the here-and-now world in which you live. The music is the feeling of flow when you participate willingly in the dance of life. Imagine, too, sitting at the edge of the dance floor like a wallflower avoiding the music and your partner. Such “sitting on your hands” is called willfulness. Willfulness is the opposite of willingness; it is being in-effective. Willfulness is NOT doing what is required of reality. Willfulness is characterized by avoidance and giving up. Willfulness is refusing to tolerate the moment and refusing to make changes that are needed.”


DBT Self Help

Laura Giles


  1. […] parts of the Core Mindfulness Module, in Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four & finally Part five. Core mindfulness, I am beginning to realise, is at the core of DBT and this is the reason why it […]

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