DBT workbook – Part II

Today’s post starts on page 13 of the DBT workbook (here’s part I in case you missed it) and deals with section II, “Core Mindfulness Skills – Taking Control of Your Attention and Thoughts”.
(It also prompted yesterday’s post about mindfulness, which I started to write in this one, but split off eventually when I realized it had gotten quite long and had little to nothing to do with the workbook.)

The next page shows an atrocity that may have tried to be a Venn diagram but failed horribly. It does, however, get the point across that there’s supposedly a “reasonable mind”, an “emotion mind” (shouldn’t that be “emotional mind”, to keep with the adjective theme?), and a “wise mind” where the two intersect.

Curiously, these concepts are neither explained in more detail nor do they appear at any other page in the chapter except for a worksheet at the very end, in which they are also not explained further. I might need to do some Googling about those.

Page 15 details “WHAT” skills: observe!, describe, and participate. (For some reason, observe is the only one that gets an exclamation mark.)

“Observe!” consists of the following:

♦ Be curious about what you feel.

If I’m going to be curious, I very much suspect that what I feel will be curiosity. Duh.

But I suppose that what they were going for is that you should approach your feelings as openly as non-judgmentally as possible rather than hiding from them, pushing them away, coming at them with the mindset of the feelings as problems to be solved, etc.

♦ Just notice how you feel, without trying to make feelings stronger, or weaker, go away, or last longer.
♦ See how long your feeling lasts, and if it changes.
♦ Notice how feelings flow in and out of your body like waves.
♦ What comes through your senses? Touch, smell, sight, sound, taste.
♦ Be like a non-stick pan, letting things slide off of your body and your emotions.

This is pretty much basic mindfulness as I know it and approve of.

Have to say I like the image of clouds floating by better than that of myself as hot, sizzling, possibly greasy kitchen equipment. Seems considerably more in keeping with the whole theme, too.

The next two skills – describe and participate – are new to me, though.

♦ Use words to describe your experience.

Seems pretty obvious. I don’t know how I’d describe something otherwise.
How easy it is depends on how detailed the description should be – to some extent, I look for a way to name whatever I’m experiencing anyway, it’s just usually not in whole sentences. I’m very unlikely to think “I am feeling anger” and quite likely to think “tightness in chest – anger”. If this is sufficient as a description, I got this.

♦ Use “fact” words, call a thought “just a thought”, call a feeling “just a feeling.”

Naming thoughts and feelings as such is very useful and facilitates the transition to meta-cognition, i.e. thinking “why am I thinking this?” or “what made me have this feeling?” – a more analytic perspective on the situation that makes it easier to recognize when a feeling is due to (possibly erroneous) interpretation rather than some fact of the situation itself, or even associations from past experiences that have nothing to do with the current situation at all.

I’m a bit weirded out by the word “just” here, though. It minimizes the thoughts and feelings in question and makes the phrasing judgmental rather than neutral.

♦ Use words that everyone would agree with.

I don’t know what to do with this point. For one thing, I cannot possibly know whether everyone would agree with the words I use, for another, I don’t know under what conditions they would need to agree. If they experienced the same and had the same vocabulary as me, they’d probably agree with my choice of words in any case, but that would make this whole point redundant.

And when naming emotions, I’m basically always rather uncertain about how other people would name them. For me, tightness in my chest seems to correspond to anger: I experience it in situations that would probably cause anger in other people, and it correlates with certain thoughts (e.g. that I’m being treated unfairly, that I’m not being listened to) and desires (e.g. to do something that will annoy the person whose actions caused me to experience the emotion) that seem typical for anger.

♦ Don’t paint a colorful picture with words, or magnify a situation with words. Try to avoid emotional words.

I’m not sure at what point painting a colorful picture starts, or how to avoid emotional words when talking about emotions. Is “tightness in my chest and nervous energy crackling beneath my skin” painting a picture? Aren’t “pain” and “desperation” emotional words? (Aren’t all words to name emotions emotional words?)

I don’t know what words or expressions are supposed to be off-limits here.

♦ Try to let go of your emotions about being “right” or about someone else being “wrong” while searching for words to describe.

Huh. Are those not emotions I should describe if I experience them? Isn’t “I think they were wrong” a thought I should name and mention as such?


♦ Get “lost” in an activity.
♦ Let go of your sense of time while you are doing something.
♦ Allow yourself to be natural in the situation.

Ooh, they’re talking about flow states! I like flow states. I sometimes experience them while blogging, writing stories, debating, coding, or brushing my teeth in combination with listening to music and moving in weird ways, as well as when I go for walks (to some extent – by necessity, I stay more aware of my surroundings and less “natural” while being outside in public than when I’m at home by myself).

♦ Practice your skills until they become a part of you.

Do they mean skills at activities that will give me flow states here? Possible, although “going for a walk” isn’t exactly a skill. Or do they mean all the skills on the page (observing, describing, and participating)?

I’m also not sure what exactly it means for a skill to become a part of me. To become a habit, maybe? But the skills on the page seem mutually exclusive: if I’m getting lost in an activity, I’m clearly neither observing myself nor describing what I’m experiencing.

I am experiencing a feeling of confusion.

Page 16 deals with “HOW” skills: Non-Judgmental Stance, One Mindfully in the Moment, and Effectively.

The non-judgmental stance – observing without evaluating – is something I feel like I’m pretty good at already, when I have the time and space to do it. (And when it’s appropriate. Seeing e.g. advice for mental health management without evaluating it regarding its usefulness would not be appropriate.)

Although they also say:

UNGLUE YOUR OPINIONS from the facts, from the “who, what, when, and where.

My opinions are (usually, as far as I can control it) based on facts. What am I supposed to unglue there?

How do they distinguish opinions from conclusions anyway? “My laptop is broken” is a conclusion based on the facts that I was told as much by the service guy and it takes ages to boot. I can’t unglue it from those.
“I should get a new laptop” sounds a little more like an opinion, but it’s also based on facts: there are many situations in my daily life in which I need a functional laptop, and the laptop I’ve used so far is broken.

I don’t know what they want me to do here.

Also, I did not forget to copy the closing quotation mark, there simply is none. There is none and it’s making me twitchy.

ACCEPT each moment, each event as a blanket spread out on the lawn accepts both the rain and the sun, each leaf that falls upon it.

Well, that sounds pretty easy for the blanket to do, considering it’s a blanket and doesn’t have a choice. I don’t feel like a literal wet blanket is a great example to follow to improve one’s mental health and interpersonal relationships, though.

The next skill – One Mindfully in the Moment (although I feel like that really should be “one-mindfully”) – consists of the following:

♦ DO ONE THING AT A TIME. When you are eating, eat. When you are walking, walk. When you are working, work. When you are in a group, or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are in with the other person. Do each thing with all of your attention.
♦ If other actions, thoughts, or strong feelings distract you, LET GO OF DISTRACTIONS and go back to what you are doing—again, and again, and again.
CONCENTRATE YOUR MIND. If you find you are doing two things at once, stop and go back to one thing at a time.

My first reaction to this is a very, very emphatic NOPE.

While focusing on the task at hand is helpful for tasks that actually take up all mental space (some work tasks, some video games, writing), trying not to do anything else than walking or eating would require me to somehow kill off most of my mental processes: there simply isn’t enough there to focus on to occupy my mind completely. Sure, I can take a few bites in which I devote most or even all of my attention to the taste and smell and sensation of eating, but very soon, it’s going to get repetitive.

Walking, interestingly, is a mixed bag there: the task of walking itself is repetitive, but the environment usually has too much rather than too little to focus on, and I need to pick and choose. I usually think about things unrelated to the walk too, though, because it’s often the very reason I even go for a walk – to have time and space to think something through.

It’s also often how the best ideas, thoughts, and realizations happen. Continued, intense focus on a work problem sometimes gets you stuck, and when you do some other, undemanding task, relax and let your thoughts wander, your mindset is much more open to new ideas for possible solutions.

For me personally, it’s also quite simply impossible sometimes. If I am not allowed to do anything else while listening to a lecture or thinking about a problem, I’ll zone out completely more often than not. Occupying my hands and eyes with a simple task while listening to a lecture allowed me to pay attention for quite a while, whereas trying to force myself to sit still and look at the lecturer frequently had me drift off in the space between two sentences only to come back ten minutes later with no idea what I had heard in those minutes, or devote so much focus and willpower to sitting still that I wasn’t able to process the lecture.

It also sounds slightly contradictory to observing and describing, again, especially if I’m supposed to incorporate those into daily life and apply them to multiple situations rather than devote ten minutes a day to practicing them and never use them otherwise.

The last skill on the page is Effectively:

FOCUS ON WHAT WORKS. Do what needs to be done in each situation in order to meet your larger goals. Stay away from thoughts of “right”, “wrong”, “should”, “should not”, “fair” and “unfair”.

This is internally inconsistent. If I should do what works to meet my larger goals, that’s a “should” right there.

But I can guess at what they mean: don’t stop at thinking something is unfair and/or wrong, or someone should (not) have done something, instead focus on whether this is something you want to try to fix, and if so, think about what would actually be effective.

I think I’ve got this pretty well, although I may err on the side of not doing anything more often than I should (heh, should) and be too hesitant or doubtful about what might work.

PLAY BY THE RULES. Act as skillfully as you can, meeting the needs of the situation you are in, not the situation you WISH you were in.
LET GO of vengeance, useless anger, and righteousness that hurts you and doesn’t work.

These seem to support my guess of what the first one is supposed to mean.

The next two pages, which conclude the chapter, are worksheets. The first one (page 17) is called “Observing and Describing Thoughts”. Let’s do it!

Prompting event: I came upon this worksheet reading and writing a blog post about this chapter and want to use it to practice.

Feelings (and their intensity): _1_ Mad _0_ Sad _2_ Glad _0_ Scared _0_ Ashamed

That is a rather limited list of feelings, which makes it both easier and harder. There are also no further instructions on how to complete this point of the exercise – I decided to rate each for intensity on a scale of 1-10, because that seemed kind of probable.
My actual feelings are curious (which I don’t know how to indicate here), slightly skeptical about this worksheet due to the numerous issues I had with the rest of the book so far (which I subsumed under Mad, hence the 1), and slightly amused at the restrictive list (hence 2 for Glad).

List thoughts: I should check out the emotion glossary at the end of the book, it might be useful in describing feelings. This chapter was not as long as expected (or it took me less time to read it/write about it, not sure which). I’m not sure this worksheet was meant to be applicable to this particular situation – this might make it a good test for whether it will actually work in others, or it might just mean I’m doing this wrong.

Can you identify any MUSTS? Not at once, no. The thought about doing this worksheet wrong might be rephrased as “I must do this worksheet in a particular way” if necessary. (I don’t know if it is necessary.)

Can you identify any SHOULDS about yourself? Yep! “I should check out the glossary”.

Can you identify any SHOULDS about others or the situation? Not at first glance. (I could derive a “the people who wrote this worksheet should have given more instructions for how to use it” if necessary, although I don’t really believe that: this book was obviously meant to be used in conjunction with group therapy in which any necessary explanations could be given in person, and expecting the writers to create it for more general applications is unreasonable.)

Pick a “should” thought and change that to a non-judgmental DESCRIBE: I have the thought that I should check out the glossary. (Is this the right way to do this? I’m not sure. I have the thought that checking out the glossary might be beneficial to reach my goals?)

I wish I had someone to look this over and tell me whether I went wrong somewhere, and possibly explain some details about the whole concept.

The worksheet on page 18 is somewhat chaotic and confusing, and not easily doable in text form, so I’ll leave it be for now.


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