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DBT Series 2 - Mindfulness What Skills

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Let’s recap: Mindfulness is the “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings” according to the American Psychological Association (1). The goal of Mindfulness in DBT “is to reduce suffering and increase happiness … and to experience reality as it is” (2).

Mindfulness can be really challenging and it can be difficult to remain in the moment. Our minds are programmed to go from one thing, to the next thing, to the next, to the next. The Mindfulness What skills can help us when trying to remain in the moment!

Mindfulness What Skills

Mindfulness What skills tell us “what” to do to be mindful in the moment. You do these skills one at a time and in a specific order. The skills include:

1. Observe

2. Describe

3. Participate

First, you notice and observe through your 5 senses (i.e., sight, smell, taste, sound, touch). You can even observe thoughts as they flow in and out. No addition of words needed just yet! Just notice these sensations as they come and go.

Second, you describe objectively what you’re observing. Stick to the facts and avoid judgments or interpretations even if they’re good.

Third, you fully participate and engage in the activity or moment at hand.

Let’s break this down with an example.

You’re washing the dishes. How can we incorporate the Mindfulness What skills?

Observe. You may notice the temperature of the water… the smell of the soap… the sound of the water sloshing around… thoughts that may be coming and going… Notice through your senses what you experience as you wash the dishes without attaching any words or judgments to the task.

Describe. Now, begin to use objective language to describe your observations. You might see steam rising from the water. You may be able to identify the brand of soap by the smell.

Participate. Fully engage in all of the sensations and thoughts associated with doing the dishes. You are only focusing on the here and now with the dishes.

If you notice that you are not fully participating in the moment and you find your mind drifting off to something in the past or leaping ahead to the next item on the to-do list, stop… take a deep breath… and start with the Observe skill, move to Describe, and then fully Participate once more.

Let’s go back to our washing dishes example with this. If you are washing the dishes but start to think about having to do the laundry, you are no longer engaging in Participate. Come back to Observe through your 5 senses with washing the dishes. Describe the observations. Fully Participate with the dishes again.

Additional Mindfulness What Activities

Want to practice Mindfulness What skills? Try out some of the following activities:

  • Coloring for 10 minutes. Notice the sound of your pencil on the paper. Are you using scented markers?
  • Breathing exercises. Notice the way how your chest, your ribs, your belly, your back expands. Do you notice other sensations in your body?
  • Listen to a playlist of different songs and notice what comes up for you with different songs. Do you feel the urge to dance? To sing?

Want to hear more about DBT Mindfulness What skills? Check out this free video from DBT-RU to hear more! (3)


(1) (n.d.). Mindfulness. American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from,judging%20or%20reacting%20to%20them.

(2) Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd ed., p. 161). The Guilford Press.

(3) [@DBTRU]. (2020, December 8). Mindfulness What [Video]. YouTube.

Reminder: these blog posts are meant to be purely educational and/or entertainment tools and do NOT replace psychotherapy and/or other medically necessary treatments. 

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