How Skills: One-Mindfully, Non-Judgmentally, Effectively

DBT Self Help How Skills

Mindfulness skills are the foundation of all Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills training. The problems addressed by core mindfulness skills are knowing who you are, where you are going in your life, and the inability to control what goes on in your mind. Mindfulness encourages you to live in the moment by focusing on the present. The “How” skills refer to how you should practice DBT skills. The following three skills are key to your practice of DBT.


This skill comes up over and over. You will find it in every aspect of DBT as you move through the skills. The idea of one-mindfully is to do one thing at a time. If you are going to eat, eat. Don’t read or watch TV at the same time. When you are working, work. Don’t try to work and worry about something at home at the same time. When you are talking with a friend, talk with your friend. Don’t try to be on the computer at the same time. The reasons for this are so that you can give your full attention to what you are doing and do your best job, but also so that you will feel completely present and not fragmented when you are doing these important things.

Mindfulness has to do with the quality of awareness that we bring to what we are doing and experiencing, to being in the here and now. It has to do with learning to focus on being in the present, to focusing our attention on what we are doing and what is happening in the present. Many of us are distracted by images, thoughts and feelings of the past, perhaps dissociating, worrying about the future, negative moods and anxieties about the present. It’s hard to put these thing away and concentrate on the task at hand.

So One-Mindfully is an effort to help us focus our attention on the here and now, to be able to absorb the DBT information and take part in the present. Please do not judge yourselves about this. This can be a difficult skill for people to learn. It requires lots of practice and willingness. Be patient with yourself.

If you are having difficulty focusing on a single task, try letting go of distractions that come to you much like you let go of thoughts when using Observe. If they come back, do it again. Concentrate your mind on your task. If you find yourself doing more than one thing, stop and choose which one you are going to do. With time this will become natural.



We are very conditioned to placing judgments on our observations. We judge others and we judge ourselves constantly. Judgment can create a hostile, negative environment. It can lead to shame, sadness, and guilt.

The point of taking a nonjudgmental stance is to give yourself an opportunity to observe the same old things that you always observe in our minds or in our environment or about other people, but open yourself to thinking about it in a different way. So if you withhold your judgment about what your thought means, but simply observe it, note it, and let the thought move away, you have an opportunity to treat yourself more gently. Even if you still have the judgmental thought, you can observe that you had the thought, then let it go.

What Is A Judgment?

Judgments might be hard to recognize at first. The better you get at recognizing judgments, the easier it will be to remove them. A judgment is basically putting an opinion, or a qualifier on an observation.

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. Experiencing the emotion is neither a good nor a bad thing. It simply is. 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.


    • 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 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.


“Effective” is a word you’ll hear a lot in DBT. The goal of the therapy in general is to be effective- to focus on doing what works, rather than what is “right” versus “wrong” or “fair” versus “unfair.”  Another way to think of it is as the opposite of “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Being effective is often allowing yourself to let go of the need to be or feel ‘right.’ It overshadows our ability to make decisions that may correct a situation. Being determined to be right, or feel it’s a matter of principle can be a very self-defeating goal. In other words, letting go of a desire to be right and doing what works using DBT skills is being effective.

For example, If you’re driving down the road and the driver of another car is trying to cut you off and cut ahead, it is most effective to slow down and let the person move on. If you get caught up in the fact that you legally have the right-of-way and don’t allow the other car in front, you face the possible consequences of being in an accident or a victim of road rage. Does this mean you should always give in? No. It’s still important to maintain your self-respect. But you have to weigh the importance of the situation and determine whether it is worth your energy to prove you’re right. It’s all about economy of energy.

Effectiveness is often tied up with Radical Acceptance, one of the Distress Tolerance skills. You don’t have to like the situation or agree with the other person. Even if you’re right and the other person is clearly ‘wrong,’ it might be most effective to let it go. In order to help you tolerate being effective, you can radically accept the situation. Accepting the situation doesn’t mean you approve, just that you’re not going to make more work for yourself by fighting what you can’t change.


    • Are you holding onto any grudges in your life, even something small? Are you benefiting from doing so? Reassess the situation and consider what the effective solution would be.

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