top of page
  • Writer's pictureIdiotTheWise

Digging Myself Out. DBT WHAT & HOW.

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

I'm in a black hole. One of my stupid holes. They happen. I need to dig myself out of it.

I have sat with it, let it be and I felt it entirely. Wholly. Not wallowed but sat with it and done all the right things to mindfully and calmly move through it.


It's not budging. My mental focus is all fuzzy. Brain fog. Short term memory is shot. Noisy head. Mistakes are being made, poor judgement calls. Overthinking. Obsessing. I am getting stuck in a loop of negative thinking. Not a happy place to be.

Fkin seriously though.


I need to touch in on my DBT skills and decide a deliberate determinded path of action.

Reading, revising, research, reminders, reaffirming. All of that kind of stuff is the order of the day then. It's the order of everyday. It takes a lot of practice this "changing" and recovering business.

There is a whole tool box of DBT skills to explore and I have used my DBT cheat sheet to help me choose what tools you use for my current SNAFU.

The materials below are a mash up of copy and pasted material from two brilliant very helpful sites:


Interspersed with with some of my own words for good measure. I've done it this way so it makes sense to me as I revise the fundamentals of these DBT principles as I redouble my efforts in engaging with them.

HOW and WHAT skills

First off I reckon, I need to touch base on the WHAT skill bits. Go over it again, remind myself of the nuts n bolts of the skill set.

DBT WHAT skills:

What you do to practice mindfulness. These skills are practiced one at a time:

• Observe • Describe • Participate

The Mindfulness module incorporates the “What” skill of Observe, Describe, and Participate. 

Mindfulness encourages you to connect with yourself, others, and the world around you in a new way.  It is easy to disconnect from ourselves and the present moment and to become consumed by an unpredictable world filled with anxiety, material distractions, work and social demands, and of course technology.  

The truth is, we disconnect from ourselves and from the present moment when we become lost in an unfocused world of rampant thoughts, intense emotions, and physical discomfort. The integration of mindfulness into your daily experience by looking at your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in a new way will help develop a mindfulness platform. 

It is important to learn ­­­how to observe without judgment or attachment, describe­­­­­ your internal experience just as it is, and fully participate in the present moment without self-consciousness or hesitation. Learn how to embrace the moment by using the following techniques known as the DBT “What” skill:


  • Start by noticing your environment, thoughts, feelings and any physical sensations without reacting to them

  • Observe your emotion or thought

  • Don’t judge it – simply observe what is without trying to change it

  • Avoid reacting to your emotion or thought. Simply Notice.  “I feel love/sadness/joy”.

  • Have “Teflon Mind” by letting experiences, feelings, and thoughts come into your mind and slip right out

  • Stay in the present moment and push nothing away (acknowledge discomfort). Cling to nothing.

  • Maintain alertness to all that enters your experience – every thought, feeling, and physical sensation

  • Pay attention to the input from your 5 senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch


  • Stay descriptive and use words to describe your internal experience. When a thought or feeling arises, acknowledge it.  For example, you can say to yourself “My chest is tight” or “Self-judgment has come into my mind” or “Stay in this moment!”

  • Don’t get caught in content – call a thought a thought, a feeling a feeling.

  • Stay non-judgmental (this may be challenging to do at first).


  • Practice participating in each present moment – stay in the “NOW”.

  • Fully engage in each experience. If you are taking a shower, engage in the moment.  Notice the way the soap feels on your skin, the water on your body… Be in the Moment!

  • Engage in each experience for whatever it brings you.

  • Stay in Wise Mind and not Emotion Mind: stay away from obsessive thoughts and judgements of self and others.

  • Practice Letting Go of self-conscious thoughts such as “How do I Look” or “How am I doing?”

Our brains run a mile a minute and training the mind to focus on one thing, and one thing alone, is a challenging practice. 

Accepting that our minds run off in various tangents that can increase our stress and grow our suffering is an important concept.  It is in this awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors that we can begin to change.



Observing is sensing or experiencing without describing or labeling the experience.

This is difficult at first but the benefit of this practice is that the mind becomes quiet. Eventually, you will be able to observe things without a running commentary of a talkative mind. It can be hard to just watch thoughts go by. The temptation is to get caught in the experience. Getting caught takes many forms like rumination, preoccupation and obsession.

Step back a little, but stay within yourself – the goal is to be slightly detached, not to shut down completely. It is also tempting to react to the thoughts you have when you’re observing. Unpleasant emotions motivate you to terminate the experience or leave the situation. We also react to pleasant events by wanting to prolong them. The challenge of observing is just to experience the moment without judging it good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, just letting those thoughts go by.


DBT describes the goal of observe as having a “Teflon Mind.” Teflon is a substance which creates a non-stick surface when applied to various materials like cookware. Teflon Mind is letting experiences, feelings, and thoughts come into your mind and slip right out. Many have found that this is a way to cope with intense feelings. Distressing events and emotions easily become stuck in consciousness. Teflon Mind is a way to attend to painful thoughts without getting stuck. Let thoughts slide off your mind like a fried egg off a non-stick frying pan.



You may encounter thoughts that lead to painful emotions when you practice Observe.

Thoughts can easily bring up guilt, shame, anxiety, and sadness. This is natural. Practicing this skill can actually help you overcome those emotions. Mindfulness is an example of the psychological technique of exposure.

Exposure is a way for people who have fears or phobias to overcome their aversion. By exposing yourself gradually to what you fear, you overcome your fear little by little. Mindfulness to naturally arising thoughts, feelings, and sensations works like exposure gradually helping you overcome the grip of certain thoughts, feelings, and sensations. By observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations come and go, one learns that thoughts, feelings, and sensations do, indeed, come and go. This experience reduces the intensity of emotions. 


Imagine you’re a palace guard at the gate, watching everyone who comes and goes. The people are your thoughts. You don’t stop each person, you just watch.

Imagine your thoughts are like clouds going by in the sky. Lie in the grass and watch them come and go.

Imagine your thoughts are like leaves on a river. Sit on the bank and watch them float by but don’t reach in and grab them.

Observe what you can feel through your five senses. Do the dishes, noticing how the hot water and suds feel on your hands. Feel each dish as you wash and rinse it.

Place one hand on a cool surface and one hand on a warm surface (not hot, maybe a part of a table warmed by the sun). Notice the difference. Note how long you can observe for.

It is common to have to start and restart the clock many times.



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


How Does It Work?

The components that make up dialectical behavior therapy each have a distinct purpose. Individual psychotherapy sessions are typically held on a weekly basis. They are intended to provide an individual with the opportunity to focus on and address specific issues and solutions that had arisen in the previous week. The DBT skills group sessions are also held on a weekly basis. There are four main skill areas that are:

  1. Interpersonal effectiveness: teaching skills related to effectively interacting with others and advocating for one’s needs within a relationship in a way that is non-damaging and productive. 

  2. Distress tolerance: teaching skills related to accepting, tolerating, and learning from suffering.

  3. Emotion regulation: teaching skills related to managing and dealing with primary emotional reactions prior to them leading to distressing secondary reactions. 

  4. Core Mindfulness: teaching skills related to remaining aware and accepting in the present moment.

About six weeks are allocated to each of the four DBT skills areas. The entire dialectical behavior therapy program usually lasts for twenty-four weeks, but some programs repeat the skills training modules, which doubles the length of time, making the program last a full year long. During the group sessions, individuals will learn the skills and engage in various group activities designed to help each member practice the skills. After each group skills session there will be homework assigned to further facilitate implementing and integrating the skills learned. 

  • I've covered this in formal DBT and now I'm going back over it to get my shit locked back down.


Effectively 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.

One job at a 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.


Watch for situations in your life when you are doing more than one thing at the same time. Practice these techniques for concentrating on one thing at a time. Aim for just a few minutes at first. Notice those times when you are one-mindfully paying attention to just one thing. How does that feel?


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.


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.



Do the work

One must put the work in, the time, the sacrafice, the willingness to engage in shadow work instead of all the fun stuff in life, the distractions, the things that mask and numb neuroses and disorders. That shit must go, in the main part.

And it takes years. Years of shadow work. Reading a few books or listening to a few podcasts is no good or sitting 12 sessions with a counselor and declaring yourself fixed, that's no good. It's a great starting point yes, but that's all it is.

It takes years and years of prolonged delving into yourself, actual work in theory and practice to shift deep seated psychological disorders into a real healthier place. Neuro plasticity takes time and effort. You gotta do the work.

Just saying.

DBT journal. I have stacks of these now full up with DBT work and observations on my actual DBT skills practice.

I absolute determinded to be a better version of myself and a happier person, in myself.

I've been digging myself out of a dark hole that other people put me into.

To be continued ......

11 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page