Practicing DBT “WHAT” Skills

“In today’s ru­­­­­sh, we all think too much-seek too much-want too much-and forget about the joy of being.”

Eckhart Tolle

Dialectical Behavior Therapy encourages you to “stay in the present moment” with awareness of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors – without Judgment!  This concept is foundational to Mindfulness, one of the DBT principles we teach.  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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.