I’m Living In The Moment

I'm living in the moment / I'm living my life / Oh, easy and breezy
With peace in my mind / I got peace in my heart / I got peace in my soul
Oh, wherever I'm going, I'm already home

Living in The Moment by Jason Mraz

Mindfulness was something that seemed a bit "woo-ey woo-ey" (as my DBT lead group therapist liked to say) before I really understood it. Mindfulness hardly seemed like something I needed in my life to encourage emotional well-being. I couldn't have been more wrong. I won't cover everything about the Mindfulness module of DBT in this post, but I will cover two aspects (States of Mind and One Mindfully) that spoke the most to me and how I utilize them in my everyday life.

First of all, let's talk about what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is described in the DBT handbook as "intentionally living with awareness in the present moment," and "without judging or rejecting the moment," and "without attachment to the moment" (DBT Mindfulness Handout 1A, CM-3).  Here's another way to put it: mindfulness is "Paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment." Make sense? It's all about living in the moment.

The goals of mindfulness are to reduce suffering and increase happiness, increase control of your mind, and experience reality as it is (DBT Mindfulness Handout 1, CM-2). When you are mindful, paying attention to the present moment, your mind is not able to wander to the past - which can lead to distressing thoughts and therefore depression - and it is not able to wander to the future - which can lead to distressing thoughts and therefore anxiety. Each moment is lived in a sense of "it is what it is" and is meant to decrease suffering. Sometimes the moment is painful enough, so why add to it by thinking about the past or future. The practice of mindfulness allows you to experience life's moments in full, increasing your awareness of your surroundings, especially the person or people you are with, without placing judgment on the moment.

Sometimes the moment is painful enough, so why add to it by thinking about the past or future.

One of the core concepts of DBT as relating to mindfulness is States of Mind. This idea was revolutionary for me. It helped me to, first of all, be aware of the different states of mind and secondly to recognize when I might be in one state of mind - especially in an extreme of one state of mind - and how to get back to the overall goal of DBT which is "Wise Mind."

  • Reasonable Mind: This is the state where "I think" comes from. It is rational and task-focused. "When in reasonable mind, you are ruled by facts, reason, logic, and pragmatics. Values and feelings are not important." (DBT Mindfulness Handout 3, CM-6) When in Extreme Reasonable Mind, you lose touch with your emotions and become detached. There is no ability to reason with someone in this state of mind because there is no ability to receive new information.
  • Emotion Mind: This is the state where "I feel" comes from. It is mood-dependent and emotion-focused. The #1 function "When in emotion mind, you are ruled by your moods, feelings, and urges to do or say things. Facts, reason, and logic are not important." (DBT Mindfulness Handout 3, CM-6) When in Extreme Emotion Mind, you lose touch with reason, and actions tend to be reactive and impulsive. There is no ability to reason with someone in this state of mind because there is no ability to receive new information.
  • Wise Mind: This is the state of mind where "I know" comes from. This is the balance of the head (Reasonable Mind) and the heart (Emotion Mind). When you are in this state of mind, your actions line up with your life's values and goals. It is seen as "the middle path." (DBT Mindfulness Handout 3, CM-6) In this state of mind, you are able to take in new information and process with clarity. Being in wise mind doesn't always feel good; it can lead a person to make the hard decisions of life that are the best in the long-term, but difficult (but not impossible) in the short-term.

While the States of Mind are not technically a skill of DBT, and more of a foundational concept of DBT, it has been powerful and effective for me to be able to notice on my own if I'm drifting away from a Wise Mind State. Once I notice the drifting, I am able to work through how I can get back to Wise Mind, and it also prevents me from making decisions in Emotion Mind, which for me, caused a lot of problems pre-DBT. So much of my life was ruled by my emotions. I had no ability for the longest-time first of all, to recognize when I was so emotional, and second of all, to know how to "deal" with the emotions in a healthy way.

For much of my life, my response to emotional situations was to "overreact". What I mean is that the intensity of my emotional response to situations did not always match the intensity of the situation. I rarely had situations of being in extreme rational mind or even rational mind. My tendency was often to respond emotionally, not factually. I rarely did something because I was so strong in my facts about a situation. I most frequently did something because I either felt very strongly about it or I shut down because I was so overwhelmed emotionally. Life was often very black-and-white; I didn't leave a whole lot of room for the gray, the in-between.

If plans changed without me knowing, I would have an emotional breakdown (in this instance the breakdown may look like me breathing heavy and saying things under my breath; it may look like me not wanting to participate in the plans at all; it may look like me holding a grudge against the person that changed the plans). If my hair wasn't cooperating, depending on the day, I would have an emotional breakdown (in this instance the breakdown may look like me crying about how ugly I am; it may look like me blaming someone, particularly my mom, for me having the kind of hair I had; it may look like me being pissed at the person who cut my hair). If someone, especially a close friend or someone I was dating, communicated something I did that hurt them, I would have an emotional breakdown (in this instance the breakdown may look like me avoiding that person for awhile; it may look like me having a depressive episode because I believe I'm a horrible friend/girlfriend; it may look like me blaming the person I hurt and not owning my part of the situation).

The intensity of my emotional response to situations did not always match the intensity of the situation

It's really embarrassing to process through that because I think to myself now: WOW! I really did not know how to handle myself effectively. (And even just putting it that way as "effectively" instead of calling myself a "failure" or a "horrible person" is an effect of doing DBT!!!) It's hard to acknowledge how I used to be versus how I am now, post-DBT. Don't get me wrong. I still have times where my emotional responses to situations happened because I allowed myself - by not being mindful - to get into extreme emotion mind. I am not perfect in this, and I never will. Practice makes progress, not perfection because *gasp* being perfect does not exist!

How have I been able to work on getting myself from emotion mind to wise mind? First, it's taken a lot of practice. I started by being present in "everyday" situations. When I was driving, I would ask myself, "How am I feeling right now?" and I would process through that. While I was watching a tv show, I would ask myself the same question and process through that. See, the thing is to get in the habit of practicing skills when you are not distressed so that when you are distressed, you are more likely to be able to be skillful and effective. Eventually, I was able to notice how I was feeling in certain situations without even having to intentionally ask myself. Noticing how I felt and being able to describe those feelings was so vital because then I knew if I was really feeling emotional, it was not likely a good time to make decisions about important things (however I defined important in that situation).

Here's some practical tips to get from Emotion Mind to Wise Mind:

  • BREATHE: Your breath is always with you! Slowing your breathing down will slow down your heart rate and your mind! Take deep, focused breaths.
  • Focus on the facts: Take note of the verifiable facts in the situation - writing them down is usually helpful so you can visualize them. What you think about the situation is not part of the facts.
  • Stay connected to your emotions: How you are feeling is valid. It is your reality. Don't ignore them.

Here's some practical tips to get from Rational Mind to Wise Mind:

  • BREATHE: Your breath is always with you! Slowing your breathing down will slow down your heart rate and your mind! Take deep, focused breaths.
  • Focus on your 5 senses and your body: Doing this bring you to awareness of yourself and gets you in touch with your emotions
  • Stay connected to the facts: The facts are still important. They do not go away by noticing your feelings.
If you're like me and you love This Is Us, you saw last night's episode (2.21.17) with a fantastic moment between father and son. Randall, the son, battled with anxiety and panic attacks since he was young. Jack, his father, would help to calm him by holding his face and reminding him to breathe. And Randall kept breathing until he was calm enough to continue on without the panic. Sometimes all we need is to just breathe through the moment until we can continue on.

Wise Mind is the place of balance. It is the deeper knowing inside yourself. You might call it your "intuition" or your "spirit" or something else. It is the place where actions meet values and it allows you to live a life worth living. Wise Mind doesn't remove the suffering, but it also doesn't add to it.

One-Mindfully is one of three parts of the how to do things mindfully (the other two being non-judgmentally and effectively). We like to think that by doing multiple things at once we will accomplish more in a day. The truth is that by doing one thing at a time things are done more efficiently and effectively.

Ever notice how you can be writing an email, planning an event, or cooking a meal, while also talking to someone, eat a meal, or watch the tv? There tends to be a greater likelihood of missing things along the way while writing the email, planning the event or cooking the meal. You might need to reread the email over again and then you notice you wrote something in there from the conversation you were having that shouldn't be a part of the email. Or maybe you skipped a small but important detail in the event you're planning while you were eating your lunch, and you won't notice it until the day of the event comes. Or maybe you missed an ingredient in the meal you were cooking because an interesting news story caught your attention and now it tastes funny, and now you need to go back through the recipe to figure out what you might have missed. While it isn't always practical to do to just one thing at a time, we often cause ourselves to take more time to do something when we are distracted by something else.

So how do you do things one-mindfully?

  • Be in the here and now: be aware of and fully immersed in the present moment.
  • Do one thing at a time: this is hard to do when you are first starting. When you are driving, drive. When you are eating, eat. When you are planning, plan. When you are writing the email, write the email.
  • Let go of distractions: the key is to notice when your mind is drifting to elsewhere, and then bring yourself back to the present moment. And do it again and again, because your mind will drift more than once!
  • Concentrate your mind: if you're doing two things at once, notice, and then start doing one thing at a time. Remember, this is a practice! It will take some work and a conscious effort to be able to do this!

The amazing thing I've noticed about practicing mindfulness, especially about being present in the present moment, is that I enjoy things more! I enjoy movies more when I put my phone down and take in the full experience. I enjoy meals more when I take my time to eat and focus on what I'm eating. I enjoyed a concert more when I put my phone down and didn't take so many pictures and videos. I enjoy company more when I'm fully engaged in the conversation and their presence. Being mindful has enhanced my life's experiences and I don't miss out on so much by tuning out or shutting down.

I'll say this again: mindfulness is a practice. You will never be "perfectly" mindful. There will be times when your mind drifts. The key is to notice it and intentionally bring your mind back to the present. It really is worth it to live a life where you can say, "I'm living in the moment."

If you would like more information on the mindfulness modules, there are plenty of great online resources. Doing a simple Google search for "DBT mindfulness" or "Mindfulness Module" will expand on what I've shared here!

Please Note

This blog is based on personal experiences and is intended for educational purposes. It is not to be substituted for professional counseling and medical care.

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