The term “mindfulness” has received a great deal of attention in recent years.
Many people compare it to meditation, while others explain it as a way of thinking. In simple terms, mindfulness really means being present in the moment, without judgment. It isn’t about stopping your thoughts (because realistically, is that even possible?) or being silent for extended periods of time.
It’s about accepting the present moment as it is and paying attention to what is happening exactly at that time.
Mindfulness is a core principle of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment originally designed for borderline personality disorder, but which has been applied to many forms of pathology as a way to assist in emotion regulation.
There are three main skills discussed within DBT as related to mindfulness: 1) Observe, 2) Describe, and 3) Participate—as a way to "enter the experience."
Observing involves objectively viewing or sensing a thought feeling or experience without applying a label or judgment. Observing allows us to be more aware of the cognitive tendencies we fall into such as ruminating, being overly critical, or using things like distraction to get you through a tough moment. By simply observing what’s happening in our mind and what’s happening around us, the mind becomes quieter, and a more peaceful place to be. Thoughts may still come about that are unhelpful, but by simply noticing them and letting them pass, you become more present. This also helps us realize that thoughts are just that, and do pass.
Describing is another form of self-awareness that helps one be more present. Describing to yourself what you are thinking, what you are feeling, and what you are doing allows you to take some space from whatever is happening, and helps to take thoughts less literally, as facts. By saying to yourself, for example, “I feel afraid right now because I’m about to give a speech” rather than “I can’t do this” or “Everyone will hate what I have to say” is more helpful in understanding how you are connected to the environment.
Participating is about allowing yourself to wholeheartedly become enveloped in what you are doing. While it is easier said than done, being so involved in an activity allows you to be more present in the moment, and avoid unhelpful cognitions, and things like self-consciousness and overthinking. With so much happening in your mind, and so much happening in the world around you, it’s often easy to just go through the motions of an activity or obligation. Engaging and participating extensively in an activity gives us the space to enjoy it more.
While the concept of mindfulness may seem very simple, it is powerful when correctly engaged in. Mindfulness is similar to the western idea of “metacognition” or thinking about thinking. Taking a step back from the things we do, feel, and think on a daily basis, allows us to be more analytical about our lives, and more present. Being caught up in your own thoughts and feelings only serves to distract you from what’s most important.
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood and Hoboken, NJ. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.