Think about the last time you walked down the street. What did you experience? What was it like to move your body and feel the ground beneath your feet? What sounds did you notice? How did the wind feel on your face? If you're like most of us, your attention wasn't on any of those things -- it was elsewhere. Maybe you were thinking about an experience you had earlier that day, maybe you were worried about something, or just immersed in the many details of daily living. In our fast-paced lives, we tend to "multitask," splitting our attention among several activities at once or between a current activity and thoughts about something completely unrelated to it. We do so much of this that it can be challenging to not split our attention, but rather to focus on a single activity and experience it fully.
In DBT, participants work on developing the ability to consciously focus their attention on the activity at hand. It's called "being one-mindful," and it's one component of Mindfulness, which is central to DBT. Any activity can be done one-mindfully, as long as you do it with all of your attention -- from breathing to taking a bath to having a conversation or even worrying. One-mindfulness is actually much more challenging than it may sound, which is why we do a mindfulness exercise during every DBT group. For instance, we might each take out a coin and observe its details one-mindfully, noticing unrelated thoughts as they occur and allowing them to "float by, like clouds in the sky." We sometimes talk about developing control over attention as similar to building a muscle -- the more often you can bring your attention back to the focal point, the stronger your control becomes.
The ultimate goal of mindfulness is to learn to be in control of your own mind instead of letting your mind be in control of you. To a large extent, being in control of your mind means choosing what to pay attention to and for how long. Most people have found it hard at one time or another to put aside thoughts about something upsetting. DBT participants learn to use attentional control to keep upsetting thoughts from "taking on a life of their own." By using mindfulness skills, participants learn to choose when and how long to pay attention to upsetting thoughts and feelings. For instance, I might choose to put aside thoughts about an argument with a friend in order to be effective at work today, and I might decide to focus my attention on the argument after work, when it won't interfere so much with what I have to get done. It's not easy, and like any skill, mindfulness requires repeated and sustained practice, but the results can be worth the effort.
To learn more about group or individual DBT, call Niquie Dworkin