A Typical Practice

Get in a comfortable position that won’t cause you discomfort, with your feet on the floor and your back straight but not tense. Sit very still, breathing normally, in a quiet room.

Now, just watch your thoughts for a few minutes. Don’t try to force thoughts or think specific thoughts. Don’t push some thoughts away or hold on tight to others. Just watch what your mind generates. If your mind wanders away from watching your thoughts (e.g., you get stuck on one thing, like planning what you’re going to do after you read this web page) just notice that it wandered and gently bring it back to watching thoughts. If you start to judge yourself (“I’m terrible at this”), your thoughts (“That’s a stupid thing to be thinking”), or the practice (“This is a real waste of time”) just notice your judgments and go back to watching your thoughts. Practice for five minutes.

Dr. Linehan has a helpful metaphor for this type of practice: Your mind is like a boat that is tied to a chain with an anchor. Mindfulness is the anchor and chain that gently pull the boat (your attention) back each time the waves start to carry it away. Even if your mind wanders off 1,000 times, you’ve done the exercise if you gently pull your attention back to your point of focus. There’s no right or wrong to it. All that matters is paying attention to your experience while you do the exercise as well as you can. You can do this type of practice with anything you care to bring your full and undivided attention to. In doing so, you’ll learn a lot about yourself, about other people, and about any situation in which you find yourself. And, just like a muscle that gets stronger and stronger with exercise, your capacity to move your attention to what you want it to focus on will grow stronger.

This is one type of practice but there are others. In Linehan’s DBT Skills Training manual, there is a clear explanation of mindfulness, as well as lots of suggestions for practice. It’s an excellent place to learn more about the topic. Further, she has broken mindfulness into six specific skills that can be practiced by anyone to strengthen the capacity to pay attention in a way that leads to greater and greater awareness.