Mindfully Participate and be Involved with Life - DBT Skill

Participating is the ultimate goal of mindfulness. In DBT it is part of the mindfulness "WHAT" skills, observe, describe, and particpate. What skills are acceptance based. Participation follows describing. To participate mindfully, is to enter wholly, with awareness, into life itself, nonjudgmentally and in the present moment. When you observe and describe non-judgmentally it is only natural that mindful participation can follow but it does take practice. Such as sparking a conversation with a person who has smiled at you. Such as watching a movie, such as playing a sport or cheering in the audience when your team scored a goal.

The benefits of participation include:

Experiencing flow: Flow is when you are fully immersed in an experience. Maybe you are working or having a conversation. You could be riding a bike. Flow is considered an optimal experience incompatible with boredom and associated with intense enjoyment and a sense of control. In a state of flow, things seem effortless and we may get loads of work done or get through a long conversation with a stranger without feeling anxious.

Being less self-conscious: When you are fully immersed in an activity or experience it is only natural that you are less aware of yourself. Full participation is incompatible with self-consciousness and just the action of including yourself into an activity or experience can build self-esteem.

You feel included: Participating in something makes us feel included in something rather than excluded. This brings about a feeling of community that is central and important to the human experience. When we participate even in small ways such as commenting on a photo or video or joining a group, we momentarily lose awareness of the separation of ourselves and everything else.

We are present to our lives and the lives of loved ones: When we engage in life, we naturally become more compassionate to the people who matter to us and even ourselves by doing self-care activities.

We develop new skills or accomplish tasks: When we participate fully in an activity without the distraction of thoughts and thinking negatively about ourselves we can accomplish goals effectively and develop new skills.

How to Participate

Enter into present experiences with a clear goal: You can start to participate by simply utilizing the other what skills, by observing and describing. Participate when you are ready, comfortable, and have a clear goal in mind.

Know when to disengage: Some people don’t participate at all while others participate too much and can drive people crazy. Remembering when we are dealing with other people each experience is a shared activity. Participating is done on its own, but we should be mindfully aware of others and the environment. You can also stop participating and simply Observe and Describe when something is difficult.

Don’t separate yourself from ongoing events: We do this by thinking about how we are dressed, how pretty or unpretty we look and making judgments about our participation. When you catch yourself doing that, bring yourself back to the event, going back to the first two What skills. What can be seen, what can be described.

Use opposite action when feeling self-conscious: If you are shy to enter a conversation enter it anyway. If you have an answer but raising your hand scares you raise your hand. If you are feeling intimidated use a half-smile to make yourself seem more open to others and also soothe yourself.

Follow your intuition by using your Wise mind: Remember the Wise mind is the joining of emotion mind with reasonable mind. Listen to emotional cues but also do what is needed in each situation.

Practice Participating

Focus on the most difficult skills: We only learn something through practice. Choose the mindfulness skills you aren't good at. Different people have trouble in different areas. Do you tend to catastrophize when you go outside instead of observing, describing, and participating by walking down the sidewalk mindfully? Do you judge the sounds you hear at nighttime? Is it hard to stay focused in a conversation? Do you get distracted by your judgments about yourself or what the other person is thinking? Do you need to be mindful of people-pleasing or attention-seeking behaviors?

Let go: Some people get caught in the first two What skills. They might begin to do so negatively, observing and describing assumptions. They might feel shy, anxious, or scared of failing. So they stay on the sidelines and observe and life is a constant commentary. To practice participating you have to let go of expectations of yourself and others. You also need to be willing to fail or make mistakes without catastrophizing or labeling the experience as “bad” or “wrong.” When you let go you are allowing yourself to be involved and only in control by your observations and descriptions rather than emotions and interpretations.

Other ways to practice participating:

  • Act immediately after identifying a clear goal instead of second-guessing yourself.

  • Focus on completion rather than perfection.

  • Accept that failure is possible even if unlikely.

  • Focus on your actions rather than how you are perceived.

  • Pay attention to what is happening in each moment, releasing it when a new moment or situation arrives.

  • Dance to music or sing along to music you are listening to.

  • Make comments about what you are observing while watching a show.

  • Go running and focus only on running.

  • Take a dance or yoga class.

  • Take an improv class

  • Practice improvising by answering the questions for a person in a show.

  • Become a word as you slowly say the word over and over.

  • Exercise along with a workout video.

  • Dance along with a music video.

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