As a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) clinician, I am all-too-familiar with mindfulness. DBT is a therapy model developed by Dr. Marshan Linehan in which she used the concept of dialectics – the construct that two seemingly opposing concepts can be true at the same time, specifically acceptance and change – to lay the foundation of her model.
To support the development of dialectical thinking, Dr. Linehan identified four modules of skills – emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and – you guessed it – mindfulness. I have led countless mindfulness exercises, facilitated many mindfulness skills groups, and more recently designed mindfulness curriculums for middle school students and physicians. Needless to say, I preach a lot about mindfulness. I am a culprit, however, of not always practicing what I preach.
Mind Full or Mindful
As I am sure many of you can relate to, I am a busy person. I recently transitioned into a newly-developed role at my organization in which I play several roles in one. I am also a board member, volunteer, runner, wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, and friend. Each role comes with its own set of responsibilities and to-do lists. Each role takes time. I will admit, I am guilty of writing out my shopping list on a conference call or drafting emails in my head while on a run. For most of us, time is a scarcity, and we do anything we can to cling to the last remaining drops of it each day.
Some may call this multi-tasking. I call it “mind full.”
There are many well-researched outcomes on the effects of “mind fullness.” To name a few: anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, poor physical health. From personal experience, I can tell you all of these are true. I really noticed my own “mind fullness” a few months ago. I had gained almost 20 pounds, my complexion was poor, and I combatted self-doubt and self-criticism daily. I did not feel or look happy. More importantly, I did not feel, look, or act how I wanted to. At that time, I picked up running and it honestly changed my life. I had been running since college but never as intentionally as in the last few months. I was on the “upswing” so to speak, and so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I noticed some of those feelings start to creep back – self-doubt, irritation, anger. I noticed the physical symptoms start again too – weight gain, poor complexion, dull hair. It was time to put the brakes on – literally. I was driving down one of the main streets in my town, the kind scattered with hundreds of stores. I was thinking about my now “downswing” and was fighting between dwelling in it and changing it when my mind took me back to Easter Sunday. Easter had just passed, and I started thinking about the spirit of transformation in this celebration. These thoughts, combined with some reflection on the film Miracles from Heaven, which I had seen the night before, caused me to break and turn into the parking lot for one of the stores on my ride – Target.
I had been to Target countless times and never really took it as a house of great meaning, although their dollar section is pretty great. This trip, however, I was on a mission. I parked and bee-lined for the jewelry section. I scoured it for at least 30 minutes and even walked out at one point, feeling defeated that I could not find what I was looking for. I was called back in one last time and, almost miraculously, found it.
What I found was a little silver cross. It was pricier for Target fare but nothing over-the-top. The word “faith” was on the hangtag it rested on. This was exactly what I needed and need. I need the faith to know that all the things that fill my mind will work out as they should. I need faith in myself. I need faith in the people and world around me. I need faith that everything will be okay. Most importantly, I need this simple, silver reminder to have faith.
One part of mindfulness is a skill called “one-mindfully.” As the name implies, this is the skill of focusing the mind on one thing at a time. More specifically, it is focusing on the present moment, and when the mind naturally wanders away as it is meant to do, it is coming back to the present moment and returning the mind there. Practicing the one-mindfully skill calls us to clear the clutter of our minds and return to only one thing.
For me, that one thing is faith in the present moment. As with most mindfulness skills, this can be difficult to practice routinely as we attempt to make these skills a new way of life. That is where my little silver cross comes in. Every time I see it on my neck, I am reminded to live now and have faith in this moment. This growing practice has turned my “downswing” around and has changed the way I think, act, and feel. It has called me to practice more gratitude, to feel more peace, and – most importantly – to be less mind full and more mindful.
Are you living mind full or mindful? Where can you practice one-mindfulness in your life? What reminders can you use to practice daily mindfulness?
For more information on Marsha Linehan and DBT, visit linehaninstitute.org.
Kelly Olenski is a social worker by trade and passion. She currently serves as the physician relations coordinator for Linden Oaks Behavioral Health in Naperville, Illinois. Prior to this role, Kelly served as a clinician and has worked with young children, teens, and adults throughout the Chicago area.
Kelly is energized by work around mindfulness and would love to answer any and all questions you have about it! Feel free to reach out to Kelly using LinkedIn or email [email@example.com]. You can also catch her on Twitter at @KellyOlenski.