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Mindfulness Microskills

So now that you know a bit about what mindfulness is and the 4 steps to mindfulness, let’s talk more in depth about the microskills.

“What” Skills

So often when I introduce mindfulness to people, they tell me they have a hard time with "not thinking" or pushing all the thoughts out of their heads. Not having any thoughts isn't mindfulness. If we were to break mindfulness down into microskills, the "what" skills would be Observe and Describe. (DBT also incorporates Participate, but I just want to stick to observe and describe here.)

Observe- just noticing everything about the experience or the one activity you're focusing on, and observing everything that comes up (thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges, etc).

Describe- You can do this out loud if you want, or internally...whatever works for you. Describe to yourself all that you're noticing. You can use phrases like:

  • "I'm doing XYZ."

  • "I see, smell, hear, taste, or feel XYZ."

  • "I'm noticing feelings of XYZ."

  • "I notice I'm having the thought XYZ."

“How” Skills

One-mindfully: Your attention is focused on that one thing/activity. When thoughts, feelings, sensations, or urges come up, notice what’s coming up, let it go, and return your attention back to that one activity. Continue doing this throughout the mindfulness practice.

Non-Judgmentally: As you’re describing your experiences, don’t evaluate the experience; rather, be curious about it. Don’t compare or contrast, use adjectives, or how things should, should, must, or mustn’t be. Acknowledge what’s happening without judging it. And if you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging.

Acceptance: Allow the painful/unwanted/uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, sensations, or urges to be there without trying to fix it, fight it, or suppress it, and without acting on it. Gently look at the experiences, breathe with it, bring kindness to it … ride it and let it be.

Informal vs Formal Practices

Informal vs Formal Mindfulness Practice
Informal vs Formal Mindfulness Practice

Sometimes when people hear the word “mindfulness,” they might think of a meditation practice, where someone is sitting with their eyes closed, seemingly thinking about nothing. As I mentioned in the previous post, mindfulness is definitely not sitting there and not having any thoughts. Rather, it’s a focused attention on a single activity, without judgment and with acceptance of things that come up in that moment. There are two ways to “practice” mindfulness: informally and formally.

Formal practices is when you set aside a set time with the intention of doing a mindfulness exercise, whether it’s for a few minutes to a few hours. So when you’ve made it a point to listen and follow along to a mindfulness exercise on Calm, Headspace, Youtube, or other channels, that’s a formal practice.

On the other hand, informal mindfulness is just when you bring your full attention to whatever you might be doing, like brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, going on a walk, or even working out. For example, when you are on the walk, you could describe to yourself everything you notice when out on the walk, using your five senses. You could notice any thoughts or feelings that pop up, let them go, and return your attention to focusing on your walk.


Hi, I’m Dr. Ivy and I help professionals who are questioning if their alcohol/drug use is a problem, or want to reduce or stop their alcohol/drug use. I also help people who have grown up in chaotic environments, or experienced traumatic events, and have difficulties with finding safety and trust in the world and with other people.

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