4D ‘How’ skills

There are 6 specific mindfulness skills used in DBT and these are broken down into:

3 ‘How’ skills

‘What’ you do to practice mindfulness

‘How’ you practice mindfulness effectively

On this page we will be focusing on mindfulness ‘How’ skills; you can find out more about mindfulness ‘What’ skills here.

So, what are the 3 mindfulness ‘How’ skills?

Put simply, ‘What’ is…

what you do to practice mindfulness. There are 3 key things that you do to practice mindfulness, you: observe, describe and participate.

and ‘How’ is

…how you practice mindfulness effectively. This means how you observe, describe and participate in a way that is effective; and there are 3 key key ways that you do this: without judgement, with focus and by doing what works.

So, how do the 3 ‘How’ skills work? How do we observe, describe and participate effectively?



Being non-judgemental; means to choose not to judge the person or the event, neither choosing to judge something as good or bad, or trying to change a negative judgement into a positive judgement, instead it’s simply about not making a judgement altogether.

Our opinions are tied up with past experience and we can often find that they distract us from what’s actually happening in the here and now; they can get in the way of us being able to focus on the present. The key to being non-judgemental is to stick to the facts, the facts as they are just in that moment.

 So how do you do this?

The answer is, to allow yourself to experience an event just for what it is, at that time. Choose not to make judgement, by making comments, criticisms or passing opinion; just let it be. If you notice thoughts come into your mind, don’t get stuck on them, don’t judge them, just notice them and then shift your attention back to your experience. And if you notice yourself starting to make judgement, don’t judge yourself for this, just allow yourself to notice it and then shift your attention back to your experience.

The aim is to not let your judgements colour what it is that you are experiencing in the present moment. Allowing you to take control of your mind.

So, for example, if a person failed an exam, the different responses might be:

judgemental: ”I’m hopeless, I didn’t revise enough, I just can’t do this”.

non-judgemental: ”I failed my exam, I will make a revision plan to help me do better next time”.

To be non-judgemental, is to keep yourself focused on what’s happening now, to keep yourself focused on the facts, and by doing this you are much more likely to see the options available to you and make an effective decision about what will work best. You are more able to use ‘Wise Mind’ thinking!

Stay focused

Staying focused or as it is called in DBT acting ‘one-mindfully’, is about learning to direct your mind, targeting your awareness on what you’re doing now, in this moment. To do this, you need to be able to just do one thing, by not doing other things at the same time and also by not letting yourself get stuck on any other thoughts outside of this activity.

So how do you do this?

To start with, choose to only do one thing at a time, so that you can give it your full attention.

So, if you were revising for an exam, to help focus your awareness you might:

  •  find a room where you can be alone
  • sit at a table with only your exam work on it
  • switch off distractions (e.g. tv and mobile phone)
  • decide a timescale set an alarm clock

To help keep your attention focused, simply notice any other thoughts that come into your mind, and let them go (telling yourself that you will attend to them at another time, because now you are doing just this); then return your awareness to your revision.

This might seem hard at first, but learning to focus in this way just comes with practice; so keep going!

Do what works

To be effective you must try to do what is needed at the time (rather than to do what is ‘right’). This means keeping an open mind about what will work in a situation; sometimes doing what is needed means not doing what we first thought was the right thing to do. It means keeping your focus upon your goal, playing by the rules if rules apply; and responding to the situation you are actually in here and now, not the situation you would like to be in. To keep an open mind and to be prepared to change your expected response, is to be skilful in taking control and effectively managing your involvement in the situation you are in, increasing the chances of more positive outcomes.

In the example of revising for an exam, you might be determined to work a solid five hours, but after an hour realise you are struggling to concentrate; then start to feel stressed about how much work you have to do. In this situation, an effective response might be to give yourself a break, go for a walk or have your lunch; decide how long your break will be, and allow yourself that time. Then, without judging yourself for taking this break, return one-mindfully to your revision.

Doing what works is about understanding what you want or need from a situation, and with your focus upon this goal, deciding what’s required – what will be effective in making this happen.

My 4D Toolkit Activity

ACCEPTLearn how to power up your wise mind

Part of the 4D DBT Toolkit, this podcast explains the What and How of practical mindfulness and the underpinning skills that will help you achieve this positive state.


For more information about ‘DBT’ skills check out the ’4D Toolkit’.

Related Pages: Mindfulness, What Skills 

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