4D Improve the Moment

This page tells you more about the DBT ‘improve the moment’ skill for ‘crisis survival’.

‘Improve the moment’ is one of the 4 crisis survival skills of Distress Tolerance.  Crisis survival skills are about helping you tolerate and survive a crisis situation, they provide you with tools to help you cope with and get through a difficult experience and to manage overwhelming emotions.

Crisis survival skills are like a ‘sticking plaster’ to get you through a crisis.  They are short-term solutions.

How do I ‘improve the moment’?

In DBT, to ‘improve the moment’ means to replace the negative experiences that you are facing now, with positive experiences.  Improving the moment by creating positive experiences can in turn help to create positive thoughts and feelings, which can help you to get through your immediate difficulties.

Below are some suggestions of things that can help you to improve the moment; the acronym ‘IMPROVE’ is used to help remind you of these:


Imagery  Imagery can be used as a distraction, it can help soothe you, and it can provide you with courage and confidence.  To do this, imagine in your mind (visualise) that you are somewhere different, somewhere pleasant and safe.  Imagine this place when you are not stressed, so that when you experience difficult times, you can easily take yourself there in your mind.  You can also help yourself cope with difficult situations through imagery.Imagine yourself in a difficult situation and seeing yourself managing it effectively, imagining what you would be feeling, thinking, saying and doing; and imagine the success you achieved through managing this crisis effectively.  Create this image when you are not stressed, so that in difficult times, you can remind yourself of how you coped effectively in this situation.


Meaning  This is about finding or creating meaning in your life and in your experiences, to help you get through a difficult time.  To do this, you can think about the important things in your life, maybe people you love and things you have achieved.You could also think about hard times that you’ve got through in the past, what you learnt from these, and praise yourself for having survived them and for what you learnt from them.Some people also find it helpful to think about whether there is meaning, purpose or value to the pain they are experiencing at this moment. Think about whether there are any positive aspects to the pain you are experiencing, anything you can discover or learn from it.


Prayer  To use this skill you don’t need to be religious; this is about opening up your heart, it could be to a god, or it could be to your own ‘Wise Mind’.  Acknowledge what is currently happening, the difficult time you are experiencing at this moment and ask for strength to get through it.You might do this in prayer, in meditation or just pondering; whatever you prefer.


Relaxation  This is about learning how to change your body’s physical response to stress and crises.  Often our automatic response is to tense our body, it’s as though we’re tensing our body up to react to the situation, by doing this we are not accepting but instead trying to change the moment through our body.Remember ‘Distress Tolerance’ is about using acceptance to get through the crisis; and because our bodies and mind are so closely connected, we need our body to learn how to be accepting so that we can help our mind to be accepting.To do this, we need to replace tension with relaxation, we need to learn and practice this different type of physical response so that our body communicates to our minds acceptance rather than resistance and suffering.There are many things that you can do to help you relax, and different things work for different people.  You could try: going for a walk, reading a book, taking a hot bath or listening to a relaxation exercise.

Acceptance and tolerance of reality is not about saying that what happened or is happening is ok; instead it’s about acknowledging that it did happen, it is reality.


One thing in the moment  This is the second ‘How’ skill of Mindfulness (which we talk about in the Mindfulness ‘How’ skills section); this skill can be very helpful in getting you through a crisis. To use this skill, you do just one thing in the moment, you focus on one thing and you give it all of your attention, you concentrate on what you are doing now with all of your awareness.This is a really helpful skill to learn and practice, because the pain you need to get through is just the pain you are experiencing in the moment (not your memories of past pain or your worries about future pain); if we allow ourselves to experience pain other than the pain of the moment, we will increase our suffering and make it more difficult to get through the here and now.


Vacation  This a about allowing yourself a short break.  Sometimes we take breaks from the moment in a way that is not helpful, the key to getting this right is making the break purposeful, planning it and making it short (- so that it doesn’t get in the way of doing other things and cause you more stress).Try to think about times when you’ve given yourself a break from a difficult situation in the past, but what you did and how you went about it made matters worse for you.  Then, think about the breaks that have worked well, where you’ve felt you’ve managed to switch off from the difficult things that were happening, where you enjoyed the experience that the break gave you, and it helped you feel calmer and more able to cope.Then, plan to have more of the types of breaks that you know work; but also why not give some new ones a try.  You might choose to go for a walk, visit a friend, stay over at a relatives house, go to bed early, have a day out, go to the cinema, read a book or a magazine; whatever works for you.


Encouragement  This is about giving yourself some encouragement and reassurance that you can get through a difficult moment.This is a simple idea, but it can feel strange at first if it’s not something you would usually do.  To help with this, you could come up with some useful statements that work for you, write them down and keep them somewhere safe, or put them up on your wall so that you can see them everyday!  Here are some examples:

  • It won’t last forever
  • I will make it through this
  • I can be strong
  • I’m doing the best I can

Repeat these messages to yourself

to help you get through a difficult moment.

With each of these techniques, it’s important to practice them at times when you are not stressed, so that it’s easier for you to call upon them when you need them most.


Remember, hard times pass.

These skills will help you to get through the moment.


Distress tolerance

Related Pages – Crises Survival: Distract, Self-soothe, Pros & Cons

Related Pages – Acceptance Skills:  Acceptance, Acceptance Exercises

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