May 31 – Protecting Joyful Experiences

Creating pleasurable experiences is part of regulating your emotions. It’s a DBT skill that can be overlooked. Being mindful of opportunities for joy is part of feeling joy. You may be passing up times that could add joy and meaning to your life. These experiences don’t need to be really huge, like a fabulous vacation–joy can come from small, everyday pleasures. Here are some things to consider.

What opportunities for joy do you have in your life? One opportunity to feel joy is in hearing something nice from someone else. How are you at really hearing and accepting compliments? I can hear some of you saying, “but I don’t deserve compliments”. Now that’s a joy-buster!  When you are given the gift of a compliment, do you listen and take in what the person is saying? Or do you automatically push it away in some way?  That’s a way of losing an opportunity for joy.

Maybe you have the opportunity for pleasurable sensations, do you experience them fully?  Like the taste of ice cream on your tongue–do you savor it and focus on the pleasure of the taste?  If you feel a cool breeze on a hot day, do you savor that?  What about a hug from someone you care about?

When you are depressed or sad or very busy, you can overlook everyday joys. There are many events and experiences that give a sense of joy and contentment, even in difficult times. Icy cold drinks on a hot day, driving a clean car, interesting conversations with good friends, beautiful views, quiet, doing something new, learning, sharing information, and accomplishing difficult tasks are joyful experiences for me. I love flowers and sunsets and snuggling my dogs. I thrive in a clean house. 

Sometimes, though, joy stealers creep in and take away the joy of these everyday experiences. The joy stealers that affect me may be different than the ones that take away your smiles and contentment. For me, critical and grumpy people can turn a day going to the zoo and out to dinner from fun to “how soon can I get out of here?”  If this happens on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to problem-solve the issue, perhaps a DEAR MAN?

Other joy squelchers include worrying about troubles so that you don’t notice what is right before your eyes in the moment, comparing your experiences to those that you imagine have it better than you, and being overly self-conscious so that you are in your head and not enjoying the moment. For example, if you are basking in a friend’s swimming pool you could lose the pleasure by focusing on how lucky she is to have a pool (in an envious way). You could also think constantly about how fit and toned your friend is while you have not lifted weights in years. You could also be preoccupied about what to say and how to be “fun” that you come across awkward. The experience becomes about your anxiety rather than just being in this pleasant moment by the pool with friends.

Keep bringing your mind back to the present moment and savoring the joy. Being mindful in terms of throwing yourself in and participating fully is important. You notice the thoughts in your head, label them and then throw yourself into being in the moment. You may have difficulties to address after the pleasurable time, but allowing yourself to take what pleasure you can in the moment will help you regulate your emotions in the long run, and will help you be more resilient. Savor your joys and be mindful of them each day. That mindfulness of joy will help you keep your balance in the difficult times.

Live a skill-full life. By, Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 31, 2020

May 30 – Balancing Priorities and Demands

Finding balance between priorities (what’s important to you) and demands (what’s important to others) is a skill addressed in DBT. Do you have too many priorities or not enough? Too many demands or not enough? 

There may be many reasons for being too busy. Maybe you are focused on the demands of others and your busyness is about what others want form you. In this case you are probably out of balance in terms of doing too little for yourself. You say “yes” when you want to say “no,” and maybe you over-commit to the point that you are exhausted. Some people avoid relationships because they are unsure how to manage the demands. 

 Maybe you are out of balance because of focusing too much on priorities, what you want to do. You may have too little time left for what others need from you and your relationships suffer. 

Consider your daily routine. Are you overscheduled? If you have too much to do by your own choice, then you may be oriented more towards productivity (checking things off a “to do” list) and less oriented towards people. You may value focusing on your own goals more than you enjoy just being with people. You could be the type of person who needs a sense of accomplishment. If you are comfortable with your productivity focus and not being as close as you might be to family and friends (due to time restrictions), then no problem, right?  

On the other hand, if you value relationships then you might want to schedule time with friends and family and make changes in the way you spend your time. Don’t let yourself cancel when tasks are taking longer than you planned. Don’t take on new projects that will interfere with relationship time. You’ll gradually learn to tolerate the discomfort of not always working on a goal. 

If you are over-scheduled due to saying yes to demands of others, then you may need to practice saying “No.” Being over-scheduled in this way can lead to resentment, to the point that you don’t enjoy spending time with others. 

Maybe you have the opposite situation. Maybe you are under-scheduled. Maybe you don’t have enough to do in your day so you spend too much time thinking about problems or worrying. Maybe you’re waiting until you figure out how to be different than you are before doing activities and getting involved. Perhaps you’re bored.  Being busier will help. Think about ways to add activities to your schedule, keeping in mind your own priorities and the demands of others. Don’t wait to live your life!

Priorities are what’s important to you. Maybe that’s fitness, family time, free time, or time with friends. Maybe you’d like to try sketching, or have more time to read. Perhaps you want to devote more time to your career. Demands are the needs of others. Others in your life may want you to be home more, help them with chores, or clean more. Maybe they want you to make more money.  What do you do?

Only you can know the balance that is right for you. If you notice yourself resenting what you are doing for others, consider using DEAR MAN to express your needs.

Live a Skill-Full Life. By, Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 30, 2020

May 29 – Building Mastery

In DBT, “Build Mastery” means to do things that are a bit difficult in order to build your sense of competence and achievement. When you were younger, you had a natural sense of mastery. You pushed to learn to walk, talk, run, and do things older children could do. You accepted that it wasn’t easy to learn and, when you fell down, you got back up.  I don’t know anyone who stopped learning to walk because they kept falling down!

When you are younger, school is a place of mastery. You learn how to read, write and do math. You may learn a foreign language. You don’t have a choice about going to school when you are younger, so you can’t quit.  And you are really motivated to do learn certain things, such as getting your driver’s license or play the guitar.

What Blocks You? When you are older, you may find that you want to accomplish different goals/tasks, but when the work becomes tedious or challenging you want to quit. You may give up when your mood is down or when you can’t do the task as well as others do it. You have an urge to stop when you are frustrated that you can’t learn quickly. How many tasks, hobbies or goals have you given up on because of your feelings, such as frustration?

Emotion Mind

Mood dependent behavior is acting on emotion mind, not wise mind. When you give up or stop because of your feelings about the task/goal, that is likely to be in emotion mind. Your mood/urge says to stop, so you don’t persevere even though the goal is important to you. Your emotion mind is making the decision.

Building mastery is about not stopping. Instead you keep doing what is a little bit challenging even though it is uncomfortable at times. The sense of “I can do it!,” the self-confidence, improves your mood and your view of yourself.

The first step is being aware of your pattern. Then you can Cope Ahead for the problems that you typically face when trying to do something that is difficult. Think about the task you have chosen to practice in “Build Mastery” and complete the following questions.

  1.  What emotions do you experience when you are working on the goal you have chosen?
  2. In the past when you have stopped doing things, was it primarily because of thoughts that you had, emotions that you experienced, or a lack of skill (such as structuring time)? If you have urges to quit now or not practice “build mastery”, is it mainly about thoughts you have or the way you feel when you try to do something that is difficult?
  3. What skill(s) can you use to Cope Ahead so that you can stick with a hobby or task that you really want to do and build your sense of mastery?

Cope Ahead Plan

Problem thoughts I have when doing something difficult:

Emotions that Interfere when doing something difficult:

Cope Ahead Plan: (How will you cope with these thoughts and emotions so you can get to your goal and not stop.)

Live a skill-full life. By, Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 29, 2020


May 28 – Recognizing Emotion Mind

Part of becoming mindful is the ability to know when you are in emotion mind, reasonable mind and wise mind. Emotion mind is particularly difficult. When you’re in emotion mind, it’s easy to snap at others, “I am not upset,” or “I am not wound up or over-reacting.”  You see, when you’re in emotion mind, you’re closed to feedback from others and any problem-solving ideas.

Cedar Koons in her book on The Mindfulness Solution for Intense Emotions lists these steps for recognizing emotion mind:

1.  Notice your body sensations. When you’re in emotion mind, you’ll feel intense body sensations, such as tight muscles, tense face, a churning in your gut, or a pounding in your chest.

2. Notice action urges. If you’re in emotion mind, you’ll have strong urges to do something RIGHT NOW or as soon as you can, such as tell someone exactly what you think, isolate, hide, or runaway.

3.  Pay attention to your thoughts. Emotion mind narrows your attention so that you can only focus on what is relevant to that emotion. Your thoughts will only be about the emotion or the event that led to the emotion.

4. Pay attention to your body and facial expressions. Are you scowling? Are you hiding your face? Are your arms crossed in front of you?

Here is Koons’ checklist for identifying emotion mind:

___I am very focused on the emotion I feel.
___I can’t take my mind off what I want to do
___The outcome I am seeking feels very urgent
___My body is full of strong sensations (either pleasant or unpleasant)
___It is hard to consider alternative behavior
___I notice I am pushing aside my misgivings about acting on my emotion
___Some facts seem more relevant than others
___I am thinking of immediate rewards only
___My body temperature is up

If you checked one to three statements–go slow, emotion mind is engaged.  Four to six, build in a pause before taking any action. Seven to ten, use STOP skill (stop/freeze, take a step back, observe, paced breathing)–emotion mind is fully in charge.

Everyone gets in emotion mind at times. Most everyone in emotion mind, says that they are not. This guide can be helpful. And remember, the goal is not to eliminate emotion mind because emotion mind makes needed contributions to our lives.

Live a skill-full life. By, Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 28, 2020

May 27 – Stop Judging Yourself

Good morning!

I woke up with lots of energy today, so I decided to make bagels. Right now, they are cooling, so I’ll let you know later how they turned out. You may remember that I’m working on learning to cook, so this is another step. It’s all part of trying to live a healthier life–getting rid of preservatives in my food!

But you aren’t reading this to talk about preservatives. We’re working on a healthier you, we’re working on active whole-body health, including physical health, social health, and emotional health.

Recently we started looking at ways you might be keeping yourself stuck in habits that make you miserable, and one of those is harshly judging yourself. Judging yourself is different from taking responsibility or being honest with yourself about strengths and weaknesses. Judging yourself is about saying harsh things to yourself.

The title to today’s post is a bit misleading. It’s really unlikely that you can just go from judging yourself to not judging yourself. Instead, start with being aware of judging. Maybe you judge yourself in one particular area, like your appearance or how you talk with people.

!. Practice noticing when you judge yourself.
2. Think of ways you can replace the harsh judgments with a neutral statement
3. Every time the harsh statement comes up, replace it with the more neutral statement.
4. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

So the bagels are okay, but not great. A harsh self-judgment might be, “I’ll never learn to cook,” or, “I hate myself; I mess everything up.” What could you replace the harsh self-judgments with? Maybe, “What did I learn?” You might say, “Learning anything new takes practice.” You could even laugh about it, “Well, opening a bagel shop is not in my future anyway.”

How do you judge yourself brutally or unkindly? How can you replace those judgments?

Live a skill-full life. By Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 27, 2020

May 26 – Mindfulness How Skill: Nonjudgmentally

One of the main ways that we increase our suffering and create stress is through judging. Our brains tend to naturally judge, judge, judge. You know, “She’s a witch,” “He’s an idiot,” “This job is ridiculous,” and “This place is horrible.”  Think of the emotions those statements bring up or make stronger. Saying, “He’s an idiot,” is not likely to help you calm yourself.

Judgments are often shorthand ways of saying things. “He’s an idiot,” doesn’t really tell you much. Do you mean that he makes decisions that don’t make any sense to you? Do you mean that he hurt your feelings?  Do you mean he made a decision that made your life more difficult?  When you are more clear about what you mean, you not only don’t fire yourself up more, but you also give yourself more information about what alternatives you have to cope or deal with the situation.  For example, if he made a decision that made your life more difficult, what can you do? You could talk with him or problem-solve. Maybe you would have to use radical acceptance because you can’t solve the problem. But you would not be stuck in being upset and miserable.

Observe yourself. How often do you respond to situations that you don’t like by judging the people involved?  How does that help or hurt your ability to manage your emotions?

Live a skill-full life. By Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 26, 2020