Mindfulness and Shifting Mindset

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | March 16, 2020

We can often fall into the trap of living in the past or the future. We dwell upon why something happened to us whilst fearing what could happen. This can lead our brain to perceive situations as threats making it difficult to regulate our emotions.

Being mindful can help us to be grounded in the present. Slowing down to look at things can help us to shift our mind-set and increase our capacity to be grateful. So how do we become more grounded in the moment? At Hillside we use “What” skills with our kids as part of our Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.

The “What” skills of Mindfulness involve observing and describing your current situation to be more present. Typical “What” skills involve:

• Observing what is happening without speaking – we call this wordless watching.
• Noticing where you are and how you feel. Can you feel the chair you’re sitting on? Is your skin cool? What can you hear?
• Experiencing different emotions, acknowledging them, but not reacting.
• Describing what is happening factually. Labeling your thoughts as thoughts and not facts.
• Making mental notes about what’s happening physically, are your muscles tight? Is your jaw clenched?
• Acknowledging when you become distracted and returning to mental noting.

Mindfulness can help us in countless ways and by employing “What” skills we are able to take a pause to acknowledge what we’re feeling and communicate it effectively.

For example, if you’re in a meeting and someone disagrees with your viewpoint, the conversation can become heated and you might take it personally and feel hurt. 
By using “What” skills and slowing down to observe without speaking and mentally describing the facts of the situation, we can shift our mind-set. 

Taking in the room, labelling our thoughts as thoughts and not facts helps us to regulate our emotions, giving us time and space to think. Being aware of our feelings and sticking to the facts can stop the meeting going off track and avoid conflict that could jeopardise relationships at work.

The disagreement can be transformed from “Jo disagrees with me.” To “Jo doesn’t agree with how this project works.” This gives us a neutral platform for discussion and helps us to focus on how to address the differences and find a compromise.

If you’re interested in learning more about DBT skills and Mindfulness, sign up to our newsletter and receive more tips on taking care of your mental health.

Christina Fiddes consulted with us on the exercises in this post.
Christina is a Lead Therapist at Hillside and A DBT-Linehan Board of Certification Certified Therapist.


  • Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC

    Director of Clinical Education & Outreach - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!

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