One Thing at a Time... (DBT: One-Mindfully)

It's actually been over two years now since I started DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) to treat my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

DBT skills have become wonderfully integrated into my daily life. I practice them so naturally now that they have truly become a part of me. Well...but not all of them.  There are some skills that haven't quite "taken."  I suppose I became frustrated when, early on, these particular skills seemed to frustrate me more than bring relief, so I left these on the back burner while I practiced others that seemed more effective for me a the time.

As I am currently experiencing a crisis that has me sitting with more questions than answers, I am turning to being in the moment ("just this moment, just this breath," reminding myself of Eckhart Tolle's quote of how all we ever can really cope with this moment), self-soothing (watching upbeat, quirky comedies on tv, nice warm showers, cuddling with my cats), using Wise Mind to differentiate facts from emotional reactions, and Pros and Cons.  

These are all, in and of themselves, highly effective DBT skills for me.  But since I am going through this stressful time, I'm wanting to increase the number of tools in my DBT toolbox.  I am returning to some of the skills I've found challenging in the past, reasoning that if the skills I currently use are very effective, there's a chance that if I work through my resistance and be willing rather than willful, there are potentially other skills that can also be helpful.

Once skill in particular that I want to work on, given that reminding myself that I only have to cope with this moment has been very comforting and effective, is "One-Mindfully."

In Dr. Marsha Linehan's book, Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, the ultimate DBT bible,  she describes being One-Mindfully as a mindfulness skill that allows us to take hold of our mind:

  • DO ONE THING AT A TIME. When you are eating, eat. When you are walking, walk.  When you are bathing, bathe.  When you are working, work.  When you are in a group or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are in with another person.  When you are thinking, think.  When you are worrying, worry.  When you are planning, plan. When you are remembering, remember. Do each thing with all of your attention.
  • If other actions, or other thoughts, or strong feelings distract you, LET GO OF DISTRACTIONS and go back to what you are doing - again, and again, and again.
  • CONCENTRATE YOUR MIND. If you are doing two things at once, stop and go back to one thing at a time" (page 113, Mindfulness Handout 3).

My DBT therapist told us that the opposite of mindfulness is multitasking.  She said that the point of practicing being one-mindful is so that we are not missing out on our own lives.  Instead, we participate totally in them. This reminds me of the John Lennon quote "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."  It's really profound when you consider it.

One of the challenges of being one-mindful, though, is not liking the present moment and allowing the past and future to get in the way.

I have to admit something.  As much as I believe that it is much more effective to do one thing at a time, I am almost constantly multitasking. It's not because I think it's a good way to get a lot of things done either.  It's just that it seems if I don't overwhelm my mind with a number of tasks at once, I don't distract myself from the possibility of feeling empty or emotional.  Because feeling empty usually frightens and concerns me, I try to "fill up" by doing multiple things at once.

If I'm at the computer checking email, I have multiple browsers open and keep switching back and forth, refreshing Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If I'm cleaning the house, I'm calling my mother or sister to chat with them while I'm doing that task.  If I have a sink full of dishes, I turn on talk radio to distract my mind with that instead of just being with my own thoughts.  I guess I'm afraid to do that sometimes.

Tonight, though, I decided to try to do something one-mindfully.   I mentioned earlier that I like to watch  upbeat shows.  I like to watch feel-good movies, too.   I selected a movie, and JUST watched it.  For a full 90 minutes, with the exception of a restroom break, I sat there and paid attention.   I didn't drift off and lose track of the plot.  I connected with the characters because I followed them closely.  I didn't have my iPad propped up, alerting me to every new tweet, Facebook message, email, text, and comment.  

I survived!!!

It actually felt good to JUST watch the movie one-mindfully.  I'm smiling now as I write this, because I was truly terrified that I might not be able to tolerate this exercise.  The fact that it was a success gives me hope that I can continue to apply this skill to further reduce my suffering, to regulate my emotional distress, and to suffer less.

If you're wanting to try to use the One-mindfully skill but aren't quite ready to do it with a 90 minute movie, there are some smaller, but very powerful ways you can practice, such as:

  • Mindfully make and drink tea. Just MAKE the tea. Notice all of the sensations and every movement involved in each moment to prepare the tea, wait for the tea, pour the tea into the mug. Steep the tea. Hold the warm mug. Feel the steam on your face. Sip the tea.  Now focus on just DRINKING the tea.  Be sure that you've already read this so you can put it aside and truly be in the moment while you practice.
  • Mindfully take a shower. I like to joke that the shower is where I solve the world's problems - or at least go through my entire day or what I anticipate my night will be like.  But try JUST SHOWERING. From the process of disrobing, to adjusting the water, to stepping in, to feeling the water on your skin. Every step of washing your hair, using the soap, and just standing under the water flow.  Notice how it feels to turn off the reach for the towel, to dry off. To get dressed again.  Allow the bathroom to be your sanctuary for this mindfulness exercise.

I plan on practicing both of these exercises this weekend. Will you give them a chance, too? What other activities can you do one-mindfully?   

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.


  1. thank you, i decided to take a month-long break from DBT 3 months ago. i used to meditate at least 20 minutes a day, but had a very dark several months and several med changes and i've been telling myself for the last couple of years that i just can't focus anymore. But, if i am truly honest with myself, i haven't even tried to be still. it is scary to listen to notice those ugly thoughts that i repeat as a mantra of guilt and negativity. However, you inspire me so much to go back to DBT. even though i have been procrastinating about going back i do know that is where i need to be.

    you always seem to have perfect timing.

  2. Katrin D. (toivoton)August 18, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    Reading about that skill scares me. If I did things like that, I would get nervous all over the place and incredibly tense, because I think that I lose time on doing/finishing other stuff. That usually makes me become really angry. Also when I was in hospital and my schedule of therapies there had different kinds of relaxing excercises, I was about to go mad in them. The quiet, the breathing, it all makes want to scream to just please go on with that stuff and come to an end so that I can go on doing stuff that I think I have to get done. (I was in hospital, what could it be I need to get done? o.O)

    So that skill you described would probably be one of the most challenging.

  3. Thank You for this...
    It seems as if your posts, always come at a time, when I need to be reminded of a skill!
    I have only been in DBT for about 4 months, and I often need reminders, to use my skills.
    I have been a housewife for 30 years, and last week I started a full time+ job in retail, opening a Department store.
    Trying to manage, working, problems with my marriage, and well just life.
    I am overwhelmed with the stress, which is causing more problems in my marriage!
    I am going to start by going to take my shower, and enjoy it!
    Then I am going to try to practice, just 1 thing mindfully all day, and let go of all the rest.
    Thank you again!

  4. I have been reading your blog for about 2 months now and I have seen you grow in your writing. I must admit in the beginning I would read and my immediate reaction to much of what you would share would be "duh". Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts and experiences with myself and the rest of the BPD community. The more we educate ourselves and take the conscious step forward to grow the easier it becomes. :-)

  5. Hi Debbie, thanks for your post. I actually like this skill. It is worth perservering with. It can also be used to seperate out problems which makes them easier to deal with, as you deal with each one separately and one mindfully, rather than being overwhelmed by a whole load of problems all together or mentally almalgamating problems that may not even be related (the 'everything has gone wrong today / this week / in my life scenario).This can be useful in staving off crisis.



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