DBT Skill: Observing / Just Noticing Our Experience

Observing is a mindfulness skill, and it takes some discipline and focused attention in order for it to work for us. It is considered one of the "Taking Hold of Your Mind" skills in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

When we practice observing, we try to be like a baby who doesn't yet have words for his or her experience. A pre-verbal baby observes the experience at hand without being able to label it or judge it.  Click here for an example of an exercise we once did in DBT class to practice this skill.

According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT, we practice observing by:

  • Just noticing our experience without getting caught up in it or reacting to it
  • Allowing our feelings, thoughts, etc. to come and go, like clouds in the sky
  • Staying with our experience -- not pushing away or clinging to anything -- just allowing things to unfold
  • Noticing what we experience through each of your senses

I practiced this skill tonight as I noticed I was becoming quite anxious.  I had some muscle tension and a slight headache, and as I began to stress about why I was in discomfort, I noticed that my heart began to race. I was starting to have a panic attack.  Instead of labeling everything that was happening, I just sat back and observed. (I've had SO many anxiety and panic attacks over the years that I have come to grips with the fact that it's best to NOT resist them but to let them run their course. It's much quicker this way and involves far less suffering.)

At the time, I did my best to just watch and let things pass. I noticed but resisted labeling or judging the experience (the next thing I did was practice describing, which allows for stating facts, such as "heart is racing fast," "anxiety is coming up for me"), but in the meantime, I just watched and waited until the anxiety subsided.

Today I will check off the following skills on my DBT Diary Card:

  • Observe
  • Describe

Have you practiced this skill in the past? Have you found it helpful? Might you give it a try?

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.


  1. I really needed to see this today! Thank you!

  2. I've found this technique very helpful, in the long term it is much better for anxiety than distraction because it teaches you not to fear a panic attack, and that it is not something you need to try and avoid. But you have to practice it ever time for months, which can be hard.

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