Develop Your Wise Mind
By Joan Swart, Psy.D.
Mindfulness as a core principle in self-improvement
Striving to develop the wise mind is a wirthy endeavor. One of the central concepts of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is mindfulness. DBT is a psychotherapy approach that was built on cognitive-behavioral traditions by adding techniques to improve the skills of mindfulness, emotion regulation, dialectical thinking, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. A person learns to accept difficult emotions while striving to develop and grow themselves at the same time. This is achieved by balancing the rational mind with the emotional mind.
The emotional mind
The emotional mind functions in line with cognitive theory. That means our thoughts and emotions are instinctive reactions based on the beliefs that are triggered by a situation or event. Beliefs are those deep-seated values that we have learned from experience since childhood and link a situation to a likely outcome. It spurs us to immediate action motivated by emotions. Although our emotions are often valid, they are sometimes unhelpful or inappropriate. That is why we need our rational mind too.
The rational mind
The rational part of our brain operates in a very different mode. It takes the time to check the facts in a situation, especially when it is distressing or challenging. Common sense is the framework of the reasonable mind. It defines reality in terms of cause and effect and utilizes a calm clarity to make decisions. Learning and regulating skills are the cornerstones to improving rationality. However, when things are really tough, our emotions tend to take over and overwhelm our reaction. And, even when we have mastered having our rational mind being in control, our decisions and actions may appear cold-hearted and unsympathetic to others. Therefore, balancing our instinctive, emotional mind and our calculating, rational mind is the best possible solution. Psychologists have called this overlap of the reasonable and emotional mind the wise mind.
The wise mind
By applying mindfulness, or an attitude of intentionally focusing on thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment with acceptance and nonjudgment, we strengthen the balance between the emotional and rational mind. Instead of only relying on emotions or logical reasoning, we allow both states to exist and accept all stimuli without force or control. We accept emotions as part of the human experience and its role in our development, but without trying to identify with or have it lead our behavior instinctively. Instead, we use a serene and thoughtful state of mind that brings emotion and reason together to manage our worries, concerns, and fears. We accept our understanding of our perceived meaning and significance of an event without letting it control or overwhelm us. Therefore, we learn to use intuition and logical analysis together to find the most sensitive and beneficial balance.
The wise mind worksheet
The following worksheet can be used to train your wise mind. Whenever a difficult situation arises, consider your emotion and the rational facts. Describe your feelings and find the evidence to determine the rational basis. Step back for a moment and contemplate the most appropriate action that you can take.
By repeating the wise mind exercise, balancing the emotional and reasonable mind becomes second nature and a person’s reactions to challenging events more helpful.
Joan is a forensic psychologist, lecturer, and author of “Treating Adolescents with Family-Based Mindfulness” published by Springer in 2015. She is a business developer at Open Forest LLC. Open Forest LLC provides online psychoeducation and self-help programs aimed at improving many conditions, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and mindfulness.