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Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on January 31, 2024

Introduction

Our thinking mind is often a powerful source of distraction in our everyday lives (Fronsdal, 2008). It produces a lot of thoughts, some of them neutral, some useful or positive, and if you are a worrier - a lot of them can be automatically negative. Like a train, our thoughts follow one after another, travelling in directions that we are not always aware of. The result of those invisible or unconscious worrying thoughts? Feelings of anxiety, depression, overwhelming emotions, and disconnection from yourself and others.

So, what is the purpose of this exercise? Mental noting can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions (Fronsdal, 2008). By doing this, you can reduce the likelihood of getting caught up in or carried away by these thoughts or emotions (Fronsdal, 2008).

DBT Mindfulness: Mental Noting makes you more aware of your thoughts and helps you retake control

This exercise is divided into two levels:
Level 1:

  • Ideal for beginners. Purpose: Noting your thoughts.

Level 2:

  • Intermediate. Purpose: Noting all experiences, such as: your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, events that were distracting, important or upsetting to you, etc.
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Mental Noting Thoughts

Level 1: Noting Your Thoughts

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes
  • Use the Level 1 section on the worksheet below
  • Structure your observations as: "I am thinking about X"

Mental noting does not mean trying to control your thoughts, you are simply describing them, you are an observer of them. Try to be attentive and remember that you are practicing using your mindfulness muscle.

Find a comfortable place where you won't be disturbed. Try to be in tune with the content of your thoughts. As you become aware of what you are thinking about, start writing your thoughts down on the worksheet. Keep it short - don't analyze your thoughts, simply notice what you are thinking and write it down. Then, shift your focus to your next thought. Little by little, you will practice being mindful throughout those 5 minutes.

Examples:
I am thinking about how my work day went.
I am thinking about my dog.
I am thinking about the movie that I saw yesterday.
I am thinking about the plot of the book that I'm reading.

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Mental Noting Experiences

Level 2: Noting Your Experiences

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes
  • Use the Level 2 section on the worksheet below
  • There are several useful ways in which you can structure your observations: 1. I am thinking about X. 2. I feel the emotion Y. 3. When I think about X, the emotion Y occurs in me. 4. When the event X happens, I feel Y and my thoughts are Z.

In this level, you will note your thoughts, emotions, observations, and physical sensations. Basically, you will note any experience that may arise in you.

Don't analyze or judge your experiences. You are simply describing them as an objective observer.

For instance, instead of saying: I can't believe how depressed I feel! Another day where I won't be able to do anything useful.
try: I can notice sadness and depressed mood inside me. I also feel unmotivated and tired to do anything.

Instead of saying: I don't know how I'm going to make ends meet this month. I don't how I'll manage, everything is just going to be worse.
try: I am thinking about not having enough money. I feel hopeless, and I keep thinking negative things about the future.

Notice that by describing your experiences (emotions, thoughts, events), instead of analyzing or labeling them, you can remove a layer of unnecessary suffering. Maybe you do have an objective problem, a negative feeling or thought, or an inconvenient event. If you are being overly reactive to it, however, this can make the entire situation more difficult for yourself. This is how mental noting can bring clarity and calmness to situations (Fronsdal, 2008).

There are several useful forms that you can use when mentally noting your experiences:

  1. I feel the emotion X.
  2. I am thinking about Y.
  3. When I think about X, the emotion Y occurs in me.
  4. When the event X happens, I feel Y and my thoughts are Z.

Some other useful examples that can show you how exactly you should note your experiences are:

Additional Examples:
I feel nervous when I think about finding a parking space tomorrow.
When I'm having an argument with my boyfriend (event), I feel extremely angry.
I am thinking about how hard it is for me to meet new people, and that makes me feel sad.
I feel irritable, and that makes me feel like arguing with my family.
After my retirement (event), I feel very lonely.

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Worksheets

Print out this worksheet and use it to capture your thoughts. This will help you get the full impact from the exercise.

DBT Mindfulness: Mental Noting Worksheet

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FAQs

It's my first time trying to mentally note my thoughts and I find it difficult. How can I make this exercise easier for me?

As with all new DBT techniques, mental noting may require a bit of practice before you can start feeling comfortable with it! Try to keep a light attitude toward this exercise and gently bring your awareness to your thoughts. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Write it down. Keep doing this with each new thought. The more you do it, the easier it will become!

If I have an objective problem, like not having enough money or being depressed, how will mental noting solve that problem?

Mental noting is about observing our outlook on the events inside and outside of ourselves. Objective problems, negative feelings and thoughts, and unfortunate events are part of the human experience. By being too reactive to these negative experiences, however, it can become harder to see the solution to them. Mental noting helps brings clarity to situations that may not have had much or any clarity previously. Gradually, you may stop seeing said problems as negative situations, and instead as events that are currently happening and that can be changed.

I feel like I'm writing down my experiences in a monotonous way.

Try not to see this exercise as a chore. After all, you are doing it for yourself and your well-being. Remind yourself that by practicing this mindfulness exercise, you can help calm your distracting thoughts and emotions, and you will have more clarity on how to react in certain situations. Remind yourself of what the point of the exercise is. Know that when you become aware of a thought and observe it without labeling it, that thought has less of an impact on you and it won't direct your behavior as much as it used to.

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Disclaimer

If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental healthcare provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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References

  • Fronsdal, G. (2008). Mental noting. Insight Meditation Center. Retrieved May, 24(2013), 2013.
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Comments About Mental Noting

  1. Just a friendly observation of a typo in section 3 above. Heading says Mental notHing experiences instead of NOTING.

    ADMIN – Thanks! Change Made.

  2. This was a good one. I saw that my worry and sadness was about things either non existant or not that important. Thank you

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