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


“Wise Mind” is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) term first introduced by the founder of DBT, psychologist Marsha M. Linehan. Wise mind lies between the emotional mind (decision making and judging based entirely on our emotions, or the way we feel) and the reasonable mind (thoughts, decisions and judgments based entirely on facts and rational thinking).

In wise mind, individuals are aware of their emotions, but they also consider facts, logic, and their long-term goals. Wise mind is considered to be optimal functioning and can be practiced and cultivated through mindfulness practice.

Consider this example: Anna is a very successful college student, always in the top 5% of her class. Last week, one of her colleagues whom she respects a lot, told her that despite her great grades, she probably doesn't do in-depth learning. He doubted the quality of her knowledge. She got very emotional, and started believing what he said. She started putting in less effort and her grades started declining. She made a decision based on her emotional mind. But what if she asked her wise mind for guidance instead?

DBT Mindfulness: Wise Mind helps you make balanced decisions
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Wise mind helps you make decisions by balancing your emotional and reasonable mind. This exercise lasts 10 minutes in total. Try to do this exercise (using your wise mind) three times a week. The more you practice it, the more skilled you will become.

Wise mind is an exceptionally useful skill. You can use this skill for guidance for problems, doubts, or confusions that have lingered on in your life for a while (or that are new). People often get stuck at one end of the spectrum from being either too emotional - or too factual. So, let's see what we can do about that.

Step One: Find a Comfortable Space

This is a skill that requires practice and a comfortable environment where you wouldn't be interrupted. Remind yourself that you are on the path of learning a skill that has the potential to really help you with your emotional decision making or too factual decision making.

Step Two: Thinking About a Problem in Your Life

Before we can proceed with asking our wise mind for help, we first need to settle into our breathing. Put your arm on your belly, and let's do a little abdominal breathing (covered in our previous exercise Mindful breathing). As you breathe, become aware of how your belly goes up and down as you inhale and exhale air. Breathe several times, and relax your body.

Now, try to think about a problem in your life that has been bothering you lately. Give yourself a couple of minutes and think about that. What do you feel has been an issue for you lately? Maybe you feel like you are not happy with your job and don't know what career path you really want to take, and that has been making you feel uneasy. Perhaps you started thinking about how bored you feel in your free time and how monotonous your past several months have been.

Tune in and gently observe what the main thing or issue that you started thinking about is.

Step Three: Using Your Wise Mind

After you have observed the problem that your mind started thinking about, practice wise mind decision making. Set your timer for 5 minutes and go through the steps below.

a.) Gather Information: Start gathering relevant information about the situation. Seek out facts, data, and opinions from reliable sources. Consider the logical aspects, pros and cons, and potential consequences of different options.

b.) Identify Your Emotions: Take some time to identify and acknowledge your emotions regarding the decision. Notice any strong feelings, fears, or gut instincts that arise. Name and validate your emotions without judgment.

c.) Reflect On Values And Goals: Consider your values, priorities, and long-term goals. Reflect on how the different options in this situation align with these aspects of your life.

d.) Mindful Awareness: Engage in mindfulness practices to cultivate present-moment awareness, as we have practiced before. Stay open and curious, allowing yourself to fully experience and understand your internal state.

e.) Integrate Rational And Emotional Factors: Reflect on the information you’ve gathered and your emotional awareness. Integrate both factors into your decision-making process. Ask yourself: What does logic suggest? What are my emotions telling me? How do these aspects align or conflict with each other?

f.) Take Time for Reflection: Avoid rushing into decisions. If this particular situation is more difficult to solve, consider stepping away from the situation for a bit, allowing yourself to fully process the information and insights. By doing this, you can return to the situation with a fresh perspective.

g.) Embrace Flexibility: Remember that decision-making is an ongoing process. Don’t forget to be open to adjusting your course if new information emerges or if you realize that your first choice actually doesn’t align with your desired outcomes.

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Use the worksheet provided below and write down how this experience went for you. Writing it down helps deepen the experience and anchor it in your brain.

DBT Mindfulness: Wise Mind Worksheet

Example: Today, I'm thinking about whether or not I should further my education and pursue grad school. After I've settled into my breathing, and after I've become aware that this problem has been on my mind for months now, I start asking my wise mind what to do about it. After being mindful of the problem and trying to listen to my wise mind for an answer, what I got as a solution is that next year doesn't feel like the right time for me. I want to take care of my physical health, replenish my energy from a lot of work and make some healthier lifestyle changes. I observe that this is the answer that I got and I am not judging that this is what came to me.

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How do I know that the answer I got using my wise mind is not really coming from the emotion mind or the reasonable mind?

To make sure that what you came up with as a solution or answer to your problem really comes from your wise mind, you can check whether you were aware of both your emotions and the facts about the situation.

Were you mindful about the objective facts of the situation or the problem? If you were still clouded by emotions and you didn't really take into account the facts of the situation then your solution probably is not based on your wise mind. When we are too emotional, it's often useful to cool down first and make the decision later.

Were you being too objective and blocking out your emotions completely? Were you unaware of your feelings about the situation - were you aware of how your body was reacting when you thought about the situation - or were you just pushing it all below the surface? It can be useful to take a few moments to reflect not just on the facts but on how it all makes you feel.

Carefully progressing through the outlined steps above will help you with this.

I understand the instructions when I read them, but the exercise is a little too abstract for me. I don't know if I'll be able to do it.

Although this exercise is more advanced than the previous mindfulness exercises we have done, as with every other skill, it can be learned with practice. Since we already practiced being mindful of our emotions and being mindful of our thoughts, using the wise mind is a step further, combining those two forms of mindfulness. Try to do the exercise, maybe you will find that it is easier for you than you thought. If no answer comes the first time, try again next time (maybe you will need time to get used to practicing this skill). Another option, if you feel like you are not sufficiently prepared for using your wise mind, is to go back to the other mindfulness exercises that we did before. Practice them for a while and then come back to this one.

I am aware of the problem that I have but my wise mind can't seem to come up with a solution.

As we mentioned earlier, this skill requires practice before we can become comfortable with it and have it at our disposal. For some people it may come more naturally, and for others it may take a little more practice. The next time you try it, you probably will be more comfortable with the exercise. Maybe the solution will come then. Another possible reason for why you can't seem to receive the answer is that maybe you haven't accepted the problem yet. Maybe you feel like it's not that big of a deal to be bothered about. Or you might feel skeptical about the concept of the wise mind. Just be aware of these thoughts and emotions, accept them and try the exercise again a little later.

Stepping away from the situation temporarily will help allow your mind time to process the information and insights you’ve gathered. If you’ve stepped away from the problem and are still struggling, perhaps consulting with an outside source, whom you trust, can be helpful. Consider their perspectives and insights, but remember that the decision is ultimately yours to make.

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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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Comments About Wise Mind

  1. My spouse and I have spent the last two weeks going through the DBT modules and have been practicing the skills. We absolutely love this website. Thank you very much.

  2. I have been utilizing your site and downloading all the worksheets, but I don’t have a printer. Is there another way to access the worksheets – like an app? Thanks in advance.

    ADMIN – Hi Mike,

    At the moment we only have the worksheets available as a PDF download.

  3. Mike – If you have Foxit PDF reader (free download) you can add text to it. And honestly, Paint might even be worth checking out. You can add text to pictures. The only thing is, once you click off the text box, you can’t edit it again I don’t think. Libraries an print as well.

  4. Going through all of the DBT Dialectical Behavior worksheets really has helped me rethink the way I was approaching my life thank you I started doing your worksheets a month ago my therapist says they helped us make a faster progress in our sessions. Thank you again

  5. I love the wise mind work. Im such an emotional thinker, I find this exercise is helping to remind myself to switch over to a different mindset and try and work through worries with less emotion and more reasoning.

  6. I suffer with post traumatic stress and wondering if this works for ptsd. I suffer huge anxiety. My psychiatrist suggested I look up this site.

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