Wise mind is a DBT term first introduced by the founder of dialectical behavior therapy Marsha M. Linehan. It 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).
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?
Wise mind helps you make decisions by balancing your emotional and reasonable mind. The exercise lasts 10 minutes in total. Try to do this exercise (using your wise mind) three times a week.
Wise mind is an exceptionally useful skill. You can use this skill to ask your wise mind 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.
Two: Thinking About a Problem in Your Life
Before we can proceed with asking our wise mind for help, first we 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, now ask your wise mind for guidance. Pick one of the two methods. Set your timer for 5 minutes.
Method 1: Ask your wise mind a question about how to solve or approach your problem. Listen for the answer. Don't try to answer it yourself as you usually do. Instead try to tap into your intuition and look for your gut-feeling. Listen for the answer. If an answer came to you then just notice it and try not to perceive it in a judgmental way. Just be aware of the answer that your wise mind provided you. If no answer occurred to you, that's okay. When you do the exercise next time, you will be more familiar with it and maybe you will get an answer then.
Method 2: Listen to your wise mind. Sometimes we don't need to ask an explicit question about the problem that we have. Maybe we don't exactly know what to ask, or we are too aware of the issues that we don't need the question. In this case, just think about the problem and tune in with your intuition. Listen to your wise mind. Did any answer or solution in any form came to you? Keep doing this until the time runs out. Whatever thought, solution or answer you receive, just accept it non-judgmentally, and observe what it is.
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.
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.
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.
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 did, 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 type of an upgrade to those 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.