Mindfulness What Skills

Taking Hold of Your Mind

With Mindfulness “What” Skills

“What” skills are what you do when practicing mindfulness—observe, describe, or participate. Do only one of these activities at a time. To observe is to pay attention on purpose to the present moment. To describe is to put into words what you have observed. To participate is to enter into an activity fully and wholly, becoming one with whatever you are doing. This type of participation has been referred to as “being in the zone” and “being in a flow state.”


  • Notice your body sensations (coming through your eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue).
  • Pay attention on purpose, to the present moment.
  • Control your attention, but not what you see. Push away nothing. Cling to nothing.
  • Practice wordless watching: Watch thoughts come into your mind and let them slip right by like clouds in the sky. Notice each feeling, rising and falling, like waves in the ocean.
  • Observe both inside and outside yourself.


  • Put words on the experience. When a feeling or thought arises, or you do something, acknowledge it. For example, say in your mind, “Sadness has just enveloped me,” or “Stomach muscles tightening,“ or “A thought ‘I can’t do this’ has come into my mind.”
  • Label what you observe. Put a name on your feelings. Label a thought as just a thought, a feeling as just a feeling, an action as just an action.
  • Unglue your interpretations and opinions from the facts. Describe the “who, what, when, and where” that you observe. Just the facts.
  • Remember, If you can’t observe it through your senses, you can’t describe it.


  • Throw yourself completely into activities of the current moment. Do not separate yourself from what is going on in the moment (dancing, cleaning, talking to a friend, feeling happy or feeling sad).
  • Become one with whatever you are doing, completely forgetting yourself. Throw your attention to the moment.
  • Act intuitively from Wise Mind. Do just what is needed in each situation—a skillful dancer on the dance floor, one with the music and your partner, neither willful nor sitting on your hands.
  • Go with the flow. Respond with spontaneity.

The next 3 lessons provide ideas for how to practice each of the mindfulness “what” skills. If you are just learning these skills, your therapist might assign a specific exercise or two after you first practice each skill in a session.