What Skill

DBT’s WHAT skill is designed to help you focus on the present, reflecting the core qualities of your attention to the moment. It encourages mindful living and participation through three significant actions: Observe, Describe, and Participate. Applying these three subskills or actions to daily living empowers you to live a more balanced life in harmony with yourself.


Observe in DBT “WHAT” is about noticing and observing everything happening in the present moment without attempting to change anything. It includes paying attention to events, emotions, and thoughts in your internal environment. Observing your inner experience helps you recognize your current situation to gain clarity and insight for positive action. During an observational state of mind, avoid prolonging positive experiences and eliminate negative ones. It is all about complete self-awareness.


A step further from observation, describing defines what you observe without subjective interpretation. Instead of describing your experience in terms of emotions, stick to logic and facts, quantifying the experience through “who, what, where, and when.” In intense emotional experiences or challenges, describing the situation helps you stay grounded in the practical experience rather than being deviated by it through an emotional response. This enables you to understand your problem with more clarity. A combined effort of observing and describing separates you from the emotional experience because you, as an individual, are not exactly your thoughts, emotions, or behavior, which are temporary. Rather than be them, you need to be a witness to them, which helps rationalize the situation for logical and positive action.


The “Participate” skill in DBT’s “WHAT” encourages individuals to fully engage in the current moment’s activity, which involves wholeheartedly immersing oneself in the activity and embracing the experience with mind, body, and spirit. In challenging moments such as distress or anxiety, participating influences one to resist the urge to withdraw. Instead, taking the situation head-on is a prompt and motivating factor, leading to a sense of connection and achievement. Mindfulness is about participating in every aspect of life without picking or choosing.