Observing is a skill that practices mindfulness, just being in the moment and observing without judging or putting a value on something.

Describing is an experience that you dislike, like maybe washing dishes, and just noticing everything about it without focusing on your feelings. This is a way to stay in the present and to be mindful about what is going on.

The next skill in the group of "what" mindfulness skills is Describing. You take an experience such as washing the dishes and say to yourself statements about what you observe. "The water is gray. The soap feels slippery in my hands. The dish is hot." 

This describing skill also helps us to stay in the present.  At times, when I was very distressed and there was no one to talk to, I would describe aloud the things I could feel and see to keep myself in the present.

We can also use the describing skill to apply verbal labels to feelings. "I feel disappointed about missing the party. I feel happy to see my friend. I feel sad."  Being able to verbally describe events such as washing the dishes and feelings like disappointment is necessary both so that we can communicate our thoughts and feelings to others and so that we can manage our feelings.

We need to learn not to take our thoughts and emotions literally, as fact. For example, feeling afraid does not necessarily mean that something is threatening or dangerous to us. Our fear may come from some past experience, or from something that has some connection to the current situation, or from confusion about the event that triggers our fears.

  • Having a feeling or a thought about something does not mean that that thought or feeling is fact. Thinking "No one likes me" or "I am unlovable" does not mean that these statements are true. They are just thoughts, or just feelings.
  • Practice describing the events around you and putting your feelings into words will help you to figure out whether your thoughts and feelings actually fit the situation.  You may have an upcoming exam. You may feel anxious and nervous.  You may think, "I am going to fail this exam."
  • Describe those feelings.
  •   Do you have physical symptoms - sweaty hands,  butterflies in your stomach?
      Describe your thoughts/  What are you thinking about this exam?
      Are these thoughts connected with the exam?
      Are your feelings actually connected with the outcome of the exam? (Remember that you don't know the outcome yet.

    Describing those thoughts and feelings helps us to see how the thoughts and feelings are actually separate from the actual exam.  As Marsha Linehan says, "Thoughts are just thoughts, feelings are just feelings." This doesn't mean that the thoughts and feelings aren't real. They ARE real. They are just not the event or the situation itself. They do not necessarily explain or predict events in our lives.

  • Today pick one experience that you have - cooking a meal, going for a walk, walking your dog, watching a TV show.  Observe the experience, without judging or evaluating it.
  • Describe what you are doing or seeing, . What do you see, hear, touch?
    Do you feel something. Give words to your feelings. Keep them free of judgments or evaluations. Can you see that your thoughts and feelings about the experience are separate from the experience itself.
  • Keep a journal, for a day or several days, recording your experiences on paper.  See how this works.