November Skill - 3 States of Mind

"We are what we do with our attention." -- John Ciardi

3 States of Mind

In DBT we use a concept called the 3 States of Mind to help us be more observant and to choose what is the best response set to use in response to whatever we may be dealing with in the moment. This column today will focus on defining the 3 States so you can practice being in each state and choose how you wish to respond moving forward. It is important to note that all three are necessary for us to be as effective as possible and no one state needs to be eliminated. Each has their strengths and as will become obvious the more time we spend in Wise Mind, the better off we will be.

Emotion Mind

In Emotion Mind, emotions rule. Emotion Mind helps us be in relationships and connect, motivates us to stick with hard tasks and is the source of our passion for causes and beliefs. It is in control at the expense of reason. Emotion mind is problematic because it can feel chaotic and disorganized. And since reason and logic are not in play, a person could make rash decisions that are destructive to them and others around them. An example of when it is good to be in Emotion Mind is as follows: imagine a car on fire in the parking lot. There is an infant trapped in the car. Our Emotion Mind would have most of us doing whatever we could regardless of the cost to us to rescue that infant. We do not stop to think about the consequences to ourselves, for example dying, getting severe burns, etc. We are motivated by Emotion Mind to do whatever necessary to get the helpless infant out of danger.

Reasonable Mind

Reasonable Mind is the state in which logic, facts, and reason are in charge; feelings are not important and are irrelevant. Reasonable Mind is important for tasks like building things, following instructions, science, problem solving, or in school or taking classes. The completion of tasks based on observable facts and events is the goal in this State of Mind. If I am driving on a bridge, I want to know that the builders of the bridge were in their Reasonable Mind, that they followed a logical process, using math and science and engineering principles. I do not want to be driving on a bridge built by someone in their
Emotional Mind and whose behavior and choices may be variable from moment to moment based on how they feel. The downside of Reasonable Mind is that it can feel cold, lifeless, and brutal. Think here of an assassin. Their task is to kill the target. They are not interested in how the target feels, what the impact of their death might be on others, or how that person’s family may feel. They have no feelings about it at all. It is a job.

Wise Mind

Wise Mind is the integration of the other two states of mind. It is seeing the value of each of the other states. Wise Mind is the Middle Path between Reasonable and Emotion Minds. It is the wisdom within every person and yes, every person has a Wise Mind! It may be that you are not used to hearing its voice because it is drowned out by emotion or reason. Wise Mind is the source of your values and truth. Sometimes Wise Mind can seem like Emotion Mind – you can feel strongly about something – but the difference is that Wise Mind is nonviolent and nonjudgmental. Wise Mind is often in play when you have a “gut feeling” or intuition that you can’t explain or reason out. Mindfulness practice is often what helps you get in touch with your Wise Mind, going within to bring out the best of Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind to obtain the best outcome for whatever you may be facing in this moment.

How can you practice and incorporate the 3 States of Mind?

A useful practice to begin to understand how these states of mind work is to look at movies, tv shows, or fictional books and identify which characters represent each State of Mind. No character is always in a State of Mind, but they tend to one or another. For example, in the Harry Potter series, Hermione is
often in Reasonable Mind, Ron in Emotion Mind, and Harry in Wise Mind. Play with these concepts and notice what State of Mind you are in and ask yourself, is this the best State of Mind for this issue?

December Skill of the Month --

December will focus on learning about the Observe skill.