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Navigating Life's Crossroads: Using DBT's Wise Mind to Make Decisions

by Laura Nalin, MA, LPC, CADC


Life is a journey filled with countless decisions, both big and small. From choosing a career path to deciding what to have for dinner, our lives are a continuous series of choices. Sometimes, making these decisions can be overwhelming, leaving us feeling uncertain or even paralyzed. This is where Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and the concept of the Wise Mind can be invaluable. Here, we can explore the principles of DBT and how to harness the power of the Wise Mind to make thoughtful and balanced decisions.



Understanding Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, primarily to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder. However, its principles and techniques have proven effective for a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues. At its core, DBT seeks to balance and integrate seemingly opposing forces, such as acceptance and change, to help individuals build a life worth living.


One of the essential concepts within DBT is the Wise Mind, which can be thought of as a state of mental and emotional equilibrium. It's the sweet spot where emotional mind and rational mind come together, allowing us to make decisions that align with our values and goals.


The Three States of Mind

Before delving deeper into the Wise Mind, it's crucial to understand the three states of mind within DBT:


  • Emotional Mind: In this state, emotions are the driving force behind decisions. It's characterized by impulsivity and can lead to choices that are emotionally charged but not well-thought-out. Think of it as "heart over mind."

  • Rational Mind: Here, logic and reason take the lead. Decisions are made based solely on facts and objective analysis, often overlooking emotional aspects. This state is "mind over heart."

  • Wise Mind: The optimal state is the Wise Mind, where emotions and logic are in harmony. It's the place where you make decisions with emotional sensitivity and practical wisdom, considering both feelings and facts.


Steps to Accessing Your Wise Mind

Now that we understand the three states of mind let's explore how to access the Wise Mind when making decisions:


  • Mindfulness: Start by cultivating mindfulness, which is the foundation of DBT. Mindfulness involves paying non-judgmental attention to the present moment. Regular mindfulness practice helps you become more aware of your emotional and rational states, making it easier to transition into the Wise Mind.

  • Pause and Breathe: When facing a decision, take a moment to pause and breathe. This simple act can help you detach from impulsive emotions and automatic thoughts, creating space for your Wise Mind to emerge.

  • Gather Information: Engage your Rational Mind by gathering all relevant information about the decision you're facing. What are the facts? What are the pros and cons?

  • Identify Emotions: Now, connect with your Emotional Mind. What are you feeling about this decision? What emotions are present? Acknowledge and accept these emotions without judgment.

  • Synthesize: In the Wise Mind, combine the information from your Rational Mind and the emotions from your Emotional Mind. Reflect on how your feelings align with your values and long-term goals.

  • Intuition and Gut Feelings: Sometimes, your Wise Mind might communicate through intuition or a "gut feeling." Don't ignore these signals; they often contain valuable insights.

  • Consider Consequences: Think about the potential consequences of your decision, both short-term and long-term. Will it bring you closer to your goals? Is it in line with your values?

  • Make a Decision: Finally, make your decision with confidence, knowing that it's grounded in a balanced understanding of your emotions and rational thoughts. Trust your Wise Mind.


In a world filled with endless choices, accessing your Wise Mind through the principles of Dialectical Behavior Therapy can be your compass, guiding you through life's decisions. Remember that mastering this skill takes practice, and you may still make mistakes along the way. But by continually working on balancing your Emotional Mind and Rational Mind, you can make decisions that truly reflect your values and lead to a more fulfilling life. So, the next time you find yourself at a crossroads, pause, breathe, and let your Wise Mind light the way.

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