“What” Skills | Mindfulness

“What” Skills are WHAT YOU DO to practice mindfulness. There are three:

1. Observe

When we observe, we are paying attention on purpose to the present. We may be observing thoughts, feelings, external events, or our behavior responses, and we are doing so in a way that is purely observational. This means that while we observe, we do so without labeling, describing, or judging those things, and we do so without trying to prolong or end them. When we observe, we are doing so without reacting.

Practice: observe the following image, but do NOT describe it. 

You may be thinking “wow this is easy, I can do this!” and that’s great and you can but PLOT TWIST: Try turning this skill inward. Observe what is happening in your own body and mind. Here are some ways to do that:

-Practice observing your breath. Count 1-2-3 in and 1-2-3 out. 

-Observe the sensations in your body starting at your toes and scanning up towards your head. Do not describe the sensations yet, jud simply observe.

*now comes the mind, which is significantly harder. Don’t get discouraged!*

-Observe your thoughts. Picture each thought on a cloud or on a conveyor belt just floating by. Don’t grab onto the thought, don’t hurry the thought along, just watch them go without attachment. Try not to judge your thoughts by labelling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or even thinking ‘I don’t want to be thinking this.’ Just let them come and go. Just watch. 

-Observe your emotions. Think of yourself as a pond. Drop in a question like a rock and observe the ripples that it makes. Ask yourself ‘What am I feeling?’ This one often goes hand in hand with describe. 

2. Describe

Describing is when we put words on experiences and label observations, but describing is not interpreting. Describing the image above, we would say: the can is blue, there is a circle on it with a white outline, the circle is filled with red, white, and blue, the can has the words “pepsi” on it, the words are typed in all lower case, etc. Interpreting the image above, we would say: the can has droplets on it because it is cold, they used the three colors cuz’ ‘Merica, they photographed it looking like this so we would want to drink it, etc. DESCRIBING IS NOT INTERPRETING. We cannot observe causes, changes, or consequences. (In this same way, we CANNOT describe others’ feelings because it is NOT possible to describe what other people observe, only what we observe.)

It it is important to distinguish thoughts and feelings from facts or truth. 


-Look at your hands. Practice describing them using neutral terms. Do not judge them. Say things like: “I can see my veins,” “my knuckles are pink,” “I have tiny hairs on my hands.”

-Continue the exercise of observing the sensations in your body, but this time describe them. Start at your toes and scan upwards. Think “I am feeling my toes now” or “these are my toes” and continue upwards. Observe if you are feeling cold, tingly, twitchy etc.

-Describe your emotions. Take the pond exercise (mentioned above in Observe) a step further. Drop in a question like “how am I feeling?” and watch the ripples. But this time try to describe those ripples. Say “I am feeling anxious” or “I feel happy.” If you need to, refer to this diagram or google a list of emotions to describe how you’re feeling. 

3. Participate

Participating doesn’t necessitate socializing, or “participating” in the social sense, though this can be a way of participating and this can be a skill to use when socializing. Participate just means being fully engaged and present in whatever you are doing. 

Marsha Linehan says, “participation without awareness is a characteristic of impulsive and mood dependent behaviors.” Therefore, participating requires paying attention and requires being in the present without being held back by self-consciousness or by the thoughts in your mind. 

-Consider doing something that you do all the time. Take the same route home, wash the dishes, etc. But this time, really pay attention to what you are doing. Pay attention to the scenery or to the items you are washing. Really concentrate your mind and body on what you are doing - enter into the experience whole-heartedly & throw yourself into what you are doing. Think about when you go on vacation and you are trying to soak in everything about the beautiful views and experiences - this is how you participate.

/ Weeks 5-7: Body Language Overview

Congratulations! You are officially done with the first month of this training program. Have you noticed improvement in your observational skills? 

Whoa, hold up, what are you even talking about? 

Well, if you don’t know what the training program is, click here for more information, and here for the overview on Weeks 1-4. I hope you’ll join us! 

If the training did not go as well as you expected, don’t get discouraged- chances are that you are more observational now than you were a month ago, and if so, you have fulfilled the main objective. 

If you followed the program religiously, I’m guessing you are ridiculously better now than you were at the beginning, and I applaud you for your dedication! You are well on your way to becoming an astute observer. 

In either case, you now have a choice: repeat the first month, and continue to work on observation, or start our next major part. To be perfectly honest, you may find it beneficial to repeat the observation portion, as it is so so so important. However, also know that some observational exercises will be incorporated as we move forward, and of course you can come back to Weeks 1-4 whenever your heart desires. 

Before we move forward, if you have any comments about how the last month went for you, or any suggestions on what we can do to improve the program, please don’t hesitate to contact us! 

Alright, so the next three weeks are going to be about 

don’t underestimate how long I’ve been waiting to use that. 

The focus on this part of the program is strictly to observe and analyze the behavior of other people. This means we will be looking at how they are acting, not what they are wearing or whose house they are in. Body language is one of the most important skills to have, as it is estimated that up to 93% of communication does not rely on the spoken word (this statistic has been in controversy in it’s creation, and if you would like to know more about where it comes from and why it is possibly misused, see the source at the bottom of this post). 

Disclaimer: Yes, I know the difference between nonverbal communication (which includes tone, voice, etc) and body language. This section will cover body language only as that is easier to observe and deduce from at a distance. 

/ 9 Rules You Must Follow 

1. Observe people!

For this to work, you will have to look at people. Do it from a distance. Do it up close. Observe, observe, observe.

2. Observe behavior in context

Is it cold outside? Is it crowded? What’s the mood of the place? All of these factors must be taken into consideration when looking at behavior. If a person is nervous in a job interview, it is understandable. If they are nervous when talking to their significant other of 20 years, it can indicate something more going on. 

3. Learn universal behavior

More on this in another post, but learning behavior that can be observed in most people is a good foundation to start. Especially when observing from a distance, or observing someone you don’t know. Much of our exercises will be focused on this aspect. 

4. Recognize and decode idiosyncratic behavior

This is essentially the opposite of universal behavior. It is behavior that is unique to a person and easier to recognize the longer you know a person. Think nervous tics. 

5. Establish a baseline

Baselines will be covered in another post, but it the normal behavior for a person. If a person is normally fidgety and jumpy, this is their baseline. If they are normally calm and collected, that is their baseline. Kapeesh? 

6. Watch for clusters

This is an important one. No single movement by itself means enough to deduce from. You must look for clusters of behavior (generally three that indicate the same emotion) to be confident in your hypothesis. The more, the better. 

7. Look for changes

Another very significant one. Changes in body language indicate changes in emotion; therefore you must look out for when someone’s body language changes, and then try to find out why. 

8. Detect false/ misleading cues

More on this later, but as you become a better and better observer, you will need to learn how to know when someone is being misleading with their body language. This will only come with practice, and needs to be handled carefully, as it is very difficult to tell when someone is lying. 

9. Distinguish comfort from discomfort

The two broadest categories are comfort and discomfort. First, learn cues that will tell you which of the two a person is feeling. From there, you can narrow down further and analyze their situation with more clarity. 

/ Reference Chart

This will be a word document I put together. I suggest you all print out, take with you and use until you until you memorize cues. It is available here

Here, you can also access amateur-deductions original posts about body language, which I suggest you read. There is only one right now, but more will be added when I get to them as the course progresses. 

/ Having Trouble?

Read through the body language posts referenced above. 

Read them again.

Read body language books.

Go out and observe people.

Observe your friends and, based on how they act afterwards, determine if you were right (or ask them). 

Ask yourself questions. 

How close are these people based on their body language?

What signals does this person exhibit?

Based on their signals, what can I tell about their state of mind?

Is this person comfortable/ uncomfortable right now?

Is there any one person who is exhibiting behavior different than everyone else in this situation?


Make up questions like these to keep yourself engaged and alert. 

/ Sources Used

There’s a lot, I’ll keep adding as I remember them. 

  • What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro (Book)
  • The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara and Allen Pease (Book)
  • Ellipsis Behavior Laboratories (Website)
  • Six Universal Expressions (Web Article) 
  • Body Language in the Workplace by Barbara and Allen Pease
  • The 7% Rule by Philip Yaffe (Web Article)

/ Above All…

Remember that Sherlock Holmes was not born with the ultimate knowledge on how to deduce. He had to learn it, through years of practice. With dedication and patience, you can too.