In DBT, core mindfulness begins with the concept of states of mind. According to the theory, there are three states of mind that we are all in at varying times: wise mind, logical mind, and emotional mind. Wise mind is the ideal state of mind that we strive for from which to make our decisions. The other two states of mind combine to form wise mind. Logical mind is the state of mind that people use when doing math, reading a map, and various other concrete tasks. It is described as the “cool” state of mind that we use to deal with empirical facts. The last state of mind is emotional mind. Emotional mind is the state of mind in which we feel the depth of our emotions and act from an emotional state. In an extreme, this state of mind would be used if we reacted impulsively out of anger, without regard to consequences. This is considered the “hot” state of mind.
Wise mind is the state of mind in the middle of both logical and emotional mind. In wise mind, we are aware of our feelings, and we decide how to act in a way to honor our feelings and goals. In wise mind if we were angered, we would acknowledge our feelings and act in a way that would not create negative consequences for ourselves.
“There is a wisdom of the head, and… a wisdom of the heart.” – Charles Dickens
There is a natural human tendency to operate from a place of pure reason and pure emotion. When we are viewing the world through either lens, we miss out on the big picture. It can feel cold and lifeless to view events and relationships with nothing but logic and rational thought. Conversely, it can feel chaotic and disorganized to view our lives from the perspective of pure emotion. In order to live the most effective and balanced lives possible, it is advantageous to learn how to integrate reason with emotion. This integration is “wise mind.”
Reasonable MindDialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), presents three basic states of mind: reasonable mind, emotion mind, and wise mind. When operating from reasonable mind, we view the world rationally and pay attention to observable facts and phenomenon. You may notice that you are in reasonable mind if you feel somewhat detached from the situation and find yourself noticing the facts and planning future behavior based solely on observable knowledge.
Emotion MindWhen you are in emotion mind, you may experience an intense subjective state wherein logical thinking becomes difficult or cloudy. You may notice the facts, but find yourself distorting them or amplifying them based on your current emotional state. In emotion mind, it is difficult to remain objective and you may engage in behaviors that are solely driven by your subjective perceptions and internal emotional state.
Wise MindWise mind is the balance between reasonable mind and emotion mind… it is the “middle way.” The core sense of wise mind involves a deep sense of intuitive knowing. In this sense, intuition goes beyond reason and what is perceived by the senses (Deikman, 1982). This deep-seated intuition comes from an integration of “direct experience, immediate cognition, and the grasping of the meaning, significance, or truth of an event without relying on intellectual analysis” (Linehan, 1993, p. 214).
People experience wise mind in different ways. For some, it is that still, small voice within that knows what is best. You may not always listen to that voice, but it quietly persists in its truth and wisdom. For others, wise mind is experienced as a “gut feeling” of what is the best course of action to take. We all have the capacity to access wise mind and harness its pure and loving wisdom. When acting with wise mind, you are taking effective action and doing what is in your best interest. You may not always want to do what wise mind knows is best, but listening to wise mind is part of making the choice to lead a life of meaning and contentment.
As with any new skill, getting into a state of wise mind requires practice. The idea of learning how to act from wise mind is that with enough practice, it will become natural. DBT does not suggest that one needs to live a life of struggle and lifelong painful practicing of skills. Once you practice new skills consistently and persistently, they become second nature. Recall that there was once a time when you didn’t know how to drive a car. At this stage in your life, when you get into your car you are no longer thinking of each individual movement to make… it comes naturally. So it is with learning to act from wise mind.