“Improving the Moment” refers to a set of strategies recommended in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to help you get through emotionally trying situations. These skills help in situations when our usual self-soothing efforts aren’t getting the job done.
The DBT IMPROVE the Moment skills are intended as a menu of options you can use to get through an emotionally difficult situation. If you try one and still need more help, try another!
Imagery: There are a few ways to use this skill. One is to imagine a completely safe place for yourself that has everything you need. Another option is to imagine yourself coping successfully with the current difficult situation. You can also imagine painful emotions flowing out of you. You can also make up an enjoyable and relaxing world of your own.
Meaning: Sometimes even painful or difficult situations can have a higher meaning for us. Even if you find yourself in what feels like an impossible or hopeless situation, look for ways you can focus on the things that are important to you. Your values don’t change just because things are difficult; try to reconnect with them. Often, they can be a guide in ways that might not be obvious at first glance.
Prayer: This can mean praying for strength to get through this difficult moment. (It doesn’t mean praying for circumstances to change, however.) For some, it can mean turning things over to a higher power. It can also mean connecting with wise mind. Some situations call for an approach that’s bigger than what we usually bring; prayer is a way of acknowledging our connection to something bigger than ourselves.
Relaxing actions: There are a lot of things you can do to bring some relaxation to the situation. You could take a warm bath or shower. Practice yoga or do some deep abdominal breathing. Go for a walk somewhere safe and soothing. You know what activities you find relaxing; if you can do them, you will get to a better place to deal with your current challenges. You’ll also be better able to resist emotionally driven behaviors that can make things worse.
One thing in the moment: Bring a mindful focus to what you’re doing. Most of the time we suffer not only because of a painful situation but because of thoughts it brings up about the past and the future. However, all we really need to do is get through this moment. Notice when your mind starts to get caught up in thoughts about the future or the past. When that happens, bring your attention back to whatever it is you’re doing. (For some help with practicing this one, see our mindfulness tips.)
Vacation: We all need a break now and then. This skill asks you to give yourself that break, as long as doing so doesn’t create further problems for you. The “vacation” should be brief — ideally no more than a few hours. This can involve your going back to bed for a while, or turning off your phone for a day. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting down our work and watching TV for a few hours. The form it takes is up to you — it’s your vacation!
Encouragement: Sometimes we need to be our own cheerleader. Often, in fact. This can be hard if you tend to be self-critical. If so, that just makes this skill all the more important to practice! Exactly what to tell yourself will depend on the situation, but some examples include, I can get through this. I’m doing my best. This is hard, but it’s temporary. You need to talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love — even if it’s not easy to do. You can do it!
DBT’s IMPROVE the Moment skills are systematic ways to cope with the difficult situations life sometimes hands us. With practice, these skills become more natural and we feel increasingly capable to handle whatever comes our way.