We all like to feel accomplished. We like to feel that we are good at something. Knowing that we are skilled in certain areas helps us feel grounded and regulated. It can also increase our feelings of happiness.
Building Mastery is an emotion regulation skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), that helps us build awareness of, and practice, things we do well. Emotion regulation skills support us in both becoming aware of our emotions, and mindfully responding to our emotions. Thus, when we build mastery in something, we are able to respond to emotions in a supportive and mindful manner.
There are two ways we can build mastery:
1.Recognize the things you are already doing well.
2.Learn something new and watch yourself grow.
The first way to is recognize those things we are already doing well. Maybe you are really good at leading team meetings at work. Or, you cook an amazing chicken stir fry. Some of us are skilled knitters and painters. Others of us have excellent driving records. Identify all of the things that you are already doing well, and notice how you feel when you do those things.
The second way we can practice building mastery is by learning new things and witnessing ourselves gaining competence in new skills as we practice them. Think about when you first learned to drive as a teenager. At first, it was a new skill, and you had no idea how to drive. You might have felt frustrated, angry, and you might have even dreaded getting into the driver’s seat! Now, think about how you felt when you passed your drivers’ test and got your license. You probably felt a big sense of accomplishment! When we learn new things, and when we watch ourselves grow, we feel excited and proud.
What are some ways you build mastery?
In the Netflix show, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the title character, Kimmy, has to turn a crank. It’s an endless and meaningless activity that she is forced to do. To get through the activity, she counts to 10. And when she gets to 10, she starts again. Kimmy states that she can do anything for 10 seconds.
There’s research that supports this! Researchers estimate that our feelings only last approximately 90 seconds. It’s a bit longer than 10 seconds, but 90 seconds is astonishingly short.
Practicing Riding the Wave
Riding the Wave of Emotion is a distress tolerance skill. Imagine your feeling as if it were a wave. It starts small, barely noticeable. It grows, until it reaches its peak. The peak of that wave lasts approximately 90 seconds. And then, our feeling naturally starts to decrease in intensity, until it subsides completely. While the entire wave of emotion might last longer than 90 seconds, the emotion at its most intense point will be short lived. In order to practice this skill, you simply have to be mindful of how you are feeling, and where you are on that emotional wave.
This skill allows you to track your emotion as it hits the peak and declines. This skill is helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed by emotion, but aren’t necessarily sure how to respond to it. By simply being present to the wave, you are responding to your emotion! This is also a helpful skill for navigating urges. Our urges, just like our emotions, will subside. Urges can include self-harm, overeating, using substances when you don't want to, or any other habits you are hoping to break.
This skill is also helpful because there are times when we want to remain upset, anxious, angry, or whatever big feeling we are experiencing. And yet, as with all things in our lives, our emotions have a natural start and end point. They come and go. And when it is time for them to subside, this skill can help us do that. If you start to feel yourself trying to climb back up to the peak of the emotional wave, remind yourself that emotions are meant to crash on the shores, just like waves.