Week 04

Week 05

Week 06

The three states of mind


DBT presents three different ‘states of mind’ that we can operate out of. These are 1) reasonable mind, 2) emotion mind, and 3) wise mind. Each of these states of mind is associated with a different way of thinking about and approaching various situations and challenges in life. Below we discuss each state of mind and how this concept relates to both mindfulness and problems with anger.

Reasonable (‘cool’) mind
  • Logical and rational
  • Planful and practical
  • Attends to facts
  • Ignores emotion

In reasonable mind, we view things rationally and pay attention to facts, reason, pragmatics, and past experience. How we feel and what’s important to us in the situation are not factored in. You may be in reasonable mind if you’re feeling emotionless and detached from a situation, or if you find yourself getting caught up in planning and research.

Emotion (‘hot’) mind
  • Driven by emotions and urges
  • Discounts reason and logic
  • Facts are distorted to fit mood state

In emotion mind, we are overcome by intense emotion and find it difficult to think clearly and logically. You may notice the facts but find yourself discounting or distorting them based on how you feel. You may be in emotion mind if you find it hard to stay unbiased and you engage in behaviours that you later regret. Anger outbursts are linked to emotion mind.

Wise mind 
  • Balances reasonable and emotion mind
  • Involves a sense of ‘intuition’ 
  • Requires mindfulness skills 

Wise mind is where reasonable and emotion mind overlap. In wise mind, we simultaneously take into account both the facts and how we feel about the situation. Through wise mind, we can access our inner wisdom and intuition to act in ways that are both reasonable and true to ourselves. This is considered the most helpful state of mind, as it is practical and sensitive to how we feel. We use mindfulness skills as a way of balancing reasonable and emotion mind to reach wise mind.

A case example:

To demonstrate how this concept applies to problems with anger, let’s consider the following example. Bob has problems with managing his anger and often finds himself taking it out on his family. Bob finds his frustration builds throughout the day when he is at work. By the time he gets home, even the smallest annoyance can tip him over the edge and send him into a rage. 

Let’s look at Bob’s options for managing this situation and how they fit with the above states of mind. 

Reasonable mind: Bob could ignore his anger and frustration, tell himself to ‘pull it together’, and just get on with the job. When he is at home, he could suppress his feelings, stay quiet and pretend everything is ok. This way, he’ll be able to cook dinner and get the kids ready for school the next day, without any conflict. However, in this state, Bob will likely appear cold and distant to those around him.

Emotion mind: Bob could give in to his anger and become consumed by it. He could let his rumination run wild and dwell on the unfairness of things all day long. When he gets home, Bob could react to additional annoyances in extreme ways. He could shout at, criticize, and blame his family for his stress. He might think “they should know I’ve had a hard day”. This approach will likely damage Bob’s relationship with his family. 

Wise mind: Bob could remind himself of his goal to foster a healthy connection with his family and the reasons why this is important to him. He could also acknowledge his anger and try to understand where it is coming from. Bob could then attempt to solve the underlying problems that are causing him to feel angry. When at home, he could communicate how he is feeling to his family and express his need to have some time at the end of the day to de-stress. This way, Bob’s family is aware of Bob’s needs and they are able to work together as a unit to resolve things effectively.

Can you think of your own examples of being in each of the states of mind? If you were in reasonable or emotion mind, how might it have helped to enter wise mind in that situation?