DBT Video Text: IMPROVE the Moment

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These are scripts from videos by Dialectical Behavioral Therapy creator Marsha Linehan describing DBT skills. You can purchase the videos from Behavioral Tech LLC.

If you can’t solve the problem, if you’re in a crisis, got to function, you could try improving the moment in your mind. So improving the moment is trying to make the whole thing better in your mind. I’m going to give you seven improve the moment skills. And the way to remember these skills is to remember the word ‘Improve’: imagery, meaning, prayer, relaxation, one thing in the moment, vacation, and encouragement.


So let’s start with imagery. Imagery is when you try to change a situation in imagination. In other words, you’re going to try to imagine that the situation is different than the one you’re in.

So if you’re in the middle of a crisis you could just imagine that you’re somewhere else.  You could imagine you’re lying on a nice beach. Or in a forest that’s beautiful. You’re imagining being somewhere else. Your mind get you out of the crisis.

DBT IMPROVE: foliage lines a beach path to the ocean

Now another kind of imagery can be really helpful. Which is you can imagine that everything is going well. In other words, rather than trying to imagine that you’re somewhere else, try to imagine that you’re coping well. Imagine that the crisis is happening but you’re doing really well. Or imagine that it’s turning out ok. 

The other thing you can do that can be extremely helpful if you feel threatened by something. Especially if you feel threatened when you’re not really threatened. Is to imagine a place inside yourself that’s safe. So, for example, you could imagine that inside of yourself there’s a room and in that room you’re very safe. It has locked doors; everything about it is really wonderful.

Now the trick to using this skill in a crisis is to practice it when you’re not in a crisis. So what you have to do out of the crisis, kind of build the room. You’re going to want to build the room and practice going into it. Get pretty good at that. Then when you get in a crisis, you can just use that skill. Go within yourself. Practice being in the room.


So the next letter’s M. And M stands for meaning. It can be really hard to go through extreme pain or lots of problems if you start thinking it’s irrelevant. Look back on your own life. Have you ever had just really painful things happening in your life and you found yourself saying, ‘Oh, this doesn’t matter. Surviving this is not going to do me any good. I’ve got to get out of this.’ If you said yes, ask yourself next, did that help? My guess is that it didn’t. 

Throwing away meaning usually makes crises worse. So how do you find meaning? Well if you’re spiritual, you can try to find a spiritual meaning. You can read spiritual books, you can listen to tapes, listen to radio shows, watch TV shows that are spiritual. Try to find some spiritual value or meaning in what you’re going through. If you’re spiritual you might talk to a minister or rabbi, your local priest, spiritual director. You might ask someone else to help you find a meaning.

If you’re not spiritual, you might ask yourself, ‘How could I grow? How could I find some purpose or some value?’ So what you’re going to do is look for value. Try to figure out what’s in this. Maybe, alright 99% crisis, 99% trauma, so you might want to look at how does this fit into the universe as a whole. Or how does this fit into the world. Or how am I connected to other things through this. You might realize that you’re going to understand other people who are in pain, that you’ll be able to cope with pain in the future. 

So that’s finding meaning. Meaning can help.


Let’s go to the next skill. The next skill is P. P is for prayer. Prayer can be really helpful in a crisis. It’s amazing to me how many people pray but they don’t pray in a crisis. Now there are two kinds of prayer that can be helpful in a crisis.

The first kind of prayer is the kind of prayer with words. You just talk either to god or to Buddha or to the spirit or to the universe – it really depends on what you believe in. But you can talk. Or you can read spiritual things. If you can’t think of a prayer, you might be able to find one in a book. 

DBT IMPROVE: A person prays, hands clasped

The other kind of prayer is the prayer of opening up. And that openness is the openness of acceptance. Prayer can really help if you’re trying to accept. And you don’t have to have words. Don’t worry about finding words. You don’t really need words. You need an attitude. You need a willingness. You need to turn your mind. But that’s it. That’s all you have to do.

I just gave you two ways to pray. But you may have a way to pray. What is your way? Do you have a way? If you do, and you have a way for prayer that’s been helpful to you in the past, you want to remember that in a crisis. That’s all you have to do. Remember what you’ve always done.

Prayer isn’t for everyone. And I’m the first to admit. But if it’s for you, don’t forget it.


The next skill starts with R. And R is for relaxation. Ask yourself, are you the kind of person who in a crisis you tense yourself up? Do you get all tight? If you’re a person who does that it can really be helpful to relax. 

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Probably people have said to you, ‘Just relax would you.’ And you’ve thought to yourself, listen if I could relax I would relax. So I’m going to tell you how to relax.

The first thing to know about relaxation is it’s not as hard as it seems if you know a few little tricks. So what are the tricks? The first trick is this, if you tense a muscle and then relax the muscle it will get more relaxed than it was before you tensed it. So to do this one, you want to scan your whole body and ask yourself, ‘Where in my body am I tense?’ So just look for the parts of your body that are tense. And when you find those parts, tense them, let them go. Tense them, let them go.

Try that right now. Do that with me. Take your fist, we’ll just try with our fists. And tense your fist. Hold it, tight. Pay attention. Notice it. Let go. Tense. Let go. 

DBT IMPROVE: A person meditates cross-legged.

I’ll tell you another one that really works in public – that one’s kind of hard to do if there are a lot of people around. What if you’re in a crisis, you’re at work or in a meeting or at a funeral, so I’ll give you another one. Try tensing your stomach muscles. Just sit there – try to be unobtrusive. But while I’m talking, you do it too. I’m doing it. I’m pulling my muscles in. So just sit here and just pull your muscles…I mean tight, just as tight as you can. Feel them really tight. Pull them in. Feel it? Are you doing it? Now let go. Ok, you might not want to let go all the way but let go. Do that 2 or 3 times. You’ll be amazed.

You could try breathing. You know lots of times when people get in a crisis they start to panic and if you start to panic, you should notice that you’re starting to breathe really fast, in and out, in and out, in and out. Listen, in and out, in and out, in and out, that’ll create more panic. Not the thing to do. Breathe slowly. Hold it. Breathe out. The idea is to try to breathe a little bit further each time for the first couple of breaths.

You could even try walking and noticing your breath. Try walking and breathing in, and breathing out. You could try counting your steps. That can be useful.

One Thing In The Moment

The next letter is O. O stands for one thing in the moment. The idea here is to stop making one moment worse. The way a lot of us make the moment that we’re in worse is we start thinking about the past. Have you ever noticed that? Do you do that?

You’re in this moment and then you spend a lot of time thinking about ‘Oh, it’s always been this way and look what happened before and this happened before. This is my 8th crisis.’ On and on and on – so what’s that do? I mean, this moment may be bad but think how much worse it is. Now you’ve got not only this crisis but every other crisis you’ve ever had in your life. 

And then, what some of us also do, is not only do we bring the past in but we start imagining every crisis we’re going to have in the future. So it’s not only do I have this problem, but now I’ve got all my future problems. ‘This is terrible. It’s never going to stop. It’s really awful. I can’t stand it. What am I going to do? Datta da. Datta da.’ I mean really, you can go on and on. So what happens? You not only suffer this moment but you suffer the past moments and the future moments.

Now I’ve got to tell you one thing. When you’re suffering usually the moment is enough. In other words the current moment is all filled up with suffering. You don’t really need more suffering and if you add more suffering in, the crisis just gets worse. You’re more likely to do something that’ll make it worse. It’s not a good idea.

The idea in one thing in the moment is to throw yourself completely, totally, into the moment. You’d be amazed. This is one of the most effective skills I teach. Most people don’t like it at the beginning because it’s hard to imagine it would work. And then people come back a couple of years later, I say to them, ‘What’s the most important thing you learned?’ You’d be amazed how many people tell this was the most important skill they learned. 

I’ll give you an example how you do it. This happened with me. I sometimes go to this really big church in Seattle. It’s the cathedral. It’s really beautiful. And, I have to tell you, the service, it’s a little bit on the long side. So I was there one time and they had this visiting person talking – he was giving a sermon. So he starts talking and I’m not saying it was a terrible sermon, I just would say it was boring. I mean, really boring. 

So what did I do? Well, I was sitting. I thought about getting up and leaving. I couldn’t though, I was right in the middle of the row. In fact I was actually with a friend. So I really couldn’t do that. So what did I do? ‘Haaaaa’ I started going like this:

‘Oh…’ Have you ever done that? You know how you kind of [sigh]. You know, it’s amazing, the people behind me could tell right…I was so distressed. Going like this and ‘oh, god’. I’m thinking this, I wasn’t saying it. I think I was hoping that preacher was going to look down and see me and say ‘Oh, this must be boring. I think I’ll stop.’ 

However, I’m not kidding, he never did! I’m not even sure he saw me. And if he did see me, well he wasn’t stopping that sermon just because of me. So after a while, I kind of noticed that I was just staying upset. I mean this was doing me no good. He wasn’t quitting and I wasn’t feeling any better. And I couldn’t get out of there. So, I started asking myself, ‘Is this really worth it? I mean really, is this worth it? Being this miserable?’ So I thought, ‘No. I think I’ll try to feel better. I think I’ll try to get through this.’ So what did I do? I decided I’d practice one thing in the moment.

What I did was I looked up at the sky and I said to myself, ‘I’m attending.’ I just decided I was going to pay attention to every single word that guy said – I was just going to hang on every word and every phrase. And I just threw myself into it. You’d be amazed. The first half, must taken six hours. The second half, took six minutes. It was over in no time.

It’s a fabulous skill. I recommend that you try it.


So the next letter is V. V stands for vacation. The idea here is to try to figure out a way to get a vacation from your troubles. Try to get out of things. Just for a little while. 

Have you ever found yourself thinking in the middle of a crisis or when things are really going terrible, you’re not feeling good. You say, ‘I need a vacation.’ Well, if you can take a real vacation, like get on a plane or get on a boat or go to the mountains or do something like that, that’s fabulous. By all means, take the vacation. 

But sometimes, well, you just can’t do it. So what do you do then? How can you take a vacation. The good news is you can still take a vacation. I’m going to give you some examples. 

The idea here is to think about it as a mini-vacation. You could buy some chips, get yourself something cold to drink, turn on some good television, enjoy life. Sometimes just lying down on the couch. You know those things they make that you put over your eyes?  You lie down, put them over your eyes, breathe in, breathe out, relax. You could do that for five minutes. You could even take one of those for work. You could just close your office door or go someplace private at your office, put one of those over your eyes, close your eyes, turn a timer on or ask someone else to tell you when five minutes are up and just relax for five minutes.

DBT IMPROVE: A woman reads on a couch with a small dog

So that’s the idea of vacations. Now, I’m going to give you a few rules about vacations because I…it is sort of easy to mess up vacations. Some people take too many vacations.  Are you one of those people? Have you noticed how some people are always taking vacations? So, these are the rules.

First, don’t take vacations that will harm you. If you’ve got a big deadline at work this is not a time to take a vacation from work. You don’t want to take a mental health day when everyone is expecting you to be there for some really important meeting. If you’ve got one crisis and you do that, you’ll now have two crises. The whole thing will just get worse. So don’t take vacations that harm you. 

The second rule is don’t make your vacation too long. Sometimes people say, ‘Well, I think I’ll just take a little break from studying. Ah, it’s so hard, I’ve studied so much. I think I’ll just take a little break. I’m going to go walk around the block.’ So that’s the vacation – walking around the block. ‘Then I’ll come back to study because I’ve got three more hours to do.’ And they do that at 9 o’clock. So, they meet friends. They keep walking. They decide they need a second vacation. They say, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just sit in one TV show.’ And they get talking they think ‘Well, a little snack.’ Go on and on, before you know it you’ve used way too much time for your vacation. And now you’ve ruined those things up. Now it’s late and you’re tired and you have an exam tomorrow. And what’s happened? You have a new crisis.

So those are the two rules. Don’t take a vacation that will harm you. And don’t make your vacation too long.

If you keep those two rules, vacations can be really helpful. They’ll give you energy; they’ll help you get through a crisis. 


The last letter in the word ‘Improve’ is E. And E stands for encouragement. This skill is all about how to encourage yourself. What the skill has to do with is talking to yourself. It’s kind of simple really, you just talk to yourself. You say things like ‘I can do it. I can stand it. I’ll get through this. I’ve done it before. I’m not a jerk. I can do it.’

The problem is, in the middle of a crisis, it can be really hard to think up those thoughts.  It can be hard to say those things to yourself. So one of the rules of encouraging is you have to say it like you mean it. No halfway statements; no tentative…No ‘Maybe I can do it.  Maybe it’ll be alright.’ Imagine if you said that to a friend. Or if a friend said that to you?  How would you feel? It’s not very encouraging. You’ve never seen a cheerleader yell and scream ‘Maybe you can win! Maybe you can make a first down!’ I mean cheerleaders don’t do that. Cheerleaders cheer.

So that’s the rule you’ve got to follow otherwise it really won’t work. So try it in your mind, right now. Why don’t you say to yourself, say, ‘I can get through things.’ Say it to yourself like you mean it. ‘I can get through things.’  Did you say it? How did it feel? 

DBT IMPROVE: A person blows confetti at the camera from their hands

Let’s try an experiment. Put your arms out. Now I want you to put your arms out with me. Watch. I’ve got mine out. Now, throw yourself into the moment because we’re going to do this for a little while. ‘Cause I’m waiting for your arms to hurt. So just keep sitting there.  Just notice. Let your fingers go down. Just notice your arms. Are you starting to feel sore?  Are you starting to want to drop them? We’re just going to wait. I want you to just notice how your arms feel. Pay attention. How do they feel? Is this getting hard? Alright. Now.  Start saying, in your mind not out loud, ‘I can’t stand it. When is she going to stop?  Ugh, this is awful.  Just can’t stand it.  Ugh, it’s unbearable.  When is she stopping? Ugh, can’t stand it. Arms they hurt. Ugh.’ Keep doing that. Notice how it feels. Do this in your mind. 

Alright. Now say in your mind, ‘Huh, no big deal. I can do this.’ Now say in your mind, ‘Huh, I can handle it. I can cope. I can do this. I’m strong. This ain’t going to kill me. I can do it.’ Keep at it. You could say, if you’re a woman you could say, ‘Go girl! Go girl!’  How are you doing? Pay attention. Ok. You can drop your arms too now.

What’s the difference? You notice a difference? Most people do. It just feels better – it’s easier. 

The second rule is, when you encourage yourself, you have to say things that are true. You don’t want to go around telling yourself you can do things that you could never do. That really, no one can do. You’re not going to say, ‘Ok I’ve never lifted weights. I can do it. I can lift 500 lbs.’ No. Be realistic.

Encouraging can be really effective. In fact, there’s actually a lot of research on this. And the research shows that people who encourage themselves, who say to themselves and think to themselves, ‘I can do it. I can do this’ can actually increase their ability.


Those are the improve skills: 
I, imagery,
M, meaning,
P, prayer,
R, relaxation,
O, one thing in the moment,
V, vacation, and
E, encourage yourself

This text is the unofficial transcript of Behavioral Tech, LLC.
Chaos to Freedom Skills Training Video. Posted with permission from Behavioral Tech.
Transcribed by Sylvia James, May 15, 2006