Our minds have a way of filling up quickly. New stressors build upon old ones, and soon after that, our brains can feel like quicksand that swallows negative thoughts and emotions into one big pit. We often have the urge to push negative thoughts or emotions away, letting them fall into the depths of the quicksand. These thoughts can clutter up your brain, leaving less room for relaxation and calm.
Cue in the IMPROVE skill from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) which comes from the distress tolerance toolkit. All skills are grounded in mindfulness to approach each moment presently. IMPROVE is intended to reframe the immediate moment when we are feeling overwhelmed by replacing the moment with more positive acts. As with most DBT skills, IMPROVE is an acronym for Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One, Vacation, and Encouragement.
Close your eyes, start taking deep breaths, and begin to imagine a scene or place that makes you feel safe. This could be the beach, a forest, or even your childhood bedroom. Get really detailed in the imagery so it feels like you are in this place. If this is your childhood bedroom, imagine the posters on your wall, the smell of your cherished body spray, or the feeling of the furry rug you had on the floor. Envelop your senses in the space you chose to imagine. The goal is to IMPROVE the moment with your safe place.
Improve your moment with meaning by thinking about your purpose. How do you make meaning of this moment in your life? Sometimes we get lost in our daily activities and it can feel like we are on autopilot. Stop to think about the meaning or purpose behind your day to day routine.
Sometimes giving up our control to a higher power can offer us space to declutter our thoughts and emotions. This doesn’t have to tie to religion or spirituality. We can pray to anything and ask for strength during tough moments. Prayer can also be a time of self-reflection.
Think about your preferred methods of relaxation. Improve the moment by doing an activity or reserving time for yourself. Take a hot bath (and, yes, include the bubbles), or schedule a massage. Reserve some time to watch your favorite show or sit in the park to observe your surroundings.
Focus on one thing in the moment in front of you. What is one thing you can improve at this moment? Can you change your environment? Look at your surroundings and see if there is something that is causing your thoughts or emotions to wander.
Plan a vacation from adulting. Improve the moment by going to the beach, taking a walk in nature, or visiting friends or family. Take a break from the decision-making and truly enjoy the moment.
Self-encouragement can IMPROVE the moment because it comes from within. Repeat positive affirmations that motivate and empower you. It can be helpful to have a list of affirmations in your phone to reflect back on. If our negative thoughts or emotions come from the past, saying, “My past does reflect on the person I am today,” or “Those are thoughts from my past and do not hold truth today” can provide us mental space. If these thoughts are about the future, saying, “I am focusing my energy on the now” or “I am living presently and taking it day by day” will refocus you on the present moment.
Next time you are having negative thoughts or emotions just remember to IMPROVE the moment. It is okay to have negative thoughts or emotions, but when we are feeling cluttered we can take time to acknowledge where our thoughts are coming from, and learn to reframe the moments from there.
Written by Emma Novick, LMSW