HOW Skills: Non-Judgmentally & Effectively

Last week we talked about how to practice one-mindfully, one of the HOW skills of mindfulness. The last two HOW skills, non-judgmentally and effectively, in combination with one-mindfully and the WHAT skills, give us the tools we need to be mindful and present in the moment.

The non-judgmentally skill is about the facts. This skill emphasizes seeing but not evaluating. You want to take a non-judgmental stance towards yourself and what is going on around you.

  • Focus on the “what”, not the “good” or “bad” or the “should”.
  • Accept each moment for what it is.
  • Acknowledge what is helpful or harmful but don’t judge it.
  • When you find yourself making judgments, don’t judge your judging. Notice you’re judging and go back to a non-judgmental stance.

The last HOW skill, effectively, is about focusing on what works.

  • Do what needs to be to be done in each situation in order to meet your larger goals.
  • Play by the rules! Use your skills and knowledge to meet the needs of the situation you are in and not the situation you wish you were in.
  • Let go of emotions that will not work in the situation, like vengeance or anger.

The WHAT and HOW skills of mindfulness gives us the chance to observe, describe, and participate one-mindfully, non-judgmentally, and effectively. It can be overwhelming to incorporate all of the skills at once, but give it a try and see how mindfulness can improve your day-to-day!

HOW Skill: One-Mindfully

The WHAT skills of mindfulness (observe, describe, and participate) allowed us to examine what is happening in the present moment. The HOW skills give us the tools to use our WHAT skills.

The first HOW skill, one-mindfully, emphasizes that we should do one thing at a time. When you are eating, eat. When you are walking, walk. When you are in a group, or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are in with the other person. Do each thing with all of your attention.

If other actions, thoughts, or strong feeling distract you, try to let go of distractions and go back to what you are doing. If you find you are doing two things at once (like homework and checking your phone or social media), stop and go back to one thing at a time.

When we are able to one-mindfully observe, describe, and participate in the moment, we get more out of what we are doing. When we are fully present, we can make informed choices, and we are giving ourselves and what or who we are interacting with our full attention. We are doing ourselves a favor when we practice one-mindfully – we save time by not having to re-do tasks and we have more meaningful interactions with others!

WHAT Skills

Before we jump into mindfulness skills, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is nonjudgmental awareness of the now. It’s being able to choose what to focus on – this gives you the chance to plan and respond to what is happening around you instead of only reacting. Mindfulness gives you a choice in your actions.

The WHAT skills of mindfulness are observe, describe, and participate.


  • Notice how you feel without trying to make feelings stronger, weaker, trying to push them away, or making them last longer.
  • What comes through your senses? Notice what’s happening with touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste.
  • Try to notice what is happening internally and externally but let these things slide off of your body and your emotions.


  • Use words to describe what you observed.
  • Try to avoid emotional words.
  • Try to let go of emotions being “right” or being “wrong”.


  • Allow yourself to get lost in observing and describing.
  • Let go and allow yourself to be natural in the situation you’re observing and describing.

Practicing the WHAT skills can be tough, but if you can tune into what is happening in the present, you will have more control over how you respond. Next week we’ll cover the HOW skills and how we can combine these with the WHAT skills to practice mindfulness!

Living in the Moment

Finally, it’s summer! Previously on the Wellness blog we’ve talked about mindfulness and being present. This can be difficult during the hustle and bustle of navigating college, but what about summer? Sometimes all we want to do on break is to do nothing – but there are even ways you can get the most out of doing nothing.

Living in the moment is true appreciation for what you are doing right now. It’s fine to sometimes sit around and watch Netflix and zone out. You’re finally free from exams, studying, and deadlines. Living in the moment, however, puts more emphasis on making the time you’re spending more meaningful. What do you want to experience this summer? Maybe you have a list of books you want to read, shows you want to see, or hikes you want to take. Make a list (but don’t make it all about work)! When you’re doing the things you want to do, allow yourself to be fully immersed in those experiences. Even while watching Netflix – put down your phone, your laptop, and any other distractions and live in the moment.

Living in the moment will let you get the most out of your free time and you’ll be able to look back on your summer vacation and you’ll be satisfied that you put 100% into the activities you wanted to do. Savor the moments you get to spend doing the things you don’t have time to do while you’re in class and try to be mentally and physically present – don’t take away from pleasurable experiences becuase you’re stuck worrrying about the future. But finally, have fun! Treat yourself, take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself over the summer so you’re ready and rested to jump back in to the swing of college in the fall. 😊

Faculty Spotlight: Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has gained popularity over the years, shifting attention from studying what is negatively impacting individuals to understanding the positive aspects of well-being. Introduced in 1998 by Dr. Martin Seligman, positive psychology focuses on topics such as happiness, well-being, success, and optimal human functioning.1 This relatively new branch of psychology has expanded the scope of how we can use psychology to not only help those struggling with their mental health, but how we can use psychology to learn from those who are doing well. Often, we take this perspective with how to help undergraduate students, too. We worry about what’s not working, however, seeing what is working well for students is also informative.

Research with undergraduates has explored the concept of psychological grit within a positive psychology framework.2 Psychological grit refers to “passion and perseverance for long-term goals”, which has been associated with positive outcomes, such as graduating and academic performance.2 In one study, hope and psychological grit were found to be highly correlated.2 While this may not be surprising, it’s informative in exploring a positive aspect of mental health – if psychological grit and hope are positively correlated, how can we foster hope among undergraduate students to better their chance for positive outcomes?

Hope theory posits that hope is a goal-directed way of thinking.3 Taking a positive psychology approach, a brief single-session intervention with undergraduates sought to focus on promoting strengths using a hope intervention.3 The results are promising, as students showed increases in life purpose and vocational calling after the brief hope intervention.3

The positive psychology perspective provides us with a new way to foster psychological grit and hope among undergraduates. All students, even those doing well, may benefit from an increase in hope and while it is still vital to provide support for those who may be in more need than others, all students can benefit from an increase in hope – a predictor of overall well-being and life satisfaction.

1Donaldson, S. I., Dollwet, M., & Rao, M. A. (2015). Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(3), 185-195. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2014.943801

2Vela, J. C., Smith, W. D., Whittenberg, J. F., Guardiola, R., & Savage, M. (2018). Positive psychology factors as predictors of Latina/o college students’ psychological grit. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 46, 2-19. doi: 10.1002/jmcd.12089

3Feldman, D. B. & Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759. doi: 10.1007/s10902-011-9292-4

Happiness vs. Meaningfulness

There is debate in the world of research on whether pursuing a happy life or a meaningful life will lead to overall better well-being. It might seem obvious that we all want to live well and to be satisfied with our lives, but how do we get there in the long-term?

Happiness might seem like the obvious choice, and researchers have identified that one of the biggest differences between a life pursuing happiness and a life pursuing meaningfulness is that happiness-driven lives focus on living in the present and satisfying wants or needs (such as things like focus on wealth, health, and things that give us direct pleasure). Meaningful lives, on the other hand, are associated with more stress and challenges, and focus on the present, past, and future, all at once.

However, meaningful-driven lives are associated with more happiness. Although happiness has also been found to be associated with more meaningfulness. It probably sounds like we’re going in circles – because we are! Overall, the research points to meaningful-driven lives as a better predictor of overall well-being. While meaningful-driven lives might look more difficult, in contrast to pursuing pleasure, they actually make us happier in the long-term.

What does this mean? Do what you love, love what you do, and whether you find meaning in what you directly do, or you find that what you do helps you find meaning outside of what you do – keep doing it! When we feel like our lives have purpose or meaning, we’re happier, more motivated, and feel better about ourselves, which comes with a whole lot of psychological and physical health benefits. It can be tempting to focus on goals that bring us direct and immediate happiness, but those long-term goals (like college) that seem too hard or too far away (but give you meaning) are worth it!


Altruistic acts are selfless acts that benefit others, despite what the act might mean for you. When we think about altruism, we think of big acts of kindness, like building houses for those in need or donating money.  But altruistic acts can be small and just as effective. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives that it can feel impossible to think about spending time, money, or energy to help others. How can we be altruistic in small ways, while making big differences?

  • One of the ways we can be altruistic in our daily lives is praising others. Random and kind compliments or appreciation of others can go a long way to boost another person’s mood!
  • Another way to be altruistic is to do the things you enjoy doing, try to do them well, and help others who have similar passions. Working together and educating others to do their best, in a positive way, can motivate and help others to feel good about what they’re doing. When we feel like we’re doing well at something, those positive emotions can affect how we see ourselves in other areas of our lives.
  • Lastly, just being aware of what is going on in other’s lives can lead to altruistic acts. When we’re aware of what is going on in the lives of those we care about, we can be more thoughtful about how we interact with them. It can be as small as grabbing a coffee for a stressed friend, or texting words of encouragement before an exam.

Altruism can seem daunting but it can be easy! Little acts overtime add up and there are psychological benefits to helping others. It can reduce your own stress, enhance and broaden your perspective on your own life, boost your overall positive feelings and happiness, and can alleviate feelings of loneliness. When you help others, you help yourself. 😊


Laughter is something we all do – it’s universal among humans despite race and cultural differences. Laughter even comes before we can talk, which we see in happy, giggly babies. But why do we laugh and what are the benefits?

You might think the obvious – that we laugh because something is funny. But there’s also nervous laughter and some people even laugh when they’re scared. We even laugh at ourselves when we’re embarrassed! Research has pointed to the purpose of laughter as a way to alleviate tension and to illicit positive emotions in others, not only ourselves, which could explain why laughter is often thought of as contagious. Without even thinking, we often laugh when others are laughing. Laughter can also lighten your mood, reduce negative feelings, and it also fosters social engagement – it can bring people together. There’s also some evidence linking laughter to boosts in the immune system and muscle relaxation ("laughter is the best medicine!").

As we enter into the end of the school year with finals approaching, think about laughter as a free, quick, and easy way to alleviate stress and tension! While eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising are a few of the most well-referenced ways for you to take care of yourself during tense times – add laughter to that list and call up a friend, enjoy a light-hearted movie, or read a funny book to take a quick break from the stress of school!


When we think about what it takes to be successful (even when things get tough), we think about the concepts of motivation and self-discipline. A lot of the time it’s hard to find the get-up-and-go attitude we need to sit down and do homework or to study. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood or you lack the motivation to get started. When we fail to stick to hard and fast routines, we think we lack self-discipline. Research, however, has pointed to a new concept for success: grit.

Grit is the idea that passion and perseverance for long-term goals are what leads to success. Dr. Angela Duckworth (check out her TED talk!), suggests that above and beyond intelligence or talent, grit is what drives us towards success. It can be easy to be motivated to work towards something you’re passionate about, but the perseverance aspect is what keeps you going. Similarly, self-discipline in the short-term is often feasible. We can commit to a two-week study plan – but the long-term is what ultimately matters.

It’s intimidating to think about four years of undergrad as four years of commitment to self-discipline when motivation may be hard to find. But grit – passion and perseverance – can keep you going through the good times and the bad. Acknowledging that failures or bumps in the road will ultimately lead you to success are essential in moving forward – but don’t forget your passion for what you’re doing. Maybe you’re passionate about your major, or you’re passionate about the life you’ll be able to create after undergrad. Regardless, you’re doing this for you and maybe it’s time to get gritty!