dbt group notes: the participate skill and flow


In today’s group we focused specifically on asking our Wise Mind: “Is another round of laughter yoga a wise mind choice for me?”

Participants were guided through the same wise mind meditation as last week and invited to listen to their wise mind and then respond to a poll. The poll asked two questions:

1) Would you like to do another round of laughter yoga?

2) Listening to my wise mind, would it be good for me to do another round of laughter yoga? Or would it be harmful?

This is an important opportunity for practicing wise mind. The idea in DBT is NOT that you develop your therapist’s version of your wise mind, but rather that you listen to your own wise mind. And that you set limits based on your own wisdom. If we were going to proceed with laughter yoga, we needed a unanimous vote in favor.


Participants take a turn to say either a sentence or word building up a story as a group.

1)For each sentence, a sentence starter or word can be used to change the story for example: “fortunately” and “unfortunately” alternately as the first word of the sentence.

2) You can also experiment with story conventions with the first sentence that launches the story: once upon a time, the official time of death had been 6.15 pm etc.

3) Another guiding option is to give the story a title before you begin: e.g. How the Pig got its curly tail.


Flow is the optimal experience of the Participate skill. The Participate skill can help you get the dishes done. Help you tackle your homework. Push you out the door to have fun on a date. But it doesn’t promise the experience of Flow. On the other hand, you can’t achieve a flow state without the participate skill.

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as “Being in the Zone”, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

courtesy of wikipedia 🙂


Peak experiences are often described as transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. These are moments that stand out from everyday events. The memory of such events is lasting and people often liken them to a spiritual experience. Peak experiences involve a heightened sense of wonder, awe, or ecstasy over an experience. Peak experience is a highly valued experience which is characterized by such intensity of perception, depth of feeling, or sense of profound significance as to cause it to stand out in more or less permanent contrast to the experiences that surround it in time and space.

Peak experiences bear numerous similarities to the concept known as flow described by positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a state of mind during which people become so involved in an activity that the world seems to fade away and nothing else seems to matter. When in a state of flow, times seems to fly by, the focus becomes sharp and people experience a loss of self-consciousness.7

Flow can happen when a person is having a peak experience, but not all instances of flow qualify as peak experiences. Everyday moments such as becoming engrossed in a thrilling book, working on a satisfying project, or enjoying an afternoon game of basketball can all lead to a flow state, but these moments are not necessarily peak experiences.


Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. He also developed a theory of Peak Experience.

Abraham Maslow discussing the Peak Experience.


Think of an activity where you felt like you might have been in a Flow state. Bearing in mind, that experience, use the Flow State Scale to assess your experience.

The function of this exercise is to help you be mindful of what circumstances create the highly pleasurable experience of flow. In the hopes that this kind of mindfulness will help increase your personal experiences with the Flow state.


  • One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  • The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.
  • One must have a good balance between perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.

This chart brilliantly illustrates the relationship between the skill level and challenge level of an activity for what the emotional experience of that task can be.

Csikszentmihalyi hypothesized that people with several very specific personality traits may be better able to achieve flow more often than the average person. These personality traits include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only. 

People with most of these personality traits are said to have an autotelicpersonality The term “autotelic” is acquired from two Greek words, auto, meaning self, and telos meaning goal. Being Autotelic means having a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply to experience it as the main goal.

At this point, there is not much research on the autotelicpersonality, but results of the few studies that have been conducted suggest that indeed some people are more prone to experience flow than others. One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) found that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for “high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth” compared to those without an autotelic personality.[ It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to enter the flow state.

The flow state can be achieved at all sorts of levels. It can be achieved in daily activities. And in more extraordinary activities.


Here are some ideas for activities, that when combined with the right mix of challenge and skill level, as well as focus, and The Participate Skill…can help you enjoy a flow state:

This little video about basketball player, Stephen Curry, helps illustrate the experience of the flow state at a very high level of performance.
  • Physical activities such as sports, yoga, dance, and martial arts
  • Outdoor challenges such as hiking
  • Music–writing, playing, mixing
  • Art–painting, sculpture, mixed media, pottery
  • Photography
  • Woodworking
  • Do-It-Yourself projects, such as home improvement
  • Working with animals
  • Gardening
  • Cooking and baking
  • Software development/coding
  • Scrapbooking
  • Writing
  • Needlework–sewing, knitting, cross stitch
  • Horseback riding
  • What you do for work (hopefully!)

The Group then transitioned to a discussion of Vision Boards as way to motivate participation. Please see the public post about Vision Boards for complete information.


Read the post about Vision Boards and create one if you are moved to.


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Diana is a licensed professional counselor based in Nashville. She has been teaching DBT skills for the last ten years after writing her master's thesis about making DBT skills training interesting and engaging. She loves using story telling to help illustrate how skills can be used.

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