In the late 1980’s, Dr. Marsha Linehan created a cognitive behavioral treatment known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for chronic suicidal, self-injurious individuals who struggled with emotion regulation. A key component of DBT includes mindfulness, specifically a focus on accessing your “Wise Mind,” or intuition. Dr. Linehan proposed that we have three different mind sets: Reasonable Mind; Emotional Mind; and Wise Mind. The Reasonable and Emotional Minds have significant benefits, but, used exclusively, can have significant challenges. In contrast, the Wise Mind provides a holistic, bigger picture approach that can guide individuals down the path that is most helpful given our needs and circumstances at that given point in time.
Due to the appeal and effectiveness of the Wise Mind intervention, it has been used to help individuals suffering from a wide range of mental health issues: anxiety, depression, self-esteem, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and countless others. Individuals can conceptualize their Emotional Minds as housing their OCD mind, anorexic mind, depressive mind, anxious mind, or any other emotionally driven state of mind that can hijack their mental health. Within this framework, individuals can learn how their Emotional Minds may be sabotaging their personal growth and can learn to access their Wise Mind which can help appease their emotional and rational needs. This article will explore the different mind sets (Reasonable Mind, Emotional Mind and Wise Mind) and explain the benefits and challenges with each mind set.
The Reasonable mind is the part of the mind that can conduct cost-benefit analysis, strategic planning, factual calculations, or other activities that focus on logical analysis. Rational thinking is the hallmark of the Reasonable Mind. We employ our Reasonable Mind on a daily basis. It is the part of you that is activated when learning new technical skills, conducting scientific experiments, or even researching the best laptop to fit your budget and computing needs. It is focused on numbers, calculations, facts and cause and effect. Its ability to analyze data and generate a variety of outcomes is a huge benefit.
However, when you only operate within your Reasonable Mind without taking into consideration subjective factors, you may generate factually correct, but inappropriate solutions to life decisions. For example, suppose you were faced with trying to decide which job to take. Job A was geographically closer with a higher salary and better benefits, but in a field that you didn’t like. Job B was geographically farther away with a lower starting salary and fewer benefits, but in a field that sparked your passion. Your Reasonable Mind most likely would conclude, based on factual evidence, that the most logical choice would be Job A. However, this type of narrow lens analysis might lead someone to take a job that they were miserable in because the subjective element of interest was absent in the analysis.
The Emotional Mind is the part of the mind that is governed by emotions. Emotions are powerful motivators. History books are filled with examples of courageous feats, relentless passion, and self-sacrifices. The Emotional Mind is the source of poetry, music and art. It is the part of the mind that encourages us to run a marathon, participate in a protest march, or be the first person to disclose “I love you.” In the Emotional Mind, behaviors and thoughts are shaped by emotions, and not logical reasoning. The Emotional Mind allows you to take risks, make sacrifices or pursue your passions, even if they are not the most logical choices. Your Emotional Mind gives your life meaning and richness.
However, your Emotional Mind can distort facts and mislead you. It can erroneously conclude that there are only one or two options available to you, because that is what you feel. In the Emotional Mind, emotions are treated as facts. For example, if you had submitted several job applications at the beginning of December and just got your first job interview at the end of January in a job that you don’t really like that much, you might be pressured by your Emotional Mind to take the job because your fear of thinking you are a weak job candidate or even unemployable. Emotional Minds can even masquerade as Reasonable Minds by conducting analysis with subjective evidence that can seem like logical reasoning. For example, the two month delay in responses that amplified your fears and anxieties could be used as evidence to support you must have a mediocre skill set and would suggest you only have two options: take the job you don’t like or risk not getting a job at all. However, if you were to include your Reasonable Mind in this analysis, you might consider the delay in responses had nothing to do with you but the time of year when many people take time off for the holidays and how that might impact the time it takes to process and interview potential employees.
The Wise Mind is not simply the integration of both the Reasonable and Emotional Minds, but also your intuition. It is the part of you that is able to access your purest desires and needs that may be hidden in your subconscious or behind a defense mechanism. It is the part of you that knows what you need to feel whole, healthy, and happy. It is the “gut feeling” or a little voice guiding you to make the best decisions for you at that given time. Sometimes the best decision for you may be to not act at all.
For example, let’s consider you have gotten several great job offers that satisfy both your rational and logical needs, but you are hesitant and uncertain. You have a feeling that something is off or that you are missing something, because you aren’t as thrilled with the prospect of these jobs as you feel you should be. It might be your Wise Mind alerting you that you may be overlooking something. Perhaps you were going through the motions when you were applying for these jobs, because that was what was expected of you after you graduated college. Your hesitancy with accepting one of these great jobs might be related to a desire to pursue graduate school or participate in an advocacy project. Your gut feeling that something isn’t right is your Wise Mind telling you to slow down and make sure you are attending to all your inner desires and needs. When we are able to access our Wise Mind, it can provide us invaluable insight and guidance.
Our Rational and Emotional Minds enable us to achieve great feats, but when we are faced with significant life decisions or struggling with an over development mindset (Reasonable or Emotional Mind), then our Wise Mind is better suited to guide us since it is able to provide us with the bigger picture that may be eluding us. If you would like to learn more about Dialectical Behavior treatment approaches or how to access your Wise Mind, schedule an appointment with one of our therapists who can help guide you in the journey.
*This article uses traditionally plural pronouns (e.g., “they, them, their, theirs”) as singular pronouns for purposes of gender inclusion and neutrality. The Center for Growth has offices in Ocean City NJ, Mechanicsville VA, Philadelphia PA, and Santa Fe NM.