Urge surfing, a mindfulness-based psychotherapy technique, is a term introduced by the late psychologist Alan Marlatt, Ph.D.. A pioneer in the field of treating addictions. An urge is an impulse to engage in an old habit, such as drinking or abusing, which are often experienced as physical sensations in the body. Urges are like waves in that they rise in intensity, peak, and eventually crash.
Habits are said to form about 45 percent of your total behaviour. Not only that, but habits are behaviours that you repeat frequently, which compounds their significance in your life. Habits are your foundation, and if this foundation is weak, you won’t be happy with the way you live. An urge never lasts forever – usually, no more than 20-30 minutes.
Most addictive behaviour is rooted in some type of emotional trauma, be it a loss in the death of a loved one, coming to terms with limitations set by chronic health problems, or the end of a relationship. People who have suffered a loss can numb their grief by turning to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, shopping … In the process, they postpone their healing and can drive themselves further into addiction.
Urge Surfing to Live Sober!
Changing or breaking a habit takes willpower. The reason people fail to change their lives, and fail to instill new habits, is because they try to do too much at once. In simplest terms, if your new habit requires more willpower than you can muster, you will fail. If your new habit requires less willpower than you can muster, you will succeed.
Trying to ignore or suppress the cravings of your old habits doesn’t work very well. The more you try not to think about having a drink or hit, invariable, the more you think about it! Urges for substances never last for long – usually no more than 30 minutes. If you are able to step aside and mindfully watch the urge from a distance (surf it like a wave) you can watch it go past without it developing into a full blown craving.
Knowing that an urge never lasts forever we can “ride out” these urges by becoming more aware of their transient nature. The trick is to forget fighting or suppressing cravings. But instead to learn a technique to experience a craving fully, so that you rob that craving of its power over you. Urge surfing is a relapse prevention technique based on the principles of mindfulness meditation.
Urge surfing is a relapse prevention technique based on the principles of mindfulness meditation. By paying great attention to what a craving actually feels like, by maintaining awareness on the craving on a second by second basis and by avoiding passing value judgments about what you are experiencing (this is good, this is terrible, this will never end etc.) you learn to ride over waves of cravings and you rob these cravings of much of their power.
In preparing for an Urge Surf:-
- Remember that urges pass by themselves.
- Imagined that urges are like ocean waves, that arrive crest and subside. (Small when they start, grow in size, and then break up and dissipate.)
- Practice mindfulness regularly, and especially notice any impulses or urges that appear.
This preparation you will prepare you well to use mindfulness to ride these waves without giving in to the urge. Your brain will have built the new circuitry that makes this process more manageable.
To Practice Mindfulness and URGE SURFING
- Watching the breath without altering it. Allowing the breath to breathe itself.
- Noticing your thoughts.
- Without judging them, feeding them or fighting them gently bringing your attention back to the breath.
- Noticing the craving experience as it affects the body.
- Focus on one area where the urge is being felt, and notice what is occurring.
- Noticing quality, position, boundaries & intensity of the sensation.
- Noticing how these change with the in-breath and out-breath.
- Repeating the focusing process with each part of the body involved.
- Being curious about what occurs and noticing changes over time.
The key is to replace the fearful-wish that craving will go away, with interest in the experience. When we do this we notice the cravings change, crest and subside like waves in the ocean. In this way it becomes more manageable.
Use this guided meditation to help you practice mindfulness and surf your urges:
By learning the Urge Surfing way to experience cravings, you learn a valuable skill in overcoming them. As you learn to experience your cravings in a mindful way, without judging and without giving in, you will find that in time the frequency and intensity with which you experience them will diminish.
That’s it! with practice, urges will become easier to ride out. With practice urge surfing gets easier and you may discover that you are an excellent surfer.