Urge surfing is a cognition-based intervention and management technique (Lloyd, 2003), which can be used in tandem with Cognitive Defusion (Hulbert-Williams et al., 2019). The basis of Urge surfing is about an individual accepting and observing their own urges and not reacting to them relating through the use of Mindfulness (Shonin & Van Gordon, 2016). This technique is often used not only when treating addiction in its many different forms such as alcohol and drug addiction (Harris et al., 2017), but also aggression, self-management and people on the Autism spectrum (Singh et al., 2019). Urge surfing expands on the idea of acceptance but promotes the resistance of urges using the metaphor that they are like ocean waves growing and subsiding allowing the individual to regulate their urges to become less frequent and intense (Lloyd, 2003).
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” (Kabat-Zinn & Zinn, 2013, p. 44).
Trying to ignore or suppress your cravings does not work very well, the more you try not to think about them the more you actually think about them!
So, you do not ignore them… you fight them, right?
Well, battling against your cravings does not always work that well either. Sometimes your cravings are just too strong for you to fight, and you relapse. Other times you are able to resist your urges for a while, but you find yourself spending a lot of time and energy each day engaged in an internal back and forth debate about whether or not to give in to your cravings it is like by resisting your cravings you feed them with your mental energy and in response they grow stronger and occur with more frequency.
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.
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.
Step 1: Let’s Practice
Choose a temptation or urge to practice urge surfing. A few examples could be reading a text message, checking Facebook, or playing a game on your phone.
Step 2: Set the Stage
- Find a comfortable location without distraction.
- Start by bringing the temptation present and notice any thoughts, feelings and sensations it invoked in you. Then turning your attention to your breath, notice it as it moves in and out of your body.
To Practice Mindfulness and URGE SURFING
- Watch the breath without altering it. Allowing the breath to breathe itself.
- Notice 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.
- Notice the quality, position, boundaries & intensity of the sensation.
- Notice how these change with the inhale and exhale.
- Repeat the focusing process with each part of the body involved.
- Be curious about what occurs and notice changes over time.
- Describe exactly how you felt during this practice. The more specific the better.
- What were your thoughts?
- What were your feelings?
- Were there any particular physical sensations you can describe?
- How will you practice differently the next time?
- When will your next practice be?
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.
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.