Use Urge Surfing to Give Up Bad Habits and Addictions

From Mindfulness Training by Chris Walsh:

Urge Surfing – Relapse Prevention (Alan Marlatt)


Urge surfing is a term coined by Alan Marlatt as part of a program of relapse prevention he developed for people recovering from addictions to alcohol and other drugs. It can actually be used to help with any addictive behaviour such as gambling, overeating, inappropriate sex or any other destructive impulses.

Urges for substance use rarely last for very long. In fact, they almost never last for longer than about 30 minutes, if there is no opportunity to use. People admitted to a high quality detoxification centre where there
is no access to their drug of choice often find it remarkable how little craving they get.

If there is no opportunity to use then there is no internal struggle. It is this internal struggle that feeds the cravings. Trying to fight cravings is like trying to block a waterfall. We end up being inundated. With the
approach of mindfulness, we step aside and watch the water (cravings, impulses & urges) just go right past.

This is true for everybody, but few addicts ever give themselves the chance to prove it.

Exercise: Reflecting on Urges

Ask yourself whether there have been times when you could not give in to an urge when it presented. Did the urge pass?
Most of us will have had past experiences of urges passing. This is an important strategy to identify, as it can greatly improve self efficacy for riding out urges. The main message is that urges do not have to be
acted upon.

Exercise: Experiencing the Changing Nature & Impermanence of Urges
– Sit with back unsupported in a chair or on a cushion on the floor
– Start Mindfulness Meditation
-Wait for any sense of discomfort e.g. Restlessness, an itch
– Note the desire to move and resist it
– Notice thoughts that arise
– These thoughts are just thoughts. So gently bring your attention back to your breath and bodily sensations
– Note the changing position, shape and quality of the discomfort over time. Be interested in feeling it as precisely as you can. Notice how the shape and intensity changes with the cycle of the breath. Is it stronger
during the in breath or during the out breath?

– You might find your thoughts spontaneously going to other matters,
e.g. Your shopping list, a fight with you partner, a football game, planning a holiday
– These are still just thoughts. Gently bring your attention back to your breath and body sensations. They are probably different again.
You have just observed the changing nature and impermanence of urges.

When you notice the physical sensations with interest, you are directly facing the urges rather than feeding them through fighting them.
How fighting urges feeds them.

Often people try to eliminate the urges by distraction or talking themselves out of them. This usually just feeds the urges and creates the illusion that they are interminable until you give in to them.

From How to Break Free From Binge Eating by Urge Surfing:

How do You Surf the Urge?

1. Prepare

2. When the Urge Hits

3. Ride the wave

One comment

  1. Very interesting article. I’m going to give this a try. It never occurred to me to actually just sit with the urge. I actually spent time trying to ‘fight’ it. I’ve been working on deep breathing and meditation so I think this is doable.


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