The term urge surfing was coined by psychologist professor and author G. Alan Marlatt. Urge surging operates under the premise that all urges are finite; they ebb and flow.
Surfing requires more than balancing on a waxed board. To succeed as a surfer, you have to understand ocean waves and their movements as they constantly crest, subside, and shift. To master the ebb and flow of the sea, you need to be mindful, alert, and fluid. Addiction urges and other impulses can be addressed in a similar way through urge surfing. Read on to determine if this practice might be ideal for your personal recovery plan.
What is Urge Surfing?
A term coined by psychologist, professor, and author G. Alan Marlatt, “urge surfing” operates under the premise that all urges are finite; they ebb and flow, retreating after about half an hour if no opportunity to satisfy the addictive behavior is present. It can be applied to any substance, gambling, overeating, or sexual addictions. Urge surfing relies on being a mindful “witness” to the flood of cravings rather than trying to push against it. You ride the waves with meditative grace rather than fight back.
Why Does Urge Surfing Work?
There are many methods for not giving in to urges. From suppression to arguing, everyone approaches relapse prevention a different way. I encourage you to explore your own mind and determine what works for you. After all, we are all individuals who thrive in unique ways.
Consider suppression or fighting your urges. Like suppressive or “white bear” self-talk, this technique pinpoints focus on the craving, which can backfire by amping up stress and blindsiding you. Arguing against the urge also comes with some red tape. According to the Transtheoretical Model, also known as the Stages of Change Model, arguing focuses you on the very thing you wish to avoid, and that can strain your mental reserves.
Urge surfing, on the other hand, may provide a healthy, empowering alternative. It keeps your thoughts centered on what you aim to achieve through recovery. Rather than being overwhelmed or pummeled by the addiction’s power, you choose to acknowledge it without casting judgment or blame.
How Do You “Surf the Urge”?
If you are willing to give urge surfing a try, I encourage you to do some research and learn the basics. It starts with mindfulness meditation. This is an exercise you can try to explore the fleeting nature of urges and how you can use it to your advantage:
- Sit down, breathe in and out, and wait for a discomforting itch or sense of restlessness to begin.
- When the urge to itch or move hits, address it mentally, but do not focus on the unpleasantness of the sensation. It’s just a temporary feeling; disarm its power by facing it with clarity and calmness.
- Note the sensation’s intensity, its exact location, your body’s temperature, and your breathing. Try to examine as many details as you can objectively.
- Accept whatever thoughts enter your mind. Assure yourself that they are nothing more than thoughts. They have no power unless you choose to give it to them.
- Pay attention to how the urge crests and then subsides, just like the ocean’s waves.
- Don’t try to rush the tides, control them, or give up too soon. It takes practice and concentration to develop this habit. Keep it up!
How can this technique be applied to addictive sensations? Rather than exhausting yourself by disputing against or fleeing from the urge, you undermine its power and grip by just letting it exist. It cannot feed off of your fear, anger, or frustration.
The effectiveness of this technique depends on you. Do you feel safe just letting go and being a witness rather than a fighter? If so, this method may help you rise above urges. Each time, your mind will strengthen, and the impulses will be less intense. Urge surfing is another versatile skill that you can add to your recovery toolkit.
Relapse Prevention at Morningside Recovery
At Morningside Recovery, our programs teach clients healthy coping mechanisms that they can use to ward off relapse once they leave our facility. We also offer an aftercare program and alumni program to offer further support outside of the facility. To learn more about these programs and how you can enroll, call us today at 855-631-2135.