Urge Surfing


Urge surfing is a great mindfulness relapse prevdention technique developed by Alan Marlatt to use when you are in the middle of an urge to regain control of your addictive behaviour. With surfing you approach those destructive feelings and thoughts from a very different standpoint and instead of fighting them you accept them, fully experience them but do so from a point of calm distance using a simple mindfulness technique to ride out those destructive feelings.


Marlett suggests that you should start by knowing that urges rarely last long and will themselves never harm you, they last from a few minutes up to 30 minutes maximum. The frequency and intensity of an urge is dependent on what happens during and after an urge to use. If you respond to the urge to use, then like Instant Gratification, you are reinforcing that thought and behaviour pattern and there will be more frequent and more intense urge experiences that follow. So instead of acting on an urge,  working through an urge to use, will result in the urge diminishing and further urges being less frequent. From this starting point you have an understanding that not acting on an urge is the way forward to full recovery. How you respond to an urge is key to the urge surfing technique which makes it very different to other relapse prevention techniques.

One way people respond to urges is to fight it and disrupt the pattern of thinking, which is the focus of the urge. This may involve having an internal battle between what you want to do emotionally, to change how you feel and against the consequences of using, less money, lapse, failure, etc. Other techniques may involve distraction, where you occupy yourself with housework, chatting to others, ultimately by doing something else.


Urge surfing is a great technique to support an addict because it paradoxically takes the power of the urge away by just going with the flow and letting the urge take its course. The underlying premise of the surfing technique is that the more you try to fight an urge the more you feed it and give it power. Instead of fighting it, the person steps back from the event and just observes the effect, noting how it is impacting on the thoughts and feelings of the person.


The process of surfing involves first asking if urges have ever passed, as the important message to take from this is that urges do not have to be acted upon. During an urge, notice all the thoughts and feelings and by stepping back from them, experiencing them as an observer, resulting in the person being more relaxed, controlled and powerful. Each thought is just a thought and like all thoughts it will pass to be replaced by other thoughts. By gently bringing your attention back to your own breathing you will further support the passing of these thoughts. By directing your thoughts to your physical sensations you are meeting the urge as it passes through you, without being controlled by it. Acceptance is the key to recovery, so go surfing.


During an Urge notice: 

  • how you are feeling
  • how your breathing is changing from before
  • notice feeling alive and aware of all your senses
  • how your hands are
  • how your thoughts are observe them and feel them fully express them, to others and to yourself
  • fully immerse yourself in these sensations notice each wave of the urge
  • notice how it moves
  • how it ebbs and flows
  • how it peaks and how it gently leaves to be replaced by a soothing calmness of a more intense relaxation
  • Finally, notice how each urge is one less urge that you will ever experience

Each urge is the body and the mind recovering in unison repairing reconnecting to a life without urges and triggers, allowing new sensations, to emerge as those weakening urges are replaced by equally interesting harmless sensations

Relapse prevention tools are many and varied but you should learn and practise as many as you can as there will be times when one technique will be better than another. The more that you learn the less you rely on luck and hope. No matter what you are trying to change there are scientifically proven ways to get the result you want but as people are all different the best approach for each person is different. The more you know the more choices you have. Learn and practise urge surfing but add it to a range of relapse prevention tools. You don't have to choose to give up so choose success. Learn all the other relapse prevention techniques in this section and enjoy your success.

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