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 Post subject: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:49 pm 
orange is a state of mind

Joined: Fri Nov 27, 2009 7:42 pm
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This technique can be used for any eating disordered urge, whether it be the urge to purge, binge, restrict, chew-and-spit, throw all your food in the bin, weigh yourself, exercise, take diet pills, whatever.


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

e.g. "I wish this itch would go".............."It is driving me crazy".............."This too will pass" - in a calm tone..........."This too will pass" - in an irritable tone.............."It is is not bloody well passing!"............."I would love to scratch right now" etc etc

- 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.

Suppressing a thought feeling or sensation, including pain ultimately increases it. (Clark Ball & Pape 1991, Gold & Wegner 1995, Wegner, Schneider, Carter & White, 1987, Wegner, Schneider, Knutson & McMahon 1991, Cioffi & Holloway 1993)

For example Wegner et al (1987) conducted a series of experiments to assess the effects of thought suppression called the “white bear” experiments. The bear was chosen because one of the researchers remembered reading that when Russian author Tolstoy challenged his brother not to think of a white bear, the brother remained perplexed for quite a while .

In one of the more sophisticated experiments people were shown a movie about white bears. These people were then given a sorting task which required concentration. They were then divided into two groups. The first group was instructed to suppress the white-bear thoughts. The second group was given no instruction to suppress these thoughts. Both groups were asked to hit a counter button every time they thought of white bears while doing the other task. The initial suppression group reported a significantly higher rate of “white bear” thoughts during this time.

Prochaska (1992) et al in their study of how people change habitual behaviour, note that most people go through a long contemplative stage before they actually change. This stage is marked by ambivalence. Argumentation usually results in the client completing the other side of the ambivalent equation thus maintaining a state of therapeutic paralysis. It is reasonable to assume that the same problem exists with the client's internal disputation over the ambivalently regarded behaviour. (e.g. "I have to give up smoking because I could get cancer" receives a reply "Yes but that isn't going to happen to me - at least not for a long time.")

The Technique of Urge Surfing

Mindfulness allows us to bypass these problems associated with avoidance and disputation. Instead of trying to distract from or argue with the unpleasant thoughts, feelings or urges, mindfulness simply makes the thoughts, feelings or urges less important. When we use mindfulness we stay exposed to the thoughts feelings or urges for their natural duration without feeding or repressing them.

In fact, if we just let an urge be - non judgmentally - without feeding it or fighting it (Fighting it is just another way of feeding it anyway) then it will crest subside and pass.

Of course they come back again but over a period of time. However each time you overcome a bout of cravings they become less intense and less frequent if we don't feed the urges and if we don't give in to the addiction. Moreover our mindfulness technique of urge surfing improves. If we have a slip and give into the impulse we will have increased urges for a while. However we can still apply urge surfing all over again.

Urges can be compared with feeding a stray cat. In the beginning, you may want to feed the cat because it cries for food and attention. You may find that it is a nice thing to do and you feel good for being kind. However, your act of feeding the cat encourages it to repeat its cries and attention seeking. You find yourself giving in each time. Over a period of time the cat grows bolder and other cats join it in crying for food and attention.

You may begin to regret your actions, as a large number of strays are now contributing to noise and other problems. But you cannot resist the feeling of ignoring their cries. You may believe that their survival now depends on you, and that your actions are more important than ever. They have you trapped in a cycle of your own pattern of repeated problem behaviours.

If you make a decision to resist feeding the "cat army," there will be loud and pitiful cries for a few days. In fact they will be at their strongest when you have decided not to reinforce their behaviour. Soon, however, they will come to realise that they are no longer being reinforced, and will gradually diminish and disappear. Your decision to stick with the action you know is best for you will "undo" the problem that you unknowingly built up in the first place.

Urges do go away, but they may be very strong for a short while immediately after quitting. Knowing that they will weaken will help you to continue to surf the impulses that you feel, especially in response to your personal triggers.

Urge Surfing Summary


To experience the cravings in a new way and to "ride them out" until they go away


1. Remember that urges pass by themselves.

2. Imagined that urges are like ocean waves. that arrive crest and subside. They are small when they start, will grow in size, and then will break up and dissipate.

3. Practise mindfulness regularly and especially notice any impulses or urges that appear. Then we are well prepared to ride these waves without giving in to the urge by using mindfulness.

Urge surfing itself

Practise mindfulness
- Watch the breath. Don’t alter it. Let the breath breathe itself.
- Notice your thoughts.
- Without judging them, feeding them or fighting them gently bring your attention back to the breath

Notice the craving experience as it affects the body.
- Focusing on one area where the urge is being felt and noticing what is occurring.
****Notice quality, position, boundaries & intensity of the sensation
****Notice how these change with the in-breath and out-breath
- Repeating the focusing process with each part of the body involved.
- Be curious about what occurs and notice changes over time.

The key is replacing the fearful wish that craving will go away with interest in our 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.

Excerpt from Mindfulness

Last edited by Kizzi on Sun May 01, 2011 4:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2011 12:48 am 
galactic orange
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this is something that is very difficult for me as i feel like i would have to do this every minute of the day hehe..
but i know i can achieve it. this is helpful..
if i keep reminding myself that the urges only last 30 minutes in average!
it's so hard to "ride the wave" but I guess eventually it will go away...

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 Post subject: Re: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2011 5:12 am 
orange like clockwork
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Thanks for the link Kizzi. I have been talking about this a lot in therapy. My psych is always telling me to remember that an urge is like a wave, it builds up and reaches a high point (the point that we normally give in, thinking it will only get worse) but if you sit with it long enough, it has to come down.

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 Post subject: Re: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:31 am 
orange is a state of mind

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Posts: 2473
And it works even better when you practice it daily with more trivial urges. Definitely a "practice makes (almost) perfect" skill. :)

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 Post subject: Re: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 3:57 am 
power lies within
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with all due love and appreciation to the beloved cat relationships of wbb members, i have a more tempestous cat history and reacted favourably to this in spite of my work towards making friends with more cats....
If you make a decision to resist feeding the "cat army," there will be loud and pitiful cries for a few days...

ha. yes. deal with it, cats. yowl yourselves into oblivion.

“If I am not for me, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
- Rabbi Hillel

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 Post subject: Re: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 7:21 pm 
galactic orange
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Location: Vancouver, BC
This is a great post for people needing help wiht urges, including binging as I know some people have mentioned this lately.

“When you have come to the edge Of all light that you know And are about to drop off into the darkness Of the unknown, Faith is knowing One of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or You will be taught to fly”

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 Post subject: Re: URGE-SURFING - you want to read this one folks!
PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2013 5:41 am 
admin goddess from hell
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Surf feelings.jpg
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Reminder to read the first post again...and again.

Whispered words of wisdom,
Let it be.

~~ John Lennon

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