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Urge Surfing - Ride the Wave

June 27, 2022
Urge Surfing - Ride the Wave - Lark Health

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In this article: 

  • If you've been working on a healthy habit, you might feel an urge to return to an old behavior. Urge surfing can help with relapse prevention by making urges pass faster.
  • Urge surfing involves accepting the urge without judgment. You can notice the sensations it causes. This awareness is a type of mindfulness.
  • Lark can help you practice mindfulness and other tricks for establishing and maintaining new healthy habits to help you reach your health and weight loss goals.

Have you ever started a new healthy habit, but felt the urge to slip back into old ways? For example, you might be trying to eat healthier to lose weight, but you feel the urge to eat a chocolate chip cookie. Here's what "urge surfing" is, and why this technique may help the urge pass more quickly. 

Why "Ride the Wave?"

According to an article published in Indian Journal of Psychiatry, a psychologist named Alan Marlatt developed the theory of urge surfing. He used it to help prevent relapses in patients who were recovering from addictions, such as to drugs or alcohol. But it can help for any type of health habit, such as drinking more water or taking more walks.

Marlatt compared urges to waves. Like waves, he said that urges get stronger as they come, and then they pass. Eventually, like waves, another urge comes. He said that if you fight an urge, it just becomes stronger. If you ride out the urge instead of fighting it, it can pass more quickly.

Riding the Wave: How to Practice Urge Surfing

"Riding the wave" instead of fighting it means accepting it without judgment, according to Dartmouth-Hitchcock. You're not trying to deny or suppress it. 

These are some steps you can take when you have an urge to return to the old behavior, such as eating leftover pizza or drinking a soda.

  • Identify a part of the body that you associate with the urge. For example, if you have an urge to watch television instead of going for a walk, you might focus on your legs. If you have an urge to eat potato chips, you might focus on your mouth.
  • Focus on this part of the body. Does it hurt? Is there tingling or pressure? Is it pulsing or static? Do you think of it as a certain temperature, sound, or color? What shape is the sensation? Are its borders fuzzy or well-defined?
  • Think these thoughts for as long as it takes to take at least 5 to 10 deep breaths. 
  • Repeat this with each part of the body that you can identify that is linked to the urge.

As you notice the feelings, try to do the following.

  • Avoid any judgment.
  • Be genuinely curious as you explore your feelings and sensations.
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your sensations.
  • Don't rush to "finish" your exploration or to overcome the urge. Just observe.

You may give into the urge, but that's not a failure. Instead, it's a success if you practiced urge surfing. Keep practicing it, and you can get better at it. 

If you think "accepting without judgment" sounds like practicing mindfulness, you're right. American Psychological Association (APA) has more tips for mindfulness, which can help you manage stress and achieve health goals.

You can also support yourself by making healthier choices the rest of the time. Sleeping enough, eating well, and being physically active are good habits to adopt.

Lifestyle changes that can help with weight loss and health can be simple, but they can seem so complicated when they all happen at once! Who can analyze the nutrients in your food, monitor your workouts, track your weight, and offer feedback in real-time - without adding stress to your life? Lark can! 

Lark can turn healthy living into something simple. Lark is available 24/7 through your smartphone to guide you as you make decisions that affect health, such as which foods and beverages to choose, how to fit in a little more physical activity, which actions may contribute to better sleep, and how to manage stress. Plus, Lark can track your progress and provide personalized recommendations when you log meals, activity, weight, and sleep.

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