Just came from an absolutely AMAZING training with Dr. Andrew Tatarsky of the Center for Optimal Living. He was at The Actors Fund to talk about Harm Reduction techniques and his book, Harm Reduction Psychotherapy. While this was mainly focused on application with substance abuse cases, it is easy to make the connection to a disordered process with money. My favorite part of the training was the technique of urge surfing, where you delay responding to the urge to 'use' (splurge, spend, drink, etc.).
In that delay you slowly breathe into the urge and describe the thoughts and sensations that come up.
The urge becomes the way in to see what is driving the feeling. You 'unwrap' the urge and ask:

  1. Training Courses Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  2. Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training Techniques
  3. Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training Reliaslearning
  4. Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training Seminars

This term “urge surfing” was developed by G.A Marlatt, a leading psychologist who proved that there was a better way to combat substance addiction. Urge surfing is a method that can be used to help mitigate the effects of the urges we have. Urge surfing makes the claim that fighting an urge is useless. Endorses engaging in an urge-related behavior, or experiencing urges for an urge-related behavior, within the past week Currently receiving treatment (or seeking services) at a university mental health clinic at University of Nevada, Las Vegas OR enrolled in a course requiring research participation at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • What does the urge want?
  • What happened just before?
  • What does the urge want to change?
  • If it could speak, what would it say?
  • Is there a story it has to tell?
  • What part of you is speaking through the urge?

For so many of us, financial behavior is not strategic, rational, and deliberate -- oh, no. It is reactive, messy, and confusing. It's based on urges that have their basis in deep emotion and profound personal meaning. It touches on our multiple points of our identity, relationships, and social context. Before we can attempt to change or 'clean up' our financial behavior we have to come from an initial place of compassionate curiosity and radical acceptance. Once we can perceive and understand the origin of these behaviors and how those behaviors serve us (even as they limit us), only then do we have the chance to make real, purposeful, substantive change.

Radical acceptance. It's what financial wellness is all about.

Changing a habit is hard. Anyone who has tried to change their eating habits, quit smoking, start an exercise program, or stop drinking or using drugs can tell you how difficult it can be at times to change old habits. In my last post I discussed how slipping (i.e., falling back into an old habit) can sometimes set us up for a relapse (i.e., continuing a habit beyond the initial slip) due to a phenomenon known as the Abstinence Violation Effect. In this post, I’d like to talk about a technique that can help you before you slip, a technique called “urge surfing.”

What is Urge Surfing?

BehavioralUrge

Urge surfing is a technique attributed to the late psychologist Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of addictions treatment. We can think of an urge as an impulse to engage in an old habit, such as drinking or using, and they are often experienced as physical sensations in the body. Urges are like waves in that they rise in intensity, peak, and eventually crash.

Here’s a brief exercise you can do to explore this technique: Stop for a moment and think about an urge that you recently experienced. As you think about this urge, see if you can notice all the sensations that come up as you think about it; see if you notice how these sensations shift across time. Use your breath to help you ride out the waves (i.e., the urge); like a surfboard, you can simply observe your breath as you ride out each wave that arises. Congratulations! You just successfully surfed your first urge!

Urges usually peak between 20 – 30 minutes, if we let them. What I mean by this last phrase is this: if we adopt an open and curious attitude about the urge and watch it without doing battle with it, then the urge will subside. However, if we go to battle with our urges (e.g., “I can’t stand this urge! I have to get rid of it right now!”), they will subside more slowly. Worse, by giving into urges we can actually strengthen them and we can lose confidence in our abilities to change our old habits.

Training Courses Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training

How to Surf an Urge

There are slight variations of the urge surfing technique, but most include the following steps:

Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training
  1. Take a few moments to notice where you experience urges in your body. You can do this by taking some time to sit in a quiet place, and if you are comfortable doing so, closing your eyes, and just allowing your attention to go to the place(s) in your body where you tend to feel urges. For some people they notice that urges are most connected to sensations in their abdomens; for others, they notice urges in their mouth (e.g., their mouths water when experiencing an urge to drink). There is no right or wrong place for an urge to be located. What is most important is that you notice where in your body you most notice urges when they show up. If you are having trouble noticing urges, think back to a time when you experienced an urge to engage in an old habit. If you are concerned that thinking about a particular instance when you had an urge will lead to doing the habit, pick a situation where the urge was less strong or you successfully prevented yourself from acting on the urge. Picture the situation as clearly as you can in your imagination. Once the situation is clear in your mind notice where in your body you are experiencing the urge.
  2. Once you have noticed what part of your body is most connected to the urge, focus your attention on it (if you notice that more than 1 area of your body is connected to an urge, start with the place that you most intensely notice the urge). Take note of the sensations you are having in this body part. What do the sensations feel like? Does it feel like pressure, tingling, warmth, or coolness? How much space do these sensations take up in this place in your body? Try to draw an outline around the place where the sensations are felt. See if the sensations have any movement. Some people tend to associate sensations with colors or temperatures. Check to see if you notice any colors or temperature associated with these sensations. For some people it can be helpful to silently describe the sensations in an objective and non-judgmental manner (e.g., I notice warmth and tingling in my belly). If more than one part of your body is associated with an urge, go through this exercise with each body part.
  3. Bring your attention to your breath. You do not need to change your breathing at all. Notice your breath for the next 1-2 minutes. Some people find it helpful to bring their attention to a particular place in their body where they notice their breath (e.g., the abdomen); some find it helpful to say phrases like “breathe in,” “breathe out” as they inhale and exhale.
  4. Gently shift your attention back to the part(s) of your body where you notice the urge. Allow yourself to notice whatever sensations come up in these places. If it becomes overwhelming to notice the sensations, gently return your attention back to breath for a few moments and then go back to noticing the sensations connected to the urge. You may find it helpful to imagine sending your breath to the parts of your body that are associated with the urge (e.g., you can breathe into your shoulders and let your breath fill up that part of your body). Notice if and how the sensations change as you watch them. Be sure to practice this step for at least 1 minute, but longer is probably better.
  5. This next step is optional, but I have found it to be helpful in my own life and in working with people with addictions. Imagine that the sensations connected with your urge are a wave. Watch the wave rise and fall over and over again as the intensity of your sensations peak and subside. Your job is to use your breath as a surfboard to ride these waves. No matter how big the wave gets, no matter how much you feel as if the wave will consume you, you are a skilled surfer and you will use your breath to ride each wave as it comes. Practice this for at least 1 minute, but again, longer is probably better, particularly the first few times you practice this.
  6. As you’re riding the wave (or just noticing the sensations), you may find it helpful to silently describe the sensations in an objective and non-judgmental way (e.g., I notice warmth in my belly that is increasing…the warmth in my belly is decreasing and my belly feels cooler).
  7. When you are done surfing the urge, take a moment to thank yourself for taking the time and being willing to do something different with your urges. You can also use this time to set your intention for the next few minutes, hour, or day.

Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training Techniques

That’s it! With practice urge surfing gets easier and you may discover that you are an excellent surfer. You can practice this technique in two ways:

  1. You can start urge surfing whenever you notice yourself having an urge. This can be a particularly useful technique when you notice urges to go back to old habit that you are trying to break.
  2. You can practice this on a regular basis by setting aside time to practice using the technique. Many people find that listening to an audio recording of the technique is useful at first. Through this kind of formal practice, you can get better at urge surfing so that you’re better at it when you need it.

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You’ll find that, with practice, urges will become easier to ride out. You may even start to feel a sense of pride or accomplishment as you successfully surf urges and act according to your values, instead of according to your urges.

If you would like to learn more about how to use techniques like urge surfing to cope with urges, the book below is a good option:

Urge Surf Image2dialectical Behavioral Training Seminars

Author: Portland Psychotherapy Team

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