What is Urge Surfing? Can it Actually Help You Change Unwanted Behavior?

By Krista


Last Updated: May 31, 2022

“The man who overcomes his desires is braver than he who overcomes his enemies.” - Aristotle

While the modern era prides itself on science and knowledge, the brain continues to remain much of a mystery. We have many theories, often associated with evolution, as to why people behave in certain ways or why people experience strong emotions. Yet, it isn’t an exact science by any means.

And innate urges are part of this! At the end of the day, we all have urges. Our hunger drives us to eat. The reward center of our brain might further prompt us to buy a product or indulge in a meaningless one-night stand. Whatever the case may be, our brain fuels our urges, and it often rewards us with dopamine and serotonin when we’ve given in to those urges.

Yet, not all urges are good. The Britannica Dictionary refers to urge as “a strong need or desire to have or do something.” This can include eating to simmer down an emotion, buying to feel good, or reaching for a cigarette when you feel that need arise. Luckily, there’s a new way in town to override these urges; it’s called urge surfing! 


What Is Urge Surfing?

Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that allows you to simply observe an urge without actually acting on the impulse. Simply put, it involves a form of meditation where imagine surfing that wave (which is used as a metaphor for your urge), letting it pass.

Like a wave, urges can feel strong and intense. But they don’t usually last. If you ignore them, they will continue on their way.

Many experts further believe this is a very effective and efficient technique since it doesn’t involve ignoring the urge. Instead of ignoring it, which often causes an urge to become stronger, you recognize and observe the urge, but you don’t allow it to control you.

And here’s the other thing: Urges don’t typically last longer than 30 minutes. Thus, if you can ride that wave and overcome it, you’ll, generally, be in the clear within half an hour. 

Related Article: How You Can Master Meditation: The Calming Art of Mindfulness


Urge Surfing Example

Urge surfing can be particularly beneficial for those that are trying to quit a bad habit, such as smoking or eating when you’re not hungry. 

For instance, the urge to reach for a cigarette might arise, even though you’ve gone days without one. Instead of ruminating on it, take note of it and how your body feels. Where do you feel the urge? Be curious about it and notice changes in it. 

Then, sit and imagine you’re riding a surfboard over a wave. Imagine yourself riding that wave and eventually, moving past it into calmer waters. And don’t worry, if you’re unsure how exactly to urge surf, we’re going to lay it all out below.


Surfing the Urge Technique

So, you’ve got an urge. It doesn’t particularly matter what it is. This technique applies to a broad range of urgers, helping you tackle your demons and control your life. Here’s how you do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable position and breath. Gently tune into your breath. You don’t need to control it, just pay attention to it. Notice how the air feels as it passes through your nasal cavity and fills up your chest and belly. Take note as you breathe out.
  • Acknowledge your thoughts. Don’t judge yourself here. Just accept that you are thinking these things and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have to act on them. Just recognize that they are there. At the same time, notice where you feel the urge in your body. Does it change as time goes on? What is the sensation you feel? 
  • Visualize the wave. Urge surfing literally means visualizing yourself surfing that urge wave. Urges can wash over us and drown us, causing us to act on them. Yet, you can surf the wave and allow it to gently pass you by. This is where you do exactly that. Imagine you’re on a surfboard and the wave is beneath you. You’re balanced and cruising over the top of it. Eventually, you get to the other side and the wave continues on and you’re on the other side of it.
  • Bring your attention back to your breath. Finish off your urge surfing session by bringing your attention back to your inhales and exhales. Perform a few deep breaths and come back to the present moment.

Related Article: 70 Highly Inspiring Motivational Quotes to Start Your Week Strong


How Do I Stop the Urge in Surfing?

Use the above technique to ride that urge! A few more tips:

  • Only focus on surfing one urge at a time. It’s difficult to break habits and make changes. Thus, make it a little easier on yourself by only overcoming one urge in one moment.
  • Build your foundation or “base.” This simply means reducing vulnerable parts of your life by doing the basics to stay in good mental and physical shape, such as exercising regularly, eating regular meals, getting enough sleep, and treating any sickness.
  • Know that it gets easier with practice. The first time you use urge surfing, it might feel like a failure. Practice it. Know that it will become that much easier as you perform this technique more and build up those neural connections.
  • Practice self-compassion. If it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up. Keep trying and continue working toward your goal. Only when you quit trying is it true failure.



Will Urge Surfing Work for Me?

Try it out! And remember, give it a few rounds before you throw in the towel. 

Additionally, depending on the urge you’re trying to kick, you may also benefit from gaining support from a professional therapist. They can offer further techniques to help you become the master of your life!

Read Next: Helpful Tips to Break Bad Habits

Photo by RODNAE Productions


4 comments on “What is Urge Surfing? Can it Actually Help You Change Unwanted Behavior?”

  1. I love your daily motivations, really useful for me in these times and with so much going on in our lives.
    Thank you

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