As part of my regular continuing education requirements, I attended a class last week. The presenter shared a book by Dr. Russ Harris called The Happiness Trap. I don’t own the book yet, but I’m planning on it. One of the chapter headings was “Urge Surfing,” and while I haven’t read Dr. Harris’ take on urge surfing yet, I have to admit that the image completely caught my attention.
And on Thanksgiving day, I thought that it might be worth exploring my thoughts on urge surfing and offering them to you.
I have never been surfing, so I am going to offer deep apologies to anyone who has for my lack of true knowledge on the subject. Even though I haven’t done it, I love the metaphor it provides. I have had a chance to splash about a bit in the ocean, and even close to shore I’ve been knocked down and bounced around enough to have great respect for the power of waves.
What I see when I watch someone surfing is a person who has practiced enough to be able to stay ahead of the crest of the wave. They are still touched by the wave, they are actively engaging with it. But it’s not knocking them down. Or pushing them around. Or running them over. The act of surfing is to engage with the wave without being overwhelmed.
I think of our emotions, our impulses, and our compulsions as the psychological equivalent of waves. There are lots of potential waves that folks may face this weekend. Here are just a few:
- Multiple demands from family members or “tradition” that are hard or impossible to meet given your physical health.
- Unrealistic amounts of food preparation and consumption that can be challenging whether you face body image concerns, diabetes, or just a desire to engage with food in healthy ways.
- The pressure to shop until you drop with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday–whether you can afford it or not.
- The challenges of families that often have complicated histories and behavior patterns sitting down together to try to share a “happy” meal.
- The pain of facing a first holiday without a dear loved one, or with a new diagnosis.
If you think that any of those waves are headed your way, you might have been worrying all week about how you would face them. You might have a history of choosing coping tools that leave you feeling worse than when you started. You might be concerned about when you might get knocked down today. Or you might worry about what you might regret later on.
Riding the Wave
So, I’m inviting you to take a few minutes. Remember that you are allowed to unhook yourself from anything that is hurtful. And build yourself a mental surfboard. No, really. Take a moment and visualize your board. Is it old-school wooden? High-tech modern? Colorful? Muted? Do you have it? Good deal. Imagine paddling out toward your wave. Get yourself centered on your board, and when you would normally get swept away, visualize riding that “urge wave.” Glide along, giving yourself time and space to check whether you are responding in the way that you want.
And if you get knocked off your feet, gently remind yourself that you can always choose to surf the next wave. Practice helps us grow.
I hope your holiday includes some moments of joy–and that you share your “urge surfing” stories.