If we go back to the scenario we were facing in the first part of the article. I have a burning desire to run down to the local Apple store and buy a brand new shiny iPad (this is not made up, that urge is definitely there!!). My bank balance dictates otherwise.
In the second part of this post I looked at some Transactional Analysis ideas around managing our urges. To round everything off nicely I want to conclude by telling you about the Acceptance and Commitment technique we can use to manage our impulses called urge surfing.
I’ll talk you through how I could do it with my iPad urge.
The first question is to ask myself if buying an apple iPad links with my values. At the moment the answer has to be no. My values around money are to live within my means and spend money carefully (I don’t always manage to do this, but having a values system increases the chances that I will considerably). If the answer was yes it does fit in with my values, then I could just go buy it.
Because the answer is no I go on to the next stage. There is no point in trying to make the urge go away. It’s a bit like not thinking about a pink elephant. The more you tell your self to not think about a pink elephant the more you are actually thinking about a pink elephant (like you are thinking about one now!) So I will make space for the thought. I can accept it. In ACT terms this is known as expansion. Russ Harris explains all of this beautifully in his book The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living.
Russ also explains why the technique is called urge surfing;
Have you ever sat of the beach and watched the waves? Just noticed them coming and going? A wave starts off small and build gently. Then gradually it gathers speed and grows bigger. It continues to grow and move forward until it reaches a peak, known as a crest. Then once the wave has crested, it gradually subsides.
Russ goes on to compare this with the urges we get. They start small, build up to a peak then gradually subside down to nothing – if we learn to surf!
Here’s how I could do it with my urge;
- Feel the urge in my body. Sit with it. Where is it? I can feel my iPad urge in my chest. It feels like tightness, an excitement about the prospect of getting a new toy.
- Give the urge a number. Out of 10, how much do I really want an iPad? At the moment of writing I would rate it at 7. I would really like one but it’s not life and death!
- Acknowledge that it’s OK to have thoughts and desires about something without having to act on them. I am not my thoughts; I can make room for this urge and be OK.
- Work out what I can do instead that does fit in with my values – go for a run? Go relax? whatever it is I can go do that right now.
- Next time the urge returns, be it a few minutes or a few hours later, score it out of 10 again. I may note that the urge has increased or decreased. It reminds me that the strength of my desires change and are as controllable as the weather. I do not need to struggle with them, just accept and make space for them.
This all may sound like a long and drawn out process but let’s face it, we think quickly. All of this can rush through our minds in a few seconds. Another thing to understand is that we have lots of urges during a day and many of them are no problem at all. Have the urge to eat a Jammy Dodger? Go eat a Jammy Dodger, it’s not really going to impact on our lives (unless we are allergic to jam!) Have an urge to eat a packet of Jammy Dodgers? Now, that might be a problem if our values are to stay healthy and maintain a sensible weight and diet so get your metaphorical wet suit on ready for action!
I want to finish this set of articles off by a great example of how it can be great to give in to urges sometimes. Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis, bought a Maserati which he loved dearly, he even gave it the name “Mazeltov”. When asked about how he came around to the decision to buy it he joked;
“all 3 ego states bought the Mazeltov. The Child wanted it, the Adult needed it, and the Parent says drive carefully.”
I guess it’s cool for us all to have our Mazeltov’s now and again.
If you are interested in having therapy in Manchester with me just ring 07966 390857 for an appointment.