Picture this. You arrive at a friend’s BBQ; the smoky air smelling like summer, and as your friend ushers you into the garden, the first thing you’re offered is, of course, a drink. This time last year you would have without hesitation requested your favourite tipple, but this year, you’ve decided to go alcohol free. And this is the event you’ve been dreading. You look around and see everyone happily sipping away; fresh glasses of white wine, cool bottles of beer, some fancy cocktail someone has concocted. The temptation is powerful. So, how to get through it? The key is in surfing a wave…

Studies have found that using mindfulness can help us relate differently to the experience of temptation. A few weeks ago, we ran the first mindfulness practice in the series to help us navigate through an alcohol-free summer, noticing your thoughts (https://www.oneyearnobeer.com/mindfulness-for-an-alcohol-free-summer-series-practice-1-noticing-your-thoughts-by-ali-roff/), and this week we build on this understanding of mindfulness to help us build a successful alcohol free lifestyle, with a practice called ‘surfing the wave’.

A recent study* found that this practice helped participants reduce the amount they gave into temptation by a whopping 37%.

The founder of this study, Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, notes that when we feel a temptation or craving, we often think that the feeling of temptation will only go away once we have satisfied it. But in her research, she has found that by being with the urge, rather than reacting to it, these experiences, just like waves, will crest, and then fade. This practice invites us to relate differently to our old relationship with alcohol, and begin to build a new, less reactive, and more conscious one.

How to ‘ride the wave’

Next time you feel the temptation, or an old thought process arise of wanting a drink in a particular situation such as at a summer BBQ, imagine the feeling of temptation is like riding a wave.

  • Check in with the breath, can you use it as a surf board to help you stay with the temptation rather than get sucked underwater?
  • Notice the feeling of temptation. Without trying to change it by satisfying it, or pushing it away, can you get curious about it?
  • How does this temptation feel in your body? Where can you feel it?
  • What emotions have come up for you?
  • Can you ask yourself; what is it you actually need in this moment? What are you really craving?
  • Notice now that you have stayed present with this temptation – and stayed with the experience rather than reacting to it.
  • Notice that you always have this choice, no matter how strong the temptation is.
  • Stay with the temptation for as long as you need to; the wave will swell and subside, it might swell again, in which case, take out your surfboard again and get curious once more about this feeling of temptation or wanting. Notice it and stay with it until it passes once more. You can do this as many times as you need to, but know that each time you do, you are rewiring your brain and strengthening neural pathways which overtime will allow you to deal with temptation more easily.

Don’t miss the rest of the mindfulness for an alcohol-free lifestyle series. Next up: ‘how to use kindfulness for an alcohol free lifestyle’.

Want more support? One Year No Beer is the leading habit changing programme with a 96% success rate – sign up for one of the challenges here 


*Bowen S, Marlatt A (2009). Surfing the urge: brief mindfulness-based intervention for college student smokers. Psychol Addict Behav, 23(4):666-71.

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