Meditation seems to be one of the top techniques recommended nowadays for self-development (e.g. McGonigal, K. 2011). For people who want to overcome behavioural addictions (i.e. any "addiction that involves a compulsion to engage in a rewarding non-drug-related behavior – sometimes called a natural reward", such as food, sex, masturbation, pornography, gambling, internet, video games, nail biting, compulsive skin picking, compulsive hair pulling, etc.):

  • Which meditation techniques (e.g. mindfulness, Vipassana, Yoga, Zazen, TM, Kundalini, etc.) are the most recommendable, according to state-of-the-art Psychology and Neuroscience?
  • Additionally, given the fact that an average layman cannot afford going full-time monk, what would be a recommendable frequency of the practice (in terms of minutes/hours per day) to see palpable results in a reasonable time?


  • Is a single meditation technique enough to overcome behavioral addictions? Or would it better to practice multiple meditation techniques at the same time? Or maybe different meditation techniques for different situations? For instance, are there any special meditation techniques to handle strong, compulsive urges in the presence of addiction cues/triggers?


  • Is meditation as a whole enough, or would one need to complement it with other non-meditative practices or measures? For example, positive affirmations, hypnosis, or maybe going to a therapist, exercising, sleeping 8+ hours, etc. I'm just throwing some ideas around.


McGonigal, K. (2011). The willpower instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it. Penguin Books.

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    $\begingroup$ Where did you get the idea that "Meditation seems to be one of top techniques recommended nowadays for self-development."? Can you please provide references to back that claim? Mind you even if you did, to ask for the best on something is to ask for an opinion which is off topic in all SE sites. $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2018 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ I've watched a lot of informal videos and read a lot of informal websites about self-development, and meditation is one of the top recurrent suggestions, together with exercise, healthy diet, etc. But if you ask me about more rigorous sources, right know "The willpower Instinct" by Kelly McGonigal comes to mind, for example. With respect to the use of the word "best", I don't think it is necessarily equivalent to asking for opinions, it could perfectly be answered objectively by providing an objective ranking metric, e.g., the technique's effectiveness for treating behavioral addictions. $\endgroup$
    – xwb
    Mar 17, 2018 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ Related: 1. psychology.stackexchange.com/a/17427/4397 2. psychology.stackexchange.com/q/17423/4397 $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Mar 18, 2018 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Seanny123, based on those links the takeaway would be to identify the bad habit's triggers, select an incompatible healthy response, and to frequently practice "guided mental imagery" to reinforce your preference toward the incompatible healthy response? In other words, are you suggesting that "guided mental imagery" is the best meditation technique? What about other techniques, such as mindfulness, Vipassana, Yoga, Positive Affirmations, Hypnosis etc.? $\endgroup$
    – xwb
    Mar 18, 2018 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @xwb unfortunately, despite asking the linked questions, I can't helped you any further. I saw the relation, but can't go any further than that. ): $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Mar 18, 2018 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


Several years ago, I was unsuccessfully searching for a study that evaluates the efficacy of many different interventions in the context of addictions. However, I did find a cognitive behavioral therapy (Copeland et al. 2001) that included a mindfulness technique called urge surfing and it was compared to other CBT interventions in cannabis use disorders. A definition follows from Marlatt (2002):

Other clients have described the successful use of "urge surfing" as a mindfulness technique (Marlatt, 1985, 1994). Clients are taught to visualize the urge as an ocean wave that begins as a small wavelet and gradually builds up to a large cresting wave. As the urge wave grows in strength, the client's goal is to surf the urge by allowing it to pass without being "wiped out" by giving into it. I tell clients that urges are often conditioned responses triggered by cues and high-risk situations. Like a wave, the conditioned response grows in intensity until it reaches a peak level of craving. Giving in to the urge when it peaks only serves to further reinforce the addictive behavior. Not acting on the urge, on the other hand, weakens the addictive conditioning and strengthens acceptance and self-efficacy. Like any skill, learning how to "urge surf" takes practice and improves over time as the client attains greater balance on the mindfulness surfboard.

Copeland et al. mention the use of urge surfing in their program:

The second session discussed urge management strategies such as‘‘urge surfing’’ and nonreinforcement.

and reported

significantly better treatment outcomes than those receiving notreatment. They were more likely to report abstinence during the follow-up period, were significantly less concerned about their control over cannabis use (as measuredby the SDS), and were more likely to have significantly fewer cannabis-related problems than those in the delayed treatment control group. Further, those receiving six sessions of treatment significantly reduced their level of cannabis consumption. These outcomes were unaffected by the therapist delivering the intervention, but were affected by treatment compliance.

Note that the study included a lot of other lessons. Regarding how often it should be done: The subjects were advised to use this technique whenever the urge appeared.

More info about urge surfing can be found in the freely accessible book Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice (2003) in Chapter 67.

Regarding the question about lifestyle factors, there have been countless studies (some cited in McGonigal's book) that indicate a positive effect of cardiovascular exercise, sufficient sleep, low-glycemic diets on self-regulation and so I will not cite them here.


Copeland, J., Swift, W., Roffman, R., & Stephens, R. (2001). A randomized controlled trial of brief cognitive–behavioral interventions for cannabis use disorder. Journal of substance abuse treatment, 21(2), 55-64. doi:10.1016/S0740-5472(01)00179-9

Marlatt, G. A. (2002). Buddhist philosophy and the treatment of addictive behavior. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 9(1), 44–50. doi:10.1016/s1077-7229(02)80039-6

Lloyd, A. (2003). Urge Surfing. In W. O'Donohue, J. E. Fisher & S. C. Hayes (Eds.), Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice (pp. 451-455). New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. Would you say that this forms part of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness-based cognitive-behavior therapy (MCBT) or would you say that it is MBCT/MCBT in a nutshell? $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ Please bear in mind that Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice containing the Lloyd (2003) chapter has a new (2009) edition with just short of an extra 170 pages and the Lloyd (2003) chapter is now chapter 73, not chapter 67. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the DOI links. I couldn't identify anything in the Igna et al. paper you linked to that would lead me to conclude that MCBT is different from MBCT. I wouldn't classify urge surfing by itself under either category, as the cognitive (analytical) component isn't as central in the technique itself (but others may see the delineations differently). Copeland et al. did include CBT in their regimen as a separate lesson, however. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2019 at 17:14

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