Why Comfort Zones Are So Dangerous

All this study into psychology, and reflection on our lives, had to be good for something.  So today, things in the chemical kettle that’s my brain (bubble bubble and so on) combined to create a minor explosion.

I can’t wait until Friday before posting it.

(This vid is there to put you in the mood.  Burgled from Youtube.)


First a bit of background.

Subdivision of the human brain / psyche

Now, from what I’ve been gathering (collecting, as in), commonalities emerge between pop psychology, bio-psychology, and what is known today out of brain physiology.  Same concepts, different words.  Neurophysiology is actually confirming what people like Freud hypothesized.

1. The Croc Brain

There are various areas in our old thinker that have been identified to do specific things. Let’s start with the most primitive part.  I call it the “croc brain”; a lovely online mentor calls it the “critter brain” and a psychologist I heard recently calls it the “old brain”. It would map very nicely, in Freudian psychology, onto his concept of the “Id”.

The point is, it is located at the back, near the brain stem which is responsible for functions like breathing, heartbeat etc; near the cerebellum (the motor brain).  The “croc brain” is the oldest part of our brain (on an evolutionary scale) and it is responsible for our survival.

2. The Reactive Brain

Next in line is our experience of ourselves, and our day to day thoughts and choices.  While some of these generate in our pre-frontal cortex, most are really semi-automatic learnt actions and reactions.  We usually live our life through the lens of this day-to-day brain – lots of sensory input and processing, lots of humdrum. Habits etc.  Things we want. This part would coincide with Freud’s “Ego”.  It is certainly conscious; it can gossip about people or do its homework (or day-job… or in fact any routine… even complex routines like higher math, if that is what you do every day…)

3. The Creative Brain

Then there is the pre-frontal cortex; the “thinking brain”, the “ideas place”, the adventurous monkey that tries out new stuff.  The thing in us that gets bored.  It is the youngest part of our brain and among species, humans have a pretty large and intricate one.  (Horses have larger heads but most of that is sinus.)

Our creative brains would partially still tie in with Freud’s “Ego”, but where we start thinking of spiritual or creative things, it is closer to the “Superego”.

Now, contrary to what you may think, (potentially talking to my younger readers here), the “Superego” is not a super egotistical part of our psyche.  It is a transcendent, spiritual part of us that thinks thoughts that are e.g. beneficial to all humankind.  In spiritual systems, it sometimes is called the “Higher Self”. (That’s nicer than “superego”, don’t you think?)

So here is how they cooperate.

In an ideal environment (we are kids on a playground), the creative brain gets up to something; gets a cute idea (“let’s climb up this tree!”), and immediately, without any stops or pauses, starts implementing it.  The kid climbs up the tree; nothing happens; there’s a bit of excitement as the croc brain panics on the way down (the croc brain’s job is to panic), but the child makes it safely to the ground, and therefore the croc brain notes down:  “All good, we survived this just fine, we can keep on doing this.”

In a less ideal environment, a child goes into the water (under supervision of the swimming teacher that ought to have been locked up), trying to learn to swim.  And the teacher tries to cajole the child into putting its nose under water, and the child refuses, and the teacher pushes the child’s face into the water.

What happens?  The croc brain panics.  The child screams, inhales water; the teacher panics and lets go; the child scrambles out of the water and the croc brain vows never to set foot in a pool again!   The croc brain registers:  That way lies death.  We don’t go there.  It takes immense bravery for a child who has been damaged that way, to step out and learn to swim anyway.

And so we learn, all through childhood.  Behaviours that had no bad results, or not significantly bad results (such as, not bothering with homework and then pulling in one’s head while the teacher shouts) are registered as repeatable because they are survivable.  “Phew, that wasn’t so bad.  We survived.  Good.  Let’s do it again.”

Another thing the croc brain is concerned with, is to ensure maximum comfort against minimum effort.  (Was it “A Fistful of Dollars” where the spoiled rich young man waiting for his fortune comments to his father: “If work were so great, the rich would keep it to themselves”?)

But where’s the zinger-insight?

It is this.

Your croc brain, your Id, will rate everything “survivable” that didn’t cut too close to the abyss.  This includes having survived a parachute jump; or living through an armed robbery in which the criminals focused on the loot rather than on killing people.  It also includes close shaves you have while cycling, or (hope this is not you) texting while driving.

And the forsaken, blasted Id will stick these experiences, alongside more everyday stuff like your job, into a catch-all folder known as your Comfort Zone.  Under “not worth changing our routines over – tolerable unpleasantnesses”.

(Just to drive home this point, consider labour pain.  And yet, humanity survives and multiplies!)

Your Croc Brain and your Reactive Brain, your Id and your Ego, are conspiring to kill you!

And they are doing it via Comfort Zone.  Long-term, softly.

And worse:  They are doing it under pretext of keeping you alive!!

Now think of the last time you had a really good idea.

Something that was potentially going to make a lot of money, or be a lot of fun.

And your comfort zone, along with a whole lot of nay-sayers in your circles who were also only listening to their own comfort zones and projecting them onto you, pulled you back from it.

“Wow – I should really invite all the neighbours to a street party and get to know everyone.  Would be a lot of fun!  But… no…  * sigh *…  that would entail buying meat for the grill, and going out to invite everyone, and getting everyone to bring their own beer or wine, and…  oh, I think it would be awkward.  Nobody can throw out money on a party.  I certainly can’t.  Forget it.”

“I should really invest in a bit of cryptocurrency and see how that goes.  … but…  no… probably too risky…”  (and years later:  “Damn, if I’d invested in Bitcoin I’d be rich now!”)

Or, more tragically:  Having a bad habit (for instance, not eating healthily) over many years, but your Id and Ego will work together to keep you doing it, because you don’t feel bad right now, so… the effort of changing the habit is, in the calculations of Id, larger than the risk of keeping it the same.  This is why new habits are so hard to learn, and old ones so hard to get rid of.

You get it now?

Your Id and your Ego are your enemies in this.  Your Superego (your Higher Self) is your best friend and you shouldn’t listen to the others!

So the next time you get a business inspiration, or any inspiration for that matter…

Listen up!

Is it your Higher Self trying to rescue you?  Trying to break you out of your lethal comfort zone?  Act on it!  And if your Id panics and tries to persuade your Ego to stop you – go and read up on people who were successful doing what you are dreaming of doing.

Because, they survived!  In fact they thrived.  And, haha, with a JuJitsu trick, they turned the Id against itself and made the successful idea into a comfort habit!

So there, Id, take that!


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