Managing Comfort Zones

You’re probably in one now. You might not realise it and you’re very unlikely to admit it, but the reality is you’re very likely to be in your very own Comfort Zone.
How can I say this? Especially when I don’t know anything about you – your profession, interests or background. The answer is simple. Nobody stays outside their comfort zone for very long – we leave it for long enough to achieve what we need to achieve then we scuttle back for cover.

So, what is a Comfort Zone?

A comfort zone is a set of practices, behaviors and limitations in which we feel comfortable. Beyond the boundaries of that set, we begin to experience negative emotions. Like a fish in an aquarium that never notices the presence of water until it is removed from the water, what we really experience is a ‘discomfort’ zone.

Put simplistically: for a person who experiences vertigo, their comfort zone might mean avoiding high places. What we’re talking about here, however, are anxieties we may not even be Synapse xt aware of: avoidance of confrontation, nervousness around money, an inability to take criticism or fear of failure. And all of these stresses are inhibit our confidence and ability to conduct the essentials of our work, be it: cold calling, public speaking, correcting team members, making tough decisions and many other aspects of sales management.

To address the question of our Comfort Zones, we need to ask:

1) What causes these negative emotions?
2) Why do they exist?
3) What can we do about them?

Comfort zones only exist inside our minds. If, for example, you are uncomfortable speaking in public, it’s not the public nature of the presentation that’s at fault, nor is the audience to blame. The problem is how we represent the event inside our head. And, while it may be in our minds, it’s not psychology, it’s biology. Let’s have a look at what happens inside the brain:

The neurons of the brain receive signals from each other through a whole lot of ‘dendrites’ but they transmit information from just one axon.

In order to transmit signals, these axons reach out to dendrites on other neurons but they don’t actually touch them. To get information from the transmitting axon to the receiving dendrite the signal has to cross a microscopic gap called the synapse.

In terms of comfort and discomfort, the synapse is where all the action is. How you react to a situation depends on which neurotransmitter the axon decides to use to carry the signal across the synapses, from cell to cell to carry the brain’s response. Over 50 different different neurotransmitters have been identified but the one we are most interested in here is called dopamine, which is responsible for the feelings of comfort and discomfort.

And, it comes as no surprise that we are programmed to seek comfort and avoid discomfort. The word seek is important here. We learn about the world by making forecasts about what will happen and then we use a pain/pleasure feedback mechanism to signal the level of error in our prediction.

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