Note: this post is part of a series on dealing with the comfort zone.
Glancing through the internet the other day, I noticed several blogs by HSPs that showed a defensiveness about expanding or leaving their comforts zones. There was a general attitude about being forced out of their safe space and facing new expansive challenges outside of the comfort zone. As an HSP, I get this, but it’s not a good place to live life.
Yes, for HSPs the comfort zone is our safe harbor, our haven for processing or re-energizing. When we need it we go there. But, to bristle at the idea of leaving or expanding that same comfort zone for growth purposes is absurd. Unfortunately, our comfort zone is a place of pattern and routine, a place where change is often absent. It is not the place for challenging new growth or real expansion. It seems so many HSPs fight that notion, in spite of the fact that at some point they know they are inherently wrong. Hence the defensiveness.
Living outside of the comfort zone for HSMs or HSPs for that matter is especially vexing. We sometimes live in our bubble and this cocoon can protect us even from the normal external elements we face each day. We live in predefined boundaries that keep us safe and secure, but can we really thrive or reach our optimal potential if we don’t stretch those boundaries?
According to neuroscience, the answer is no. Lack of variability leads to rigidity in the brain. Variability comes from experiences largely outside of our bubble. Without experiencing at some point the departure from the comfort zone means that we are relaxing in our unchanging, invariant secure environment. Now don’t get me wrong, that comfort is a necessary part of the HSP world, but it doesn’t teach us much about growing as individuals if we use it as a fortress.
The brain is a highly adaptive organ, a neuroplastic engine that is designed to adapt, designed to grow and expand neural networks. In spite of how we perceive the world, or in our case absorb the world, we still need to move into the occasional uncomfortable space, where real growth and new experience lives.
We know that HSPs are evolutionarily designed to be cautious creatures. More input to us means more likely more hesitation to move into the unfamiliar. But, how do we cope with this cautious nature, in a world where adaptation is an evolutionary necessity, and we have a brain that is also perfectly designed to expand and grow? Can we still live within our cautious nature and yet occasionally explore beyond it freely from our customary boundaries?
I think most certainly. But, it’s going to be a bit different for most HSPs. Questions about how far and how fast we push boundaries before we hit that exhaustion point that many of us fear, linger deeply within all of us. Another consideration-- does the usual pushing of boundaries always lead to expansion of boundaries, or could too much pushing lead to the retreat of those boundaries? Is there a risk/reward equation that we need to examine before proceeding? Can we really devise such an algorithm, or do we always subjectively bias that equation to err towards caution and back into the land of comfort.
Something else to consider: is it better for HSPs to focus more on growing inwardly, deepening our awareness of self and self- in-universe. Or should we expand outwardly, looking to external experiences to shape and move us forward in our growth? I think many HSPs believe that going outside of the great walls of our CZ is equivalent to mind numbing exhaustion and overwhelm; always seeking the comfort of a personal space, such as described in Brian Wilson’s song, In My Room. Perhaps, that line of thinking comes from being pushed by others, even well-meaning others to go outside of where you are comfortable thus; leaving you feeling like someone else is in control.
I think it’s a little of both. All people seek comfort, although it seems HSPs are most comfortable when in the comfort zone. But life in our brains is a biochemical mix of fear versus homeostasis or comfort. It is the great yin and yang balancing act of life. The fear aspect can be a great growth stimulant for us HSPs. It’s called optimal anxiety, where performance and productivity apex. I’m not so crazy about that name, but fear can be a powerful motivator and so can discomfort. Fear and uncertainty can produce a state of productive discomfort, which drives us toward achieving a certain competency. This competency leads to a state of comfort or homeostasis again, which completes the cycle of learning and growth. The greatest source of confidence comes from experience, not rumination.
A key here may be in dealing with the anxiety in a controlled way. This is the difference between attaching a fire hose to a fire hydrant versus opening up all of the ports of the hydrant at once with no controls. Humans are goal seeking creatures and goals require an expansion beyond mere comfort to deliver real growth. I see no way around that.
What we should be talking about is growing the comfort zone to include new experiences. This contrasts with HSPs notions of leaving the safety of the CZ and I think is a more palatable notion to HSPs than saying you have to live outside of your comfort zone. You can overcome acrophobia from flying in a plane, without having to skydive out. It doesn’t have to be extremist to be valid.
I know from personal experience that comfort zones can expand. They don’t have to be static and unchanging sanctuaries. What I am now comfortable with was not the same ten years ago, or twenty years ago. And it required being placed in uncomfortable situations to make this happen. Places which I hated at the time, but in later reflection appreciated.
So what is the best approach for HSMs to begin expanding? Toe dipping or diving in? It depends on the individual. We all have had our experiences of being initiated into the traditions of manliness in our culture, most often put in uncomfortable situations with things we are not especially suited to or prepared for. Here are some general tips on expanding your comfort zone and maybe learning something new in the process:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Arriving at a decision time expectations have shrunk in the past thirty years, as our technology speeds have accelerated. This is largely due to our reliance on instant technology; technology that can either produce near instant results or produces the illusion of instantaneous gratification. This quick decision making has in many ways rewired our brains to expect hasty decisions, often based on little information inputs or with wide information gaps.
With text messaging and social media, we get faster response times and now our society looks for leaders particularly to make instant decisions. Technology is beginning to rewire our brains to expect more instant response decision making and teaching us to almost make battlefield decisions without the benefit of inputs or training can leave everyone feeling battle fatigued.
This type of decisioning seems to lack reflection and appeals mainly to our more primitive limbic emotional processing systems. With technology accelerating communication, decisive responses are now expected, too. From that we can see more and more bad decisions being made across the society, from teenagers to seniors, from politics to religion, from corporate to private worlds, it’s happening all over.
I’m not saying it’s all bad. There have and always will be times when quick decisioning is imperative, think of an emergency room, in NORAD’s control center, or while flying a plane in bad weather. But more often now, we see decisions expected quickly for times when more reflective thinking is required.
This carries over into the realm of business, and in the field, I once worked in Information Technology it is rampant. We have created a great and ponderous beast, called the internet and it requires 24/7 attention and feeding. All of our technology is tied to that, one way or another; a giant communication network with billions of nodes and requiring perhaps as many or more decisions every day.
HSPs don’t work this way. We are deep processing thinkers and we are also observational, receiving high quantity of multiple inputs from multiple sensory paths. Instead of bypass processing, we are absorbed by all the inputs and have to sort, categorize and process the data. This takes time and runs contrary to modern cultural expectations. “I’ll get back to you”, doesn’t cut it today. Leaders expect workers and workers expect leaders to instant process to decisions – no rumination, no mulling, and culling, just get the answer…NOW.
Part of the stress that working HSPs that are in industries that require this type of quick thinking has to do with the expectation of making decisions on unprocessed information, hastily sifting through the inputs and creating a less than perfect output. HSPs are highly conscientious individuals and doing this kind of half-baked thinking goes directly against our wiring. The stress comes from the pressure to decide and not being given ample time to process deeply.
Now, we can do this like everyone else, but it’s not comfortable. To be asked to do this all the time can be almost debilitating. Going against our nature is what we are expected to do all the time, and indeed, not doing that, can have real world consequences for many HSPs in the workplace. The increased pressure and stress can even at time short circuit our processing, delaying further decision making or in some cases shutting us down.
And, the world is not changing for our needs, at least not anytime soon. If you want to work today, you’ll need to find a way to cope, adapt or join in the fray, to deal with the pressure to move more quickly. Adaptation is the key, but with all things for HSPs – self-preservation is the lock. You’ll need that to stay secure.
Let’s look at some things that may help:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
So much attention is placed on money in our society and making said money. We equate having or not having it with our own value, self-worth, power, freedom and respect. And what is money-- is it just a unit of financial significance, a measurement of success, or as some billionaires says, a way of keeping score. I really believe it is none of these. We are so focused on the score of the game that we often overlook the game. I think it is clear that we as a money obsessed society miss the whole idea that money is simply energy with enormous work potential bundled around it.
We have attached too much superficial meaning to the accumulation and procurement of money that we fail to see that we have enslaved ourselves to this concept to the extent we are not participating in the game, i.e. life. As HSPs, we inherently understand the fundamentals of money acquisition and possess many of the characteristics needed to acquire money, but more often than not, refuse to play the game or participate because of the taxing nature on our personalities. Let’s look at this.
HSPs are by nature, cautious creatures. That makes us less likely to be willing to engage in behavior that risk assaulting our sensibilities. We are in many ways risk averse. However, according to Dr. Tracy Cooper, about twenty percent of HSPs are high sensation seeking individuals. So, we are not entirely a tribe of non-risk takers. Those high sensation seeking HSPs are like other risk takers, looking for novel experiences, able to disinhibit long enough to engage in risky behavior and can get bored easily with the same old, same old. And HSPs are naturally curious and creative souls that like connecting disparate dots to make new ideas happen.
So, why don’t more HSPs become prominent in business or startups or in the art of making money? Why aren’t we front and center on getting promotions at work, implementing our ideas in the marketplace, making sales, pitching our ideas to investors, sticking our necks out there, and risking everything for an idea that has money making potential? Oddly, I don’t think it’s the risk that factors in here.
One has to consider the nature of business, or the nature of making money. One is either in the business of labor creation or in the business of labor offering. The motive of all business is to make profit for the enterprise. Economic purists would argue that this is a noble and time honored task. To profit in a business is to be efficient and innovative – two things HSPs are fairly good at. To profit in business is to be able to provide rewards to shareholders and owners and to perpetuate the business as an entity.
Much like evolutionary survival, a strong, profitable business thrives and continues. And much like a true reflection of Darwin’s evolution of species; modern, capitalistic business, must compete to survive. And, survival becomes the prime objective. Think of crushing competition, dominating the marketplace and hoarding resources this is what we prize in our culture. It’s what we deem as winning (watching the scoreboard).
This applies equally to individuals at a micro-economic level, too. And it comes back to how we earn, acquire and accumulate money. It’s how things get done and it’s rampant in our culture. There is a little lechery in any business that is purely out to make money, in spite of high moral posturing with mission statements and company visions. Does this put off HSPs? Surely, for some of us. Does it intimidate us? Quite possibly, for many of us. Do our collective moral compasses steer us away from being business “savvy”, and drawn away from the whole proposition of making money? Well if you think about, social Darwinism, an unwritten credo of modern big business, is so non-HSP. Is this how HSPs define winning? I doubt it.
What drives entrepreneurs? What types of personality characteristics make for a good startup CEO? Most sources agree that successful entrepreneurs are risk takers, highly confident, and have a love for learning new things. They, also, are wired for failure resiliency, perhaps aided by an undying passion for their endeavor and a high degree of adaptability and tenacity. In addition, they display great social skills, like networking for results, money management skills-- which require an “its just business” attitude, and self-promotion and charisma.
How does that match up with generalized HSP characteristics? Well, in some places well. We are creative and innovative thinkers, and as noted some of us like risk. We love to learn and appreciate novelty. Where we fall short are those areas where quick decision making, supreme confidence, the gift of bullshitting your way into someone else’s pocket book without guilt and an outward focus on output with an inward drive on self-aggrandizement. In other words, welcome to ego El Supremo. It’s rare to find a consciously aware billionaire, maybe even rarer to find an HSP billionaire.
So are we HSPs doomed to being poor or at least living a frugal life, because of some ineptness or inability to override our moral convictions to make “good” money? Do you think there’s an alternative universe out there that allows for doing the right thing and becoming wealthy as a result? Is the nature of profit simply access to excess? Really folks, is there something inherently wrong about making money that makes money distasteful and disgusting?
Perhaps we need to re-frame the whole question. Is money or having money dirty, unsavory and undesirable? Frankly, I think it’s placing a value judgement on something that can’t be categorized that way. In and of itself it’s neutral. Having money or lacking money is neither good nor bad. Money is simple energy potential. It’s an agreed upon denomination for exchange of goods and services and represents energy.
Greed and selfishness, often associated with money are bad, but they are not money. Big Pharma extracting huge profits off the backs of sick people is bad, but the money they extract is not. It’s neutral. Doesn’t make it right, it’s still neutral. Yet, is it really noble and honorable to be materially bereft only to miss many of the material experiences your life could benefit from?
Where does this attitude or aptitude for not making money come from? By the age of seven money habits are formed in children that will last them a lifetime. Children learn their attitudes towards money from their parents. HSPs being the sensitive, intuitive and inquisitive types that we are, no doubt, pick up on many subtle cues from our parents that other children might miss. “We can’t afford that” or “that’s too expensive”, or “easy come, easy go”, might carry extra influence on HSPs because of the added emotional content our deep processing might add.
Because money has so many emotional implications in our lives, we as HSPs may grasp significance in terms of lack or abundance depending on how our parents framed money in their lives. This may in addition to the uncomfortableness of acquiring money, help shape HSP’s world view of money in their own lives. Or conversely, could HSPs override all of these apprehensions about money, due in part to an upbringing that emphasized confidence in money acquisition and success? Since money is our cultural barometer of success, could an early belief in ones self-worth and confidence, make one more likely to become more successful from a monetary standpoint, regardless of personality temperament or makeup?
I keep hearing over and over that HSPs tend to gravitate towards low wage earning jobs. In the end, is this a nature vs. nurture question. Is it our nature to go for easy flow, low paying jobs, or do we tend to move towards work that is part of familial or societal expectations and just gut it out? It would seem that many HSPs would avoid high profile money jobs because of the stress of it all. It doesn’t mean we couldn’t do it as many of us have.
Are HSPs so laid back that we only prefer low paying jobs and forego the high price of high wage jobs? Perhaps, generally, we tend towards simple life situations, with lots of quiet time, less money, but more personal freedom. If you follow our worries, you will see where our priorities are: ensuring downtime, are we close to nature, time for creativity and how to get personal peace. We then can smugly eschew the greed and selfishness of big profit jobs and business and revel in our low wage art gallery job, or a counseling job for a non-profit or writing a children’s book (that has sold millions of copies and been made into several blockbuster movies, re – J.K. Rowling). It can happen.
Some things to ponder:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
I am at times both health maven and junk food junkie. It, of course, depends upon the mood. Right now I am in a cycle of diet and health focus, so I am doing my best to avoid junk food. But as is the cycle of life, I imagine I will once again fall into the clutches of fast foods and a maddening desire to satisfy a genetically inherited sweet tooth.
At times, I wonder if because of my sensitivity or heightened sensory awareness, does this make me more prone to indulge in the pleasures of junk food? Is it just about the sensation of taste, smell and mouth feel or is there brain chemistry involved as well. This week’s topic is about the HSM and being junk food junkies.
Ever since I was a kid, I have been a bit of a junkie for the foods that today we know contribute to multiple health issues. It seemed I could soothe a disappointment or overcome a hurt feeling with a sugary soda (Pepsi) or a sweet and crunchy candy (Chick-o-stick). It was always seemed to be a reliable way to soothe raw emotions.
I grew up as a tall and skinny kid, active and always in motion, so eating junk food never dealt me the same misfortunes of those that gained extra weight with over consumption of sugar. Back then High Fructose Corn Syrup was not as prolific as it is today, so I had the good fortune of most of my generation of consuming good ol’ straight sugar, made from beets or cane. This only lessened the blow by a degree or two, but I do think kept us from becoming a generation of obese sugar junkies.
Today things are different. Junk food is designed with the intent of making you addicted or as the manufacturers would prefer saying -- craving more or their product. Their foods and I use that term loosely, are specifically designed to appeal to the brain and the senses. The appeal is more than a quick treat, it is made to continually keep us coming back for more.
Working with food engineers, manufacturers carefully design junk food to elicit neurological, psychological and physiological responses in the consumer. Things like dynamical contrast, where a hard shell of a candy contrasts with it’s soft, gooey inner layer; salivary response, just the thought of the food brings forth a physiological response; vanishing caloric response – a fancy way of saying, because of the “lightness” of the food fools the brain into thinking you are consuming less calories, you eat more; sensory specific response – satisfying a brain need for food variety, the food is designed again to fool the brain by not providing too much satiation to prevent a dulling of your senses and a future avoidance of that food; engineered caloric density – a way of mixing ingredients to pass the brain’s food test, but not enough to pass the “full” test; and finally, past memory association – this is the psychological part, where your brain associates this food with some pleasant past experience.
Now I added all the above verbiage, to illustrate a point about how junk food is designed to be addictive. If you have a personality that is prone to addiction, it is easy to fall prey to this game played with your body and mind by food conglomerates. This falls easily into the category of food addiction.
As a hypnotist, I have worked with many people over the years looking for help in losing weight. One of the main components of the weight issue is the ease with which we become addicted to certain foods. This is no accident. The emotional ties we have to food, especially foods we consider to be comfort foods is very strong and difficult to break.
Many of the triggers for food addiction are physiological, the interaction from the brain to the body, brought about by the ingredients in the food we are consuming. This is a complex interaction and can involve the brain and the gut, both centers of neurological control. When food is engineered to affect a response in the consumer, you can see the danger. In addition, food addiction has a psychological component, largely emotional. Food as self-medication has at its root the use of food for coping with difficult life situations. Then throw in social pressures: family, friends, media, social occasions, you can see how pressures within and without can push us over the line.
The pull of sugar on behavior is very powerful, as are starchy carbs, which ultimately are turned to glucose in the body; creating this cycle of repetitive behavior. Indulging in the junk food of choice, creates a body response, a kick of dopamine as a reinforcer, a rush of sugar into our bodies, creating a sugar high and then within a short period, a drop off of energy and crash. What happens internally is even more devastating. The continued pumping of sugar producing foods into the body leads to more insulin production, which is used to absorb the energy into the cells and at some point a saturation of the cells occurs leaving the body to store the excess as fat. This condition can lead to insulin resistance, which is a precursor to a whole host of diseases. Not good for your long term health outlook.
Does this affect HSMs or HSPs more so than the general population? I think it can. Because the research supports that HSPs are processing more sensory data and are prone to overwhelm more often, it would seem to reason that HSPs are operating under more stress than the general population. Not necessarily under the greatest stress, but as a group, stressed more often, and could this be a motivator in turning to junk foods for a calming effect.
Recent studies have shown that a select group of high stressed females ate more “comfort foods” to alleviate stress, than individuals with less stress in their lives. The high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, creates an increase in cravings for sugar, carb, fat types foods and the consumption of these foods did lower stress rates, albeit only temporarily. Could HSPs also be more prone to doing the same thing? Certainly, some of us do.
Since more HSPs tend to present more intense moods as a result of our sensory processing sensitivity traits, food also can heighten mood expression from a biological standpoint. Should HSPs avoid sugar and processed carb foods to help throttle down some of our emotional responses? The consumption of sugar in particular, can suppress activity of a key growth hormone in the brain; brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which when levels are low corresponds with depression and schizophrenia. And increased sugar consumption can affect blood sugar levels in the body effecting mood. There is enough enhanced brain chemistry naturally with HSPs, no need to flood our systems with junk food highs and crashes.
To top this all of off, someone has studied a correlation between personality types and preferred junk food. Although HSPs were not called out as a personality type, I could surmise from the personality descriptions where HSPs might fall. The criteria for snack foods, aka junk foods, were largely in the processed carb category, but traits like – loyalty, integrity, perfectionism and thoughtful kind of fit into the HSP wheelhouse. The foods corresponding to those categories were: meat snacks, cheese curls, tortilla chips and crackers. No chick-o-sticks…bummer.
Here are a few thought for HSPs on junk food consumption:
For more insights on junk food: behealthy.today/junk-food/
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.