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…
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.