Your subconscious and comfort zone
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By Steven Campbell  May 30, 2014 12:00 am

It’s interesting. If I placed a 20-foot long plank on the floor in front of you and offered you $20 if you walked from one end to the other, you would instantly take up the challenge, walk down the plank and easily win the $20.

However, if I raised the plank 500 feet and offered you $1,000, you would exclaim “No way!” and walk away. Now…it’s the same plank, and your ability to walk across it has just been demonstrated.

So, why won’t you even try to walk the plank for the $1,000? The reason lies in what psychologists call your “comfort zone.” When you stood at one end of the plank and pictured yourself falling 100 feet to the ground, your brain demanded that you stay “right where you are.” That is, it demanded that you stay within your “comfort zone.”

Another illustration: let’s image that during the summer you like your house temperature to remain at 65. This can be done through a thermostat. However, in an effort to save some money, you install a rather shoddy one that immediately turns the air conditioning on when the temperature reaches anything over 65, and the heater immediately on when it dips below 65. Your energy bill would be quite high as the air conditioner and heater are continually shutting on and off.

Temperature control specialists, therefore, build into their thermostat a “comfort zone” where the air conditioning does not switch on until the temperature reaches two or three degrees above 65, and the heater does not turn on until the temperature decreases by two or three degrees below 65. Technically, this four-to-six degree margin is called a comfort zone.

You also have a psychological comfort zone…your self-image.

As we have already learned, your self-image is simply how we see yourself – how athletic you are or how comfortable with people you are. All of these are not exact; they work within a zone. You may be an excellent bowler and a lousy first-baseman, or you may feel very comfortable with written English but a real “bonehead” when faced with a lot of numbers. 

As long as you stay within your zone; however, as long as you behave the way you know you are, you are “within your comfort zone.”

However, when you find yourself out of that zone, you become uncomfortable, not unlike walking into the wrong public bathroom, especially if it is already occupied. When this happens, you instantly feel tension, and your brain protests, “You don’t belong here. Get out of there as soon as you can!” The reason is that all of us seek emotional and psychological safety.

This was discovered by a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz in the 1950s. He found that even after significant facial reconstruction, his patients could not discern any changes in their appearance as they looked at themselves in the mirror, no matter how significant the changes were. After studying and observing the psychology of his patients, he proposed that any change we make in our lives, including financial, spiritual or physical, takes us out of our comfort zone and actually sends a chemical signal to our entire body. Our brain picks up on this, and we become very uncomfortable with the changes, whether they are good for us or not.

It is interesting…when you are out of your comfort zone, your body physically reacts. The muscles around your ribs constrict, causing you to feel uptight. 

Your pancreas secretes more digestive juices, making you feel sick to your stomach. Or, if you are attached to a lie detector and you consciously lie, perspiration instantly comes to your skin and you short the machine out.

Psychologically, your brain is simply doing its job. Just as it makes sure that what you do lines up with your self-image, it also makes sure that you stay within your comfort zone. And…its tactics can be very devious.

One is to utter such nuances as “I don’t really belong here because I feel so out-of-place!” Or “These aren’t really my kinds of people!” Or “What in the world am I taking the time to learn this anyway?” Or “Why would I want to take that new position. I’m happy where I am!”

Or rather than saying “Get out of here!” your brain simply finds fault with the new to go back to the old. “My kids need me. I don’t have the money. It isn’t the right time. But I haven’t had pecan pie for such a long time!” Your brain comes up with such ingenious reasons for not leaving your comfort zone.

So for now, don’t be surprised (or get down on yourself) when you don’t want to change…when you want to stay within your comfort zone. It is simply your brain’s way of “keeping you safe.” But can you change? Absolutely! And that’s what we’ll be learning…starting in a couple of weeks in the next column.


Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or For more information, go to

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