Relative Comfort

A Guest Post by Rick DeWitt

One of the ways people manage anxiety is to operate within their comfort zone. We each have our own internal sense of how much is too much, and how much is too little, and the comfort zone is in between.

We have comfort zones about many aspects of our lives, such as intimacy, athletics, and money. When we drop below our comfort zone, our survival instincts kick in, and we respond by doing something radical to get back. When we risk pushing the top of our comfort zone, we optimize our performance and grow. However, if we go too far, we will again do something radical to get back.

Comfort zones belong to individuals, and everyone is different. Where a pauper’s zone may range from $10K to $20K, a millionaire’s zone may be $1M to $2M. One person might think a walk around the block is good exercise, while another person doesn’t even break a sweat for the first mile. Roughly speaking, these comfort zones appear to vary exponentially from one person to the next.

Although our subjective perception is exponential, our resources are objectively linear. Suppose the millionaire gave $10K to a pauper? The millionaire stays within his comfort zone, but he pauper would think his ship had come in. Suppose the pauper gave $10K to the millionaire? He would lose his life savings, and the millionaire would not be moved. Although the objective value of the gift was constant in both cases, the emotional value is vastly different. The emotional value comes from the direction in which the gift moved.

Compassion is giving a gift according to need. Although I used philanthropy as an example, we have comfort zones about myriad aspects of our life. Whatever you have, give some of it away. Teach. Give a hug. Host a fun run. You may find yourself pushing the upper boundary of your own comfort zone around joy.

Note from Tim: I’m happy to have this post from Rick. He is currently a Mad Scientist, following a career as a programmer for Microsoft (where he only worked on the the cool stuff), and early success as a schoolyard football player.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.