04/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 17, 2015

Are You Dead Or Just Comfortable?

Are you hearing people talk about how uncomfortable they are these days? Kind of makes sense given all the uncomfortable changes accompanying this fine recession we find ourselves in.

I attended a conference last week in San Francisco where one of the speakers said something that to some, sounded a bit outrageous. His comment:

"Let's not waste a good recession."

His point had to do with the opportunity hiding in the turmoil, and the difference between the recession going on "out there" and the recession going on in your head.

While it is understandable that you might be contracting internally right along with the contractions taking place externally, contraction is not required. In fact, in the midst of all the external contractions, there are numerous opportunities to take stock inwardly, and discover both how you give up control over your inner experience and contract right along with the recession, and how you can take charge and expand even in the face of uncertainty and recession.

This week I'd like to take a short look at something that helps keep some of us trapped, something old and well known - the Comfort Zone.

The apparent safety and comfort of the Comfort Zone carries with it a form of myth similar to the Myth of Control and the Myth of Stability that we have been looking at the past few weeks.

With control, we suggested that whereas you might be able to steer a bit as you find yourself moving through the ever changing landscape of life, you certainly aren't going to control everything going on around you. About the only thing we can control, we often forsake - that is, our ability to respond both inwardly and outwardly to changing to circumstances.

The Stability Myth works right along with the Control Myth as many of us find ourselves struggling to find a place where things remain fairly predictable, calm, and, well, stable. Of course, nothing is really stable in this life, at least not anything that is alive. Even mountains have a way of changing, our shorelines are in constant motion, and life continues to demonstrate that living things are either growing or decaying, but certainly not remaining stable.

So, if stability and control are out, can't I at least have my Comfort Zone? Sure you can, as long as you understand something about comfort.

A good friend used to say: "If you're looking for comfort, try a warm bath."

But even if you go for the warm bath, you will surely notice that the bath grows colder as you sit in it. You have to keep adapting to changing circumstances, and add more hot water.

Comfort Zone or Dead Zone

If you have been around long enough, you may have bumped into the term Comfort Zone applied to thermostats. In the old days, household thermostats often had Comfort Zone printed right on the dial. The basic concept was that you could establish an upper and lower limit for air temperature and the heating and air condition system would only kick in once the upper or lower limits were exceeded.

Say, for example, you set your thermostat for an upper range of 76 and a lower end of 66. Once the air temperature rises above 76, the air conditioning kicks in and lowers the temperature back into the "Comfort Zone." Similarly, if the temperature falls below 66, the furnace kicks in and raises the temperature back above 66. Various thermostats had different ranges in which they would operate, and rarely was anything so precise that a mere 1/10th of a degree would cause something to start or stop.

As long as the air temperature was within the "Comfort Zone," things were just fine.

In the heating and air conditioning trade, the Comfort Zone is often referred to as the "dead zone." A friend in the trade told me that they called it the "dead zone" because as long as the room temperature was within the defined range, the system behaved as though it were "dead."

There's been a lot of this kind of comfort seeking out there, as people strive to live within acceptable ranges. All kinds of us went to sleep as things kept cooking right along. Ever rising stocks, real estate the clear sure thing, and all the other trappings of a life focused on the external.

As many of us found ourselves comfortable with our circumstances and the illusions of an ever growing economy, we entered into that "dead zone," numbly moving through life, expecting never ending stability and an era of predictable comfort.

Clearly, things are changing. The question to consider: am I changing as well? Not just in terms of impacts on job, house, money, and possessions. I know I have taken hits in each of these areas right along with most people I know.

Only now there is the opportunity to examine what role am I going to play in the turnaround? Maybe some of us can do something to impact the larger economy. If so, please do what you can.

For the rest of us, helping ourselves will be the order of the day. What can you do to improve the circumstances in which you find yourself? What can you do to help someone in need, perhaps greater need than you?
Look across this Living section and you will find all kinds of useful thought and advice from people who care, and people who have been through a few challenges of their own.

Next week, we will take another look at how you might be setting yourself up for an even deeper mental recession, and what you can do to start steering a better course for yourself and those you care about.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

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