All that said about childhood programming, the way we were raised actually has less influence on us than what we are. I'm not being philosophical--much less metaphysical--when I discuss "who we are" in this chapter. I mean who we are physically, biologically, genetically.
The old debate over which is more powerful, heredity or environment, is pretty much ended. The winner: heredity. Yes, extremes in environment can cause significant shaping--for good or ill--but most of "us" was created when the genetic code of our mother and the genetic code of our father combined at conception to form the unique genetic code that determines our height, eye color, personality, and thousands of other characteristics.
A study of identical twins separated at birth (only identical twins have precisely the same genetic code) revealed that--even if the environments in which they were raised were radically different--they were, essentially, the same person. Even if they spoke a different native language or had vastly different levels of learning (that is, what they knew), their personalities were basically the same. They didn't necessarily use what they had in the same way--a tendency toward creativity, for example, might express itself in painting for one and writing for the other--but the fundamental personality structure was almost identical.
Our comfort zones and our willingness to overcome them, then, are largely genetic. Which of the comfort zone's limitations--fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt feelings, or anger--you seem to specialize in was determined before you were born. Also, the tendency toward courage or complacency--to do something about life rather than have life do it unto you--is also genetic.
What does this mean practically?
First, acceptance seems the only rational course. To fully accept who and what you are--limitations and gifts--is essential to success. This acceptance does not mean complacency toward your Big Goal, but it does tell you what you have to work with--and against.
Second, genetics underlines the fact that if you are going to actually change yourself, then you must choose wisely what you plan to change. For the most part, you are who you are and that's that. The microscopic fraction of what you want to change had better be what you really want to change--more than anything else, because changing it will require an enormous effort.
In this context, allow me to restate two points: (a) a deep desire--especially one as deep as the genetic code--also comes with an inborn ability to achieve that desire, and (b) people don't read books with titles such as DO IT! Let's Get Off Our Buts unless they have a genetic predisposition to do more, become more, and achieve more than the average skinny dipper in the gene pool.
More on the ramifications of "I am what I am and that's all what I am" as the book progresses. For now, know that you are who you are, there's no one to blame for it, and who you already are is enough to get what you want.
Human beings, as a species, have an in-built, automatic, biological response to perceived danger: to fight or to flee. It's called, not surprisingly, the fight or flight response.
The cave dwellers who could outfight the neighbors and outrun the tigers prevailed. Those who could not became trophies and tigerfood.
In a survival-of-the-fittest sense, we are the offspring of the fittest. For the most part, the fittest were the ones who could fight the fiercest or run the fastest--or both (often at the same time). We inherited that. It's genetic.
The emotion of fight is anger; the emotion of flight is fear. Anger and fear--two mainstays of the comfort zone.
The key word in the definition of the fight or flight response is perceived. We don't have to actually be in danger to trigger the fight or flight response; we merely have to perceive danger. Given the power of our imagination, that's not hard to do.
Once the fight or flight response is triggered, it becomes self-perpetuating. Fear feeds anger and anger feeds fear, and both fire the imagination to "perceive" new dangers which stoke the fear-and-anger fires. Some people haven't been out of the fight or flight response for years .
It's little wonder, then, that we look for any degree of comfort we can find--even at the cost of our dreams.
Beneath the psychological programming is the physiological fight or flight response, and beneath all that is The Big One: death.
Death is so final, so ultimate--so mysterious . ("The grand perhaps," Robert Browning called it.) Death doesn't just feed the various aspects of the comfort zone; it positively inspires them. It gives them life .
Fear. One small misstep, and boom--we're history. Job called it "The king of terrors" (18:14). As Professor Sydney Hook said, "Fear of death has been the greatest ally of tyranny past and present." To quote the proverb, "It is better to be a coward for a minute than to be dead the rest of your life."
Anger. The unfairness of death can make us furious. As Mel Brooks explained, "Why do we have to die? As a kid you get nice little white shoes with white laces and a velvet suit with short pants and a nice collar and you go to college, you meet a nice girl and get married, work a few years and then you have to die! What is this shit? They never wrote that in the contract!"
Guilt. Somehow, no matter when we die, we know we'll have something to do with it. We'll drive too fast or eat the wrong thing or ignore our intuition. We will probably cause our death by doing something our mother told us not to do. Even if we repent, it's hopeless. As Johnny Carson said, "I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the time he killed himself."
Unworthiness. If being alive is the ultimate proof of worthiness, then death must be the ultimate proof of unworthiness. No matter how much good we do, no matter how many lives we save or starving mouths we feed, someday we wind up dead.
Hurt Feelings. To lose someone or something you love hurts. Imagine how much losing everyone and everything all at the same time would hurt. No, don't imagine it. It's too uncomfortable.
Discouragement. No matter how much we build up, no matter what we acquire, no matterwhat's the point of finishing this sentence--we're just going to die someday anyway. And everybody who reads it is going to die someday, too. So what's the point in finishing this paragraph? In fact, what's the point in finishing this chapter?
The comfort zone is never static. It is dynamic--always expanding or contracting. If you're not consciously expanding your comfort zone, it contracts.
The comfort zone is not just a collection of "uncomfortable" emotions--it has its own personality, character, and individuality. It is a complex $IPsychological>psychological-physiological entity unto itself.
If this sounds like some sort of science fiction horror story, consider the horror the comfort zone wreaks on people's lives.
Many don't see the comfort zone as a limitation at all. They call it "intuition," "morality," or "conscience." Some connect it with religion--they think the limiting rantings of the comfort zone are the voice of God.
(I won't even discuss what happens when these people put their self-limitations on others--by force, if necessary. Well, take a look at history; take a look around!)
The comfort zone knows us intimately and hits us at our weakest point. It wouldn't dream of using an excuse we could see through. It uses the reasons we find reasonable, the rationales we find rational (the rational lies), the realizations we find most real (real lies). It takes our greatest aspirations and turns them into excuses for not bothering to aspire.
To the degree we're not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control over us than we have over ourselves.
R. A. DICKSON
In order to truly master the comfort zone, we must learn to love it.
Copyright © 1991-1996 Prelude Press & Peter McWilliams