I was talking with a friend about how with some people you just seem to feel comfortable. Around your good friends, around people with whom you can throw about ideas. What is it, this feeling of comfortable? If you ask, “what does it mean when you’re comfortable around someone?”, you’ll hear things like “It’s like being yourself,” “It’s like not thinking,” “It’s relaxing,” “It’s not stressful.”

Have you ever been in a work situation in which you felt that you were both the person who was in the meeting, answering the questions, giving the presentation – and at the same time that you were also the person observing all this from the side, seeing people’s reactions, sensing the vibe in the room? Do you know that feeling in which you’re both doing something and observing yourself doing it? It’s almost as if there were two of you. It seems to take two different brain processes to be doing something and to be on the lookout for how it’s going. And research shows that having both processes run at once uses a lot of your psychological resources.

Research shows that emotional-cognitive processing expends a lot of resources in a person. What do I mean by that? If the emotional signals that a person is getting are not in line with the cognitive signals, then it takes a lot of the person’s resources to balance the two inputs. It’s uncanny that it takes that many resources to figuratively both tap your logical head and rub your emotional stomach. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be surprised: it’s that emotional-cognitive unbalancing that is often the cause of miniature stressors that can turn into major stressors.

(In fact, if you think about babies and toddlers, in toddlers, you visibly see new tricks all the time – a new word, or a new physical ability whereas with babies of less than a year old, you’ll see fewer physical new tricks. But just think of all the different types of balancing that are going on inside their heads. Think of how a baby (and even a toddler for that matter) needs to balance the emotional and physical and thinking and seeing and other processes especially when it’s not yet clear to babies what is in balance and what is out of balance.)

So, in short, being comfortable is not needing to watch what you do while you’re doing it. Being comfortable is not playing both roles at once – the actor and the observer. (Likely similarly to not writing and editing at the same time – first writing to get the content out, and then perhaps later editing to make it pleasant to read). For example, think of how you feel if you’re practicing delivering a presentation in front of a mirror: you are at that point focusing on the delivery and not the content. Now think of yourself talking within a group of people or talking to one other person. Comfortable is when you can focus more on what you’re saying than on the possible reactions of that group or of that person.


Comfortable is always knowing that you’ll have a mulligan with this friend or with this group.

COMFORTABLE, a definition
Take-away: Comfortable is when you can focus more on what you’re saying than on how you’re saying it.

One Comment

  1. Nick
    Posted Friday June 30, 2006 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Comfortable to me means secure attachment (in the Bowlby sense). That also means that there are practially unlimited “mulligans.” Sure, there are levels of comfort, and this is the highest one.