Comfortably Numb

hello, dear friend… by Dana Robinson (CC BY-SA)

hello, dear friend… by Dana Robinson (CC BY-SA)

I am afraid to own a Body—
I am afraid to own a Soul . . . —Emily Dickinson
People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality, their feelings most of all. ―Jim Morrison
A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. ―Saul Bellow
I have become comfortably numb. ―Roger Waters



Why distract? If attention is crucial for happiness, why do we fritter it away?

Psych 101: every behavior has a payoff, something desirable you receive in exchange for your conduct. You’ll only change your behavior when a new payoff is more compelling than your status quo.

Sounds reasonable. But what’s appealing about self-destructive behavior? If fresh foods help you feel better and live longer, why eat greasy, processed, chemical-ridden food? If winning custody of your kids requires sobriety, why drink? Where’s the contest? What’s the payoff?

The answer is comfort. The existential kind. Smoking may yellow your teeth and pit your skin, cheating might keep you from graduating, eating junk may turn your insides to sludge, but we’re not talking about rationally weighing pros and cons. This is pre-cognitive, reptilian-brain comfort—familiarity.

They say the hell you know is better than the heaven you don’t. Change is scary. Even if you hate the status quo, you’re used to it—what’s unknown might be worse. So humans rely on the illusion of continuity to feel secure. Daunted by constant involuntary change, we grasp at familiar things.

Distraction is predictable; attention is not. Living on auto-pilot is familiar; living consciously is not. You don’t fail because you’re inept; you fail because stretching your limits is unnerving and you stop too soon. Unless you grew up in an exceptional home, discomfort needs no explanation—we don’t like it. So we don’t take it.

What do you think?