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Comfort Zone Expansion (CoZE)

In document Applied rationality (Page 104-108)

CoZE means “Comfort Zone Expansion.” Sometimes uncomfortable emotions – such as fear, disgust, shame, guilt, embarrassment, or helplessness – can actually help protect us or other people from harm.

But like any sensor, these emotions can be mis-calibrated. The idea behind CoZE is that safe and gradual exposure can help us re-calibrate these aversions and expand our comfort zones in useful directions. (CoZE is definitely not meant to completely eliminate these discomforts from our emotional repertoire!)

This class focuses on expanding comfort zones in social arenas, because they tend to be a particularly high value sphere of activity. The social realm is where we manage jobs, meet friends, find love, share interests, recruit collaborators, etc.

There are four broad domains that past participants have found particularly useful to experiment with:

Identity, Playfulness, Vulnerability, and (the slightly catchall) Adding to Your Social Utility Belt.

The goal of this class is to help you explore the periphery of your current comfort zone and to find new good ideas that you can add to your social repertoire and affordances. You can also better calibrate your social instincts by giving your System 1 real data to update on, instead of imagined data.



How would you describe yourself? What adjectives would you use, what group memberships would you cite? And how do those affiliations restrict the actions you feel that you can take?

Example 1

Cat thought of her self as the kind of person who didn't inconvenience others. So, she felt terrible about the idea of waking the sleeping person in the aisle seat, even though she badly needed to use the bathroom. She waiting til she was in physical pain before bothering him, and still felt uncomfortable about disturbing him.

Later, Cat decided her reluctance to bother people wasn't wrong, but it was miscalibrated. She did small CoZE exercises where she mildly inconvenienced people by stopping them and asking them for directions until it felt less aversive.

Example 2

After campaigning to run a college organization, Chris had a lot of flashcards with the photos of people in his class on them. Every week, he drew one card from the deck and thought about a particular virtue or fluency that the person on the card had, and which he could improve. Then he'd spend the week “dressing up” like that person, with regard to the desired behavior.

And you?

I’m not the kind of person who….

I would never ___________ in public

People like me can’t ___________

I wish I could ___________ like [name of friend]


If something is aversive, you're probably experiencing FEAR, one of the seven primary emotional affects. When you add in a sense of PLAY, the mixed emotion tends to feel like exhilaration. So, finding a way to make an aversive activity a little silly or playful might shift your experience from the sickening drop of freefall to the fun of riding a roller-coaster.

Not to mention that PLAY is fun in and of itself. So you might want to be playful for it's own sake, so your life (and that of people around you) can be more engaging and delightful.

Example 1

Anna felt a bit uncomfortable drawing attention to herself in public, so, when she went to the mall on a CoZE exercise, she did something that felt funny. She walked through stores and danced to the Muzak playing on the speakers. Some of the other shoppers looked surprised, and then amused.

Example 2

In the run-up to the release of Les Miserables, Leah kept hoping, as she went through her commute, that people around her would break into a flashmob of “One Day More.” After a week or two of wishing, she decided to be the kind of person she wanted to exist, and organized a group to sing in Union Station.

And you?

What do you wish/would be fun for other people to do around you?

How could something intimidating be a bit ridiculous?

What are you “too old” to do?

What amusing/silly things have you enjoyed that you would like to happen more often?



Playfulness can help you get over an aversive hurdle or just enrich your life, but, for some goals, this affect can be a bit counterproductive. Comedians like Stephen Colbert can use playfulness to interact with people shielded by a persona, rather than as themselves. It isn't an approach you want to use in all circumstances. So, some participants like to spend CoZE times deliberately being more open and honestly present to others.

Example 1

James found it easy to goof off in public, but he wasn't so sure what to do with strangers besides entertain them. So, on the CoZE outing, he chatted up a barber, and ended up talking to him about his concerns about a romantic relationship. The barber had some advice (not quite helpful) but James felt a lot better just being to think through his concerns with someone else.

Example 2

Sarah tended to self-censor her more abstract analogies and digressions when speaking to people she didn't already know or meet through mutual friends. So, at the mall, she went browsing in a

department store and talked to the sales clerk the way she would talk to her friends. The clerk was thrown, but nothing bad happened except a bit of awkwardness, so Sarah felt a bit less urgency to monitor her speech in the future.

And you?

What’s a part of yourself that you’d like to show to others?

What’s a part of yourself that you could never show to others?

What feels tiring/worrying to care about?

Context switching

What would happen if you were the way you are around your significant other when you were with a stranger? What would happen if you were the way you are around your family at your job?

In document Applied rationality (Page 104-108)

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