Where the Comfort Zone Ends

Where the Comfort Zone Ends

By: Mohammad Khari

"There is nothing permanent except change."
Ancient Greek Philosopher

Having experienced (and still experiencing) the COVID-19 pandemic, we all know that humans can adapt to changes fast and in large numbers, unlike any other species. Reflecting on the first days during which we had to stay home, observe the social distancing protocols, or wear masks, we can remember how uncomfortable it was to get used to new routines and how far we were out of our comfort zones. However, many of those protocols are our existing routines now and we may even feel uncomfortable if we need to change them again. Not all changes are like this, though. Some are imposed upon us, some come from within, some are complex, and some are as mundane as picking up a cup of coffee. Yet, they all have something in common: our knowledge intersects our actions.

In our Main podcast (or video), Dr. David Badre goes over some of the concepts presented in his book On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done and dissects a very important process involved in our ability to adapt to change called Cognitive Control.

Badre explains how the brain bridges the gap between our knowledge and our action because, contrary to the common belief, they are not necessarily the same i.e. knowing how to do something does not mean we will do it. Happening in our prefrontal cortex, or, to be more specific, in the basal ganglia, our brain uses a gate mechanism to control the data coming in and going out of the working memory. Considering the context we are in, taking into account our previous knowledge, and analyzing our plan or what we want to do, the striatum, part of the basal ganglia, gives the green light for the action to be conducted; otherwise, the plan stays as just a plan as our intention to perform an action is suppressed by the thalamus. Badre also points out that the development of this network of mechanisms in the brain starts from childhood and continues to even one’s mid-twenties due to its complexity and its dependence on data coming from the environment. He also clarifies that, as a consequence of cognitive control, no one is good at multitasking, although some claim they are. Our brain is constantly analyzing our environment (context) and establishing or updating behavorial loops. This allows us to break down a task and apply its parts to different tasks (Compositional Task Control) making us uniquely flexible when it comes to change compared to other species.

Moving on from Badre’s scientific approach to change, in our lite video, Harlan Cohen invites us to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Acknowledging the fact that “life is painfully uncomfortable,” Cohen explains how those who face the uncomfortable rather than fighting it can accept change more comfortably, provided that the three P’s are present, i.e. they are surrounded by supportive people, are in a safe place, and are patient enough.

Our contributors to this issue share their stories revolving around changes in either their teaching practice or their general way of thinking (recent changes they find meaningful). These include accepting the presence of their kids and pets in their Zoom meetings, encouraging students to “choose their own adventure,” showing interest in students’ life outside the class, and the merits of EV (extensive viewing) in fostering understanding of social reality. You will also read about the pros and cons of breakout rooms, building resilience and belonging, doing nine things when someone is anxious, and the benefits of talking to strangers.

Editors: We offer some lovely quotes to show how butterflies honor change.

“If nothing ever changed, there would be no such things as butterflies.” — Wendy Mass, The Candymakers

Butterflies are self-propelled flowers. -R.H. Heinlein

“Perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness and still become something beautiful.”  – unknown

“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.”  -Author Unknown

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

“Adding wings to caterpillars does not create butterflies, it creates awkward and dysfunctional caterpillars. Butterflies are created through transformation.”
-Stephanie Marshall

“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”  -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” -Maya Angelou

“Just like the butterfly, I too will awaken in my own time.” -thevintageangel.com

Mohammad Khari is an English lecturer at Ozyegin University, Istanbul.  Mohammad has been reading and researching on the integration of neuroscience into pedagogy.

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