“Avoiding Status Malfunction” by Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman (that’s him up there), author of The Personal MBA just posted a blog entry that resonated with me on a profound level — he has given an official name to the cognitive bias I have been battling with (internally and externally) this past year. This behavior is completely out of control in Los Angeles (people will think there’s something deeply wrong with you if you’re not projecting it in every direction 24/7), so it’s great to see someone call it out.

He calls this cognitive bias “Status Malfunction” and gives advice on how to avoid it.

Avoiding Status Malfunction

So how do you go about avoiding status malfunction?

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Here are a few things that’ll help:

1.) Decide what you really want. Here’s a useful thought experiment: assume that you can have everything you want except status, attention, recognition, and fame. You’ll succeed in every way, but no one will ever know. How does that change your goals and priorities? The results will be close to your true priorities, and you’ll make more progress if you focus on those things.
2.) Understand that status, fame, and attention from external sources is fickle by nature. Even if you get them, you won’t have them for long, so it’s probably a better idea to invest in results that are longer-lasting and more within your locus of control.
3.) Learn to pause and reflect whenever you think about doing something primarily to impress other people. Is it necessary? Is it wise? Will they care, or change their actions based on your behavior? Is it in line with your other non-status priorities, or is this a temporary departure or distraction that feels good? Does this get you want you really want?
4.) Don’t envy the status-seeker. It’s a generalization, but many people who compulsively chase status are struggling with their own inner demons, mental and emotional. They often accomplish impressive things by using that struggle in a productive way, and that’s fantastic. They’re still fighting a very real battle, and given the choice, you probably wouldn’t want the demon. Be wary of comparing your inside vs. another person’s outside. If you’re free of the compulsion, be thankful you don’t have that battle to fight.
5.) Ignore opinions. Everyone has their own goals, values, and priorities, and that’s okay. You’ll always be able to find more than a handful of people who will tell you want you’re doing is wrong, suboptimal, misguided, or stupid. Do what you’re doing for your own reasons, and find people who will support your efforts.

Due to its nature as a cognitive bias, it’s not a part of us we can entirely shut down. But its something we can do our best to stay one step ahead of. Thank you, Mr. Kaufman.


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