Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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April 28, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

Hacking The Status Game To Get What You Want

We cannot escape the status game. It’s built into our biology and psychology.

By playing it unconsciously we will likely lose. Losing the status game is something our biology or psychology does not enjoy.

By understanding the game we can hack it and play it on our terms instead. Doing this also allows us to create a functional status game. A game more to our liking without rejecting society and moving off the grid.

It’s all about shifting focus within the game we are forced to play even if we don’t want to. Let’s shift focus and win the game everyone plays but few want to.


Why We All Play The Status Game

We’re all seeking to improve our lives.

It’s built into our nature. On an individual level, we want to be healthier, and happier and increase our sense of meaning.

But, we are pack animals.

We are more pro-social than we are individualistic. Most of our inherent motivations move us toward being vital to our community.

The value we bring to the tribe is more concrete than our subjective well-being. It’s also more important to our survival. On top of that, our subjective well-being is strongly correlated to our perceived value to our community.

Why is this?

Well without the tribe you would die and die quickly. The more pro-social the human was the more likely he/she was to survive and pass on his/her genes. Do this for millions of years and you get individuals that are extremely in tune with the value they bring to their tribe.

Because of this, we strive for objective measures of value to the community. Do you increase the odds of your tribe to survive? Your subconscious mind is always pushing you toward a strong yes.

In the evolutionary game, survival is the primary goal. For humans, survival is determined in large part by resourcefulness, especially when it comes to protection, resource allocation and problem-solving.

Anything that can be viewed as a marker for this is valued by the tribe. Back then, the most successful hunter or perhaps the most efficient leader was given things to signal his value (status) within the tribe—a bigger home, better weapons, jewellery, more access to women and even more power.

What happened when we moved away from tribes of around 150 people and started building cities?

From Value Creation To Shiny Objects

When we scale this up to societies of the size we see today our innate drive to be valuable to our community has morphed into optics instead.

Our mind is still tribal in a sense but our environment has changed so much that our innate motivators no longer serve us the way they did.

In the past, our value to the tribe was strongly related to our status within that very tribe. Today we don’t live in tribes. Instead, we pursue markers of status often without considering our value to our tribe (community).

During the Enlightenment and especially during the 20th century up until today, we have become more and more reductionist. This has seeped into our value structures.

Before we valued more abstract ideals. The ancient Greeks tried to become philosophical ideals, conquering their internal world to become ultimately wise. The Christian tried to emulate Jesus, the ultimate moral being.

These ideals, if pursued, should make us valuable to our tribe and thus, as a consequence, give us symbols of status. But, it seems as if we have largely forgotten the abstract ideals that once if successfully pursued, gave us symbols of status.

We also built an economy based entirely on monetary value. If we remove the abstract ideals, the virtues that once guided us to become better humans, what is left? Well, the one thing that objectively measures value—money.

The drive to be valuable is still there so, instead, we pursue the symbols rather than becoming valuable. These symbols, in a reductionist framework, are superficial symbols of success. You get the idea: a big house, a good job, a nice car, a nice body, a beautiful girlfriend, or a nice watch.

The symbols of status used to come as a consequence of our progress in the pursuit of virtues. When we improved ourselves in relation to the virtues of the philosophical school we subscribed to we also gained symbols status.

We rose in our society because our society valued the consequences of the virtues we developed. Not because we pursued the symbols of those consequences.

On the bright side, I think we are slowly moving back toward valuing value creation. With the economy slowly shifting toward the online world, more and more people are capitalizing by creating one-person businesses.

The phenomenon of the solo entrepreneur is gaining a lot of traction. People like Dan Koe and Justin Welsh are spearheading the revolution.

Their main idea? Value creation in the public sphere.

It’s all about creating valuable content around your unique skills and then finding a way to monetize it. However, the value always comes first. Provide, provide, provide is the ethos.

The angel investor and philosopher Naval Ravikant has been talking about a transformation of work he sees coming. He visualises a world where the gig economy becomes the only one, where every single individual is their own company providing their unique value to the market based on demand.

When robots take over most of the jobs there will still be human problems left and human problems often require human solutions.

If you can shift your focus away from symbols of status toward virtues or value you will be way ahead of the curb when this comes. And, even if it doesn’t you’ll be better off than if you didn’t.

The Pursuit Of Value Will Get You What You Want

I have concluded that the only way humans can be happy (whatever that means), is by living in accordance with who they are. This may sound esoteric but it’s pretty straightforward once you get it.

It is something most philosophies of life (schools of thought that try to answer what it means to live a good life) have concluded. I am not new in these insights but perhaps I can be the one to illuminate it for you. Or at least make you, once again, reconsider your pursuit of shiny objects.

In this complex world we live in there are millions of tribes existing within one somewhat functional society. This means that there are countless values you can develop to make you valuable within one of these tribes.

You get to sit down and define a value structure according to your unique set of genes and experiences. You get to pursue virtues that make you uniquely valuable whatever (almost) you pursue.

This is a once in a (human) lifetime opportunity. And, if you do pursue becoming valuable the tribe, and society at large, will reward you.

The reward (symbols of status) you get will be as a consequence of you developing yourself in areas you find interesting, exciting and meaningful.

Instead of pursuing shiny objects forcing you to live a lifestyle likely not to make you happy, your lifestyle will shape itself for you.

It will be a genuine pursuit and not something you are doing to create a facade of success. The success you gain will be a consequence of you becoming a better, and thus more valuable, person.

By pursuing what we believe in, we get what we deserve which is aligned with who we are. What we then get should be what we actually want and not what we think we want.

Paradoxically, by pursuing abstract ideals we are more likely to get what people want than if we pursued the actual things we think people want.


A Simple Approach To Pursuing Value

To make it more clear I’ll break down some virtues that are generally worth pursuing and how one would do that.

I recently read the book Do Hard Things which does an excellent job of reframing how we should view toughness and why we should lean into what is hard.

Because of this, I thought it would be a great opportunity to lean into what is hard as the overarching theme of the virtues we are going to pursue.

Whatever virtues we want to develop need to be attached to real-world processes. Otherwise, we will believe in the potential value of the virtue without battle-testing it first.

Doing hard things is an excellent way to develop resilience, discipline, courage, fortitude, and mental strength (or willpower). These are all virtues I think we can agree are beneficial.

I have decided to divide this into three categories of the process or habits we will implement. I will generalize enough so that you have the freedom to adopt a habit that works for you. Again, we want to align our process with who we are.

The three categories are;

  1. Creative

  2. Physical

  3. Intellectual

Do one creatively hard thing

I want you to create. We all have a creative side that yearns to be expressed. Some are more in tune with this side and some, like me, are not.

We all have a unique set of skills, interests and experiences that if we can draw from them, make us able to create unique things. It could be literally anything.

Building a table, creating art, writing, music, video creation, whatever you think you would enjoy the creative process, do that. It will help you push the creative spirit within you to its limit.

Because creating is self-expression it is a way for us to understand ourselves better. When we create we slowly realize how we think and how we feel. This will help us get more in tune with who we are.

Finally, I always recommend sharing whatever you create with the world. Your creations could be more valuable than you imagine. The more you create in public the more feedback you get which will further help you in your creative pursuits.

Do one physically hard thing

I have written about ad nauseam in the past, but, we need to be physically pushing ourselves if we want our physiology and thus our mind to fire at all cylinders.

Choose a physical game or sport you think you would enjoy and do that often. Finding one you enjoy takes time so don’t stop just because you didn’t enjoy one of them.

If the gym is not for you, do yoga, dance, a sport, or run. Whatever floats your boat will help it not sink.

The virtues you build by doing this will seep into everything you do. It will make you better in all domains of life. If that’s not a good enough reason I don’t know what is.

Do one intellectually hard thing

We have big brains. They like to engage in demanding activities. Do you enjoy chess, maths, or learning about how the mitochondria work? Maybe you don’t, no problem.

Whatever interests you that is demanding is worth doing. Your mind needs a workout too. Explore the limits of your intellect and expand what you are capable of.

Again, doing this will seep into everything you do. It will make you more valuable. Not only because of the knowledge you gain but because your mind will be sharper.

We use our minds every day in all things. A sharp mind will surely help you in your day-to-day life.

Bonus Tip: Slow Down

It’s hard to always be engaged in tasks aligned with our abstract ideal. We need to spend time disengaged too. In times of disengagement, when we are not task-focused, we tend to be easily distracted.

Slowing down means taking it easy while our focus shifts from one task to another. I’ve noticed that it is during this time that boredom arises.

To quench the feeling we jump into the first best thing. This is usually social media or some other distraction we enjoy.

If we instead allow ourselves to slow down and not be so quick in transitions we get to reflect on what our priorities are, and what virtues we are trying to develop. When we do this we can align the next task to the virtues we want to develop instead of distracting us from the game we are playing.

Are your common distractions actually increasing your value to the tribe?

Allow yourself to slow down between tasks, refocus and recalibrate so that you can dive into the next task with intention and intensity.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

Navy Seal Motto

Slowing down allows us efficient movement from task to task and the constant recalibration of where we are going.


Playing the status game is inevitable as a human. It’s a hard game to play and even harder to win. But, we can play our own status game within the larger one to make it more playable for us.

To play the status game on our terms we need to shift the focus away from shiny objects toward value. This allows us to define the virtues that are worth pursuing and to pursue those instead of the shiny objects society sees as symbols of status.

If we create our own game there is also a greater chance that we will gain the symbols of status everyone thinks they want. Why? Well because you are playing a game designed for you and not for the general human.

It’s much easier to win a game when designed around your unique interests, skills and experiences. By focusing on your unique game the larger game played by society will reward you.

The point is not to play the game to win symbols of status. The point is to play the game to become more valuable to your family, friends, tribe, society and even the world.

You are playing a game to make you maximally valuable. The game you play is on an abstract level with real-world consequences.

If your game is designed well, the consequences of your progress will be externally rewarded.

Let the game begin. Until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.