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Status Quo Bias – How To Stop Sticking To The Norm

Status Quo Bias – How To Stop Sticking To The Norm

Is the way you eat at home the same as how you eat at a restaurant? Mine isn’t. I am way more comfortable and shameless when I eat at home.

“I make my decisions my way and live life like I want to. I do not stick to the norm.” That was what I believed.

Do you believe your choices are genuinely your own? Are you sure they are not based on what society and others want?

We make many decisions based on unspoken rules floating around due to the status quo bias. Even without our conscious control, you and I feel the need to adhere to such regulations.

status quo bias

For example, if you’re a guy, you decide to get married somewhere between the age of 30 and 35. For a lady, the number is a little lesser. A few years after marriage, you start thinking of a baby. While there are some underlying medical reasons for having the first baby early, that isn’t the driving factor for most people.

If you take the more straightforward example of eating at a restaurant, why do we exhibit such a difference in behavior? You can put your foot on the table or spill some sauce on your shirt in the restaurant. No will arrest you for it. Yet, you do not do so because you want to adhere to some unsaid rules.

You might consider yourself a rebel, but a part of your nature sticks to the norm. That isn’t always bad because human beings evolved and survived as a group.

Our ability to mingle as a group has been one of the main reasons behind where we are today. If we were a bunch of individuals who did what each one wanted, our race would have perished long ago.

Status Quo Bias – Why do you stick to the norm?

You stick to the norm and follow what others do for various reasons.

1. To avoid embarrassment


Your behavior changes in public because you do not want to garner a lot of eyeballs.

  • You speak at a lower volume on the phone in a supermarket than at home
  • You wear reasonable clothes even if you’re going for a walk right outside the house
  • You do not fart in public(if you have to, you make sure no one hears it)

If you fail to abide by such acceptable public behavior, you will find people giving you dirty looks. Sure, people may not kill you with their stares, but you don’t like the embarrassment.

2. Being a part of the group

You like to be a part of the group irrespective of whether you are an extrovert and introvert. Take for example, the act of returning a smile. You smile back at the person who smiled at you because it is rude not to.

If you stop smiling at people who smile at you, you will lose all the relationships you have. In no time, you will roam around like a nomad with a straight face.

You crave for acceptance from the world around you to survive and be happy.

3. To avoid questions

Avoiding questions

Certain decisions you make stem from the fact that you do not want people questioning you.

A couple engaged and living together for many years feels the pressure to tie the knot. People start asking, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you taking the next step? Are you not sure if you’re right for each other?”

As much as you like to live life your way, at some point, you do not want to hear the questions anymore. You make a decision only to avoid people asking unnecessary questions.

4. Parental/Societal Pressure

Sometimes, parents force their children or others under their control to make decisions that they want.

A student takes up a specific branch of study because his parents him forced to. A lady decides to get married because her friends kept asking why was she still single. A couple decides to have a baby because they cannot stand their relatives making comments.

Even though you want to make a different decision, you choose to adhere to the beliefs of other people. Why? To keep people happy.

5. Fear of failure

When you buck the trend, people watch you and keep a note.

When I started my first venture by quitting my job, I faced a lot of questions. “How will you manage? What if the business fails? Aren’t you better off working at a renowned company?”

All these questions led to fear in my mind. Honestly, I cared little about failure because I knew I was young, and I had the time for course correction. But I started to worry about what people would say if the business did not succeed.

I took the plunge anyway and failed. The response wasn’t bad at all. People were too busy with their lives to bother. I know people who fear to take a risk for the same reason.

You fear failure not only because of the consequences but also because of the impression it creates. No one wants to hear people saying, “Look, there is the guy who thought he will do something different and fell flat on his face.”

What happens when you stick to the norm?

When you think about going against the norm, you consider the cost of your actions. For some reason or the other, you decide to stick to the norm.

1. You do what makes others happy

Sticking to the norm comes at the cost of your comfort and happiness.

  • You might please your parents by taking up a career of your choice but who ends up cursing their job? It’s you.
  • The society might sing praises of you for buying a 3 bedroom house at a young age, but who pays the EMI every month? It’s you.
  • Your relatives might rejoice for giving them a niece, but who is responsible for her upbringing and well being? It’s you.

Every time you stick to the norm against your choice, you make others happy by putting yourself through additional responsibility and burden.

2. You end up with regrets

Life of regrets

Many of the decisions you make are irreversible.

Once you have a baby, you cannot send it back. Once you move to a different country, coming back to your old status isn’t a straightforward decision. Once you marry a person, you can no longer reverse the event. Sure, you can file a divorce, but that isn’t the same.

The best you can do is a course correction. When that isn’t an option, you live a life of regret.

How to stop sticking to the norm?

I am not asking to stop adhering to standards in every shape or form. You do not have to fart in public or scream in the mall or walk topless on the street.

But when you see yourself making a decision against your will, apply the brakes and evaluate your choice.

1. Ask yourself if you’re ready

Are you ready?

When you make any decision, the only decisive factor should be if you’re ready. Somebody else feeling that it’s about time means nothing whatsoever.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Getting married
  • Settling in a different country
  • Having kids
  • Quitting your job
  • Buying a house
  • Starting your venture

Different people will have their own opinion. Parents will want to see their children married and have grandkids. But ask yourself if you’re ready for the responsibilities of married life or turning into a parent.

Your spouse might feel you can make money in a different country, but you have to accept the change too.

A stupid boss, a drunk friend, or the toxic culture of an organization can trigger a thought of quitting your job and starting a new venture. You might feel like typing in your resignation letter right now, but you must ask yourself if you’re ready yet.

2. Ask if it makes you happy

Are you happy

You might feel like doing something different because you feel unhappy with your current situation.

For example, when you feel like you do not enjoy your current job anymore, you feel like starting a venture. But you must take action only if it makes you happy, not because something else makes you unhappy.

You must start a venture only if you believe you will enjoy the journey, not because your current job sucks.

Consider bucking the trend if you feel your inner self bubbling with joy with the new choice. Do not break the rules to seem unique or make somebody else happy.

3. Stop comparing yourself with others

The more you compare yourself to others, the more you feel like following what others are doing.

  • If you compare yourself with an IT employee who earns a high salary, you will feel like pursuing a similar line of job
  • If you compare yourself with your old friend who has a 3 year old daughter, you believe it’s time you had kids
  • If you compare yourself with your neighbor who drives expensive cars, you feel like buying a new one yourself

Comparison leads to unconscious decisions to match what others are doing. If you look at Instagram, you feel like going out for a drink or on a vacation. Why?

Because many of your friends are doing so, and you want to show the world that you’re not lagging behind. I am sure you have met people who care more about clicking pictures and posting stories than enjoying the event.

When you compare yourself to others, you feel the need for validation too. After you post a picture, you eagerly check how many likes you received and who liked them. Instagram has mastered behavioral psychology to bring users back to its platform again and again.

Instead, compare the current you vs the you 3 months ago. If you are no different than how you were in the past, you will stagnate in your career and personal life.

Make it your mission to become better than the person you see in the mirror each morning.

4. Be curious and seek clarity

Seek clarity

Whenever you find yourself under external pressure to make a decision, seek clarity. The simplest way to do that is with a single word.

Pop the question, “Why?”

In most cases, the person pressurizing you won’t have any answer or have one which is half baked.

  • When you’re asked to get married by 35, ask, “Why should I? Why not at 37?”
  • When people ask you not to cut your fingernails at night, ask, “Why not? What happens if I do?”
  • When your parents ask you to pursue medicine, ask, “Why? Can’t I succeed with a different profession?”

You can even ask yourself, “why?” to seek answers. When you cannot find an answer to your question, it indicates you are deciding due to a reason outside your own interest.

5. Start with little changes

When you find yourself struggling to go against the norm, check if you can break it down. Coaches have won championships using the method of marginal gains.

If you are worried about quitting your job to start your venture, start taking baby steps while you’re still working. If you want to pursue a career in stand up comedy, start performing over the weekend. If you want to delete all your social media accounts, try disabling one for a week.

Little changes help you in two ways:

  • It makes the change easier to digest
  • You get first-hand experience of the consequences

You can see for yourself if you should make that decision for the long term.


Sticking to the norm is easy. Breaking the rules for the sake of it isn’t too hard either.

Breaking the norm with a genuine reason behind your action is the hard part. Do not always stick to the norm but do not turn into a havoc maker who breaks all rules.

Be different. Be unique. Just don’t be a lunatic.

be different

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