Do you feel like pursuing new goals leaving the current ones pending? I have chased one shiny object after another over the last 20 years.
In this article, I will share:
- The thought process behind pursuing a new idea
- The effects of the shiny object syndrome
- How to overcome the temptation of the phenomenon
Back in my teens, I developed a love for writing code. This was way back when C programming was the major language to learn. Over the years, my liking for writing code got stronger and stronger.
I went on to start a venture where we built websites and mobile applications. At that point, I found myself leaning towards spending more time on devising and building products.
While I still liked writing code, I had a newfound love for innovation and planning. I came up with many products, some of which no one has used at all. I built them to quench my passion for making something new.
After years passed by, I started loving the challenge of leading a team and bringing the best out of them. I read many leadership books, made notes, and tried to apply them to improve my skills and that of my team members. Leadership had become my new shiny object.
Today, I am pursuing a future in blogging and writing. I am excited each morning to write quality content and bring it out to the world. Is this another shiny object? I hope not.
What is Shiny object syndrome?
The shiny object syndrome, as per psychology, is a tendency to chase a new target instead of sticking to the original goals. Little kids work as the best example of the behavior. Give a kid a toy, and he will joyfully play with it until you get a new one.
As soon as the kid lays his eyes on the shiny new toy, he forgets about the old one altogether.
The meaning of shiny object syndrome is, we exhibit behavior where we chase a new goal for better returns while giving up on the old one.
The opposite effect of the shiny object syndrome is the sunk cost fallacy. It is the tendency to stick to a target as a leech holds on to the human body while sucking blood.
A person under the sunk cost fallacy does not give up on the effort even if it causes more damage than good.
The obstacles with the shiny object
I will explain my experience with chasing different goals with a small visual below.
Each goal is like a mountain. Every time you chase a goal, you will have to take the arduous journey of climbing uphill to reach your target. The path you need to tread involves obstacles and hardships.
As you step higher and higher on the path of your goal, you will notice other mountains around. Some of them look more interesting and greener than the one you’re currently on.
After a glance, you might even believe that climbing up the other mountain will be far more comfortable than the one you’re on right now. You might also notice better rewards on the other mountain for lesser effort. What could be better, right?
So you start chasing the new goal. But you realize that the new mountain seemed close and accessible from the top. Getting there takes a lot more energy, time, and money than you expected.
You have to tread down the mountain you were on. Reach the base of the next mountain and then start climbing up. When you begin the journey on the new mountain, you realize the new challenges on your path. It turns out harder than the original mountain you were on.
To make that worse, you have lost all the time and effort you put in earlier. You climbed halfway up the previous mountain and then came all the way down. All that went down the drain for nothing.
But now, since you are already this far on the new mountain, you pursue your mission. Halfway through the new mountain, you see another nearby.
“Is that a better option?” you ask yourself. Such thoughts never end until you train your mind to stop reacting to every shiny object.
Here is an image which explains the path you follow when moving from one goal to another:
The journey down the mountain you’re already on is unlearning. You had a specific approach towards scaling the mountain which will no longer work for the next one. You have to unlearn what you know to prevent it from influencing your future plans.
The gap between the two mountains is the unknown. All you know is how the hills seem like. You are unaware of the risks, dangers, and unforeseen events that could show up when you move from one goal to another.
Once you overcome these challenges, which can take longer than expected, you finally reach the base of the new mountain. You need to learn new skills to get to the summit. In theory, you might wonder, “Can’t I use the mountain climbing skills that I already possess?”
But in real life, you cannot easily translate your skills from one goal to another.
For example, I have moved away from the mountain of programming onto the new hill of writing content. I had to unlearn my thinking process of approaching every problem from the angle of code. I faced multiple obstacles with blogging. Besides, I also needed to learn the new skills required to write quality content.
Could I reuse my previous skills? Yes and no. Some of the previous technical skills did come in handy with the blog. But overall, I still have a long gap to cover in my writing skills.
Why do you feel the need to chase new goals:
1. Fear of Missing Out(FOMO)
When you notice a new option, you fear missing out on the potential opportunity. You want to join the bandwagon and make the most of it without considering any other parameters.
When your friends ask you if you would like to team up to start a company, you raise your hand in agreement. All you’re thinking is, being a part of success if the venture takes off. You fail to consider if the business has potential or if you have the time and skills to add value to the startup.
As human beings, we want more. When you earn a promotion to the role of a manager, you aim to become a director. Once you make a million, you dream about amassing 10 million. After you lose weight from a state of obesity, you strive for six-pack abs.
When you spot any opportunity that can give you a reward, your greed kicks in. You believe you can achieve both your current goal and the new one.
Examples of the Shiny Object Syndrome:
You fall victim to the shiny object syndrome in different shapes and forms in daily life.
1. A new way to lose weight
An obese person joins the gym with the intent of reducing weight. He starts with running and cycling as the first step to shed some pounds.
2 weeks later, one of the ripped guys in the gym tells him that lifting weights will help him build muscle and lose fat faster. Intoxicated by the thought of muscles and losing weight at a rapid pace, the obese guy changes his workout regimen.
By changing his routine often, he grows frustrated. He tries new methods every now and then, but none of them give him the desired results. After some time, he gives up.
Though all routines provide results, he fails to persist with one method long enough.
2. A new relationship
All relationships have some issues or the other. Partners fight, disagree, and argue over their differences. Such hassles can make a third-person appear attractive and a better potential partner.
Little do you know that to get into a relationship with a new person, you must unlearn your current style and adapt to a method that works with the new person. Also, you will encounter many unknowns with the new person, which you did not expect.
People running back to their old relationships after trying a new partner is quite common.
3. A new market opportunity
New opportunities to make money show up in the market time and again. When the value of Bitcoin started shooting up, people across the globe began investing in cryptocurrency.
Similar greed-based behavior shows up in the stock market. An exciting new lottery or a multi-level marketing scheme prompts the same reaction.
Many gullible people lose all their money, chasing an opportunity that promises them a quick way to become rich.
4. Chasing a new business opportunity
Shiny object syndrome is most prominent in the startup world. When entrepreneurs notice the business potential in a new idea, their mind starts thinking.
The effect increases multifold when they are working on an idea that isn’t delivering enough returns.
They abandon all the work they had done towards an old idea to chase a new opportunity.
How to cure shiny object syndrome
An essential attribute in getting rid of shiny object syndrome is patience. Here are different ways to demonstrate patience when it comes to chasing new goals.
1. Think ideas through
As simple as the tip sounds, it serves as the most effective way to battle the phenomenon. Remember the saying all that glitters isn’t gold.
Even when the shiny object you noticed is gold, the path to get there isn’t as easy as it seems like.
Consider what all you might have to overcome to make a new idea successful. Do not neglect the fact that the new idea will consume your time, leaving you with fewer hours. You might have to give up on the goal you’re already chasing.
You might make the wrong assumption that you can spare time for both the plans. Sometimes you can and often you cannot. The diluted focus can spell disaster on both plans leaving you neither here nor there.
2. Abandon the current plan when you have a strong reason
Finding a new goal does not serve as a reason good enough to stop your current plan and hatch a new one. The temptation of better results from another goal can blind your judgment.
Consider how far you have come with your ongoing target and how far are you from the result. Take into account the price you pay for losing the progress you have made so far.
To reach the same point on the new goal, you will need to start from scratch and climb up.
I am not asking you to stick to your original plan no matter what. But do not look at the outcome of the new goal alone while making the decision.
3. Set a plan and rewards
When you pursue a goal without a plan, you lose motivation and the enthusiasm to keep going.
Imagine going on a trek where you do not know how far the destination is. Each morning when you wake up and put on your trekking shoes, you have no clue if you have covered 75% of the journey or 10%.
You wouldn’t want to go on such an adventure, would you?
Unfortunately, that is how some entrepreneurs run their businesses. They go with the flow without knowing the target they intend to achieve.
What happens when an entrepreneur does not have a clear view of the target and how far he is from it? A new opportunity sways him in the wrong direction within a snap of the fingers.
When you set SMART goals and build a system to reward yourself, your motivation levels remain high. If you’re enjoying the journey of chasing your current target, you will stand firm against a random new idea that flashes by.
4. Wait out on the idea
Waiting out on the idea can help you diffuse the initial excitement. When a new idea shows up, the spark can lead you to make decisions on impulse. It is like assuming you’re in love with a person you just met.
When you wait on the idea for a while, the frenzy dies down, and you think with a rational mind. What seemed like a brilliant idea will appear average within a short time.
Giving yourself enough time to digest the new opportunity helps you identify the pros and cons of your decision. You see things from a new light.
5. Spend time on research
Depending on your risk appetite, you look at an opportunity from a different angle. A risk-averse person will find reasons not to pursue a new idea. A risk-loving person, however, will find every possible reason to take the plunge.
Your thought process can cloud your judgment and force you to view things only from your lens. As a result, you make a biased decision according to your preconceived beliefs.
Spend time researching if pursuing a new opportunity is the right move. Find out details about people who have done similar things before.
Talk to them and understand the pros and cons they observed. Look at both stories of failure and success to avoid survivorship bias.
The more knowledge you have at your fingertips, the more sensible your decision will be.
Consequences of the shiny object syndrome
When you chase a new goal every time, here are the possible outcomes. In the early stages, they serve as the symptoms of shiny object syndrome. If you find yourself exhibiting such behavior often, chances are you suffer from the problem.
1. Unfinished projects
A new project takes up more time than you imagine, leaving you not with a few hours short. You focus on the new goal because you’re excited about it. As a result, your old project to take a backseat.
Repeat the same a few times, and you will end up with a bunch of unfinished projects.
2. Waste of time/effort/money
When you chase a new goal, multiple outcomes are possible:
- You successfully meet the new goal and achieve better returns
- You chase the new goal for a while, realize how hard it is(or lose interest) and return to the original target thinking
- You chase the new goal, lose focus on the old plan and fail at both of them
Barring the first case where you succeed, you will lose time, energy, effort, and money when you chase a shiny object. Sometimes the goal is too hard and at times even impossible.
3. Frustration and demotivation
When you spring onto a new opportunity, you do so with vigor and enthusiasm. The moment you hit an obstacle you did not foresee, you turn frustrated. If things do not go in the direction you expected, you turn demotivated.
A new goal can discourage you just as quickly as it can energize you.
4. Confusing people
If you are leading a team and pursuing new goals often, you make a mess of the whole team. People will lose focus on what their purpose is and how to get there.
A leader prone to shiny object syndrome can cause a team or organization full of disoriented people.
Other pointers about the Shiny Object Syndrome
1. Not always bad
Chasing a new goal does not always have to lead to negative consequences or wasted effort. Many people do the opposite. They stick to their plan and suffer throughout their lives.
Also, many successful businesses you know today started with one person spotting a never seen before opportunity.
Pursuing a different target is bad only when you do so without enough research and thought. When done right, the shiny object leads to innovation and success.
2. You might lose out on better opportunities
Sometimes, the opportunities you skip can turn into a goldmine. But that does not mean you made a poor decision by sticking to your plan.
You cannot isolate one such example where something you skipped yielded a fantastic result. You must consider the consequences of trying to grab all such opportunities. Chances are, you would encounter so many failures that the occasional win might have nullified all the losses.
A great example of such behavior is Warren Buffet. He stuck to his principle of staying away from stocks he did not understand. He never invested in technology stocks until recently because he did not understand enough about the business.
Did he miss out on the technology stocks which grew exponentially? Yes, he did. But he made better returns in others. Had he tried his hand at all such stocks in the past, maybe he would not have reached the status he has today.
Chasing shiny objects can create more damage overall than good.
You live long enough to encounter a ton of opportunities. You won’t win by trying to grab every single one or by letting them all pass by. The right balance is to spot those that matter and go after them.
Unfortunately, you will learn the skill to spot the right one only after making mistakes. Try to make only a few of them.
What I am not:
What I am:
Continuously improving self-learner
Productivity/Time Management Obsessed