Shiny Object Syndrome [What is it & How to Cure it]

You are an idea machine, I get it. You discover new solutions to age-old problems and see opportunity everywhere. It seems that almost on a daily basis you’re inspired to build something new.

This is a remarkable attribute and I truly believe we are lucky to have it. There is a problem with it however.

One that I suffered with for years. And still constantly struggle to overcome.

Shiny Object Syndrome

These new ideas all too easily become Shiny Objects that hold us back from gaining the valuable momentum we need to build a profitable and sustainable business and live a happy life.

What is Shiny Object Syndrome?

Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) is the tendency to lose focus on a current project and pursue something that at first glance appears more appealing.

It is a disease of distraction and it affects people like you specifically because of the very things that set you apart: high motivation, crave of new technology and developments and the yearning to do something great.

Ryan Law, the Content Strategist at Animalz puts it like this:

we fall in love with the idea of something, and shirk the boring, uninteresting process of seeing it through to the bitter end

You press the ‘start’ button without knowing exactly what lies beneath (or atleast truly planning!). In this type of environment there’s a good chance you end up ‘feeling lost’ along the way and hit the unplanned ‘stop’ button.

This loss of focus and graveyard of unfinished projects is costing you hundreds of hours a year in lost productivity. And we all know the equation: Lost hours = lost dollars.

Usually in hindsight however, you realize that your original plan (before you got distracted by the shiny object) was a great one, had you just followed it through and stuck it out until your efforts bore fruit.

Why Do We Feel the Need to Chase New Goals?

Payman Taei, the Founder of Visme, a DIY design tool suggests the syndrome often occurs due to three reasons:

  1. You’re probably young and short on experience, so everything that looks and sounds good, seems like it’s the best idea in the world.
  2. FOMO – you fear you’re missing out on success, the fads, and more.
  3. You haven’t found your true passion yet.

Signs You Have Shiny Object Syndrome

1. You have dozens of unfinished projects & are living the ‘rabbit hole’ life

You’re energized by new ideas, they seem to drive you. Unfortunately, that means you’re constantly starting new things and never finishing them. You’re mindlessly jumping from one project to another, assuming each presents a bigger, better option for you than the previous. 

Take an honest look at the work you’ve done over the last year. Do you see a lot of projects that you never actually followed through on? Ideas that you abandoned shortly after discovering them?

A little bit of that is expected when you’re an entrepreneur and built the way you are. Its inevitable — not every idea will pan out. But, if you look to your history and see a long string of forgotten ventures, that’s a really good indicator of shiny object syndrome.

This rabbit life was my standard when I started out on my journey. Three dormant Shopify stores – in hindsight all great ideas, its just that I never followed them through to completion. I just assumed the next one was bigger and better.

2. You’re always changing the way you do things.

You’re always on the hunt for the most efficient way to get things done. However, constantly introducing new tools, apps, platforms, hacks and workflows can actually do the opposite of what you intend—they slow you down.

Unused plugins, incomplete courses, and as Ryan, suggests – dozens of unused domains, Trello boards and Notion projects full of half-finished thoughts.

You may even start feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by how many projects you are in the middle of, without getting any of the dopamine-boosting effects of having completed any of them.

Have you never had a repeatable process in place for getting specific projects accomplished?

I know, this can be difficult to read but better to identify it than living in the constant overwhelm.

3. You can’t stay focused on what you actually need to be completing.  

Every time you sit down to work on the current project you’re supposed to be working on, you find yourself getting waylaid by different tasks and activities you’d rather be working on.

If you’re neglecting some of your most crucial business activities because you’re too enticed by shiny objects, it’s obvious that your shiny object syndrome is controlling you—rather than the other way around.

4. A feeling of compulsion and guilt drive your pursuits.

Ryan Law:

In the past, I’ve carried around this shapeless, ambiguous guilt that there was something bigger, better, and more exciting for me to work on, just around the corner.

The Problem with Shiny Object Syndrome

When you’re constantly distracted, a few issues happen:

  1. You become a jack of all trades, master of none. This happens because you don’t invest enough time to become good at something. You spend too much time being a beginner on all these different ventures because you’re switching focus and having to learn things from scratch all the time.
  2. Because you never really get good enough at something, you never reap the market leader rewards. The market leader effect is the phenomenon where the winner takes all. Most people will only ever know the top leaders in each industry, and hence market leaders often enjoy a huge lead in market share over everyone else. When you’re constantly chasing new things, you spend too much time learning the basics of each tool and each skill, rather than building on your skills.
  3. Ultimately, you never actually get things done. You’re always on to something new, rather than completing your current plans.
  4. You spend too much time on new ideas and fancy tools, of which 95% are noise, rather than building the fundamentals.

When you’re constantly attracted to shiny objects, you never have the chance to become great at something. You’re always climbing the learning curve for each new thing you chase.

(Image: Jan Sullivan)

How to Overcome Shiny Object Syndrome in 8 Steps

Shiny Object Syndrome = the source of almost ALL overwhelm entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. So how do we combat Shiny Object Syndrome without losing that entrepreneurial spark? The easiest and most effective way? By saying ‘NO’.

People think focus is about saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.

Steve Jobs

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

Warren Buffet

What you don’t do determines what you can do

Tim Ferris

But saying ‘NO’ isn’t always easy.

If you can’t always say no to things, here are some other tools that you can implement that certainly help:

1. Consider Your Goals and Plan

Having clear, written down goals and a suitable plan to execute on them is essential! Is this new endeavour you are about to undertake in alignment with your goals?

2. Identify Your MIT

With the above in mind, your most important task or MIT will come to the fore. “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Joe Paspasan is an easy to read guide to focusing on what matters.

3. Use the Pareto Principle

The 80:20 rule suggests that 20% of what we do yields 80% of our results. In other words, it’s not necessarily something new which will provide results, it’s focusing on a small number of things and doing them really well which will bring about alpha.

4. Slow Down

Slowing down and allowing ourselves the time to reflect on whether a shiny object is really worth our attention will stop knee-jerk and off-the-cuff decisions.

5. Focus on Value

Concentrate on activities which align with the value proposition you are trying to achieve. An idea which enhances your existing products or services is much more useful than developing something new in an unrelated field. Niche hopping like this is success suicide.

6. Commit

It’s really easy to say – to watch a Youtube video on a new ‘method’ and have a go. It’s far less easy to do (especially one that is congruent with your vision). Rather, commit to a single task and see it through to success. EXECUTE!

7. Stop Comparing

This is was a killer for me. Social media means we appear to know how successful other people’s lives are – all the time. We can get caught up in it – thinking we are constantly lagging. In reality however, how much of this is true? I try limit my social media time these days and what I do view I take with a pinch of salt.

8. Do More of What Works

Focus on revenue-generating and needle moving tasks (within your clearly defined plan) which move your business forward. If one particular activity within the goal you have selected works well, double up.


Shiny Object Syndrome can be debilitating but it is not insurmountable!

Once you realize you have these attributes and tendencies, you can start to correct and compensate for them, ultimately forging a more consistent, reliable path forward.

I’ve found the best cure for Shiny Object Syndrome is to set goals, review them often and take the time to focus on the big picture. Once you realise success, you may be surprised by the new opportunities that arise! Don’t give up on what’s working prematurely.

Use the tools above to get your focus back. Get clear on your big priorities, invest the necessary time, and pursue ideas that make a real change. 

An abundance of idea’s are great; it makes you – you! But remember: The meat and potatoes is in the execution.

Let’s get a move on and work on your real priorities!

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