5 Steps to Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome

Shiny Object Syndrome

The name shiny object syndrome (SOS) may sound innocuous or even amusing, but the behavior can be destructive and negatively impact an individual’s relationships, productivity, effectiveness, work life, finances, and overall well-being. SOS can affect anyone with an incessant need for novelty and distraction, but it is commonly seen in people with ADHD.

 

 

Often when something is fun, exciting, and new, we get a temporary hit of dopamine which makes us feel good and motivates us to want and seek more. Click To Tweet

SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME AT WORK, AT HOME, AND IN LOVE

In a business setting, shiny object syndrome is frequently seen in entrepreneurs who continually chase new trends, new opportunities, and new ideas—as a child would a shiny object—without fully weighing what it means in terms of time, resources, and potential payoff.  SOS can also affect men and women on dating apps. Unable to focus on one meaningful relationship, they choose instead to “swipe” endlessly and/or make more superficial, short-term connections that serve as temporary excitement and distraction. Of course, SOS is prevalent amongst people who quite literally pursue the latest “shiny object,” such as a shopper who compulsively seeks the latest gadget, car, or other material goods. The common theme is that regardless of what the shiny object is, the pursuit of it provides an exciting distraction from the more mundane tasks of living.

Constant digital access connects us to a world of distraction and fosters SOS. At any time of the day, we can access newness in the form of goods, fast news, images, social media platforms, and a host of apps that provide distraction and temporary excitement.

DOPAMINE AND THE SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME

Did you know that we get a rush of dopamine whenever we have a new experience of any kind? A study published in the journal Neuron examined participants after they viewed a series of images that were very similar and commonplace: everyday landscapes, interiors, and faces. But every so often they tossed in an “oddball” image, something out of the ordinary. They found that the pleasure centers of the brain (located mainly in the midbrain) were activated when the novel, oddball image appeared, triggering a flood of dopamine throughout the brain.

Often when something is fun, exciting, and new, we get a temporary hit of dopamine which makes us feel good and motivates us to want and seek more. It causes our general level of arousal and goal-directed behavior to increase. Generally, this is very positive and necessary for health and longevity. It helps to keep us motivated to work, learn new things, and succeed.

Problems arise when the rush of dopamine, excitement, and good feelings subside. The new distraction or shiny object no longer holds our attention, and we look for pleasure elsewhere. We start looking for our new shiny object.

HOW SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME AFFECTS ENTREPRENEURS

An entrepreneur is highly motivated, unafraid to create new things, loves to leverage new platforms or programs, and acts quickly on new opportunities. Finding what’s next and taking the risk to act on it is what they do. Unfortunately, these are the very qualities that predispose an individual to SOS. They are also traits typically seen in people with ADHD, which has been associated with a tendency to be self-employed.

Shiny object syndrome tends to happen when business owners rush into new ideas without properly thinking them through or in order to avoid the less exciting work of tending to the business at hand. When under pressure or vulnerable, an entrepreneur may be unmotivated to address the less dopamine-rewarding tasks of their business (e.g., rolling out a customer retention plan, invoicing, collections, or taking inventory). Instead, pursuing the shiny new object—whether that’s launching a half-baked product or deciding to start or acquire a new business, or simply redo an already established marketing plan—provides a much-needed, highly distracting rush of excitement and motivation.

Racing into a new project or venture keeps the pleasure centers going initially, but when the shininess loses its sparkle or a project becomes overwhelming, the new venture is abandoned.   The cost is hard to quantify, but it often involves lost resources, stress, frustrated employees, chaos, and a feeling of being out of control. Productivity declines. The neglect of critical areas of the original business can sabotage existing success.

SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME 

Common signs of shiny object syndrome include:

  • Leaving or getting bored in relationships as soon as the exciting phase wears off
  • Accumulating a number of new items that you do not need or use
  • Spending hours online “clicking” whether that’s on social media, news sites, or other apps
  • Having multiple unfinished projects
  • Decreased productivity
  • High-stress levels, overwhelm, sleeplessness
  • Frustrated employees
  • Drained resources

HOW TO AVOID SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME

While shiny object syndrome is not a diagnosable condition, there are a number of helpful suggestions from mental health professionals and career coaches to help you avoid it, including the following:

1. Pause

If you’re showing signs of SOS, commit to pausing before starting any new projects. Wait several days, a week, or a month. Do not act for a period of time. This pause will put a wedge between the idea and jumping in.

2. Examine

Question your motives and the idea itself. Is this the right time? Do you have the time and resources to support it? Does it make sense? What will be the personal costs of your time, relationships, and ability to manage your current responsibilities? Is a new venture, relationship, or item to purchase your priority?

3. Tend to Business

Instead of following the new idea or shiny object, focus on what your current business or personal life needs right now—the action that will take you closer to your goals. Remember the mundane, non-exciting, but important tasks that you prefer to avoid? Schedule in time to do them. Maybe it is one morning a week. At that time, turn your cell phone off, do not answer email, and focus on the important tasks that will improve your business and/or your personal life.

4. Be Accountable

Find someone who you trust and admire to hold you accountable for your actions. Check in with them about your progress on the nuts-and-bolts actions you need to take to make your life or business work better.

5. Keep It Simple

Take it one day at a time. If you find yourself returning to your pursuit of shiny objects, simply check in with your accountability person and get back on track.

Adopting a brain healthy lifestyle that includes a diet of brain healthy foods can help, too. A healthy, happy brain is more focused, and less susceptible to the shiny object/dopamine hit trap. If you’re currently struggling with shiny object syndrome or suffering its consequences, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.

Shiny object syndrome, ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

7 Comments »

  1. Thank you for a great article.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — December 13, 2021 @ 4:54 AM

  2. I don’t know if anyone from Amen Clinics will answer my comment. But I just wanted to say (write) that every bit of this article is every bit of my life with my ADHD/possibly ASD husband and these symptoms and behaviors are ruining my marriage and my health. As much as I try and offset or bring balance to our relationship, dynamics, work, finances, disciplines, structure, healthy diet, counseling, a specialist, books, instructional or informational videos, it seems to me that there is equal and opposing resistance to any/all of it from him. This has been going on for the 10+ years of our marriage, and directly addressed for the last 3. I cannot financially carry us, and I don’t think it’s physically good for me to emotionally carry us anymore; I feel like I’m drowning. The way we live with our house taken apart (he’s a builder) with a whole house remodel (started before I/we knew he had this/these disorders) is causing so much damage to us on every level, and includes his two sons and all of our extended family, most of whom do not understand why I tolerate him/this, or they do not come visit because of the condition of our relationship and house. I’m at a loss. On many levels.
    If someone from Amen Clinics could contact me, I don’t know if I could, at the least, consult with someone because I have no way to afford the testing that my husband desperately needs. And I don’t know who to contact.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Jill — December 13, 2021 @ 11:33 AM

  3. I am contemplating going with a group from my office creating a new firm…..I am in my late 70s and still excited about new things.
    I do not rush into new things usually …..this article created reflection! i will go through the different phases recommended.
    Thank you

    Comment by michele — December 13, 2021 @ 11:40 AM

  4. I am 71 and have recently been diagnosed with ADHD. That explained a lot of things! This article explained much more about why I made so many irrational decisions throughout my life. I wish I had read this article 50 years ago.

    Comment by Lynne Brown — December 13, 2021 @ 3:40 PM

  5. Gracias, doctor Amen, por tu claridad al explicar el SOS. Me duele ver y verme en el grupo de personas que necesitamos trabajar muchísimo para sostenernos en nuestro país y saber que la dopamina del SOS es un “motivador” para nuestro abrumado día a día. // Thanks, doctor Amen, for your SOS clear explanation. Hurts me a lot seeing myself and seeing millions of people in my country working extremely hard to survive and knowing that SOS dopamine is our guaranteed daily “motivator” for our overwhelming efforts.
    🙏🏻🇲🇽🇺🇸🙏🏻

    Comment by Renata Chapa — December 14, 2021 @ 5:16 AM

  6. After reading this article, I now understand why I constantly purchase new educational material and haven’t finished and in some cases even started the one I had previously purchased. Thank you for the insight.

    Comment by Robert Mundras — December 14, 2021 @ 8:30 AM

  7. Hello Jill, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly and offer more information. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 15, 2021 @ 1:22 PM

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