Can’t Finish Things? How Shiny Object Syndrome Can Get in the Way

Steve Allen


How Shiny Object Syndrome Can Get in the Way

Do you have a bunch of incomplete activities, tasks, or goals?

Like creative projects, business ideas, or even incomplete jobs around the house?

You could be dealing with shiny object syndrome, but you don’t have to let it take over your life.

In this article, I’ll share what you need to know about shiny object syndrome, including:

  • What it is exactly
  • Potential causes
  • How to stop it
  • And more…

Learn to finish what you start and break free from those shiny objects.

Let’s dive in!

What is Shiny Object Syndrome and How Does it Affect Us?

Shiny object syndrome is when we can’t stick to one thing long enough to see it through to the end.

We start a new project or buy a new “shiny thing”, and before we know it, we’re onto the next project or thing.

It affects us by getting excited when starting new things, but losing interest when it loses its newness.

It then repeats the cycle of chasing after the next shiny object.

We end up with dozens (or hundreds in my case) of unfinished projects and no clear sight of completing any of them.

We then feel like a failure or inadequate at achieving any kind of success in life.

So why does it even begin in the first place?

Potential Causes of Shiny Object Syndrome?

There are many reasons shiny object syndrome shows up in our behaviour. The root cause could differ from one person to another.

Here are a few causes I’ve seen in my own life.

Instant gratification

Technology connects us to the world of information, new opportunities, social media, and global news.

With so much at our fingertips, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Companies compete to grab our attention more than ever and a solid, unique value proposition isn’t enough.

That’s why we see more and more brands creating addictive apps or simply giving us what we want in the fastest way possible.

Instant gratification provides us with all the happy chemicals we need to satisfy our desires in the current moment.

We end up sacrificing long-term goals because we prefer to chase after more immediate satisfaction.

When we get addictive to these immediate results, it trains our brain to get extremely bored when we want to focus on other things, like reading a book or starting a business.

If we want to achieve more fulfillment in life, we need to recognise that instant gratification only limits what we can achieve in the future.

Perfectionism

Trying to maintain perfect standards in everything we do keeps us stuck in the avoidance of completing things.

We might have these high standards because we believe that if it’s not perfect, then we’re not good enough.

It could also stem from a fear of discomfort, so we fixate on the minor details instead of the bigger picture of things.

This was the case for me when launching my first website. I set myself up for failure because I was so worried that the design wasn’t good enough.

I only realised this was a big problem for me many years later when I had dozens of unfinished businesses (websites) because I was scared to launch them.

No doubt a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to this kind of story.

We can overcome the burden of perfectionism when we take imperfect action.

Set yourself the goal of 70% perfect and move on. You might notice that no really cares anyway and you can always go back and tweak things in the future.

Fear of failure

Fear of failure is essentially the fear of being criticised.

Ironically, the people who fail the most are typically those with the most success. That’s because failure is an excellent tool for learning what doesn’t work so that we can find the things that do.

To overcome this fear or worrying what other people think of us, we must stop judging ourselves.

If whenever we start a new project we rate our performance as poor or judge our mistakes as bad, it only adds to our insecurities.

Instead, we can only do our best in the moment and figure things out as we go along. Any setbacks mean we get to learn a valuable lesson in moving us in the right direction.

When Shiny Object Syndrome Takes Over

Too many ideas

To the visionaries and creative types who constantly sprout new ideas every day, shiny object syndrome might seem impossible to avoid.

If it’s a business idea, then maybe you need some help to implement things to get the ball rolling.

We often hear that we should only focus on one goal at a time, but for those of us where ideas come naturally, this advice can feel limiting.

Having lots of ideas though shouldn’t impede seeing things through to the end. We just need a better plan or strategy.

When we have a strategy and manage our time more effectively, we can work on multiple projects at a time.

Just look at Elon Musk.

Yes, he might be a genius but that’s not what enables him to work on multiple business projects, it’s that he has a system.

Create a system and shiny object syndrome can become a good friend.

Too many distractions

The only way to get more things done is to eliminate distractions.

I know this contradicts the last point I made about working on multiple ideas, but that advice was for big thinkers who can’t help but be innovative.

It’s still true though, to achieve more you have to do less; until you can get help.

This has been a constant battle of mine for many years. I’m finally getting to where I can see progress in my work but I limit the amount I take on.

I still get new ideas all the time, but I save them in a note taking app and then forget about them.

Doing the opposite is how we get carried away by shiny objects. Something new grabs our attention and we think it needs to be started in the moment, otherwise we’ll miss out.

These new ideas or new gadgets aren’t an opportunity, they’re distractions.

If we write them down and we still get a burning desire to start them in a year from now, then we can.

We can look at the list a year from now and cross many of the ideas off because they don’t seem that important anymore, and we can look back and see how much time we gained by not over committing ourselves.

How to Stop Shiny Object Syndrome Taking Over Your Life

1. Use the 48 hour rule

You’re working on a new project, piece of work, new tool for your business and then something new pops up.

Instead of diving straight in, open up a document or note taking app and write out everything that excites you about it.

Even if this entire process takes 10-20 minutes and you fill up an entire page of why you want to start this new thing, just get it all on paper.

Then return to the thing you were working on in the first place and try not to think about the shiny object for 48 hours.

Think of it as sleeping on it for a couple of day.

Doing this exercise will probably tone down the urge to get started immediately. Plus, when you revisit your notes after 48 hours, you might realise that it was all hype and the project you’re currently working on is more important.

2. Set an intention to see a project through to the end

When starting any new project or goal, make an intention before you start and make a commitment to see it through to the end.

Without commitment, we get trapped in our old patterns of habit and if we have a habit of never finishing things, then we commit to fail every time.

What sets successful people apart is the intention to achieve a goal over the motive to start something because it looks cool.

Intention builds power, whereas motive requires motivation.

3. Know the outcome

What would it mean for you to complete your goal?

Imagine your life today if you had already achieved it. What would the outcome be?

What else would you be able to do now?

How confident would you feel when starting something new?

When you know the outcomes of achieving your goals and projects, it pulls you towards the end instead of losing interest in the beginning.

Many people think that discipline and motivation are super important, but the most disciplined and motivated people are that way because they get obsessed with achieving the outcome.

4. Visualise the end goal

Instead of getting distracted with the shininess of something new, use visualisation to keep you on the project at hand.

People get sucked into shiny object syndrome because they neglect to visualise the end goal.

They get so caught up and excited about new things that by the time the novelty has worn off, they’ve forgotten why they even started.

Do this now…

Take stock of all your current projects or things you’ve got going on and choose only one of them.

Think about what this means to you and why you even started it.

Now think about the end goal and what it means if you complete it. Imagine knowing the fact that you have achieved this goal and how your life might look.

Visualise your life and imagine how it would feel.

Now, whenever you work on this project or goal, visualise this end goal and you will notice how much easier it is to avoid new shiny things.

5. Break it down into sub-goals

Sub-goals are milestones on the path to a big goal.

If your big goal is going to take you months or even years to achieve, then you need to break it down.

That’s why businesses break a year into quarters. Every three months they look at their performance and see where things may have fallen behind.

This is what you can do with sub-goals. It makes it so much easier to plan and maintain the bigger goal when you focus on smaller and more attainable outcomes.

You can take this another step further by getting yourself a planner or journal. When you write your goals down as sub-goals, you’ll get less overwhelmed and more equipped with staying on track.

Conclusion

I hope you found this blog post insightful.

In summary, shiny object syndrome can be a serious problem for many people but it doesn’t have to take over your life.

There’s a lot of psychology behind why this condition happens in some of us.

Hopefully, this post has shed some light.

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