The Bright Shiny Object Syndrome in Life and What to Do About It

Bill Abbate

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How and what are you building in life? Everyone is building something in some way, but what you wind up constructing is a different matter.

A metaphor for many in life

One way to see life is through the metaphor of building a house. To build a house, you must first purchase some land on which you can lay a foundation. Once the foundation is complete, you can begin the real work. Building the structure is where you find out what you can handle if you make it that far. This is where so many problems begin to occur.

Too often, people do not give enough thought to what they are building and have failed to consider the cost. With no real plan and not understanding the cost, it will be virtually impossible to complete. Because of this, too many end up with an empty lot and part of a foundation laid. Even if they complete the foundation, they often abandon it as soon as they see what they think is another opportunity.

With each new opportunity (land), you start to invest (building a foundation), you become frightened or bored with your progress, and another “opportunity” comes on the horizon. You decide to move on, and so it goes repeatedly, with little or nothing done to completion.

Therein lies the problem with so many of us. We don’t think things through and count the cost, never completing a structure or building. The completed building is where the real value in life lies.

Before long, we are laying another foundation on a piece of property up the street, thinking we will build on it. And then another. And then just one more! After some time, we wind up with foundations all over town with little or nothing built on them. Does this sound like someone you know?

I have known many people who seem unable to stop chasing one thing after the next. They purchase that new product or program that promises success, go after that next training and certification that will change their current situation, or get that next degree to solve all their problems. On and on it goes.

They develop a lust for the next bright shiny object, a.k.a. SOS (shiny object syndrome). For most, this syndrome becomes a real SOS (save our ship) situation. At the risk of mixing metaphors, their ship is sinking! They become the guy building foundations all over town with nothing to show for it.

What can be done?

“Building is about getting around the obstacles that are presented to you.” Jeremy Renner (1971-present)

Having worked with, coached, and consulted for many people with SOS (shiny object syndrome), it can be a challenging behavior to modify. Difficult but not impossible. It will take a real awakening for such a person to see something through to completion. Breaking the compulsion of looking for the next thing that will “be the one that will make the difference” takes real work.

Such a person must learn to:

  • Think things through, or at least more thoroughly.
  • Plan before jumping into the next thing.
  • Count the cost of remaining or changing.
  • Examine the foundation they are currently working on and those they have already started to see if any one of them is worth completing.
  • Recognize and admit they have a case of SOS.
  • Develop self-control and the ability to say no to the next thing on the horizon.
  • Quit the insanity! Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.
  • Become fully intent on finishing something!
  • Develop the desire to change and begin building real success in life.

These are only a few ways to approach SOS. Too many refuse to recognize that chasing the next thing will likely lead to failure. Should this issue not be tackled, it can lead to an unhappy and unfulfilled life.

If you recognize yourself in this article, seek help. A good therapist, psychologist, or perhaps a coach can help depending on how deep the issue resides within you. While some will never change, I have known many who have been successful in breaking this behavior.

If you are unwilling to work on yourself, I wish you the best. But know, there is nothing wrong with seeking help.

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.” Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Final thoughts

At the end of life, will you have built something you can be proud of, or will you have only left a bunch of unfinished foundations?

Why not stay the course you are on until it has been exhausted? Wherever you are and whatever you are doing at this time contains a high degree of probability for success if you will only see it through. Give thought to what you can do to build where you are and how amazing it will be to complete this work.

I adjure you to take some time to step back, examine what you are doing, and begin building on the foundation you are already on. Before you know it, you will have a completed structure that will be valuable and very fulfilling in your life.

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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