February 5

Shiny Object Syndrome: What Makes An 82-Year-Old Start Stock Trading

While not an official health condition, Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) can inflict significant pain and remorse. But like with most other health conditions, an ounce of prevention here is worth a pound of cure.

Alisha stops by five times on her way to the park to pick up fallen twigs and flowers and once to pet a corgi across the road. She seems in no hurry as she slowly meanders her way to the park. Strangely, no one seems perturbed by this behavior. They have, in fact, come to expect this of Alisha. Alisha is three years old.

On the other hand, when Aidan (30), ostensibly while preparing for a presentation, stops his work multiple times to check his Twitter account or read the reviews on the latest VR headset, he is subject to (unsurprisingly) less-than-complimentary looks from his boss and co-workers.

Both Alisha and Aidan are victims of the shiny object syndrome—a tendency to chase after shiny, new things instead of focusing on the task(s) at hand.

In a 3-year-old, this is expected behavior (encouraged, in fact). Exploration is how kids learn. In adults, however, the action may evoke the word “scatterbrained.”

What’s in a name?

First, let’s see why we even call this shiny object syndrome? What’s it about shiny objects that attract us?

Have you wondered why children (or, for that matter, adults too) are instantly drawn to sparkling objects or glossy material? A research study suggests a link between shiny things and a deep-rooted evolutionary need. According to this study, we equate the shine of an object to the reflective properties of water. Since water is essentially rooted in our primitive need for survival, we are innately attracted to shiny objects.

So now you know you know why you can’t take your eyes off a disco ball or why you long for tinsel during the holidays—you’re just wired that way.

Shiny object syndrome explained

That said, shiny object syndrome (SOS) is more than just succumbing to temporary distractions.

Just reflect for a few minutes to see if any of these are part of your life: half-read books, unfinished garden projects, unsolved puzzles, unhung pictures, incomplete online courses, unopened kitchen appliances, etc. For some of us, it is a long unending list.

As you leaf through a home-improvement magazine, you find some makeover photos—the ones with the before and after images of a beautiful deck. The before picture almost looks like your very own backyard in its current state. Then you think, “I can do this. I’m going to create a magazine-cover worthy deck.”

After a few trips to the local hardware store and a few hours (or if you’re a little more determined, a few days later), the enthusiasm wears off. Life gets in the way, and you shelve the project for the time being. Soon, winter comes along, and now you think you should paint the garage floor instead.

Different tools, same result.

Of course, when you begin, you are earnestness personified. None of us expects to buy or start working on something, only to abandon it partway through. It’s just that we also don’t expect to be bombarded with shinier objects that catch our attention at seemingly inopportune moments causing us to drop what we’re holding in the pursuit of something seemingly more valuable.

The home-improvement example earlier is a benign case of shiny object syndrome. The repercussions are far more severe when the stakes get higher. For instance, entrepreneurs chasing after (and spending a lot of capital on) the next big buzz on the internet, while ignoring the project that seemed very cool just a few months ago, can land themselves in deep financial and emotional trouble.

If SOS can be this detrimental, why do we fall for it?

Succumbing to the shiny object syndrome

We’re susceptible to the SOS for many reasons. But two key ones stand-out:

a) FOMO: Our eternal fear of missing out

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, most people (at least in the US) had debated whether they need to get in on the action and buy some GameStop stock (Ticker: GME; an internet frenzy of irrationally soaring stock prices with the lure of making investors very rich, very quickly). According to estimates, this frenzy has resulted in hundreds of thousands of first-time stock market investors.

Margaret is 82. She has never invested in stocks before. She found out about GME from her cable news channel. Margaret called her son, asking how to go about buying stock. Her son, in turn,  reached out to friends to find out more. Both Margaret and her son were afraid of missing a wave.

The GameStop fever represents a textbook definition of the fear of missing out. People like Margaret, who couldn’t care less about the difference between stocks and bonds or options and futures, are suddenly rushing to set up brokerage accounts to get in on the action. To many, the GME bandwagon is like a bright, shining modern-day Noah’s ark—no one wants to be left out.

As a species, we don’t like missing out on the action that could potentially benefit us. Rationality takes a backseat. When something looks new and shiny, our curious natures make us pause to take a look. Sometimes it’s too tempting just to look, so we start chasing after the idea or the object—to the detriment of what we already have.

b) Escapism

The second key reason why we succumb to the SOS is our escapist nature. When the going gets tough, most of us want to be going somewhere else.

Rather than plod and work through a challenge or a crisis, it just seems much more comfortable to chase after another shiny object that seemingly is devoid of such troubles.

I get it. It’s difficult to embrace the suck.

Why struggle when the shiny object seems such an easy way out, especially in the era of pings, dings, and the ubiquitous nature of instant gratification?

How to avoid the shiny object syndrome?

Regardless of whether we’re exploring avenues to escape our present difficult circumstances or chasing after wild geese, our pursuit of shiny objects comes at a steep price—wasted effort and resources.

Here are five methods I’ve found work quite effectively to lessen the lure of shiny objects. They help keep me and judging by what I’ve heard and read, and countless others focused.

1. Remember: Every unfinished project was once a shiny object itself

Write this out in big, bold letters. Make a placard and hang it around your neck if you need to. Or better still, around your dog’s neck.

We tend to undervalue what we have and overvalue what we don’t. The farther you look, the greener the grass.  

So, unless you have genuinely analyzed your current circumstances and determined that a change, of course, is necessary (to avoid falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy), it pays to stick with the known.

This isn’t new advice. Every language is chockfull of expressions that lend credence to the hold-on-to-what-you-have theory.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. 
Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow. 
A known devil is better than the unknown.

And so on.

2. Rule of Twenty-four

Employ this one-size-fits-all solution to most of life’s maladies—the rule of twenty-four—when dealing with impulsivity.

Don’t react to a shiny object for at least 24 hours (longer if you can).

You’ve probably heard of this expression:

Set the bird free; if it’s yours, it will come back to you; if it doesn’t, it was never meant to be. 

Similarly, set the shiny object free. If it doesn’t lose luster a few days (or at least a day later, if you’re impatient), then maybe it’s worth a second look. But not before.

3. Double-check your superman/wonder woman credentials

Sometimes, the shiny object fascination isn’t to replace what’s on your plate but to add to what you already have going on, to enhance the superman/wonder woman fallacy we have of ourselves.

Ideally, we’d all like to produce masterpieces at work, be statewide PTA President of the year, and binge-watch Bridgerton—all in one day, if possible. Spoiler alert: Not likely.

So, know and understand your capabilities AND limitations.

Check the tendency to head back to the buffet line to scoop on more food on to an already full plate. You’ll end up ruining the flavors of what’s already on the plate.

4. Success begets success

This is an important lesson to understand because it’s rooted in neurochemistry.

We’re evolutionarily wired to respond better to challenges when our brains get a taste of success. On the flip side, the more we leave tasks half baked, the more we train our brains to stay within their comfort zones.

Let’s say you give up current project A to acquire shiny object B because A got too knotty to handle. Very soon, when B starts getting complex, your brain is going to look for option C.  

Soon, you’ll have a not-so-tasty alphabet soup on your hands and no bread to go with it.

5. Reorganize your environment to avoid triggers

Reorganize your environment and work surroundings to limit distractions. This is probably the most practical way to prevent SOS.

Self-control (willpower) is quite fickle—it is like an entitled kid who brings his fancy ball to the park for all to play. There’s no saying what may upset this kid or when he’d decide to take his ball and depart—leaving the rest of the crowd hanging.

Instead of relying on willpower, do your best to remove environmental triggers that cause shiny objects even to appear. Turn off primary sources that notify you of shiny objects until you’ve room on your plate to explore them again.

Metaphorically, you need to peer through a window, even to know a shiny object exists outside, right? So, keep the blinds closed at least until you complete whatever you’re currently working on.


Some people carefully plan out where they want to go in life and stick to their maps. Others simply climb into the driver’s seat and start driving. Shiny object syndrome particularly afflicts the latter group. For these folks, every neon flashlight is a temptation for a detour and a pit stop.

While that may sound like fun for a while, it won’t lead to fulfillment or happiness in the long term.

Be careful about what you sign up for. But once you do, make it your life’s mission to deliver.

If you remember nothing else about this article, then just remember this:

Marry in haste, repent at leisure.



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