Shiny Object Syndrome [HMHE Ep 26]

Published on 7 Mar, 2023

Ep 026: Shiny Object Syndrome

This week we’re talking about shiny object syndrome and why eco and socially conscious souls, changemakers, activists, and advocates tend to struggle with it. I help you get to the root cause of shiny object syndrome so that you can heal it and get focused. Then, I share two powerful tools that you can use to get focused, organize yourself, and move forward.

Below is a brief outline of today’s podcast episode. Please tune into the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast wherever you get your podcasts to listen to the full episode and to hear personal examples about how I’ve overcome shiny object syndrome in my life.

This is a picture of a woman's hand writing in her planner with a cup of coffee and another notebook on the desk. It links to a podcast epsiod and blog post about shiny object syndrome. Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash.
Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

What is shiny object syndrome?

Shiny object syndrome is a state of being. When we’re in this state we are constantly jumping from one thing to the next without finishing anything. We become distracted by the next exciting opportunity, idea, or task.

This constant state of distraction and lack of focus is something that came up a lot in a recent community survey that I did. It’s also something that I’ve struggled with in the past. So, why is shiny object syndrome so common in our community?

Lack of Focus Makes us Less Effective Changemakers

As changemakers, activists, and advocates we are aware that there are A LOT of problems and things that need to be fixed (or completely transformed) in our world. We urgently need to address climate change, women’s rights, white supremacy culture, our broken food and waste systems, and the list goes on. Everything feels urgent. Everything is urgent.

Therefore it’s totally understandable that we often get into a pattern of jumping from thing to thing, from issue to issue, and from idea to idea.

And this constant state of distraction can show up in other areas of our life too. In our careers, health, relationships, etc.

Take a moment to reflect on this question: How has shiny object syndrome shown up in your life? In what areas of your life do you tend to jump from one thing to the next without finishing what you’ve started?

Distraction – A Strategy Used by Systems of Oppression

If you struggle with distraction and get easily distracted you are not alone. In fact, it’s totally understandable.

Distraction is one of the key ways that the systems of oppression currently operating in our culture keep us small.

A few weeks ago I was reading about this very thing in Layla Saad’s newsletter. She wrote about how systems of supremacy intentionally keep us distracted. They know that if we are able to focus on them we can actually start to dismantle them. By keeping us distracted by the symptoms of the issues, we don’t have the bandwidth or the energy to address the root cause.

This has definitely been true for me in the past. I used to think that it was my duty as an activist to keep myself very well informed about everything going on in the world, so I listened to a lot of news to keep myself up to date. But news broadcasters today, both liberal and conservative, spend the large majority of their time just talking about the symptoms.

Of course, we are exhausted and hopeless when we’re constantly hearing about the horrible effects of climate change or terrible acts of violence.

Healing our shiny object syndrome and getting focused are especially important for us as changemakers and activists. Moreover, by doing so we are taking the first step in dismantling the systems of oppression that are invested in keeping us distracted.

The Consequences of Distraction

Usually jumping into a new idea, opportunity, or cause comes at the expense of whatever you were doing previously. It means not getting done what you’d previously planned to do.

When you make a habit of not following through on your plans you damage your self-trust. Eventually, consciously or unconsciously, you begin to feel that you can’t trust yourself to finish what you start. I talked about this in last week’s episode about self-discipline.

And if you rarely bring your ideas to completion then your ideas never get an opportunity to hit reality. You never get to see whether your idea will work, and the world doesn’t get to benefit from that idea.

So, by constantly jumping from thing to thing we are limiting our potential and limiting our impact. We’re not allowing ourselves to learn from our successes and failures. We’re not giving ourselves time to iterate or improve on our ideas.

We miss out on so much value and so many life lessons when we don’t see our ideas or opportunities through.

But when we do give ourselves time to iterate we develop skills, learn from our past, grow, and create more and more value for the world.

The Hidden Benefits of Shiny Object Syndrome

First, it is important to recognize that there is a time and a place for exploring a lot of different ideas, and trying many things in short order. Maybe you’re about to start college and you’re considering different degrees. Or maybe you’re changing careers so you’re trying out a number of career paths.

If you’re in one of these more exploratory phases then your work is to accept this season of life and be patient with yourself as you explore your options.

However, others of you may intuit that your inability to focus is related to something deeper. It’s an indication that something needs to heal.

Your brain and body are incredibly smart. They are the result of billions of years of evolution. So, if you’re choosing to stay in a state of distraction then there must be a good reason.

So the question becomes, “Why am I jumping from thing to thing? Why can’t I focus?”

Before we can get focused and overcome shiny object syndrome we must first identify and work through its hidden benefits.

The Hidden Benefits

    • We think that we can avoid failure and the uncomfortable emotions like shame and embarrassment that come with it by remaining indecisive. Distraction is a strategy to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions and protect our potential.
    • Sometimes we feel like we need to jump from idea to idea because we have to capitalize on our motivation. This is an indicator that you lack the self-discipline, self-trust, and/or planning tools to remain focused on the task at hand and come back to your new idea at a later date.
    • Feeling busy all the time helps us feel worthy. If we’re juggling a bunch of tasks and involved in a bunch of things then no one can call us lazy. Therefore, shiny object syndrome is a strategy to feel worthy and avoid criticism from yourself and others.

I dive deeper into each of these hidden benefits and talk about how to heal each of them on the podcast.

Tools to Overcome Shiny Object Syndrome

Once you’ve worked through these hidden benefits and the root cause(s) of your shiny object syndrome it’s time to look forward and get focused.

Below are two powerful tools that I support each of my clients in developing. These tools will help you to get focused and organize yourself so that you can become more effective and efficient.

Identify Your North Star

Your North Star is your personal mission statement. It’s the change that you want to create in the world. This is your focus and your “why.”

It is so important to have a clear North Star because in order to get focused we need something to focus on.

You can use your North Star to filter out opportunities and ideas. For example, when an idea pops into your brain you can ask yourself, “Does this idea align with my north star?” If yes, make a plan to pursue it. If not, you can drop it or share it with someone else who might want to run with it.

In the same way, when an opportunity comes up you can ask yourself, “Does this opportunity get me closer to my North Star? Do I have the capacity to pursue it?” If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then go for it! If not, it’s an easy no.

Create an Impact Plan

Your unique Impact Plan is your “how.” This is how you will start moving closer to your North Star. It is a plan that takes into account your strengths, skills, and resources, and the skills and resources that you want to develop. It wraps all that up into an actionable plan.

Your Impact Plan is your trail map. It maps out the steps that you will take to reach your destination and make your impact!


So in order to overcome shiny object syndrome and to get focused:

    1. First, do the inner work to heal the thought patterns, fears, and beliefs that are at the root of your inability to stay focused.
    2. Next, find your focus by identifying your unique North Star.
    3. Then, create an actionable Impact Plan.

As always, I hope that this episode and these show notes area beneficial to you.

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Podcast music: “Bounce” by Coma-Media on Pixbay

Featured image: Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

This is a picture of Eva Peterson. She is the host of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and a life coach for changemakers and aspiring activists.

Welcome! I'm Eva, host of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and blog. This is a place for changemakers, advocates, and aspiring activists to learn, heal, and get inspired. As a certified Life Coach, Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and follow activist I'm here to support you in expanding your impact while thoroughly enjoying your life!

Self-care for Changemakers:
Be an Agent of Change Without Sacrificing Your Health