Shiny Object Syndrome: All That Glitters Certainly Isn't Gold

Have you ever been dazzled by someone and then been really disappointed by them? Have you ever blindly followed a goal that led you nowhere? These phenomena have a name and an explanation. Find out about it here.
Shiny Object Syndrome: All That Glitters Certainly Isn't Gold

Written by Valeria Sabater

Last update: 01 November, 2022

Blinded, hypnotized, and even stupefied. This is how you might feel when something new becomes fashionable in society today. It could be a new technology, a book that offers eternal happiness, or even a politician who promises utopia. You become like a child, chasing rainbows, thinking that touching them will make your wishes come true.

As a human being, you’re an eternal dreamer and are easily deluded, especially if something or someone appears in your path attractive enough to capture your attention. It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t only arise at the individual level. As a matter of fact, many companies also often fall into this trap. They start a project, letting themselves be carried away by a market trend without first evaluating the variables.

Sometimes, you get so obsessed with an idea, concept, or desire that everything else disappears from your field of vision. It’s like being captivated by a light at the end of the tunnel, which actually turns out to be an approaching train. Indeed, we’ve all, at some point, experienced the feeling when something caught our interest to the extent that we were unable to see that it was all false, a mere mirage on the horizon.

Shiny object syndrome appears now more than ever due to the multiple sources of attraction that surround us. We don’t have time to analyze everything that comes our way.

Woman with a light in her mind and her eyes closed thinking about shiny object syndrome
Sometimes, we’re like little children, letting ourselves be carried away by our emotions without analyzing what’s in front of us.

Shiny object syndrome

Shiny object syndrome defines an experience in which you feel captivated by a phenomenon that’s currently fashionable. For a while, you become obsessed with it to the point of not paying attention to anything else. Later, you discover that this idea, concept, or person wasn’t as incredible as you thought. Then, comes the disappointment.

Often, another ‘bright object’ soon appears on the horizon and the first one loses its appeal. After all, we live in a world full of new stimuli, ideas, and concepts, so it’s easy to feel attracted to first one thing and then another. This wouldn’t be a problem if these temporary fascinations didn’t cost you, both emotionally and financially.

A study conducted by Dr. Teresa Pearson of Stony Brook University, New York (USA), claimed that it’s paradoxical that, in our society, some ideas are instantly popularized while others barely reach the general public. It’s an extremely common phenomenon in the scientific field.

Likewise, many of the messages that science attempts to spread don’t always reach the general public, nor are they given any validity. On the other hand, others that are neither useful nor true go viral. Why does this happen?

If it’s shiny and looks good, it is

In the business world, shiny object syndrome appears with high frequency. It gives shape to the trend in which an entrepreneur starts out on projects allowing themselves to be carried away by their ideas. However, they don’t evaluate the risks or the feasibility and sustainability of the project. Their idea simply seems so brilliant to them, for the simple fact that it’s fashionable and so many are talking about it. Thus, it becomes validated. Consequently, they think they have a great deal on their hands. Nevertheless, it subsequently fails.

The same thing happens in the personal sphere. How many times have you met someone who dazzled you with their way of being but after a while you discovered they weren’t who you thought they were? That’s because your reality is inhabited by endless shiny objects (concepts and people) that blind you with their charm. But they end up being completely useless and disappointing.

The complicated part of shiny object syndrome is that both money and time end up being lost. Moreover, the individual feels a great deal of frustration due to not being more prudent, thoughtful, and analytical.

What lies behind shiny object syndrome?

It’s important to note that shiny object syndrome isn’t a psychological disorder. Therefore, it isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). In fact, it’s a reasonably common behavior that’s been labeled as non-clinical and, therefore, non-pathological.

Nevertheless, although it’s not a psychological problem, it’s clear that it’s an annoying phenomenon. As a rule, behind those who get carried away by ideas that turn out to be unsuccessful, lies impulsiveness. This implies the tendency to act without foresight or reflection. In effect, at times, something small clouds our judgment to the extent that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Since there are so many situations that are dominated by stimuli and distractions today, shiny object syndrome is more frequent than ever. In fact, we often find that so many ideas come to us at the same time, we’re unable to analyze them calmly, measuredly, and objectively.

Woman typing on mobile to represent shiny object syndrome
Many of the news, ideas, and messages that reach us through social media can overshadow us and end up being totally misleading.

How to protect yourself from the fact that all that glitters isn’t gold

In a reality that’s dominated by social media and constant information, all that glitters certainly isn’t gold. As a matter of fact, it’s often only brass. That said, letting yourself be overshadowed by influencers and their messages, fake news, and trends that are currently in fashion, is completely normal. However, not everything that comes your way is of benefit to you. Quite the contrary, it can be harmful.

For instance, some people follow diets that end up affecting their health. Many get carried away by pop psychology without scientific evidence that promises to teach them how to achieve what they want. Others meet people who aren’t who they say they are and some start projects letting themselves be carried away by trends that barely last a couple of days. So, how can you protect yourself from shiny object syndrome?

Critical thinking is a lifeline in an environment that’s increasingly diffuse and complex and full of lights that blind you. Indeed, today, it’s more necessary than ever to develop a cognitive approach capable of analyzing and evaluating the consistency and validity of what comes to you. This requires controlling your accelerated mind as, when you’re a victim of shiny object syndrome, it’s unaware of the stimulation and isn’t reflective enough.

You have the answer

The answer lies in your hands. You can stop being captivated by the dancing lights. You just need to be cautious, analytical, and patient. That’s because, among the enormous density of information you’re faced with on a daily basis, there’ll also always be interesting facts and people who are worth paying attention to. You just need to train your attention and develop a critical gaze.

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  • Church, Allan H.; Del Giudice, Matthew; Margulies, Alyson (2017-08-07). “All that glitters is not gold: Maximizing the impact of executive assessment and development efforts”. Leadership & Organization Development Journal. 38 (6): 765–779. doi:10.1108/LODJ-05-2016-0127
  • Pearson T. Why Does It Take So Long for New Ideas to Catch On? AADE in Practice. 2015;3(3):8-10. doi:10.1177/2325160315580963
  • Roberts, James A. (2011). Shiny objects : why we spend money we don’t have in search of happiness we can’t buy. New York: Harper One. ISBN 978-0-06-209360-8. OCLC 526084214

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