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Shiny Object Syndrome

May 04, 2023

Lucy likes fashion. She seems to always have the latest designer clothes and accessories. She buys the newest version of cell phones, and she is always in pursuit of new things. As a physician, she works as an internist. She is often checking out the social media on her phone in between seeing patients. She bought books on how to improve productivity or life in general, but she has not read most of them. She goes home usually at least 3 hours after seeing her last patient, and frequently with her charts incomplete.

Do you know someone like Lucy? Or is that you? The persistent pursuit of the latest trend, of the newest thing or opportunity is characteristic of shiny object syndrome. It distracts you from what you are working on. Your focus is easily sidetracked. While you are doing your best to stay on track, someone with shiny object syndrome will turn to the latest gadget or method of doing things, without weighing its benefits or its usefulness in achieving the goal of a task that is being worked on. The fun factor or the excitement of something new seems to be more important than sticking with the mundane routine of what is working.

One cause of shiny object syndrome is boredom. Doing the same thing over and over can be dreary. It does not feel good. Our brain likes variety. Anytime there is something new or perceived as exciting, our brain wants us to pursue more of that rather than continuing with the routine.

Another reason is that, after doing something for a while, you do not think it is working. It may be that you have not done enough reps. It may be that it needs more time. Either way, you do not want to feel “stuck” and want to move on to something different.

The fear of missing out mentality, or FOMO, is another cause of shiny object syndrome. You are afraid of missing out on something or some opportunity. So you buy new things, sign up for new courses, join new groups, check on social media constantly, etc.

As a result of shiny object syndrome, people may be affected in different ways. As a physician in the clinical setting, this may look like constant distractions. You lack focus. While you are writing a patient’s chart, your mind has traveled to thinking about what the latest news is in Hollywood. Do this a few more times and that results in unfinished charts. Or it will take you much longer to complete a day’s worth of work.

You may also have a hard time making a decision. With FOMO and shiny objects all around you, you are afraid to put your foot down on what to choose. For example, if you are looking for an electronic medical record system to purchase, or the best blood pressure monitoring device to buy.

Rather than getting back to the basics and perfecting what you already know, you may be focusing on researching new ways of doing things. This may be time-consuming and is more challenging to master the new techniques. Top athletes usually only practice the same few moves and perfect them, rather than constantly finding new techniques to explore.

To avoid having shiny object syndrome, first you have to recognize its existence in your life and acknowledge it. Knowing is always half the battle.

Pause. Remind yourself the why. Why are you doing what you are doing? For example, do you want to finish your patient charts on time? Why? To spend more time with your family?

Identify the distraction, or the shiny object. Is it helping you to achieve your goal? If not, then it is not something you would want to go after, even though it may seem to be exciting.

Be intentional whenever you make your decisions. Always remember the ultimate why and avoid doing anything that is not gearing you toward your goal.

Keep it simple. Several familiar steps likely will be better than making things complicated. Feeling bored is alright. You are not going to die from boredom. It is usually the routine, almost monotonous actions which will bring you the best results in the end.

Always reflect. Reflect on your decisions, on your true values, and if your decisions are in alignment with your values.

Be accountable. Talk to a friend regularly so you can be kept accountable. Find a coach who can be your guide and your accountability partner.

If you are a physician who wants help with avoiding shiny objects, leave work at work on time and to enjoy life and medicine again, come join my 1:1 physician coaching program. Message me for more details.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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