How to Defeat the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome

There’s a certain received wisdom that only engineers and Internet marketers suffer from what is known as the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.

For some reason, they have been singled out as the two groups of people who are attracted to new things.

Of course, you know that that’s nonsense.

The United States and other western economies thrive because of it.

It’s the desire to have more and to get more that makes the world go ’round.

 

Everyone loves bright shiny objects

While it’s true that engineers buy tools and gadgets and IM-ers buy information products, others buy shoes, clothes, books and everything else under the sun.

A friend of mine wears a tie once a week, but has hundreds in his closet.

Perry Marshall tells the story of a conference where he was the presenter. In a series of 80/20 experiments, he uncovered the fact that one person owned several hundred pairs of shoes and another had 20K domain names. In both cases, as well as the rest, a single person owned more than everyone else put together.

There was a time when I had about 2,000 books. People said that I collected them.

I didn’t.

I read them.

Some several times, a practice I continue to do so to this day.

Others, especially those that were for reference, I dipped into as needed.

To put this into perspective, however, the late statesman and British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill owned 4,500 books.

You can see them today at Chartwell House in Kent.

 

So the attraction for buying new things isn’t something that’s limited to entrepreneurs, or even online entrepreneurs.

It’s something that affects all of us to a greater or lesser extent.

And that means that there must be a common cause.

 

What’s the great attraction?

Think about this for a moment.

Why is it that when you see something new, you want it?

Why are you attracted to it?

What is there about it the pulls you away from whatever it is that you’re doing (or supposed to be doing) and compels you to own it?

Theologians tell us that it’s covetousness.

It’s the desire to have what belongs to someone else.

It comes from inside of us; from our hearts.

 

While that’s true, by itself knowing that doesn’t help us to control it.

The fact that you’re reading this article suggests that to one extent or another, you suffer from the bright shiny object syndrome, and  that you want to learn how to deal with it.

So let’s think for a few moments about what lies at the root of this desire.

And that’s the first thing.

It’s a desire.

 

Desire

Some desires are good and others aren’t.

The same desire can trigger favorable or unfavorable behaviors.

You get hungry, and then you look for something to eat.

Or you’re not hungry, but you’re upset, and then that can cause you to look for something to eat.

Some people smoke when they get nervous.

You’ve seen this happen yourself.

Maybe the same thing has happened to you.

 

Needs vs. wants

The thing that lies at the root of desire is need, or felt need.

The actual difference between needs and wants, however, is significant.

It takes remarkably little to live.

The tiny house movement is a perfect illustration.

And that’s just in the rich, western countries.

If you want to understand what real poverty looks like, then you need to visit Aleppo, or Baghdad, or Haiti.

If traveling to places like that doesn’t appeal to you, then go for a walk in the slums nearest to you (or drive if it’s too dangerous) or visit your local Rescue Mission.

Sometimes you have to see how little others have in order to appreciate what you have.

And that’s the second thing.

 

Ingratitude

Dissatisfaction or even ingratitude lies at the heart of the syndrome.

To get your feet back on ground, you need to give yourself a healthy dose of what it means to have nothing.

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to lose everything, but if you know someone who has, or you have come close to it, then it’s something you never forget.

It makes such an impression on you that you’re able to focus on making sure that it never happens again.

Bright shiny objects no longer attract you because you’ve learned the hard way that compared to survival, they don’t matter.

 

Boredom

It’s odd, but it seems like those who have the most often are the most easily bored.

That’s a key observation.

What’s boredom?

Fundamentally, it’s how you feel when you aren’t stimulated by anything.

That’s why that bright shiny thing appeals to you.

You’re bored with what you have.

You’re bored because you don’t realize what it’s like to not have anything, and you’re bored because the novelty of the last new thing has worn off.

It no longer stimulates you.

It no longer triggers the feel-good hormone in your brain.

 

. . . -aholics

This is one way that habits are formed, and how they later can become addictions.

It takes more and more of whatever constitutes the stimulus to make you feel good.

You can be a shopaholic or a bright-shiny-thing-aholic.

If you chronically buy new stuff because it’s there and doing so is distracting you from what you ought to be doing, then at the very least you’ve formed a bad habit.

 

The Hack

So now that I’ve beaten you up psychologically, it’s time to talk about how to defeat the bright shiny object syndrome.

The simplest thing to do when you’re confronted with a bright shiny object is to ask yourself how getting it will get you closer to your Big Goal.

If you can articulate clearly how it will, then buy it. Then get started right away implementing everything that’s in it.

But if it was that simple, you wouldn’t have read this far.

Something in this article has resonated with you, and that’s why you’re here.

So read on.

If you do what I suggest, then your troubles with this vice will be over.

 

Affirmations

No doubt you’re familiar with affirmation statements.

You are going to write three of them down every day.

Your affirmations are going to be those things for which you are thankful.

Make the effort to come up with new ones every day.

The only way you’re going to stop feeling deprived is if you focus on how blessed you are to have what you already have.

You could be thankful for your job.

You could be thankful for the rain.

You could be thankful that you live in a safe neighborhood.

You could be thankful that you have a car.

You could be thankful that you have clean water to drink.

Use your imagination.

You have so much to be thankful for.

If you run out of ideas, then visit your local slum.

It will give you something to think about.

Write down three new affirmations everyday for three months.

After that you can stop if you want to.

BUT, if the symptoms of the syndrome should surface again, then restart the practice of recording what you’re thankful for again

 

Make a list

In addition to that, make a list of the shiny objects that you’ve bought in the last 12 months, and how much each one cost.

And be sure that you add up the total that you’ve spent on this stuff.

Even the odd $10 or $20 here and there can add up in a hurry.

You’ll never know just how much, however, unless you do this.

You might want to be sitting down for that. It could be quite a shock.

 

Next to them, write down when you used them last, and how often you have used them since you bought them.

One of the problems that IM-ers encounter is that they don’t fully use the products they buy.

 

You’ll probably notice a pattern.

This, too, could be quite revealing.

You’ll probably learn some things about yourself that you didn’t know before.

 

Use, give away, or throw away

The third thing is to fully use everything that you haven’t used since you bought them.

If you don’t want to do this, then either sell them or donate them.

If you’re not going to use them, chances are that someone else will.

If it’s an information product, then just delete it.

Unless you hold the copyright, as you would in PLR products, you don’t have the legal right to give it to anyone.

So just delete it from your computer altogether.

Does this sound rash?

It’s intended to be.

Studies have shown that people will work harder to avoid loss than they will in order to obtain some kind of gain.

And so if you deliberately lose something that you’ve bought, then it will make you more resistant to putting yourself in that position again.

 

This is not the same thing as buying something so that you can give it away.

When you do that, you’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart.

You’re doing it because you care about someone else.

That’s what gifts are about.

In this case, you’re evaluating something that you bought for yourself, which you know you won’t use because you haven’t used it and you don’t want to now, and so you’re getting rid of it.

 

Create a shopping script

The fourth thing is to create a shopping script that you will follow every time you are tempted to buy another bright shiny object.

You will have to write it in your own words; otherwise it will sound canned.

You won’t follow it if I give it to you.

But it needs to ask questions like these:

  1. What will I be able to do with this new object that I can’t do now?
  2. Have I exhausted all other possible means of being able to to whatever this new toy is advertised to do?
  3. What is the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t buy it now?
  4. What is the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t buy it for a week?
  5. What is the worst thing that could happen if I never bought it?
  6. How have I managed to live without it for this long?
  7. Can I really afford it?
  8. How could the money I use for it be better spent? (Possible answers include giving it to a charity that helps those who have practically nothing.)

 

Why?

The fifth thing is to answer a final question; but this one is so big that it deserves a separate discussion.

The ninth question is “Why do I want it?”

In a way, it’s related to the first one, “What will I be able to do with this new object that I can’t do now?”

The answers might be that a) there’s nothing that you’ll be able to do; b) there’s something specific that you need it for; or c) you’re just curious.

It’s the last answer that we need to consider.

 

Curiosity can be because you’re buying 10 products on the subject so that you can understand what’s available in the market because you want to create something better.

That’s a good reason, by the way.

Or, it could be because you will get a psychological “hit” from it.

That hit is a stimulus.

It’s in response to the boredom that you feel; the dissatisfaction with what you have.

 

It’s also a form of entertainment.

Entertainment has its place.

It’s part of the R & R that we all need; but it should never get in the way of doing real work.

And isn’t that the problem with the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome?

You’re really looking for something to entertain you?

It’s essential that you recognize it for what it is.

You see, quite often the problem is that you can buy something that you tell yourself is for one thing, when in fact it’s really for another.

You tell yourself that this time it will be different; but then it isn’t.

And you have a track record for buying stuff that you won’t use or won’t use fully; so you know that you’re lying to yourself when you say that this time will be different.

If you lie to yourself and don’t face the truth, then you’ll never be able to defeat the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.

If you really want to overcome it, then every time you feel that pull to buy some thing that falls into that category, you must go through this Hack.

Doing so will break this habit altogether.

 

6 Comments

  1. Norma Esler on November 2, 2017 at 19:55

    Great article, Bruce! I think we all have some temptation to BSOS, each in our own areas of vulnerability. We have been programmed to be consumers by our society. The wallpaper on my laptop says “Be a creator, not a consumer. ” I’ve tried to make this a personal rule for life.

    I like your “shopping script” questions, too.

    Norma Esler

    • Bruce Hoag on November 2, 2017 at 20:13

      Thanks for your comments, Norma.

      It’s nice to know that these thoughts have connected with someone. 🙂

  2. Les Leftley on November 8, 2017 at 00:39

    Hi Bruce,

    Great post, well thought out and easy to understand.

    You actually helped stop me buying a product tonight (It was only $27, but, to me, still too much to be throwing away). It had a clever sales video. But did I need it right now? No I didn’t. Your list of questions really helped me out, just when I need them.

    I only picked this post because I like to read anything on the psychology of the BSO buyer.

    So a big thank you, and thumbs up from me.

    • Bruce Hoag on November 8, 2017 at 07:04

      So glad to hear that this post helped you, Les.

      That was the goal. 😉

  3. Brian T. Edmondson on December 22, 2017 at 05:38

    Aleppo? What’s a leppo? In all seriousness very useful post with concrete action steps. I’ll be sure to use the shopping script whenever considering investing in a bright shiny object (or anything else).

    • Bruce Hoag on December 22, 2017 at 18:01

      Thanks for your comment, Brian.

      Must be the time of day. What’s the significance of “a leppo?”

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