Shiny Object Syndrome


Raccoon in a bird feeder

Neal Wellons, Created Commons

My family and I were listening to the classic book “Where the Red Fern Grows” on a recent drive. I highly recommend the book – I think I’ve read it twice already. As is true with any good book, each time you read it you think about it in a slightly different way. It is a book about a young boy who worked very hard to buy to redbone coonhound puppies. Once he had them, he had to train them to follow the raccoons scent.

In order to do this, he needed a raccoon hide. The problem is that raccoons are smart, making them difficult to trap using traditional traps. The boy’s grandfather suggested an unorthodox solution to the problem – drill a small hole in a fallen log, place a bit of shiny metal in the hole and then drive nails in at an angle such the nail points are exposed in the hole.

This all sounded very odd to the boy. When he questioned it, his grandfather said that raccoons possessed the curious quality of being obsessed with shiny objects. It didn’t matter what the object was: thimbles, silverware, buttons, etc. When the raccoon would see the shiny bit of metal and reach into the drilled hole to grab it. The problem started when the raccoon would try to withdraw his hand from the hole: the nails prevented it because his balled up fist that was clutching the object was much bigger than when he first put it in. The raccoon was trapped.

But, wait, I can hear you say! All the raccoon had to do was to release the shiny object and he could withdrawal his hand to go free!

The raccoon was so obsessed with the shiny object that it eventually became his undoing.

So, why did you tell that story?

As I was listening to the story I was struck about how much of this behavior could also be seen in we humans. We even have a name for it Shiny Object Syndrome.

Many of us have dreams and maybe have even gone so far as to set goals to achieve those dreams. Most things worth having or achieving in life will take significant effort.

The problem comes when, as we pursue the goal, something catches our attention and ultimately distracts us from the original goal. It’s like the dog that begs you to throw the ball and as soon as you do, he races off after it. But in mid-stride, he sees a squirrel and forgets all about the ball you just threw.

Shiny objects can take many forms. It could be a new hobby, an alert on your phone, a new toy (yes, even for adults), a new interest, a new idea or many other things. There are new things everywhere and at times it may seem like you’re trying to take a drink from a fire hose.


At times it seems really hard to focus. However, if you stop to think about the alternative to focus – shiny object syndrome – and it’s potential to damage your goals and ultimately, your dreams, maybe we should work harder at focusing.

If the raccoon had focused on what was most important, finding the next meal, and had not been distracted by the new shiny object in the hole, he would have never been trapped. No doubt that, because of the obsession over shiny objects, when the raccoon saw the shiny object it completely took over his mind and he forgot all about finding more food.

If we can focus and drive towards what is truly important in our lives, we’ll realize our goals and dreams. But beware of the Shiny Object Syndrome, it can spell death for goals and dreams.

Remember (courtesy of Dave Ramsey): (Focused Intensity / Time) * God = Momentum

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