I came across a story about a magpie recently that I found interesting and thought I’d share as part of a bigger lesson. I will do my best to retell it in full (with some creative freedoms added in), but if you want to read or listen to it for yourself, head here.
There once was a magpie couple who built a nest for themselves and their children they raised and sent off every spring. For a time, all was well in the nest, but eventually the husband asked, “Will every year be the same as this?”. The wife responded, “Aren’t you happy my love?”. And he responded he was, more to appease her than actually out of happiness. Later that day though, he flew out of the nest in search of something to adorn the nest, which was dull and boring in his eyes. As he flew a shiny object caught his attention and he soared down, scooped it up and brought it back to his wife beaming.
“Look what I’ve found! Something to adorn our nest with!” he said. He took the shiny object and placed it into the wall of the nest. Beaming with pride and happiness, he slept well that night and for a time. As time passed, the initial feelings of pride and joy of the shiny object faded, and it became nearly unnoticeable to their conditioned eyes. The husband once again grew restless and flew out in search of another object. Again, he returned with another shiny object exclaiming, “There! The nest is beautiful and unique once more”. He and his wife were happy for a time, but eventually those feelings faded.
The husband continued to become restless and unhappy with the nest and each time would head out to find another shiny, beautiful object to adorn on their nest walls. Each time he returned, he and his wife were filled with feelings of joy, but those feelings would quickly fade.
The next spring the wife looked around a realized there was no room in their nest for their clutch of eggs and baby birds. The husband decided he would build a bigger nest, fit to equip all their beautiful wall decorations in addition to their children. And so, he did. And it was marvelous, at least for a time, until they felt it needed more shiny objects to fill it’s empty walls.
This continued again and again, year after year, finding shiny objects to fill the walls and eventually needing to build a bigger and bigger nest to fit them in. No matter how big their nest grew or how many shiny objects adorned their walls, the birds were never happy for long. The feelings of contentedness they felt early on, before the first shiny object, would fade quicker and quicker each time, until they stopped having children altogether as the search for new shiny objects and the building of bigger nests took all of their time and energy.
The fable of the magpie is one that many of us can relate to. It’s easy to feel discontent with your home, appearance, life, etc. and want to improve it. Then when improvements are made, you get a massive boost of positive feelings that’s addicting and intoxicating. Overtime those feelings fade and the fall off can be quite dramatic, much like the come down from a high, leaving behind negative feelings that are hard to ignore. To get back to those positive feelings, you turn to what gave you the boost in the first place: change. Again, you’re hit with the feel-good emotions, but they don’t last. The cycle then begins again, and you’re left at the whims of the next shiny object, just like the magpie.
Shiny object syndrome is a plague that infiltrates every space of living. Jobs, relationships, and material possessions are frequent targets, but the health and fitness industry is overwhelmed by shiny objects. The next best diet, the newest training program, or the most expensive supplement or piece of equipment. In the wake of all this is the shattered hopes and dreams of people like you who simply wanted to make improvements to the way they look and feel. Instead, people are more like the dog, Dug, from the movie Up who can’t seem to stay on task, complete a train of thought, or do much in the way of make progress on his journey of capturing a giant bird.
It’s easy to feel defeated and lose the hope and belief in yourself that urged you to improve your health and fitness when you don’t see the results you desire. Pair that with the never-ending onslaught of marketing from fitness and nutrition products and service providers, all promising you the results you so badly want, and it’s easy to see how people struggle to stay consistent with any diet or training program. The pull of the “next best thing”, or shiny object, is too hard to resist. That overwhelming feeling of motivation and desire you feel when starting something new and making a change is a double-edged sword. It can invigorate you to get started on changing your life to better your health, but it can also pull you off path with every “next best thing” that comes along.
It’s not easy to avoid the shiny object syndrome, I should know. This article was the 5th that I’ve written (or started to write) for this week. Every time I would start one article, my attention and focus would be pulled toward something different and new, something that was, in my mind, better. I realized that not only was I spending a lot of time jumping from topic to topic, but that the topic I should be writing about was right in front of me, screaming, “WRITE ABOUT ME!”. Though shiny object syndrome can feel impossible to avoid, there are some surefire ways to keep yourself on track and working the plan toward your goals.
Practice patience as you work to make change. As much as the world loves to celebrate an overnight success, change doesn’t happen that way. It’s the product of many hours, days and weeks of deliberate practice and effort. Give your fitness and nutrition program time to work. I warn clients that weight loss shouldn’t be expected in the first couple weeks as your body is still adjusting to the changes you’re making and will have a lag time. Lay out your plan, stay patient with the results (give it at least 10 weeks), and adjust when needed if your efforts aren’t being rewarded.
One of the biggest issues I see when it comes to people achieving results and shiny object syndrome is a lack of prioritization. When nothing is prioritized, everything is prioritized meaning your attention is going to be pulled in a million different directions and the possibility of achieving anything of worth is highly unlikely. Figure out what you want to achieve, decide the one or two things that are most important for your success and stick with those. Anything that doesn’t fit in or align with those priorities and your overarching goals should be avoided.
I may be a bit biased being a coach and all, but I genuinely believe that having an outside source of guidance and accountability is invaluable. The value that someone can provide who has achieved what you want to achieve is unmatched. They can show you exactly what to focus on, help you avoid common pitfalls, and make sure that you stay patient and on course, especially when you start to struggle or your mind begins playing tricks on you. If you haven’t hired a coach to help you, despite struggling to or not achieving your goals, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Do your research, talk with people who’ve worked with the coach(es) you’re interested in, and start investing in your success. It will cost you some money to hire a quality coach, but it will be worth the cost 100 times over by how much time, energy, and frustration it saves you.
If you’ve ever set out a goal and found yourself weeks, months and years down the road without making any real, tangible progress, you have been a victim of the shiny object syndrome, just like the magpies. If you’re serious about achieving those goals then you’ve got to focus on the task at hand by practicing patience, prioritizing the tasks that matter and finding an outside source of guidance to keep you on track and level headed. It doesn’t matter how big your nest grows, or how many shiny objects it houses if you’re not going achieving the goals that you’ve set out for yourself. Learn to stay the course and be rewarded with success in everything you do!
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