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  • Writer's pictureAsh Radford

Shiny Object Syndrome- what it is & how to stop it hindering your fitness progress

There’s no shortage of challenges to getting and staying fit. Lack of time and energy are common obstacles. There’s another understated factor that’s a very modern problem.

Shiny Object Syndrome defined

As per the urban dictionary: ‘To be driven toward shiny objects. Usually related to a project, in the sense you won’t finish one project before starting a new one.’ Several species of birds are highly attracted to shiny objects. We all know young children can be equally intrigued by things bright and shiny. Adults too succumb to shiny object syndrome, perhaps in slightly less obvious ways. In the digital age we’re bombarded, like never before, with highly targeted marketing. It can be hard to escape. Just about anyone trying to make a dollar has a shiny marketing method. Usually strategically placed to let you know there’s a quicker, better, cheaper or sexier way. There’s an abundance of information and options for anything and everything. It’s no different when it comes to getting fit.

Shiny fitness distractions

Just as the range of bread in the supermarket has increased dramatically over the decades, so too have options for getting fit. Strength training, running, road cycling, mountain bike riding, Zumba, yoga, fitness apps. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s something for everyone. The fitness industry has evolved. We know a lot more, about a lot more. And that’s a good thing- mainly…

How it can play out with fitness

Although we’ve more understanding and options, the ease in which we can access it all becomes a problem. With a few taps on a mobile phone, you can see an endless array of exercises and programs. Each of which claims to be, or seems to be, just what you need. Once you choose a way forward, it’s easy to be distracted by those shiny objects as the reality of what it takes to get fit hits you. Afterall, exercise gets uncomfortable. There’s the physical discomfort from the actual exertion. Then there’s the psychological discomfort, which comes with forming any habit, as the brain would rather something easier and more leisurely. The mind starts looking for that easier way. That method that must be less effort and more fun. Feeling you’re not making progress is another cause for succumbing to shiny object syndrome. You’ve been running for a month yet still people are lapping you in the park. You must have a mediocre program right? That ‘lower your 5km time in 5 weeks program’ you noticed online must be what you need!? It could well be you’re not exercising effectively. However, before resorting to changing methods, consider how frequent and consistent you’ve really been. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a fantastic program if it’s only done occasionally. Trying to make up for it by training with great intensity won’t work either. It’ll just lead to days of deep soreness or injury. There’s no substitute for tallying up moderate intensity workouts over months and years. It’s not spectacular but it’s what’s needed. Similarly, small increases over the long term trump what many try- big increases in the short term. Ask yourself if you’ve really given your program the time and opportunity to work.

The advantages of sticking with your fitness program

We tend to like doing things we’re good at. Growing in competence is pretty stimulating. The truth is if you want to ‘get good’ at fitness you need repetition. Just like it takes practice to get better at playing guitar or to learn to paint. We all know that. What’s also true is that repetition can get boring. Stick with it and endure some boredom and you’ll likely make progress. That’s important. Progress is an under rated motivator. It makes the effort feel worthwhile. You also don’t know when the improvement is going to stop- and that’s exciting! It’s immensely satisfying to go from struggling beginner to proficient exponent. There are few better feelings in life. The thing with improving fitness is it’s very achievable. I can’t think of another pursuit where effort so directly correlates with results. It’s there for you, if you stick with it, and stay focused enough

The balance between repetition and variety

There’s no denying if you do the same exercise(s) in the same way for too long motivation will wane. While it takes repetition, variety matters as well. When it comes to fitness certain aspects require more repetition than others. Getting stronger, for example, requires consistency with the exercises you do. Both muscles and the nervous system need regular exposure to the same strength movements to positively adapt. Add some gradual progression to those regular exercises and you’ll get significant gains within a couple of months. A haphazard approach, based on how you feel on the day, yields measly results. Building muscle, bone density and strength takes structure and consistency. This is especially true for beginners, who can get 3-6 months of constant results from a program. Whereas a veteran weight trainer needs to stimulate the muscles in different ways more often to improve. Rehabilitating an injury takes even more repetition. Ask someone who’s gone through the full physiotherapy process after a knee reconstruction and they’ll attest to that. Getting the right muscles active and strong again can be a mind-numbing experience. Fail to do so and there’s risk of re-injury, ongoing soreness and eventually severe arthritis. On the other hand, when it comes to cardio fitness you don’t need to be as rigid. If general fitness or weight loss is your goal then it’s not as critical how you go about burning 300 calories in 40 minutes. Whether you do it purely on the treadmill or spend 10 minutes each on bike, rower, stepper and elliptical, you’ll achieve much the same outcome. You’ll probably enjoy mixing it up from workout to workout. The main thing is to get the heart and lungs working at that same effective level regularly. Along the same lines, getting an effective stretch on the desired muscles can be done through a variety of ways without compromising results. No matter what type of exercise you do however, a good rule of thumb is to go for consistency and repetition initially. Once you establish habit and the body gets accustomed, you can concern yourself with variety. All too commonly people don’t reach that 2 to 3 month point where it becomes habitual.

Tips for staying the course and ignoring shiny objects

* Maintain awareness

There’s no substitute for self-awareness. Honest self-assessment as to whether you’re getting distracted by something that seems better is invaluable. You can then catch yourself before wasting time and effort and over complicating things. Notice if you fall into the habit of aimlessly looking at exercise info online. (Except this blog of course!)

* Keep a core part of routine the same

If you work out for 40 minutes you could make the first 20 minutes structured and consistent. Do the fundamentals and essentials to start, then move on to something novel and interesting. It could be a structured strength routine initially, followed by some varied cardio and new stretches. Over the course of a week you could do your own set gym routine twice a week. Compliment that with a couple of different group classes like Zumba or Spin.

* Make your program progressive

It's natural to look for alternatives if you’re not making progress. Progress with fitness however doesn’t happen through repetition alone. You need to make yourself do that little bit extra regularly. That takes a little planning. Do 11 push ups rather than 10 or walk your usual route 30 seconds quicker and it won’t feel much harder. Increase like that regularly though and it’ll add up over time. Your approach to exercise can hinder progress more than the actual exercise you do. Remember if you're making measurable progress, you'll be less likely to opt or look for some other shiny thing.

* Be gritty, be stoic

We all need to be prepared to simply persevere. It’s just part of being a responsible adult. Everything can’t be exciting and fun. Be prepared for some toil. Apply some good old-fashioned grit and stoicism. Get through physical discomfort regularly and you’ll know you’re capable of doing the same in other areas of life. Focus. Stay the course. Don’t kid yourself there’s an easy way.

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