I am looking for a word which describes the mentality of a person who is inspired to learn something and starts studying, but then quickly moves on to another subject. Such a person shifts focus from one subject to another without making an in-depth study of any one subject.

You should not have a _______ mentality, shifting from subject to subject.

It would be like trying to find water by digging a well. If you dig ten feet deep and don’t find water, you move to another location, dig another twelve feet, don't find water, again move to another location, dig another fifteen feet, and so on. By this time, you have dug seventy-five feet deep maybe, spread across five or six locations, but you still haven't found water because you have not dug in one place. Maybe you would have gotten water if you had dug twenty-five feet deep, but you will never get to this depth because you move from place to place, site to site.

What is this type of mentality called?

  • Possible duplicate
    – bib
    Oct 1, 2015 at 0:18
  • @bib That's about changing the subject of a conversation, rather than changing the subject of study.
    – Silverfish
    Oct 1, 2015 at 1:16
  • This is reminiscent of some question that asks about the strategies of looking for something. I think it was about how you search one room at a time, top to bottom, for your keys - or not. Anyone remember it? I'm not sure if it was on ELU. It could have been on WorldBuilding or Puzzles.
    – Mazura
    Oct 1, 2015 at 2:24
  • Similar to Word for the person who only plans
    – stevesliva
    Oct 1, 2015 at 5:34

8 Answers 8


Dilettante: "a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge"; or

Dabbler. To dabble is "to work or involve oneself superficially or intermittently especially in a secondary activity or interest < dabbles in art >."

  • This is a good answer. Problem is it doesn't fit the example he gave of digging for a well. Oct 1, 2015 at 1:04
  • I believe that was an illustration ("It would be like.."), rather than an example.
    – Maverick
    Oct 14, 2015 at 14:37

You might say the person is fickle.

Fickle: changing frequently, especially as regards to one's loyalties or affections

While this word is commonly used to describe someone who frequently switches loyalties, take a look at this example from Oxford Dictionaries Online.

Now the impression is of a fickle politician who has lots of ideas but no staying power to see them through.

You might also consider flighty.



Changing or varying, especially often and without discernible pattern or reason.


Lacking in resolution; indecisive.

American Heritage Dictionary


I've always liked mercurial

1. changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic



Such behaviour may be described as desultory.

From Collins:

desultory adj

  1. passing or jumping from one thing to another, esp in a fitful way; unmethodical; disconnected

More idiomatic is the metaphor butterfly mentality.

  • Similar is cursory, though neither desultory or cursory is a personal trait, but rather an adjective modifying an action.
    – stevesliva
    Oct 1, 2015 at 5:32
  • You seem to have a different opinion than that of the editorial board of the Oxford Learner's Dictionary: desultory: going from one thing to another, without a definite plan and without enthusiasm. Are you saying that enthusiasm (or its lack, which entails that a personality is involved in reasonable usage) is not a personality trait? Oct 1, 2015 at 23:35
  • I think you misunderstand either me or the dictionary, because describing desultory as an adjective that describes how one [goes about] is exactly what I was getting at. I guess you could imply one's manner is always desultory, but I wouldn't say "Dick is desultory." I don't think it's a mindset. Maybe others do?
    – stevesliva
    Oct 1, 2015 at 23:43
  • I think you ought to re-read the question, which asks for a word to fit 'You should not have a _______ mentality' not 'You should not be _______.' Vocabulary.com defines mentality thus: a habitual or characteristic mental attitude Oct 1, 2015 at 23:51
  • The word is not commonly used as a descriptive adjective for people or their habitual characteristics, but usually for actions. Do you disagree? I have no beef with this answer, but seek to provide caution about employing the word in an unusual way.
    – stevesliva
    Oct 2, 2015 at 0:05

I would go with noncommittal or shallow, if you're into brevity.



of a person or a person's behavior or manner) not expressing or revealing commitment to a definite opinion or course of action.



lacking depth of intellect or knowledge; concerned only with what is obvious


helter-skelter -

Helter-skelter things are disorganized, hasty, and appear completely random. Your helter-skelter housekeeping style will definitely not impress your tidy grandmother when she comes to visit.

You can use helter-skelter as an adjective, to describe something disorderly, or an adverb for things that are done haphazardly

You might say that activities lacking strategy or forethought or coolheaded reasoning are helter-skelter.

scattershot and willy-nilly are close synonyms all sharing haphazard in the definition, though I prefer helter-skelter for the mindset of someone going about their studies haphazardly.


Desultory is both the word I think the initial inquirer was looking for and the word I was looking for today. The thing about this word is that it impresses you at first as indicating an honorable or at least solemn thing but then turns out to mean you're just messing around. A word like "serendipitous" seems to capture the other side of it, the yin to its yang or something, whereby you get out of your own rut, out of your own way, and find what you were actually looking for but couldn't unbend enough to realize it.

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