The Wall Street Journal ran a recent piece exploring the problem of “alarm fatigue” amongst hospital workers. According to the story, from 2010-2015, 138 deaths occurred due to alarm system failures. With all the incessant beeping of these alarms, nurses can have a difficult time not becoming desensitized. With the proliferation of excellent monitoring devices in hospitals, the difficulty for nurses is how to know when there is really a problem. If, as the article claims, over 90% of alarms “are false or don’t require any immediate action”, how do you learn to focus on the 10% that really matter?
With the onset of the New Year we are surrounded by our best intentions, hopes, and dreams for the future. As the writer of Ecclesiastes points to, life is seasonal, marked by endings and beginnings. Our New Years resolutions are an attempt to manufacture new beginnings, and while we often don’t stick to our goals, the sentiment reveals our deep desire to grow.
But these resolutions pile up around us and can become just another item in our crowded task list. It doesn’t help that we live in the Information Age, where we are bombarded with articles, books, text messages, emails, tweets, and advertisements from every angle. Having access to so much data and information can be a wonderful thing, but it also has detrimental effects, as Herbert Simon notes:
“…In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
This “poverty of attention” is one of the most pressing challenges for leaders today. How do we keep from being distracted by the 90% of false alarms and learn to tune ourselves to the 10% that really matter?
Instead of beginning the New Year with a list of resolutions, the most powerful thing a leader can do is enter into thanksgiving. Gratitude is a far greater tool for leaders than vision, and in fact true vision does not emerge without gratitude. Sarah Clarkson explains the ripple effect that gratitude has on all parts of life:
“The giving of thanks is a form of narration, a truth-telling by which I tell the right story of my life. Caught as I am sometimes within my narrow perception of my need or desire, blinded as I am by loneliness, the act of giving of thanks is a way of healing my sight. To remember God’s grace, to name his goodness, to forget none of his benefits is to tell the true story of my life. That is the tale of God’s great mercy. His love has marked every hour, his hands have shaped every day. I don’t always see it, but when I look back with the sharpened vision of thanks, I see the great mercy that lies behind me, the great hope that lies ahead.”
There are all manner of tips for becoming more productive and more focused as a leader, but the most central distraction in our leadership is always the desire to do things our way, in our strength, on our terms. Naming our gratitude refocuses our hearts on God’s faithfulness and provision, reminding us that his way is always the best way. It also sharpens our attention to the people and things that matter the most in leadership. Before writing that list of resolutions, enter into a time of remembrance and gratitude for all that God has already done.
The more we thank God, the more our perspective changes. That’s why gratitude must come before vision. We need the perspective of gratitude that helps us see how intricately involved God is in both the little details as well as the big picture of life. When we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), it changes how we look at our future.