We keep makin’ the same mistakes
Over and over and over and over again
And then we wonder why
We’re in the shape we’re in
—From “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture” by The Eagles
The lyrics of this 2007 Eagles song* remind me how quickly any one of us can get lost in the detail of a moment and lose sight of the big picture in which the detail is occurring. For many it is habit of mind, a constant internal nattering, particularly when things are or are not as we want them to be.
This narrow focus leads us to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We lose track of good intentions at work and with our families. We forget what we most deeply care about. Our values get lost in the distraction of paying too much attention to the little stuff and too little attention to the big stuff.
Our grasp on the big picture is frail because we get tired from grasping on the minutia in the little picture.
For example, when a colleague takes time to get their point across, you get annoyed and interrupt him, losing track of the relevance of his perspective to the topic at hand. Or, when your manager singles you out for praise, you forget to give appropriate credit to the team you supervise, thereby damaging their commitment to the long-term success of your unit. Or, when a meeting goes off topic, instead of reminding yourself and everyone else what the group agreed they wanted to accomplish, you criticize people for wandering off the subject. Finally, when an employee achieves an important project’s goals, you disapprove of how she did it (differently than you would have) instead of acknowledging the overall success of the effort and its contributions to the strategic goals of the organization.
Your grasp can get even more frail when you feel scared or angry. In the face of perceived threats, important relationships, your purpose, the mission of your organization, or your hopes for your community can slip from your mind leading you to make the same mistakes again and again. When you get lost in trivial matters you can become blind to the bigger picture of what is happening and what you might want to do about it: appreciate an effective employee, nudge a meeting back on track, acknowledge the people who work for you, or restate the relevant points made by a colleague.
Today, when you start to get caught in the minutia, pause, take a conscious breath and “go to the balcony.” From there you can get a clearer picture of the moment and of the bigger picture of which this moment is but one small part. Ask yourself: what’s the more important thing to say or do right now? Act on my annoyance, fear or anger or take a positive step and strengthen my grasp on the bigger picture: my relationship with my colleagues, the mission of my organization, or my hopes for this community?
*Written by Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Steuart Smith