Black Dots and Bright Spots
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One day, a professor walked into his classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test.
The students took their seats and waited nervously at their desks for the exam to begin.
Then, the professor walked up to each student’s desk and began handing out the exams, placing each paper face down on the desk as usual.
Once he was finished handing out all the exams, he took his place at the front of the classroom and asked his students to turn over their papers.
As the students turned over their papers, they were surprised to see that there weren’t any questions on the exam at all—just a single black dot on the center of the page.
The professor, seeing the confusion on everyone’s faces, said:
“I want you to write about what you see.”
The students were confused, but they got started nonetheless…
When everyone was finished, the professor collected all the exams, and started reading each one out loud in front of the class.
“This a black dot, approximately 1/4” in diameter” wrote one student. “I see a little black spot, placed in the center of the page” wrote another.
On and on it went. One after the other, each student did their best to describe the little black dot on the center of the page, and the professor read each of their responses aloud. And without a single exception, each student had written about the black dot. Some students defined it. Some students wrote about its position on the center of the paper. But every student focused on writing about the dot.
After the professor was finished reading each student’s paper out loud, he paused and looked at the class…
Perplexed and curious, the classroom fell silent, waiting for their teacher to say something that might help them make sense of this peculiar test.
“You will not be graded on this exam,” he said.
“But you will be tested…”
Now the students were really confused.
“I gave you this exam because I wanted to give you something to think about—because it will teach you a lesson that you will be tested on throughout the rest of your lives: None of you wrote about the white part of the paper. Instead, everyone focused on the black dot and ignored all the space that surrounds it — and the same thing happens in our lives…”
He continued, saying, “We place far too much attention on the black dots of our lives—the lack of money, the complicated relationship with a family member, the health issues, the friend that disappoints you. These black dots are tiny in comparison to everything we have in our lives, but they are the ones that pollute our minds. Take your eyes away from the black dot in your life and look around at all the space that surrounds it—these are the blessings, the gifts you’ve been given in life. Enjoy these gifts, enjoy each moment that life gives you.”
Do you have a tendency to place too much of your focus on the dark spots of your own life?
Even if you’re optimistic, it’s not always easy to let go of the black dots:
- When we have just one negative interaction with someone, it takes five positive interactions to negate that single negative interaction.
- When we read reviews and comments about our work, we have a tendency to focus on the few that criticize our work and forget about the many that compliment our work.
- When some people experience just one failure, they give up altogether, rather than remembering that they’ve overcome adversity before, and they can do it again.
- When we read an article and come across a typo, we act like the author just committed murder and forget about how helpful the rest of the article was.
- When some of us don’t get what we want, we cry about it and get angry, rather than feel grateful for what we already have as we continue to pursue what we want.
None of this is to say that we should ignore the black dots, the dark moments, or the mistakes we make in life…
It’s to say that we tend to place far too much energy focusing on the NEGATIVE, and not enough energy on the POSITIVE.
It’s to say that we spend too much energy focusing on the PAIN, and not enough energy on the PLEASURE.
It’s to say that we spend too much energy focusing on the PROBLEM, and not enough energy on the SOLUTION.
Today, go out there and dwell not on the dark spots of life, but instead think about the bright spots.
Look for all the space that surrounds the dark spots of your life.
If you’re in the middle of a dark spot right now, first look back and remind yourself that you’ve been able to overcome adversity in the past, and if you’ve done it before, you can do it again.
And then, look ahead and remind yourself that you have so many tools at your disposal to get yourself out of this dark spot:
You’ve got your health. You’ve got your mind. You’ve got an internet connection that allows you to tap into the world’s knowledge in an instant.
You’ve got two hands to work with and a heart that beats 100,000+ times a day without you asking it to…
These are gifts—and they’re just a small fraction of the infinite number of bright spots you’ve got in your life.
Next time you come across a black dot, put it in perspective and see it for what it is—but don’t make it bigger than it is. Don’t ignore it, but don’t forget about all the space that surrounds it either.
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