Are You Focusing on the Black Dot?

Back in school, I had a history teacher whom I really hated. (But that’s not what today’s post is about.) I remember an analogy he shared during a lesson (it wasn’t even his idea too; it was one of his student’s) which stuck with me.

Say you have a piece of paper with a black dot before you right now. You are asked to look at the paper. What do you notice right away?

Black dot

(That’s Ken holding the paper by the way, not that you can see him!)

If your answer is, “the black dot,” perhaps a little bit of disdain because the dot tainted an otherwise perfectly good piece of paper, you would have answered the same as me then.

When presented with a blank paper with no specks but a dot, most of us would zoom right into the dot: even if it was at the corner of the paper. Why? Because it’s what’s “glaring” at us in the otherwise spotless surface.

Same for other images…

Black, pink, and white polka-dot butterflies

Black, pink, and white polka dot butterflies. What do you notice first?

Black polka-dot straws

Black polka-dot straws. What do you see first?

Black dot: What grabs your attention first?

Another black dot: What grabs your attention first?

While my history teacher was using this example to argue the importance of removing “black sheep” in the society (or something like that; he always had very cynical and judgmental ideas), I found the analogy interesting because it shows the average person’s tendency to focus on “imperfections” and “issues” when everything else can be perfect and going well.

(Assumption here is the black dot represents the negative stuff while the white area represents the good stuff.)

While such an attitude is helpful for pinpointing gaps/issues and solving them, it can create an unhealthy outlook in that one can become very issue-centric. So rather than consider the things that are going right and well in one’s life, one can have a tunnel vision focusing on the things that aren’t going right and well. Or rather than focus on the plethora of benefits of something, one can be hung up by one to two issues that don’t even have a significance in the long term.

For example:

  • You want to start a blog. There are so many merits that come with running a blog (e.g., ability to touch others lives, get your opinions heard, find your voice, improve your writing, and meet new people), but you focus on potential criticism you haven’t even attracted and let that stop you from blogging as a result. (Real sentiments shared by participants of my Blogging Success Program.)
  • You want to quit your day job and pursue your dreams. There are tons of successful examples/case studies of people out there living their dreams (I’m but an example) and helpful resources for you to achieve the same, but you choose to listen and be daunted by naysayers who aren’t even living the life that you want. (Shouldn’t you be listening to people who are living the life that you want rather than those who aren’t?)
  • Your looks: You are so beautiful with beautiful features, but instead of celebrating that, you focus on the areas of “imperfection” on your face/body: from that zit that’s only going to be there for three to four days tops, to that mole you dislike (which can well be a gorgeous beauty mark by the way), to the extra pound you gained last week because of bad eating habits, to your oily skin which can be fixed by washing your face.
  • Your parents: Your mom and dad are alive and you get to spend time with them; but instead of celebrating that, you get annoyed with how naggy they are, how negative they can be, and how they “mess up” your room when trying to clean up for you. Why?
  • Your job: You are employed with a steady pay, nice colleagues, and healthy continuous learning opportunities, but you focus on how lousy your boss is and let yourself be affected by him/her. (I had this issue before which I broke through: The Night I Cried.)
  • Your work: You deal with many customers and many of them are nice people, but every once in a while you have jerks who mess things up and make life difficult for you. Rather than focus on your nice and friendly customers, you let yourself be dampened by those jerks.
  • Criticisms: You get compliments day in and out which you don’t pay much attention to, yet when you receive an insensitive comment by someone who doesn’t even matter in your life, you can’t stop thinking about it. (On a side note, read: How To Give Constructive Criticism in 6 Steps.)
  • Your partner: You have a great relationship and your partner tries to be a good boy/girlfriend or husband/wife to you, but you always have things to nitpick on. Rather than celebrate his/her good qualities and things he/she is doing right, you regularly criticize his/her “bad” traits/idiosyncrasies, causing him/her to feel bad. Why?
  • Your life: You have a great life going ahead of you and great things to celebrate every day, but you harp on the bad stuff and regularly complain about little things that go wrong. You make it sound like your life is a complete mess, when what you are facing are no more than just first world problems.

You get the drift.


I just got corns on the soles of my feet since two days ago (and I don’t even eat corn too, #badjoke) and it’s becoming quite painful to walk: to the point where I’m limping with every step I walk. The last I counted, I had five six corn: three four on my left foot and two on my right. I’m guessing it’s due to the prolonged walking I did last week.

If you don’t know what a corn is, it’s a callus formed on your toes/feet and is caused by undue pressure or friction. Corns form when the skin tries to protect itself from pressure/rubbing. Corn looks somewhat like corn (maize), and hence the name. Picture below:

Corn on the sole of a foot

An example of what corn looks like. (Not my foot by the way.)

Instead of letting myself be bothered by this problem, I’m staying upbeat and focusing on the good things in my life:

  1. I’m having an amazing experience with the the participants of my latest passive income course. We just finished Module 5 on expanding your passive income streams and are rounding up with Module 6 this Sunday. Sad how time flies during these courses, but it’s also rewarding to see participants graduate each time!
  2. I’m enjoying my life every day with the love of my life. (It’s November 5 today, which marks the sixth month we’ve been together!)
  3. I love all of you great readers of PE for supporting my work and always having such positive thoughts to share. Bad eggs are always there but I don’t let myself be bothered by them, because they aren’t worth the time. Read: 9 Reasons Why Criticism Rocks (and Some of the Worst Comments I’ve Ever Received in Running my Blog)
  4. I have great skin, save for one huge pimple on my chin now (probably due to the rojak from Sunday’s supper).
  5. I have great health and a great body. These let me enjoy life in a wholesome manner. (My friend’s dad who died of cancer recently and it makes me more mindful of the importance of good health: not just for myself, but also my loved ones.)
  6. I have great (future) parents-in-law and I can’t ask for more.

I’m not going to ignore this corn problem of course because I can’t walk without limping at this point (Ken and I are heading to the pharmacy later for over-the-counter medication), but I’m not going to let that dampen my days. After all, there is so much to celebrate in life every day to focus on tiny problems like that!

Update: Just bought an over-the-counter corn solution! Ken just helped me to apply that to the corn on my feet. Hope this works. :D

Corn removal solution

Stop Focusing on the Black Dot

Instead of focusing on the black dots (the problems) in your life, here’s my challenge to you:

  1. Recognize the white (the good things) that’s around the black dot (whatever problem you are facing). Can you do that?
  2. Celebrate the white (the good things) vs. taking it for granted (which many of us do).
  3. See the black dot (the problem) as it is. Don’t overtly magnify its presence, but don’t ignore it either.
  4. Then… celebrate the black dot (the problem) too. Negative things are as important as the positive experiences in living a great life. What positives can you see in your black dot? Do you acknowledge its role in your life? What can you learn from it?

Apply these four steps and let me know how they work for you.

Share your thoughts!

Have there been any black dots which you have been paying undue attention to? What are they, and how can you apply the four steps above? Sound off in the comments box.

Similar posts which you may enjoy:

Images: Polka-dot butterflies, Polka-dot straws, Black dotFoot warts

  • Glenn Thomas

    I’ll admit I noticed a couple of imperfections in the first pic, but neither being the dot. The first one being the crease in the bottom left corner, and the other being the fact that the white wasn’t actually white, but more of a grey color. Although having noticed those imperfections, I immediately thought of how I would fix them. A simple levels tweak in a photo app :) I actually liked the dot though, because it wasn’t a perfect circle and had a nice hand painted look. More like a peek hole into another universe.

    In the last image I see a planet with a very small moon, and the sun about to rise over the upper right side of the planet. I’d turn down the saturation on that image though, as the white looks a bit too yellow. Same thing with the straws image, but at least it has an interesting enough composition.

    Of course I’m obviously missing the point of the post here :), but it’s difficult not to view these images from an artistic perspective.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hey Glenn, I’m glad you like the dot! :) I drew it myself with a black marker, haha. (Specially for the post.) Thanks for sharing the artist’s perspective; it’s interesting to view them from a different lens!

      • Glenn Thomas

        Yes, it’s a nice dot. You did well!

        • Celestine Chua

          Haha thank you Glenn!! :) *does a little curtsy in jest* XD

  • kimmy

    I always admire your views Celes. Thank You.

    • Celestine Chua

      Thank you so much kimmy! :) I hope this analogy helps you to further acknowledge the great things going on in your life, if you aren’t already doing so! :)

  • Madalina Sraier

    This article came at the perfect time for me. As I’m trying to get back in my positive energetic state and as I create new plans for my future, I get a lot of negative opinions and discouragement from those around me – the naysayers as you call them -, but I’m trying to follow your teachings as much as possible, Celes, and to ignore it all while building a life that I am and will be proud of. It’s true that sometimes it gets really annoying and energy-draining to be constantly discouraged, but it’s really important not to tell other people dictate how you live and how happy you are. There was a quote by Frank Zappa that I really liked, because I could relate with its message: “If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”

    • Celestine Chua

      Oh Lina, that quote is beautiful. I’ve even shared it on my Facebook page with the other readers:

      Do check out the articles I’ve linked to in my comment reply to Sharon too. You may have read them before but they are good as reinforcement.

      Know that you aren’t alone in dealing with naysayer comments, and actually you can sort of see facing these naysayer comments as a “rite of passage” to achieving your goals. As someone who has walked the path of having everyone say “NO” to your dreams and achieving them anyway (e.g., when I quit my job to pursue my passion in helping others grow), it’s really not the same succeeding in your goals without facing some naysayer comments and discouragement along the path.

      • Madalina Sraier

        I’m really happy that you liked that quote. And yes, I’ve read those articles before, but I always go back on several of your articles here on PE, to refresh my memory and get a good dose of inspiration and motivation. Seeing naysayers’ comments as a “rite of passage” makes everything sound like a quest for something beautiful and adventurous. :)

  • Sharon

    What if we are the receiving end and people just look at our dots all the time? Especially family members who are with us most of the time? I find it really draining to withstand those comments especially from people who I love and see most of the time.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hi Sharon! People can look at our “dots” (here the assumption is that we even have issues to address when these people could be imposing their personal issues) but we don’t need to acknowledge their opinions. I.e., their opinions are theirs and not ours *unless* we actually acknowledge them as true. There is a big difference between being aware of what others think and acknowledging those comments!

      This piece may help:

      And another one on dealing with critical people:

  • Celestine Chua

    Update on the corn situation: Just bought an over-the-counter corn solution! (Updated the post with a picture of the corn solution too.) Ken just helped me to apply that to the corn on my feet. Hopefully it works. :D *crosses fingers*

  • JadePenguin

    People’s visual system is well tuned to noticing high contrast and changes in general. I suppose it’s the same with other areas of perception. Must not overestimate the importance of these contrasts unless you can do something about it :)

  • Larry Hochman

    Maybe this is conditioning, but it never occurred to me to think of the black dot as any kind of imperfection. It just “is.”

    On a related note, I see a lot of statuses on Facebook, a lot of commentary on the people around me…about how wrong or bad something is…as if the complaining will change it.

    Here’s the thing…I don’t perceive it as complaining. I don’t assign a negative meaning to the complaint. It’s simply a marker of where they are. If I do have to assign meaning to it, I will…

    1. Find compassion for the person’s plight…the actual one and the way they interpret it.

    2. Be grateful for the signs they put out…they may be someone I can help, but not someone to partner with at the present moment in business.

    3. Allow it to serve as a reminder of the importance of serenity and going about our lives with as much grace as we can muster.

    Wow…that felt good to write! And your note was fun to read, Celes. :)

  • Christina Mattschei

    Hi Celes, I love your “reframe” examples–they’re really powerful! I’m finding that practicing gratefulness really gives me a sense of calm. These are great reminders of situations where we can all do that :)

    • Celestine Chua

      Thank you Christina! Thanks for reminding us to practice gratefulness. It’s a very important habit and something I’ve been doing so since the gratitude challenge in August. For those who have missed it:

  • urvashi

    thanks to this article i feel more enthusiastic now about the things happening around me. i know that applying this advice in my life for me won’t be a piece of cake of course. but i will definitely give it a try because i find this worth it. and doing something would be better than doing nothing and just going through the whole thing thats troubling without even trying to find solution to it

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