Are You Focusing On the Black Dot?

Back when I was in school, there was a teacher who shared this analogy during class which stuck with me.

Consider the image below. What do you notice right away?

Black dot

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

When presented with a blank paper with no specks but a dot, most of us would zoom right into the dot, even if it is at a corner of the paper. Why? Because that’s the thing “glaring” at us from an 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 teacher was using this example to argue the importance of removing “black sheep” in the society (something along those lines; he had very cynical and judgmental views), I found the analogy interesting because it shows an average person’s tendency to focus on “imperfections” and “issues” when everything else can be perfect and going well.

(The assumption here is that 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 where they focus 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 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.
  • 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 drill.


I just got corns on the soles of my feet two days ago. It has become quite painful to walk, to the point where I’m limping with every step I walk. The last I counted, I had six corn: 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 enjoying every day with my partner.
  2. 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 is Good
  3. I have great health and a great body. They let me enjoy life in a wholesome manner. (My friend’s dad died of cancer recently and it makes me more mindful of the importance of good health.)

I’m not going to ignore this corn problem because I can’t walk without limping at this point (I’m 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 every day than to focus on tiny problems like that!

Update: Just bought an over-the-counter corn solution! 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.

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