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When All You Can See is the Black Dot

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Have you ever noticed that we are far more likely to notice the negatives than the positives?

To test out this trait, try this experiment on a friend or family member:

Take a plain sheet of paper, and make a small black dot on it. Hold it up and say "what do you see?"

Go ahead, I'll wait.

And now, with my magical powers of intuition, I predict that the person answered: "A black dot."

Am I right? 😁

What's wrong with that, you wonder?

Well, a more accurate description would have been....

A white paper with a black dot.

And lest you think this is pure semantics, consider this:

Our brain is wired to notice the thing that is out of place. The unexpected flutter of movement from the corner of your eye. The annoyingly jarring note in the otherwise calming, pleasant symphony.

Why is that, you might wonder?

Glad you asked.

You see, our brain's primary mission (after basic survival), is to protect us. So effectively you have a program constantly running in the background of your awareness, on the lookout for potential dangers.

  • Something unexpectedly out of place? Could it have been moved by an intruder?

  • The flutter of movement? Maybe... a lion? (Or, more likely, a mouse. True story.)

  • The jarring note? Hmmm - hostile takeover? You get the picture.

A side effect of this phenomenon, then, is that we tend to zero in on the missing, the aberrant, and the just plain wrong...

Even when the rest of the picture is beautifully, holistically, objectively right.

Of course, this applies to all aspects of life. When was the last time you noticed your climate-controlled home, the smooth ride in a swiftly traveling car, and running cold AND hot water - all luxuries unavailable to even the most wealthy and powerful monarch over 200 years ago?

While you are more likely to kvetch about the dishes in the sink, the traffic jam at carpool, and the Amazon order delayed by Supply Chain lag time.

When it comes to relationships, that same dynamic filters through. And when it comes to marriage, well, it can be life-altering.

Take it from

  • The husband who earns a good income, runs the family finances, and makes sure the car, house and property are always running smoothly - whose wife complains that he doesn't help enough with the kids

  • The husband who graciously allows his wife to buy whatever she needs or wants for herself, without any limitations - but whose wife resents that he never buys her a gift

  • The husband who davens with a minyan and learns after work - whose wife looks down on him because he does not learn as much as her father and brothers

The result? I'm sure you've seen it yourself.

It's wives missing out on the joyful, grateful, peaceful marriage that could have been theirs, if only they had invested their energy into noticing, appreciating, and acknowledging the good - instead of fixating on the black dot.

Want to learn more about the super-power of Appreciation? Check out this article and this one.

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