Have you ever heard of the “dark dot” story?
University students were given a test on their first day of the semester. Their professor was handing them a single piece of paper. These one-pagers were completely blank, except for one tiny black dot, in the top left corner.
No title, no question. Just a blank page with a black spot.
The professor then asked her students to write on a separate piece of paper what they were seeing. They would be graded based on how they describe the piece of paper.
Of course, many students were confused, and a few asked for more explanations, but the professor gave none.
Once the feeling of surprise dissipated, the students started writing. Finally, after half an hour, the professor stopped the test and collected the assignments.
She returned to the middle of the auditorium and began reading the students’ papers out loud. All of them were talking at length about the black dot. How big it was. Where it was placed on the paper. What it could represent, and so forth.
The professor stopped her reading and the room went silent.
After a pause, she told her students she would not grade these papers. In fact, the whole purpose of this “test” was to help them understand something important.
A life lesson.
Everybody described the dark dot, but nobody took the time to talk about the remaining attributes of the paper. Especially the white space. Not a single student described it once. They were all absorbed by the tiny black spot on the top corner and completely ignored the rest of the paper.
And we are no different from the students in this story.
Most often, we focus on the negative, on the dark spots and we rarely acknowledge the positive — all the white parts.
We focus on what is not working, what is not going as we expect, what we should get more of. And we forget to recognise and appreciate the things that are going well. We take them for granted and don’t notice them anymore.
One of the most obvious examples I notice throughout my years of coaching is how easily we can fixate our weaknesses and ignore our strengths.
Psychology studies found that when we embrace and develop our strengths, we tend to be more self-confident, self-aware and motivated¹, which indeed translates into many areas of our life, such as our ability to achieve our goals².
It is then in our best interest to not turn a blind eye to our strengths and do our best to nurture them.
My Latest Finding
Sometimes, we can struggle to identify our strengths.
There are many reasons for this. In his best-selling book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, writer Marcus Buckingham describes one of them: we think of strengths as things we are good at (and retrospectively, weaknesses as something we are bad at).
Instead, he suggests that we should see strengths as sources of energy. This is a paradigm shift. For him, strengths should make us feel strong, motivated, and alive — without necessarily being something we are good at.
For instance, if you are energised by painting, even if you don’t excel at it, it can be a strength, something worth pursuing and growing.
And I believe both concepts, strengths being things we are good at and strengths being things that provide us joy, are not exclusive.
In fact, it goes both ways.
If we are good at something, our success can energise us. If we are doing something energising us, we will keep doing it and ultimately become good at it.
A Special Sharing
Finding one’s strengths is an essential activity of my executive coaching program, and oftentimes, I also include it in some of my corporate workshops.
So, to help you in this search, I am sharing with you one of the exercises I am using with my clients.
I called it the Strengths Finder, and it is part of my Rising Codes, a performance and growth suite of tools, and based on positive psychology findings. You can download the exercise and its instructions here => Gift — The Strengths Finder.
To conclude, let’s remember the powerful words of philosopher Mark Nepo:
We are stronger, gentler, more resilient and more beautiful than any of us imagine.
I hope you liked this newsletter. And let me know what strengths you identified with my exercise.
To your success,
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- Park N., and others, “Strengths of character and well-being”, Journal of Social And Clinical Psychology (2004)
- Hodges T.D., Clifton D.O., Positive Psychology in Practice: Strengths-Based Development in Practice, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (2004)