Bright Spots

I’m all blissed out because I just returned from this year’s African STAR (Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat) at the Londolozi Game Reserve.  It’s impossible to describe the joy and enchantment of coaching incredible people at a place devoted to “Restoring Eden.”   

Occasionally, people tell me that they don’t want to go to Africa because it’s a place of such terrible human suffering and poverty.  This always makes me think of Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  In Switch, the Heaths describe how masters of change create miraculously positive results.  

One key is looking for what the authors call “bright spots” in every situation, no matter how difficult. In all the doom and gloom about how the natural world is being destroyed by human activity, Londolozi is a “bright spot” that shows how humans can restore nature even after we’ve destroyed it.  But Africa is full of bright spots.  For every terrible atrocity, there are hundreds of thousands of acts of kindness.  For every corrupt dictator, there are a million gentle, wise, kind Africans.  For every jerk who kills an elephant and puts it on YouTube, there are dozens of conservationists who love the animals and want them to survive.  

Now that I am back from Africa, I want to be even more mindful of bright spots than when I left.  Change experts like the Heaths assure me that this, not doom and gloom prognostications, will help me be part of the positive change I want to see in the world.

Right now, think of something about your life that is troubling you, something you want to change.  It might be a child who is not doing well, a business that is in the red, an underwater mortgage.  For the next five minutes, instead of worrying about this thing, find a bright spot in the situation.  If your child doesn’t have a job, or has landed in solitary once again, at least she’s off the street.  Seriously, think of all the bad things your loved ones might be doing that they have avoided and the positive things, however small, that they may have accomplished:  truly loving a pet, being loyal to their friends, getting your jokes.   

As you start to make the list, you’ll find the bright spots start to pop out more and your negative judgments fade.  I believe that in that very moment, you have begun “feeding” your attention to a situation you want instead of a situation you don’t want.  Attention is a powerful nutrient.  It amplifies and accelerates the situations on which it is focused.  Now think of a second problematic situation.  Find the bright spots there. Make this a practice whenever you feel yourself growing anxious or angry.  Try this for a month.  If you don’t like the results, go back to looking at the dark spots. 

Shortly after I decided to try this practice, I met a hockey player in an airport.  We got to talking and, for some reason, he told me, “When you’re trying to score a goal, never ever look at the goalie.  Look at the spaces around the goalie, no matter how small they might be.  Where your eyes go, the puck goes.”  I got on the plane and sat down beside a kayaker.  As we chatted, he told me, “When you’re in the rapids, never look at the rocks.  Look at the water around the rocks, no matter how small it may seem.  Where your eyes go, the boat goes.”  I remembered my first embarrassing riding lessons with Koelle Simpson, the master horse whisperer.  “Look in the direction you want to go,” she said. “Where your eyes go, the horse goes.” 


Your life follows your attention.  Wherever you look, you end up going.

That’s why I think that as you try the “bright spots” exercise, your life will start heading in happier more productive directions.  Your relationships will be more relaxed and less contentious as you stop criticizing your loved ones and begin enjoying their positive attributes.  Your customers will be drawn to the energy of a business based on optimism.   

The world really is full of dark spots.  Of course, we’re aware of them.  Of course, we want to change them.  But where our attention goes, the world eventually goes.  So our task is to keep the negatives in our peripheral vision while focusing our full attention on joy, kindness, love and peace.  This is the way to “Restore Eden” in our own hearts, minds and lives so that we become the agents of restoration for everything we hope to change.

17 replies
  1. Scotty Mitchell
    Scotty Mitchell says:

    Martha hello and thank you for all the joy you have given me from all of your books. And this new one is just Whoa…fantastic! In regard to bright spots though I think there should be a warning. As someone who generally wants to be cheerful (and is!) I have found there’s a thin line which I haven’t figured out yet between suppressing your negative feelings and attending the bright spots.This after reading John Sarno’s book The Divided Mind. I realized that in my desire to be joyful I was repressing hurt emotions after my divorce, which of course was very amicable.But the old back sent me the message! So though still in confusion but I know we somehow have to acknowledge and perhaps intergrate our negative thoughts.
    Yours in perplexity, Scotty Mitchell. (Female!)
    P.S. I am a landscape painter, which nicely supports ten thousand hours of walking, being in nature, enjoying solitude and drawing! Should you ever want a plein air painter to be involved in just about anything you do, please let me know! (my website shows my work)

  2. Joy Komarnicki
    Joy Komarnicki says:

    Hi Martha! Thanks for sharing many of your wise words, I truly feel you may be healing the planet, along with Oprah and many other wonderful teachers. I love your new book and also the articles you write for o Magazine. Your wit and sense of humour is awesome! Combine that with your vast knowledge, keeps me wanting to read more, while being joyfully educated! Does that make sense? Finding Your Way in a New Wild World is one of the best books I have ever read. I am a creative person and want to get my own angel business soaring, so that I can hopefully take an early retirement from my 25+ year lab tech job. The outline, steps and inspiration in your new book are just the tools I have been looking for, so thank you! I am also very passionate about preserving nature and I plan to dedicate a portion of my business to support nature reserves and animal sanctuaries. I will focus on the positive and keep you posted.

  3. Anita
    Anita says:

    The images of aiming a puck (or a kayak) toward those magical spaces gave me goosebumps! This advice is a keeper! Thank you. I look forward to reading your new book.

  4. Michelle Wolff
    Michelle Wolff says:

    Thanks for this – I’ve been struggling with the plight of the abandoned and feral cats I’ve begun taking care of (and dealing with all the criticism I take because of it) I can feed them, give them Reiki treatments and build shelters but I can’t do the medical part I just don’t have the income at the moment. This stresses my mind and I’ve wondered if I’m doing the right thing. Today I can see that the bright spots are Reiki helps heal, they have safe, dry sleeping spaces and they are getting to eat/drink all they want whenever they want. 3 out of 4 ain’t that bad 🙂

  5. Jill Kelley
    Jill Kelley says:

    After seeing the movie “Bucket List,” I took time to contemplate my own. The first thing that came to my mind was this: 1) Travel to Africa. Why? Not because this is my first choice of places to visit, but because I wanted to conquer one of my greatest fears. And when I probed into my fears, the huge continent of Africa immediately popped up. (I get nervous, nauseous, and sweaty palms just thinking about it.) Everything about Africa seems huge, foreign, scary, and prodigiously intimidating. For years, I’ve walked with this concern about how I would ever be able to tend to this “top-bucket” item. Until most recently … when I first went to Martha’s website and saw the giraffe with information about a trip to Africa. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets! “Maybe I’m supposed to go with Martha!” was my initial thought. In many ways, I think this is the ONLY way I’d go to Africa! So, this #1 bucket item has now moved to my list of long-term goals. Someday … Martha … someday I’m going to join you, and I’ll be shaking in my boots while simultaneously taking comfort in knowing that I’ll be with you.

  6. Wendy Haxton
    Wendy Haxton says:

    I think this is a lovely idea and I believed in it until I tried it. I had had a lot of financial problems which resulted in me having to sell my home and move alone to another part of the country where I could still afford to buy a cheaper house. I decided to rent a flat and to buy a house to restore and sell on (something of which I have a lot of experience by the way) and do that a few times to get back on my feet. Despite being scared, I concentrated on my relief at moving on and was really upbeat and positive. I managed to end up with every crooked builder, plumber, electrician, etc. in Yorkshire (I’m in England) and on top of that I had a large sum of money which I had invested, stolen, as the Company Directors turned out to be crooks. I am now living in the little house I bought to do up, despite endless efforts, I hardly know anyone, because it seems to me that people don’t want to get to know you when you are older (I’m now 61 – been here three years) and I am unable to get a job despite having applied for over 2000. I am living on benefits because the Government has put back pensions for people of 60 by two years, and I have spent all my money on living expenses for the past three years and I might as well have stayed where I was. Bright spots are a lovely thought, but they don’t work.

  7. Debbie Kienle
    Debbie Kienle says:

    Hi there,

    I was asked by someone the other day why on earth I would want to go back to South Africa?

    I love my country and it’s people passionately! Oh sure, there are some people who spoil it for the rest (look at the minority that implemented Apartheid), and every country has it’s issues – look at the USA now with closing the White House – Eish! Those poor tourists who saved to see the Empire Estate Building or any other attraction of park must be absolutely furious at this stage!

    I like to focus on the beautiful country that we have, the friendly people who nearly always welcome you with a smile, a rainbow nation of people who are a lot more tolerant and less judgemental than most other nations because of our past.

    And, for all the above reasons I will go back and make sure that we move forward along this positive path and make my vote count!

    See you in South Africa in 2014


  8. Lois Campbell
    Lois Campbell says:

    I just “happened” to buy Wild New World from audible on a. Special. You’re new to me but I am a team member with chronic pain and it’s been a godsend to be given hope. Thank you so much.

  9. Kari
    Kari says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this today. It is so right on; it is a reminder I needed today. Talk about bright spots – you are one of the bright spots of my day.
    Thank you so much!

  10. Elizabeth Summers
    Elizabeth Summers says:

    I went to a horsemanship workshop with a friend whose horse behaved badly, including knocking down barricades and causing spectators to move out of the way. The horse simply wouldn’t do anything she wanted him to. The instructor told her, “When you’re thinking about what you don’t want your horse to do, you’re not thinking about what you want him to do.” That was such a revelation to me and applies to so much more than riding a horse!

  11. Vicki
    Vicki says:

    OK, this book was published way back in the day, but remember The Thorn Birds? The book centred around a sheep station in Australia.

    The scene I am thinking of is the time it did not rain for years, I believe it was 7 years with nt rain. The grass had died, everything was parched and grey and arid.

    Then, one day, it rained. And rained. And rained. For days. After the precipitation stopped, fresh, green shoots popped their little heads up from the ground.

    You would thing that everything would have died for good after 7 years of drought. But, yes, Martha, Nature is incredibly resilient. We think of it as fragile but it is not. Mother Nature is very hardy.

  12. Shadi
    Shadi says:

    One pitfall here. I saw ‘bright spots’ in many situations and everyone around me became happier and more relaxed. But after quite a few years of following this advice I look and see many of the troublesome areas that pushed me to see the ‘bright spots’ instead of habitually seeing the ‘dark spots’, have essentially stayed neglected by the same key people in my life. Should there be a time limit for holding on to this attitude? Where were the ‘Red flags’ that I missed?

  13. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Hello ;-)…Every time I read Martha’s Daily Inspiration in my emails I want to PIN it to my Pinterest board…~The Inspired Life….but there is nowhere to pin it…I want to share these insights with everyone…and I think it would be huge from a business aspect for you too!!! A win win!!! So…I can do this by getting a picture of …say a flower and going into Photoshop and putting your inspirational quotes in and posting to my Pinterest Board that way…. I am happy to do that….but your wonderful messages could get spread so much further if I could click on your quote and be able to pin them immediately. Love & hugs ~Kelly

  14. Beth
    Beth says:

    Are you hiding in our living room? I was reading this blog while my husband was on the phone with my unemployed daughter!!!! We have been worrying and worrying about her not having a job and focusing on the dark spots. OMG–your Bright spots could not have been more timely!! It’s really kind of freaky. I am going to try it–she is not on the streets, doesn’t do drugs, loves her family, graduated from college, loves her dog with all her heart, loves college football and knows more than most guys her age, she is beautiful…the list goes on and on. My chest already feels better just writing this. I will continue to find her bright spots. Thank you Martha!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Master Cleanse News Digest For The Week Ending 02.10.27 says:

    […] To read more about creating bright spots, head over to the Martha Beck Blog […]

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