The teacher stood at
the front of the classroom.
Today we’re going to
take a quiz, she told the class.
She passed out papers,
instructing the students to keep them face down on their desks, just like always.
Once everyone had their paper, the teacher signaled the students to turn them
over and begin.
Within seconds, thirty
confused faces peered up at her. On every desk was a white sheet of paper with
a black dot in the middle of it.
Please describe what
you see on the paper.
Confused, the students
Twenty minutes later, the
teacher collected the quizzes and read what was written out loud.
I’m not going to grade
these papers, she said. But I do
want to make you think.
This quiz is a black
dot on a piece of white paper. Every single one of you described that black dot
Some of you told me about
how big it was. Others described where it was on the page. Still others made up
stories about the black dot.
ALL of you talked about
the black dot.
But NO ONE mentioned
the white page.
You all focused on the
black dot. It was as if the white page, which was much bigger than the black
dot, didn’t even exist.
Life is like this
page. It’s full of beauty and wonder. But we don’t see it because we’re focused
on everything that’s wrong with our life. We’re focused on our illnesses and
ailments, our worries and fears.
We’re so focused on the
black dot of what we DON’T want, that we completely miss the white space that is
filled with what we DO want.
So, What Does a Black
Dot Have to Do With Divorce?
The moral of the story
of the little black dot seems obvious enough. Focus on the good things in life
instead of the bad. Be grateful for what you have, rather than being miserable
focusing on what you lack.
That kind of a story could
clearly apply to divorce.
Divorce is like the
little black dot. When you’re going through it, divorce is all you can focus
on. It overtakes your world. All you see is black.
But, if you look
beyond the blackness, you will see the white space. That white space is
everything else in your life that you have to be grateful for.
While that’s certainly
the obvious analogy, there’s more to the story.
The real moral of the
story isn’t simply about looking for the good in life. It’s not just about
gratitude. (Although, both of those are valid and important interpretations of
What the story is
really about is the power of focus … and the fact that you have the power to
choose what you focus on.
The Power of Focus
What you focus on
Focus on the black
dot, and all you see is the darkness.
Focus on the white space,
and all you see is the light.
At the same time, it
pays to remember that the page has BOTH a black dot and white space.
So the most important
question to answer is not: Which is better, the black dot or the white
space? Neither one is inherently better or worse than the other.
The real question is: Which
one will you focus on? Or, perhaps more importantly, What do you want to
achieve by focusing on one versus the other?
When you’re facing
divorce, then, the most important question you can ask yourself is not: How
do I get through this ordeal and survive? Rather, the most important questions
are: What will I focus on? and What do I want?
are questions that most people who are going through a divorce never bother to
What Are You Focusing On?
Divorce triggers your
most primal survival instincts in a way that most other life events (short of
going to war) don’t.
Suddenly you are
worried that you won’t have enough money to live on. You’re worried that you’ll
lose your house, or your kids. You’re worried that you’ll be alone for the rest
of your life.
All that worry, all
that fear, focuses your attention on everything you DON’T want.
Our brains have
evolved over millennia to keep us out of danger. So, we’re hard-wired to look
for what’s wrong in any situation. When a situation (like divorce) is full of things
that could go wrong, our brain lights up like a pinball machine in a popular
We see danger everywhere.
So, we focus on THAT. We focus solely on our fears. We get locked in survival
The problem is that, when
you’re in survival mode, you don’t have the time, insight, or energy to look
beyond your immediate circumstances and see the bigger picture. You’re so busy focusing
on the drama in your life TODAY that you forget to consider what kind of life
you’re creating for yourself in the future based upon the decisions you’re
making right now.
That’s why most people
never ask the one question that they SHOULD ask themselves in their divorce: What
do I want?
Why Knowing What You
If you don’t know what
you want, how can you ever expect to get it?
Sure, you may be one
of those lucky people who stumbles blindly through their divorce and still ends
up okay in the end. But going through your divorce that way is like playing
Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun.
You’ve got a much
greater chance of ending up where you want to be once your divorce is over if you
start your divorce by figuring out what matters to you, and deciding where you
want to be once it’s over.
As Stephen Covey so famously said, “You must
begin with the end in mind.”
In other words, you
need to focus on what matters.
How to Focus on What
Matters in Divorce (… and in Life!)
Focusing on what matters
sounds simple enough. Yet, as with so many other things in life, what seems
simple can often be deceptively difficult.
Focusing on what
matters, especially when your emotions are raging out of control and you have
no idea what your future holds, is much easier said than done. When your
marriage is falling apart and your whole life is up in the air, it can be tough
to focus on what day it is, let alone on what matters in your divorce!
Here are a few steps
that will help you keep your eye on what’s important and let everything else
out what you want.
Sounds so simple,
Most people know all
too well what they DON’T want. But they never bother to figure out what they DO
There’s a difference.
You can’t create what
you want if you don’t even know what it is.
So take some time to
honestly answer the question: What do I want?
When it comes to your
divorce, maybe you want to stay out of court. Maybe you want to make sure the
kids have a stable life after your divorce. Or maybe you want to make sure you
have some level of financial security once you’re on your own.
Maybe it’s important
to you that your divorce get done as soon as possible so that you can move on with
your life. Or maybe you don’t want to spend a lot of money getting divorced.
Whatever it is that
you want, write it down. Make a list. Don’t edit yourself. Just write
out what you need.
Figuring out what you
want is important. But figuring out what you need is essential.
Review the list of
things you want. Put a star by those that are needs.
If you find that you’ve
got seventy-five things that you’ve starred as “needs,” it’s time to be a bit
Take a moment to consider
whether you really NEED everything that you’ve listed as a need.
HINT: Real “needs” normally involve your physical
survival (i.e. things like food and shelter) and your psychological well-being (i.e.
the need to feel safe, secure, connected to other people etc.)
Review your list of
needs and then take a moment to consider whether you’ve left any important
needs off your list.
Ask yourself: What do I
need to survive after my divorce? Will I need to find a new place to live? Do I
need to get a job (or a better job)? How much money do I need to be financially
Again, make a list.
You don’t have to put anything in order yet. Just make sure you get all of your
needs down on paper.
out what your kids need.
Besides figuring out
what you need, you also need to figure out what your kids need. So, you’re
going to make another list.
Again, resist the
temptation to list things that are more “wants” than “needs.” Try to list only
what your kids truly need for their physical, psychological and developmental
Also, do your best to separate
your desires from their needs.
For example, if you
have been your kids’ primary caretaker, you may believe that your kids need to
spend as much time with you as possible. In fact, that may be true.
But unless your spouse
is physically abusive, it’s also true that your kids need to have a
relationship with him/her too. That means that they also need to spend time
with your spouse.
Finally, when making
your list of kids’ needs, flexibility is key.
Your children’s needs will change as they grow and change. So, even
though you’re making your list today, remember that your list will likely
change in the future, especially if your children are very young right now.
(NOTE: You don’t
necessarily have to list everything your kids will need from now until they’re
grown and gone. Not only would doing that be exhausting, but it’s also unrealistic.
Just list what they need to be happy and healthy for at least the next few years.
You can re-evaluate your list after that.)
After you’ve made your
lists, combine them. That will give you an opportunity to see how your needs,
and your kids’ needs, fit together (or don’t!).
Next, to make your
list useful, you need to carefully choose what’s on the top of your list. You
need to prioritize your list/
Start by numbering
your items in order of most to least important. Make sure that your real NEEDS top
your list. The things you want should generally be further down your list than
the things you need.
After you’ve done that,
you may want to pause for a moment and review your list. Make sure it
accurately reflects what you want and need. (Mind you, there is no “right” or “wrong”
way to do this list. It’s YOUR list! Put it together in the way that works best
It also helps to acknowledge
that you’re not going to get everything on your list. You may not even
get everything on your list that you need. What you will get from doing this
exercise is a clear picture of what your priorities really are right now.
Of course, prioritizing
your list means you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. For example,
you may have to decide whether having a lot of time with your kids is more or
less important than making enough money to maintain your current lifestyle and
pay your bills.
Yes, making those
tough decisions sucks. At the same time,
it’s enormously helpful.
The truth is that your
situation is what it is. Prioritizing your list of wants and needs won’t change
your situation. But it WILL make you aware of where your problem areas lie. It
will clearly show you what you need to work on if you want to get BOTH what you
NEED and what you WANT in the future.
(And yes. It’s totally
possible to have it all. But it will probably take some time. You’re not likely
to get everything you want and need in life within 30 seconds of getting a
a Reality Check.
After you’ve made your
prioritized list of wants and needs, it’s time to get real. It’s time to figure
out what things on your list that you can realistically expect to get in your
Doing that starts by talking
to your divorce lawyer. Find out what it’s legally possible for you to get in
your divorce. Then ask your lawyer for what it’s PROBABLE that you will get in
Insist on getting your
lawyer’s HONEST opinion. While thinking that you’re going to get everything you
need and most of what you want will make you feel good in the moment, you will
fill infinitely worse at the end of your divorce if you fall way short of
getting your needs met and you didn’t have time to plan for that.
Also, remember that your
lawyer’s opinion is only an opinion. You may end up with more or less than what
your lawyer thought. What you’re looking for at this point is a ball-park idea
of what might happen, so that you can plan ahead.
Next, talk to your
financial planner or your divorce financial adviser. Get a realistic picture of
what your finances will look like after your divorce.
If you haven’t already
done so, make a post-divorce budget. Doing that will help you see whether you’re
likely to fall short each month. Your financial adviser will also be able to
run projections for you about whether your retirement and kids’ college
accounts are up to par or not.
Once you know what is
legally and financially possible and probable in your divorce, you will be prepared
to make better financial decisions in your divorce. You will KNOW which property
settlements will work for you, and which will leave you in dire financial
straights two years after your divorce.
For example, before
doing this exercise, you may have wanted to keep your house for your kids. That
may have seemed perfectly reasonable while you were in the middle of your divorce
and your spouse was still helping to pay the bills.
But, once you realize
that you won’t be able to make the mortgage payment on your post-divorce income,
then keeping the house may be much less appealing.
As hard as it may be
to face that reality, facing it now will give you more options for creating a
more stable future.
on Your Top Priorities.
Once you’ve made your
list of priorities, it’s time to focus on those priorities in everything you do.
That means that you keep your priorities in mind with every single divorce
decision you make.
For example, if your spouse
just did something stupid and you’re trying to decide whether to take him/her
to court over it, ask yourself: “Does going to court right now get me closer to
getting what I want and need, or farther away?”
everything you do in your divorce NOT by how you feel in the moment, but by
asking whether doing that thing will make it more or less likely that you’ll
get you what you want in the end.
(NOTE: This may not seem like a big deal. But it’s a game-changer. It keeps you from doing things that make you feel like you’re “winning” in the moment, but make you lose in the end!)
7. Keep Your Eye on Your Goal.
When your emotions are
running high and your divorce is frustrating the devil out of you, it’s easy to
get sucked into arguing about every little thing. Most people going through a
divorce find themselves arguing about things they don’t even care about!
Resist that temptation!
Use the power of focus to concentrate on what truly matters to you. Dial-in on those few things that will make the most difference to you in the end, once your divorce is over and you’re trying to build a new life.
Fight for what truly
Let go of what doesn’t.
Doing that takes a lot
of discipline and self-control – especially at first.
Yet it can make an
enormous difference in where you end up once the judge has banged the gavel and
your divorce is behind you.
So, when you’re faced
with a decision in your divorce, take a deep breath and remember your list of
priorities. Focus on what matters.
If you find yourself
arguing with your spouse about anything that’s not on your list – let it go. It’s
Using the Black Dot in Your Divorce
You have the power to
choose what you focus on.
When you’re going
through a divorce you can focus on all the drama and ugliness. Or you can focus
on your priorities and on ending up where you want to be.
Both of those are
choices. But, unlike the students who took the little black dot quiz, you now
KNOW what your choices are. You know you have a choice.
The only question you need to answer, then, is: What will you focus on?
Another thing that can keep you focused in your divorce is a checklist that tells you what you need.
CLICK THE BUTTON below and get your FREE DIVORCE CHECKLIST!
It’s the one I’ve used for years to make sure I didn’t miss anything!