Join the Dots

Oct 12, 2010   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

IN SHORT: Life is a game of join-the-dots. Although you can’t change the facts of your past, you CAN change what you do with it, how you let it make  you feel, and where you go forwards from it – you get to choose which dots you use!

“From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.”

[Bill Waterson, US author of the ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ comic strip]

(792 words, approx 5-8 mins to read)

(This month’s ‘slice’ sort of follows on from last month’s ‘Making Meaning’ article, and here we’re focusing more on what we do with strings of experiences rather than just individual ones.)

Do you remember doing join-the-dots pictures when you were young (or maybe even when you were older too)..?

Some of the ones I remember doing were totally blank, other than the dots and their little numbers. Others, however, had the usual numbered dots but there were additional elements – lines, curves, small partial drawings etc. – that didn’t make much sense. Until, that is, you actually got round to joining the dots together.

But what if there were no numbers? Can you imagine what that would be like? Where would you start? How would you know which dots were supposed to join with which?

I can already imagine some of you beginning to get a little anxious at the thought of this situation, especially those of you who like process, predictability and a sense of certainty. How are you supposed to work out what the intended picture is with no clues? What if you get it wrong? What if you can’t come up with any picture at all?!

Others, however, might be finding this idea more than a little liberating. After all, if there’s no definite drawing in there, you can create your own by joining the dots in the way you want, perhaps even deciding not to use all of the ones already there, or to add in your own where there weren’t any. And even if there was some picture originally hidden in there, why seek desperately to unveil it when you can have more fun joining and re-joining the dots until you come up with something YOU like?

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that this join-the-dots stuff is pretty much like life.

Take your past. It’s made up of a series of events – ‘dots’ – some good, some not so good, some that you learned from, some you may not have dealt with mentally or emotionally yet. But that’s all they are really – dots. They even happened in a certain order, chronologically speaking, so perhaps you think that’s how you should join them up?

But what if you didn’t?

Imagine for a moment you ignored all the good experiences in your life and instead did a join-the-dots with all the bad experiences – all those things you label as failure, loss, guilt, regret, hurt, for example. What kind of a picture of your history would that result in? Not a pretty one, I’ll bet, and not one you’d want to look at often or hang on your wall!

Unfortunately though there are people out there who do precisely that, and you can imagine what their emotional state and mindset must be like as a result.

Now imagine that you did the reverse, that you left out all the really bad stuff and instead played join-the-dots with the good experiences – those joyful, happy, motivating, exciting, satisfying, successful, calm and content-making times. What kind of a picture would that make? Something a lot more pleasing and that, as you experience it, is a lot more pleasant, engaging and aesthetic!

“But that’s not realistic!” some might say. However, ‘reality’ isn’t a concrete, absolute thing as many philosophers and scientists have postulated and proven – your perception makes your reality, i.e. you make your own experience by what you chose to focus on and engage with.

What we find is that those who’re most content and satisfied with their lives, whatever their circumstances, play the latter version of join-the-dots using their good experiences, with some of the useful lessons learned from the less than great times in life thrown in for some added definition and colour.

So, a mini-challenge this time:

At the end of today, play join-the-dots with the day’s experience.

  1. First, join up all the bits that didn’t go as you’d have liked and, as you do so, notice how that makes you feel the more dots you join.
  2. Now, let that go – imagine erasing all the lines you’ve drawn, or turning over a new page.
  3. This time, join up only those bits of the day that went well – the problems you solved, lessons learned, experiences that made you feel content, successful, satisfied. It doesn’t matter how small or large, whether it was a project you completed, or a great tasting coffee you had, an issue you resolved or a smile someone gave you. As you do that, notice how you’re feeling now.
  4. Resolve to do this same exercise at least three times in the next week!

Simply put, your past is exactly what you make of it. Although you can’t change the facts of the past, you CAN change what you do with it, how you let it make  you feel, and where you go forwards from it – you get to choose which dots you use.

Until next time,


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