Look for the Open Spaces: The Importance of Focusing on the Positive

After college, Eric (99 Walks co-founder and my husband) taught skiing for three winter seasons while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. One of his favorite stories is about a group lesson comprised of a bunch of eight-year-olds on a snowy Saturday morning. Just before lunch, Eric led the group to the top of a big, open trail. It would be challenging for them but not beyond their abilities. Most of the group took off, whooping and hollering as eight-year-olds are known to do when skiing.

But one boy hung back, staring down the snow-covered hill. He wasn’t moving.

“Are you ready?” Eric asked.

“But what about the tree?” the boy replied with trepidation. Eric looked down to where the kid was pointing and sure enough, in the middle of a big, wide open field was a single small tree. “What if I hit it?” the boy asked nervously.

“There is plenty of space all around it,” Eric said. “Just look at the open spaces and you’ll ski right past it.”

Eric waited at the top and watched as the kid began skiing cautiously down the trail. As he skied, Eric could see him constantly turned his head to the left to glance at the tree. The more he looked at it, the closer he got to it. The closer he got to it, the more he stared at it until, yup, the kid hit the tree.

Eric skied down quickly to where the kid was laying in the snow. Unhurt, the boy was nevertheless upset. “You see,” he said crying, “I told you I was going to hit the tree.”

Since that day, Eric has adopted an expression, which has become part of the lexicon of our relationship: “look for the open spaces, don’t focus on the tree.”

This metaphor applies to pretty much every aspect of our lives. If you focus on the negative, you will be pulled toward the negative. If you focus on the faults, you will be pulled toward the faults. Every single day, there will be things that don’t go your way. Every single day. And every day, you have the opportunity to focus on the things that didn’t go your way or on the things that did.

What you see is what you get, so keep the trees in your peripheral vision and look for the open spaces.