Do You Want to Add Bright Spots to Your Day?

Image of raccoon singing loudly with a paw in the air, accompanying himself on an orange acoustic guitar, all on white background

The participants in my Launch program do a daily exercise to develop emotional resilience. They each choose a different tool to use, and some are experimenting with "Five Bright Spots." I had explained this tool briefly in a previous article, but from helping several people troubleshoot it, I see that I need to explain it more thoroughly.

"Five Bright Spots" is a practice I used in 2007 when I had Epstein Barr, a fatigue disease that stopped me from working for nine months. Since my top values were tied up in my business, not being able to work was very depressing. I couldn't concentrate and I couldn't even set any mid-term goals. My therapist suggested the "Five Bright Spots" practice. I came up with five very simple things I could do each day that would brighten my day, just to keep my sense of values and goals alive. Each item would take fewer than five minutes, so there would be no problem scheduling. I would spread them throughout the day so that I could even out the pleasure.

Here's the list from then:

  • 5-minute Qigong exercise
  • Call Mom
  • Alexander Self-Lesson
  • Sing one song
  • Do 3 good things exercise

I could do almost nothing, but day in, day out, for nine months, I made a point of taking these five simple actions, and that commitment helped get me through a difficult time as I got my stamina back. With that, I learned the value of simple pleasures in making a bleak day brighter.

The need for daily pleasure

Everyone needs pleasure on a daily basis. Ayn Rand discussed this in her article "Our Cultural Value Deprivation":

The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure.
...
A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experiences, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man's emotional vitality...

When you are in a difficult period, the world can start looking grim. It doesn't matter whether the difficulties are caused by an illness, an existential crisis, a conflict with other people, or even just setbacks on your goals. When you are in a tough situation, it is important that you ensure there is regular pleasure in your life.

Committing to five actions a day to bring pleasure to your life is an act of selfishness. It is an investment in your own mental health. It is a way to maintain a benevolent outlook on the world as such, even if your corner of the world is not flourishing as you'd wish. Daily pleasures help to restore your emotional reservoirs and give you the energy to initiate the steps to get out of this temporary difficulty, one way or another.

How do you choose the bright spots?

When you choose your bright spots, the most important criterion is that you are absolutely certain you can take the action and succeed at it. The whole purpose of bright spots is to fill up your emotional reservoirs. You do not want any chance of failure, disappointment, or setback from the items on your list. You do not want to use any emotional reserves for dealing with trouble.

This means that a bright spot will be short — say, under five minutes. That ensures you can finish if you start. It will be something you can do — you are already efficacious at it. And it is something that you already enjoy.

As a result, your list of bright spots will be very specific to you and your current situation.

Take for example one of the items on my list: "Sing one song." I am a terrible singer. Literally nobody wants to hear me sing. But I like singing the songs I learned at camp as a youth. At the time I created my list of bright spots, I had already learned how to play the guitar just well enough to accompany myself. I already knew I could go into the bedroom and close the door to sing. I knew that even if I were exhausted, I could sing one song and that it would energize me. This is what made this a great bright spot for my list.

In contrast, if it had been five years earlier, before I had learned guitar, "sing one song" would not have been a good bright spot. Even I don't like to hear myself sing without accompaniment. I need the instrument to help keep me on key so that I can sing without cringing. That's why I learned to play the baritone ukelele and then guitar in the first place. This took an investment of my time over a year or so. If I hadn't yet learned to accompany myself, "sing one song" would have been a frustrating experience instead of a pleasurable one.

In other words, it does not make sense to put any item on your "Five Bright Spots" list that is aspirational or that is a skill-building exercise. There is a time for setting goals to accomplish each day, such as a 6-pack. There is a place for monitoring self-care, such as the quality of life benchmark. But these are not the same as Bright Spots.

"Five Bright Spots" is not a productivity tool or a self-improvement tool, it is an emotional resilience tool.

How can you use "Five Bright Spots" to build emotional resilience?

Emotional resilience is your ability to bounce back from strong emotions — especially strong negative emotions. This is a capability that ultimately involves a number of skills, including some that take time to learn such as introspection and objectivity.

But no matter your situation, you can increase your emotional resilience by developing your own list of bright spots. If you practice them regularly for a couple of months when times are not bad, you will know you can give yourself a bit of an emotional boost whenever you need it if the going gets rough.

That is what the Launchers are doing with this tactic. They are experimenting with five small actions they can take, every day, each of which gives them a boost. And they are also reflecting on their day so they will learn something about themselves and why these items give them joy — or if they don't, what will?

I don't do the "Five Bright Spots" practice daily anymore, but doing it laid a foundation for emotional resilience in the future. I still collect "bright spots." My mother has passed away, but calling my sister and brother are officially on my list of bright spots. When I developed a routine called 3-minute walk, I realized it made a great bright spot. Thanks to buying a new flute and practicing a bit, playing one page of music on my flute is now a bright spot.

Whenever I need a little pick-me-up, I have at the ready a list of bright spots I can call in. I insert one of my bright spots into my day, and make it easier to stay the course.

Maybe you would like to collect bright spots to build your emotional resilience, too.

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