One day, a professor announced a surprise test. He distributed a paper to each student with the front side face down. Then he asked the class to turn over the page and start the test. But there were no questions on the paper — just a black dot in the center of the page.

"I want you to write a few lines about what you see on the paper," the professor said.

Puzzled, the students started the test. Once everyone finished, the professor collected all the tests and started reading the answers out loud. Without exception, all the students had written about the black dot, mentioning its position, size and so on.

The teacher told the students: "None of you will be graded on this test. I just wanted you to ponder over something. All of you wrote about the black dot. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. The same thing happens in our lives. We all have a white paper to observe and learn from, yet we always focus on the dark spots. We have so many reasons to celebrate: our parents, co-workers, friends, good health, a good job, the miracles we witness every day, for example.

"However, we often limit our horizons by focusing on just the dark spots — our disappointments, our frustrations, our fears and anxieties. In our day-to-day lives, we tend to take so many good things for granted and focus our energy on insignificant failure and disappointments.

"Take your eyes away from the black dots of your life. Try and focus on the brighter side of life and let positivity govern your thoughts."

I consider Norman Vincent Peale's book "The Power of Positive Thinking" one of the best motivational books ever written. A positive mind anticipates happiness, joy, health and success. Whatever the mind expects, it finds.

I frequently promote this book in my speeches and writings, because even though it was published in 1952, the advice is timeless. Positivity is one of those attitudes that never changes.

One of my favorite aphorisms goes like this: Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

If you think positively, you will be more inclined to speak positively. Your positive words will spur you to positive actions. If you get used to behaving in a positive way, you will form good habits. And your habits will help define the kind of person you are. That will lead you to your destiny: what you will eventually become as a person.

Positive thinking has no negatives. Both personal and professional relationships benefit from a positive approach. By all means, surround yourself with positive people; support each other when the urge to be negative threatens. Sometimes that's not so easy to do in a professional setting. Difficult customers or co-workers can drag you down. Direct your efforts toward defusing difficult situations while refusing to indulge in negativity yourself. Successful businesses thrive on customer satisfaction, not on hostility.

Would you rather do business with a positive person or someone who finds fault at every turn? Conversely, do your customers find your dealings rewarding or tedious? Nothing chases business out the door faster than a contentious encounter.

Mackay's Moral: A positive approach rises above reproach.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail