“It is when things go hardest, when life becomes most trying, that there is the greatest need for having a fixed goal, for having an air castle that the outside world cannot wreck. When few comforts come from without, it is all the more necessary to have a fount to draw from within. And the man or woman who has a star toward which to press cannot be thrown off the course, no matter how the world may try, no matter how far things seem to be wrong.”
~ B.C. Forbes
One of the fundamental experiences of being human is that life is difficult, as M. Scott Peck reminded us in the opening sentence of his bestselling book, The Road Less Traveled.
No human being has ever had a 100% stress-free existence. Stress, difficulties, problems, turmoils, fear, worries, insecurities, and suffering are as much a part of life as peace, joy, freedom, security, bliss, serenity, love, and wonder.
Stress, difficulties and problems are all part of life. They beset us all, no matter our socioeconomic status, no matter our sex, race or culture, no matter our relationship or job status. Rich or poor, young or old, unemployed or employed, we experience problems and difficulties. Wherever you find a human being, you’ll find a shadow of worries and fears. It’s just the human experience. It’s natural. It’s unavoidable.
It’s why the Buddha said over two and half thousand years ago, and why it’s one of the fundamental truths of Buddhism, “Suffering exists.”
Yet many of us seem to make a difficult situation worse. We make mountains out of molehills. We look at a glass of milk and claim it’s half-empty, rather than half-full. We think of all the things that can go wrong, instead of what can go right. We focus on what we can’t do well, rather than what we are capable of doing. We tend towards pessimism rather than optimism.
So common is this way of being that you could be excused for thinking that it’s wired into our brains to be problem centred rather than solution focussed.
We seem to be so short-sighted that we can only see the problem in front of us and not the opportunity it provides.
We focus on what we don’t want, not what we do want.
The issue, however, isn’t so much as what happens to us, but how we react to what happens.
The issue isn’t so much as the insecurities and uncertainties we face (that’s actually a given—the only certainty in life is that there is uncertainty), but how we choose to respond to those insecurities and uncertainties.
The issue isn’t so much as the problem we’re facing, but how we can adjust our short-sighted focus into long-sighted vision.
Without doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has made this world more insecure and uncertain than it was prior to Christmas 2019. Uncertainty in our life leads to an uncertain mindset, which in turn leads to anxiety, fear, worry, and stress. Anxiety levels have ratcheted up, rates of depression have doubled in some countries (e.g. UK), alcohol abuse is on the rise, and unemployment is at levels not seen for nearly 100 years.
The pandemic has meant our world is highly insecure at present and our future is highly uncertain.
As it was during the last great pandemic of the 1920s and the Great Depression that followed, when Bertie Charles Forbes (1880-1954), was alive and penned the words to the above quote. B.C. Forbes was a Scottish financial journalist who immigrated to New York, USA, and became the founder of Forbes magazine in 1917, which still bears his name over 100 years later. Not only did Forbes live through the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression, he also lived through World War 1 and World War 2, all the while piloting the magazine he founded through crisis after crisis.
And his advice to survive a crisis? Build certainty. Build your air castle.
Because when you build certainty, you build a certainty mindset, which in turn leads to calmness, peace of mind, surety, and confidence.
Even when the outside world is insecure and uncertain, when you set goals and a destination to reach, you add a degree of certainty to your life. And you do this by building an air castle that the outside world cannot wreck.
Growing up in the coastal city of Aberdeen, B.C. Forbes would have ventured to the beach during the warmer months of the Scottish summer, where he probably collected buckets of sand and pebbles and seashells and built sandcastles, only to watch them get washed away with the incoming tide.
Which is probably why he decided to build air castles instead, castles that nobody and no thing could wreck. A castle that, in his mind’s eye, he could visit at any time he chose to do so. A castle that shone so brightly it was like a star in the evening sky, a star by which he could navigate and toward which he could press and not be thrown off course, no matter what the world threw at him.
Which is why you need to lift your eyes and refocus.
You can’t see a star with short-sightedness; you can only view the heavens with long-sighted vision.
So how do you do this? How, when the world is increasingly insecure and uncertain, do you build your air castle that the outside world cannot wreck? How do you use it as a guiding light to navigate your journey through the storms and arrive safely in the port of your choosing?
There are 3 simple, but essential, steps. Just like building sandcastles on the beach, you build your air castle with the sand of imagination, the pebbles of thought, and the seashells of desire and enthusiasm.
“Imagination is everything,” as Einstein said. “It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Your imagination, in fact, is your superpower.
Everything begins with your imagination. Everything starts with your ideas. From little things, big things grow.
When you use the imagination and creativity of your right brain, you can decide who you want to be, what you want to achieve, and why you do it.
You can use your imagination to create the biggest, grandest vision of yourself and then grow into that vision.
You can use your imagination to create the biggest, grandest goals you want to achieve and then work toward that goal or goals.
You can use your imagination to create meaning and purpose for who you are and what you do, and then live each day and fill every moment with that ‘definite major purpose’, as defined by Napoleon Hill, author of the bestselling book, Think and Grow Rich, as essential to any success.
But like all superpowers, your imagination must be trained. If you don’t master your imagination, your imagination will master you. If you don’t control your imagination and its wanderings and wonderings, you will be just like a parent chasing after your toddler the entire day and frustrated that nothing gets done.
This is the concept behind future pacing. We all future pace our day when we anticipate what’s ahead and then make assumptions about how it will turn out.
A few years ago I caught my youngest daughter future pacing. She was planning her upcoming birthday and all the fun she was going to have. The list of friends, the party bags, the activities, the birthday cake, and what presents she was hoping to get. She was full of excitement and anticipation of the day—but it was still 6 months away!
She was fully future pacing 6 months ahead to her birthday, and nothing was going to detract her from it. Every time she thought about her birthday she was filled with excitement and joy. The anticipation at times was almost too much for her to bear, such was her enthusiasm.
Yet how often do we imagine the opposite, that the worst will happen, even if it’s 6 minutes or 6 hours or even 6 months ahead? How often do we anticipate that the outcome is going to be painful, or a burden, or just plainly unwanted? That the effort and cost we’ll need to put in and invest just isn’t worth it?
That job interview you’re dreading. That important discussion with your boss or partner you’ve been avoiding. That chore that needs doing but you just can’t be bothered.
The upshot when we future pace an unwanted result is that we get filled with negative emotions based on those negative assumptions. We end up reacting to something that hasn’t yet happened, often with anxiety, worry, fear, and stress.
But as psychologists tell us, only 8% of our worries actually come to fruition. Which means 92% of our worries and anxieties are pointless and needless.
Unfortunately, when we are anxious and get worried about the things we don’t want to happen, we feel our energy levels sapping. We feel the heaviness of futility and the weight of failure even before we have started. We wonder if it’s even worth our while to even try and we convince ourselves it isn’t going to work out how we wanted, so we distract ourselves, we do other things, we seek pleasurable activities like TV, video games, social media, even seek out food to keep our minds off the failure we’ve imagined is waiting for us in the not too distant future.
In other words, we’ve procrastinated. All because we imagined a result we didn’t want.
I myself procrastinated for 15 years before I realised how much time I had wasted in imagining an outcome that didn’t even exist. As a high school kid I wanted to be a writer like my author heroes, Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, John Irving, and later, Paulo Coelho. But it didn’t happen. My fear of failure, of not being good enough, was coupled to my fear of rejection—the end result I didn’t want to experience.
So I didn’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write the books and stories that were flooding my mind. I made excuses for why I couldn’t write instead of seeking solutions to why I could. I told people I was too busy, I had to study for post-graduate exams, I wanted to spend what little time I had travelling the world. I didn’t have the time, the money, or the resources to write, so what could I do?
And so the years passed. Before I realised what I was doing, the fear of failure and rejection had stolen 15 years of my life.
But my fear of failure and rejection were all created in my mind. I just didn’t know it at the time. Unfortunately, 50% of my life to that point where I finally did start writing as a 30-year old had been spent in worry and anxiety of what I imagined others would think of me.
You see, I hadn’t built an air castle that I could use to guide my life, I had built a fear castle, a dark castle of foreboding.
Which is no surprise that I avoided it at all costs. There was no way I was going to step inside that castle. Who in their right mind would?
But that’s the point. I wasn’t in my right mind. I was in a mind of fear and I didn’t even know it.
I wasn’t insane. But I wasn’t sane either. I was unsane.
I was inhabiting that common ground of humanity between insanity and sanity, that grey spectrum where things just happen of their own accord and life just goes on, neither good or bad, just mediocrity. I was living the unsane life of the average person, a life of frustrated tedium.
But average doesn’t mean your socioeconomic status. It doesn’t have anything to do with owning 1 house and 2 cars, having 2.2 children and a 9 to 5 job. It has nothing to do with your gender, your age, your culture, your level of education. Averageness is determined by how you think. Or, more to the point, how you don’t think.
Because only when you control your mind can you control your destiny. Only when you control how you think can you control what you do.
It was only when I discovered my imagination superpower that I was able to transcend my averageness, a latent power that I’ve come to realise every single human being is born with.
I began to write all those books I said I would. I began to embark on a new career, a career of my own choosing, a career not blighted with the fear of failure and rejection.
I began to disassemble that dark, foreboding castle I had built in my mind and rebuild it anew. I now imagined an air castle that shone like a guiding light toward which I could press and not be thrown off course.
So next time you start assuming things will turn out for the worst and you start avoiding a future you don’t want, know that you can control your imagination superpower and create an air castle that the world cannot wreck.
An air castle that only you can imagine.
Where your right brain is considered the powerhouse of imagination and dreams and creativity, your left brain is the corporation of reason, logic, analysis, and planning.
Where your right brain is concerned with imagining who you want to be, what you want to do, and why you want these things, your left brain is concerned with how you do what you want to do.
Your left brain is more concerned with thinking how things can get done than the meaning and purpose behind what you do.
Your left brain is more concerned with doing than being.
Neither your left brain or right brain is more important than the other. They are both important in determining who you are and what you do. You need both to build your air castle.
You need your right brain to imagine what can be, and you need your left brain to plan how you can achieve it.
Brian Tracy, in his bestselling book on defeating procrastination, Eat That Frog!, says we should ‘think on paper‘. First we imagine what we want, then we take a pen or pencil and a piece of paper and write it down.
That’s thinking of on paper. It’s not difficult, but it is extremely important.The act of writing down our goals and listing what we want engages your whole brain, what I call 100% goal setting. If you only use your right brain and keep your ideas in your mind without writing them down, then you are only using 50% of your brain to help you achieve your goals. Without writing them down, you are lessening your chances of success by at least 50%.
Without writing down your goals and ideas, you are not utilising your brain’s capacity to plan ahead to its fullest. You’re not engaging the logic and reasoning and analysis you need to build your air castle and make it real.
A path isn’t built until the ground is readied and the pebbles or stones are laid Likewise, those who don’t write down their goals or ideas cannot build their dreams. These people are dreamers. They have the dream but not the drive. They prefer their dream to stay where it is, in the imagination. And that’s where it usually stays.
On the other hand, those who don’t dream and only do are automatons. They are robots, just going about their day to day existence, not expecting much of life, more unsane than sane. They are more interested in surviving than thriving and pay little heed to the world outside their own little microcosm.
You have a magnificent organ inside your skull, an organ that is claimed to be the most complex thing that exists in the universe. Don’t let it sit idle like a Ferrari in your garage that never gets taken out for a ride for fear that it might be involved in an accident.
Use it. Take it for a spin. Use your magnificent brain to its maximum capacity. Find your limits and then go beyond them. Use your thoughts to build the air castle of your dreams.
#3: Desire and Enthusiasm
Having the idea or the dream and the plan to make those ideas and dreams manifest into reality is essential to building your air castle. But there’s still one ingredient you need: desire.
Desire is the fuel of motivation. You have to desire what you want otherwise you won’t be motivated to do the things you need to do to make it happen.
Think of desire as passion. Where passion, in this sense, is like an obsession for what you want—the passion to live the life you want, the way you want, how you want.
As well as a definite major purpose—your air castle—desire is essential if you want to achieve your dreams and goals. According to Napoleon Hill, along with purpose and persistence, desire is not just essential, it’s the starting point of all achievement.
“The starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”
Just as fire brings forth heat, desire and passion bring forth enthusiasm. The greater your desire and passion—the greater your flame—the greater heat you will radiate, the more intense your enthusiasm.
It’s a simple result of the Law of Cause and Effect: the more desire and passion you have (cause), the more enthusiastic you become for achieving your goals (effect).
It also follows that the more enthusiasm you have, the more likely you are to start doing the things you need to do to make your dream a reality. The more enthusiasm you have, the more likely you will persist when things don’t go according to plan. The more enthusiasm you have, the more likely you’ll seek out solutions to problems you encounter.
Nothing of any worth was created without enthusiasm. Granted, some people might go to work and do their job without enthusiasm or without any passion and produce results of an adequate nature. They’re not passionate about what they do, but they’re good at it and it pays the rent and puts food on the table. They don’t wake up in the morning obsessing about what they can achieve during the day and the contribution they can make to their work or community, and they certainly don’t commute to their work full of the passion for life. But they have a steady job and they get to go on holiday once a year to sunnier climes.
No, without desire, passion and enthusiasm, they’re just living in their unsane world, surviving okay, not willing to do anything more than what’s required, just waiting out time until the end.
They don’t know that enthusiasm is as vital for the human soul to grow as sunlight is to sunflowers: without it, they wither, they can’t thrive.
Likewise, without enthusiasm, you can’t experience the fullness of life. You can’t experience what it is to be fully alive.
Without enthusiasm, you can’t reach your full capacity as a human being.
Which is why it’s important to understand what truly motivates you, and nothing can motivate you more than having a goal you desire and are passionate about.
The story of The 3 Bricklayers highlights this point.
A man out for a walk happened upon 3 bricklayers busy laying bricks. To the first bricklayer he asked, “What are you doing?”
To which the bricklayer gruffly responded, “I’m laying bricks.”
The man then asked the second bricklayer what he was doing, to which he received a curt but polite reply, “I’m building a wall.”
The man then asked the third bricklayer the same question: “What are you doing?”
The third bricklayer looked up into the sky and said with a smile, “I’m building a cathederal!”
Same job. Same bricks. Different outlook.
But that different outlook makes a world of difference. If your perspective is just to do the job, just to lay the bricks, go home, and do it all again tomorrow, then your experience is going to reflect that way of thinking.
This is transactional thinking: “What will I get paid to do this?” As long as you get paid, you’ll be fine. But the problem with having a transaction perspective is that the money will never be enough and you’ll end up resenting the employer who asked you to do the job, when in reality all you’ve done is undersell yourself because you have not yet learned your own worth.
If your perspective is that you’re building something, like a wall, then you’ll at least set yourself a goal to which you can work and look forward to completing. Unfortunately, if it’s not your goal, if it’s someone else’s, you won’t be as enthusiastic and motivated to do your best. You’ll still do the job, but it will be half-hearted and rarely fulfilling.
This is transitional thinkings: “How long will it take until I can get out of here and do what I really want to do?” As long as the job fits into your timeframe, you’ll be fine. But the problem with having a transitional perspective is that your time always runs out. People, on the whole, will not value your time until you do. Because of this, they will buy your time for as long as you keep selling it. But your time is your most valuable asset, so treat it as such. Don’t spend time to save money; spend money to save time.
Things always take longer than they should. Time slips away if you take your eye off it. Then before you know it, 10, 20, 30, or 40 years have passed and you’ll be left wondering what the heck happened to all the time you used to have?
If, however, your perspective is that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself, then you start living for a cause. Your life has purpose and meaning despite the ups and downs of everyday life. You are filled with enthusiasm and the joy of life despite the sufferings you see in the world. In fact, your cause is invariably a solution to end problems, something you can invest yourself with and commit to with passion and desire.
This is transformational thinking: “How can I serve others?” As long as you are serving, you are finding yourself in that service. You are finding that part of you that is unlimited and in an unending state of renewal. That part of you infused with the eternal fount of enthusiasm, that fount which is always there and which you can always draw on. The more you serve, the more you have to serve. The more you give, the more you have to give.
When asked about the meaning of life, Einstein replied that it was to serve others. Service is purpose, and passion is what purpose feels like.
The purpose of life is to serve, and through service you find your purpose.
So find your passion, find your desire. Find your purpose, find your why.
Find your cathedral and build your air castle that the outside world cannot wreck.
Did You Notice the 4 P’s You Need to Build Your Air Castle: Purpose, Plan, Passion, Persistence?
Dr. Scott Zarcinas (aka DoctorZed) is a doctor, author, and transformologist. He helps pro-active people to be more decisive, confident, and effective by developing a growth mindset so that they can maximize their full potential and become the person they are capable of being. DoctorZed gives regular workshops, seminars, presentations, and courses to support those who want to make a positive difference through positive action and live the life they want, the way they want, how they want.