How to Be Ambitious

Two Parts:Getting in the Right MindsetSetting Goals

Elvis Presley once said, "Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine."[1] Having dreams is essential to achieving success, but you won't get there just by dreaming. Being ambitious is a skill you develop over time and requires hard work, persistence, and most importantly, a strategy. Follow these steps for successfully chasing down your dream.

Part 1
Getting in the Right Mindset

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    Tell yourself positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are statements that are almost like self-compliments. These aren't just to boost your confidence; they can actually increase your problem solving skills under stress.[2]
    • Think of your most valued personality traits. Do you consider yourself creative? Intelligent? Talented? Make your positive affirmations revolve around the traits that best describe you as a person.
    • Say to yourself ten times every day: "I am intelligent. I can use my intelligence to achieve my goals. I am creative. I can use my inventiveness as a problem solving tool. I am a gifted individual."
    • Be sure you say positive affirmations that are realistic and which revolve around you. Don't say things like "I am good at focusing on the task at hand" if you actually struggle with focusing on tasks. This can have a negative effect and may actually lower your esteem.[3] Instead, say things like "I am able to work hard on getting focused," or future affirmations like "I can get better at being more focused."
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    Focus on the what you can gain instead of what you might lose. Obsessing about all the things that can go wrong only increases anxiety and places your focus on what not to do, instead of what to do.[4]
    • Think to yourself, "If I work out regularly, I will look amazing." You will find yourself optimistic and eager to work out every day. If you constantly think to yourself, "If I don't run today, I'll get fat and won't look attractive," then you'll be too worried to perform the task properly and it will be preformed rushed and unprofessionally.
    • Working from a place of doubt and anxiety can cause you to take no action at all. Since you'll be so afraid of screwing up, you may actually not take any action just to be "safe." Not taking actions will not get you where you need to be.
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    Remove "I don't feel like it" from your vocabulary. The idea of only being able to do something when you "feel like it" is toxic to success. Sure, inspiration often strikes us at random times, but don't be reliant on inspiration to get things done.
    • When we say to ourselves, "I just can't get out of bed to exercise," we are really saying, "I just can't get myself to feel like exercising." Nothing is tying you to your bed, physically keeping you from jogging in the morning. The real hurdle is the idea that motivation only comes from inside, instead of from routine physical efforts.
    • The most prolific artists and writers are prolific because they became reliant on work routines that forced them to put in a number of hours of work per day, regardless of how uninspired they might have felt.[5]
    • Think of motivation as a verb, not a noun. Motivation is something you have to do consistently, not something you wait around to become.
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    Use "if-then" planning to think of the things you need to do. Give yourself specific parameters within which to do a task, otherwise you will constantly find yourself putting the task off until the last minute.
    • Don't say, "I'll get around to writing that English paper later." Say, If it is 2 p.m., thenI will start writing my English paper. By deciding in advance what you're going to do and when you're going to do it, you won't be tempted to deliberate when the time comes.[6]
    • Since you've already made your decision in advance, at 2 p.m. you'll be less likely to ask yourself, "Do I really have to do this now?" or, "Can this wait until later?"
    • If-then planning has been shown to increase goal attainment by 200-300 percent on average.[7]
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    Think of failure as a process of elimination. Don't think of it as an end result of your efforts, but as a crossed-out method for trying to achieve a goal.
    • When Thomas Edison finally created the light bulb, he famously said, "I didn't fail; I just found 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb."[8]
    • Both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have set multiple scoring records in basketball. What you might not have known, however, is that both are also all-time leaders for the most missed shots in the NBA.[9] When you try a lot at things, you are naturally going to fail. Don't be afraid of making mistakes or falling short. Failure is only permanent if you stop trying.
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    Enjoy your successes, but don't dwell on them. This is known as "resting on your laurels," and can cause you to become complacent about what you have already achieved rather than focusing on your next achievement.[10]
    • It is important to enjoy things you have done right, but know that basking in the glow of your achievements can make you less likely to want to chase another goal. Since success is certain, enjoyable, and rewarding, we can often find ourselves back to being afraid of venturing out and possibly failing again.
    • Basking in success is usually most beneficial if you haven't yet set a specific goal. When you are working towards a goal, however, enjoying your success for too long can actually halt your progress and keep you stagnant.[11]

Part 2
Setting Goals

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    Set specific goals in terms that can be measured. Similar to "If-then" planning, setting physically measurable goals gives your brain a concrete place to begin striving toward.
    • It is always important to try your best, but "trying your best" isn't the best method of measuring your success. Instead of saying, "I'll try my best to run a mile today," say, "I will try to run this mile in under ten minutes today."[12]
    • Since "your best" is a subjective term, you might be more likely to say that you've "done your best" when you find it hard to continue on with a task. For example, when you find yourself getting slightly winded while running, you might say, "Okay, I'm done. That was my best." Having a specific goal will help push you toward something that you can actually picture in your head.
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    Create a specific goal achievement strategy. Now that you've set a specific goal, map out detailed instructions for achieving that goal.
    • For example, "In order to run this mile in under ten minutes, I'll jog ten laps around the tennis court near my house every day for two weeks. After that, I'll jog 20 laps around the local reservoir, which is much larger."
    • Even people who set specific goals can end up not achieving them simply because they don't have a concrete plan for doing so. If you don't have a strict plan for reaching your goal, you won't know whether or not you're doing enough to reach it.
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    Set difficult but realistic goals. It is reasonable to want to run a mile in under ten minutes if you are healthy and have moderate experience jogging. Trying to run a mile in under ten minutes with asthma or during physical rehabilitation may not be realistic, however.
    • Goals shouldn't be so easy that you don't have to push yourself to achieve them. If you've run a mile in under ten minutes before, try running it under 8:30. Setting goals that you can achieve easily might be great for your confidence, but it won't boost your performance or help you grow as a runner.[13]
    • Your goals should also not be so lofty or difficult that there is no real possibility of achieving them. For example, trying to run a mile in four minutes is feasible for many Olympic track runners, but is probably unreachable by your average jogger. Setting goals that are too difficult can cause you to become frustrated and angry, or it could just make you not take the goal seriously.
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    Have both short-term and long-term goals. Setting only long-term goals can cause you to lose sight of them down the road, making you less determined or simply unmotivated. Short-term goals help remind you of why you're doing what you're doing.
    • Achievement boosts your self-confidence by making you feel more competent. Setting up multiple short-term goals and achieving them in succession helps you see immediate improvements in your performance and increases your motivation.
    • For example, run a mile in under nine minutes this month, and then next month work toward 8:30. Your long term goal might be to run the mile in under seven minutes by the end of the year. Success is more easily achieved when you've built a good momentum.
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    Plan another goal immediately after you've achieved one. One notable characteristic of ambitious people is that they don't stop striving to become better.[14]
    • This strategy is specifically tailored to fighting complacency (as described in the previous section). Setting another goal immediately places your focus on working rather than basking. Though it is important to rest between goals, try to plan another one as soon as possible.
    • As soon as you run the mile in seven minutes, plan to run a short marathon in the next two months. Take the remaining weeks to rest your legs, but use that time to map out a new strategy for meeting your new goal.
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    Give yourself a concrete reward every time you meet a goal. For example, have a T-bone steak every time you run a mile in under seven minutes. Rest and reward are just as crucial to success as hard work and perseverance.
    • Stress is healthy in small, steady amounts because it helps focus and stimulate the brain. Having too much stress, however, will cause your performance to drop. This will negatively affect your confidence, which can then affect your momentum, which can ultimately result in you giving up.
    • Being constantly stressed isn't just bad for your morale, it can severely affect your physical health. Chronic stress can put a strain on your heart and lead to diabetes or asthma. It can also make you more susceptible to catching colds.[15]
    • Rewarding yourself is different than basking in your success. Giving rewards is a form of reinforcement and will make you more likely to continue pursuing your goals. You aren't stopping to admire your success, but rather acknowledging your hard work and giving yourself motivation to keep on going.Try and make a goal to say yes more, this may seem simple but it can boost your confidence and inspire you to be more motivated.


  • Keep organized. It's easiest to keep goals in mind when you're not prevented from getting things done by the mess in your room or the boxes of books you haven't sorted through yet.
  • Make lists. Tape them to bed frame or on the bathroom wall--wherever you're guaranteed to see them!


  • Some people may call you a workaholic. Don't believe them. Keep up with your social life, but keep chasing your dreams, and brush off those mean comments.

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