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Are You Ambitious? 7 Simple Ways to Take Back Control of Your Life

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Have you ever been told off for being too ambitious? Have you ever been reprimanded for trying too hard? For working too hard? For not taking a break from something that you were really passionate about?

I have, and I’ll tell you that it doesn’t feel good. Ambition is defined as a strong desire to do or achieve something, or the desire and determination to achieve success. It is a state of being and a mindset that requires training to cultivate, and it is something that should be nurtured when it is found. While it comes naturally to some, others need to put in long hours to make ambition part of them.

The case for being ambitious is strong. Ambition has been key to human survival, and a strong sense of purpose and determination to achieve something is something that runs through each level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you are going hungry and you don’t have food or clothing, your life is at risk and your physiological needs are put into stark relief. The solution to these needs is also clear – find food or die. Find clothing to keep warm or die. This strong desire to get food and clothing is ambition, albeit basic ambition.

“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” – Calvin Coolidge

So why has ambition become a bad word in recent years?

The importance of ambition has been brought into question in recent decades as the standard of living and the overall quality of life has increased. Most people in the west have brought themselves out of poverty and no longer live hand to mouth. The two base requirements as outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (physiological and safety) have for the most part been taken care of. The world is now inundated with a variety of services and solutions to help people with the next two steps in the hierarchy (love / belonging and self esteem).

As an American living in London, I’ve experienced a wide range of thoughts and feelings about ambition and workaholic habits. In U.S. cities such as New York and Washington D.C., people tend to be more vocally ambitious than those I have met in London. At the same time, people in the UK seem to have a greater appreciation for work-life balance. I’ve also found that often times people will mirror the general sentiments of those around them in relation to their ambitions, and this will spill over from work into social lives and vice versa.

If you surround yourself with people at work that waste time, don’t make real efforts to progress, or constantly look for ways to avoid necessary tasks, you will find it nearly impossible to develop or grow an ambitious mindset. At the same time, if you surround yourself with people who are driven to succeed, who care about being recognized for their skills, and appreciate the value of hard work, you will be better positioned to succeed in your own search for ambition.

Here are 7 ways to support ambition in your life:

1. Conduct an audit of what is most important to you

Take a half an hour out of your life and sit down somewhere quiet where you can think and write. Take out a pen and paper and write down and rank the top 5 things that are most important to you in your life (i.e. your health, your career, your relationships, etc.). Once you’ve written down the top 5 things that are most important to you in a short sentence each, write 2 to 3 more sentences about why each is important to you.

2. Develop an ambition habit

Once you’ve written down and ranked your most important aspects of your life, consider what success means in each of these areas. Sure, you may not have the body you want right now, or the relationship with the perfect girl, so consider the steps that are required to reach those goals.

3. Create a system for taking regular action

A key part of this process is the development of a system for taking regular action. Write down a list of tasks that would help you get closer to achieving your ambitions for each of the 5 things that are important to you. Once you have a list of between 5 and 10 tasks listed per key area, choose 1 to complete per day. Break out one target area to focus on per day of the week, with one task to complete for that activity each day. The more closely you track these actions, the stronger your action habit will become.

4. Visualize success and clearly define a BHAG

BHAG stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. Pick one focus area (ideally your most important focus area) and define what your BHAG is for that area. What does the dream scenario look like for you? Break down that BHAG into smaller steps and start moving forward, using the action habits you’ve created.

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

5. Look for support from people that are smarter than you

Look for opportunities to develop a Mastermind Group or a network of mentors that can help you to achieve your goals. There is a saying that goes “your network is your net worth”. This means that your value increases based on the connections you make and the smart people you can ask for assistance.  

6. Focus on small successes

Not everything will go according to plan. In the Silicon Valley people see failure as a badge of honor and an opportunity for learning. But failure can be disheartening. Ambition can be cultivated by regularly attempting to see the small successes among the failures and finding ways to take insights away from those mistakes.

7. Make your ambition about bringing others up with you

The best way to cultivate a lasting sense of ambition is to focus on bringing up those around you to your level of understanding. Help those less fortunate than you reach the next highest rung on the later to self fulfillment and self discovery, and you will never be at a loss for ambition.

Comment below and let us know how ambitious you are!

McVal is the founder of We Write For Growth, a platform for businesses to connect with talented writers and researchers and growth hackers. He is also the author of How to Make $2,000 a Month Online and Start Up your Life: Why we don’t know what we want, and how to set goals that really matter. McVal writes about motivation, decision making, and strategic thinking. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2011 with a degree in Spanish, and has since worked as a market researcher and business consultant in Washington D.C., New York City and London. You can reach him on Twitter @mcval or on IG @mcvaliant. 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. tanrose4love@yahoo.com

    Mar 10, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Very inspiring. It touched alot of points i need to hit my next level in life and career. Thank you.

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3 Simple Hacks That Can Recharge Your Willpower and Help You Perform Better at Work

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How many times did you wake up feeling like you could conquer the world? You set ambitious goals for the day, you put on your best attire and walked out the door with a big smile on your face but eventually, life took over. Traffic, emails, work, family, and everything else you have around slowly but steadily started to drain your energy and made you feel exhausted.

You run out of battery, and the only solution that seemed viable was to rely on more caffeine. When that stopped working, all the temptations around you started to look much more appealing, and that sense of drive and commitment you had before slowly faded away. This is you running out of willpower.

Willpower: what is it? Why is it limited?

The American Psychology Association describes willpower as “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” In the book “The Willpower Instinct”, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, explains how every person’s willpower is limited, and slowly depletes throughout the day. The more “willpower challenges” you face, the quicker your reserve drains. Dr. McGonigal divided the different types of willpower challenges you might encounter in three categories:

  • I will: We face this type of challenge whenever we should do something, but we simply don’t feel like getting it done right now.
  • I won’t: We face this challenge when we try to resist temptation, or we try to keep cool in stressful situations.
  • I want: This is a particular type of challenge where we keep track of our long term goals, dreams, and desires. In this instance, we feel like we should take action right now to come one step closer to the goal. 

It’s easy to recognize it when you face a willpower challenge because you literally “feel it in your body.” Imagine being really hungry and walking in front of a bakery. The sight and the smell of pastries quickly triggers an “I won’t” type of challenge, and it takes a severe amount of effort and energy to walk away.

Every time you manage to win one of those challenges, a little bit of your willpower reserve gets used. The more challenges you face daily, the harder it will be to stay true to your goals.

Can you train or recharge your willpower?

A growing body of research suggests that willpower should be considered a muscle. To strengthen it, you should exercise it regularly, but you should not overwork it. Therefore, we shouldn’t try to “be good” at all times. Instead, we should learn how to relax and recharge our willpower.

The general advice on how to improve willpower involves sleep, proper nutrition, and regular exercise. This broad and general recommendation is often not downright applicable by most, because it consists of changing various daily habits. Luckily, three very effective hacks have been discovered, that have an immediate effect on our willpower and take just a few minutes to apply.

Here are the 3 ways to refill your willpower reserves:

1. Focused breathing

Breathing, when done correctly, can stimulate the release of calming hormones while reducing the release of stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines. To make this effective, you should deeply and slowly inhale through the nose for at least five seconds. Fill your belly with air first, then your chest, and when there’s no more space for air, still try to do tiny inhalations through the nose.

You should feel a pulling sensation around your neck and trapezius muscles. Once your lungs are full, try to hold the breath for five seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth for at least five seconds. If you repeat this process ten to twenty times, you should feel dramatically more relaxed. Use this method several times a day, especially when you’re experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety.

2. Reward yourself when you accomplish a micro goal

According to a recent study, frequent instant rewards can boost motivation, and therefore, willpower. Creating your own reward system can help you to accomplish your to-do list, and also resist temptations. Since every individual has different tastes, you should come up with creative ideas about the small and frequent rewards you will give yourself upon winning any willpower challenge.

You can see this hack in practice in Apps like the popular Duolinguo, where after completing each lesson you get presented with a chance to open a treasure chest. This rewarding system seems to keep the users much more likely to keep learning new lessons.

3. Taking cold showers

Your body has an autonomic response to cold water. Getting into a cold shower is a difficult (but minor) willpower challenge on its own. As I previously mentioned, winning a willpower challenge strengthens your willpower muscle. Having a morning cold shower, on top of having multiple health benefits, will set you up for a positive winning streak of further challenges.

High performance is the sum of many small habits. Successful people don’t have an unlimited reserve of willpower, but they do have a set of daily rituals that made them succeed. These three hacks are some of the most effective techniques to develop willpower, but some of them may not fit every individual. You should try to find the perfect mix of daily practices that best fits your lifestyle and likes, so that you can strengthen your willpower muscle and perform better at work.

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