Striking The Balance: How To Be Ambitious And Mindful

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While ambition and mindfulness may seem to be at odds, both can be important for a fulfilling personal life and optimal mental health. This rests in the dual nature of the two concepts: being ambitious often involves relentlessly pursuing goals, while mindfulness suggests finding calm and contentment in the present. Ambitious people often see their desires as the driving force pushing them toward future achievements. However, mindfulness can serve as the calming counterpart to ground an ambitious person in the reality of the moment. Challenges can arise when one attempts to reconcile these forces and chase ambitious goals while also being present and at peace. Striking this balance may seem like a daunting task, but with a positive mindset and self-confidence, it is possible. 

The harmony between ambition and mindfulness, while seemingly contradictory, can be crucial for maintaining mental health and achieving success. By balancing the two concepts, individuals can enact positive change, manage stress, avoid burnout, and turn dreams into realistic goals for a more balanced life.

Keep reading to learn more about the power of ambition and mindfulness combined and how you can incorporate each into your life. 

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The nature of ambition

Ambition refers to a strong inner drive that pushes people to aim higher and achieve more. For some individuals, this may mean lofty career goals or material success. Ambition usually manifests in a desire to get ahead, do well, and make a difference. For many, ambition is essential for personal and professional growth. When a person is ambitious, they typically invest time, energy, and hard work into reaching their goals or objectives. Healthy ambition can look like setting a goal, working consistently toward it, and facing challenges directly instead of waiting for the perfect moment.

However, unchecked ambition can sometimes lead to problems. People may become so driven to achieve that they lose focus of other important aspects of life. The pursuit of career advancement can become all-consuming, leading to stress and burnout. Relationships might suffer if a person becomes too absorbed in their ambitions, neglecting loved ones or failing to nurture important connections. It can be important to keep ambition in check, ensuring that it motivates rather than overwhelms.

Understanding mindfulness

Mindfulness typically focuses on being fully present in the moment, paying careful attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment. It revolves around learning to live in the “now” rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness can play a key role in mental health by helping individuals reduce stress, increase focus, and manage difficult emotions.

When a person is fully present, they might find that their mind isn’t cluttered with worried thoughts about what they need to achieve next. Instead, they can give their full attention to the task at hand, whether it’s reaching a milestone at work or simply enjoying a meal. This sense of groundedness can offer clarity and peace of mind during challenging circumstances. 

However, mindfulness can have potential downsides if not properly balanced with other traits. For instance, being excessively focused on the present might mean that someone isn’t as eager to set goals for the future or put in the work necessary for success. They might become so concerned about making the ‘right’ decision that they fall into “analysis paralysis” and find it difficult to act. While mindfulness may have many benefits, it can be important to balance it with the ambition to drive progress forward.

The intersection of ambition and mindfulness

While ambition and mindfulness might seem like opposites at first glance, they can complement each other in powerful ways. Ambition tends to push individuals to set goals and strive for success. On the other hand, mindfulness can help people stay focused, manage stress, and appreciate their unique journey. 

For example, someone who is working hard on a big project might be motivated by ambition. Ambition tends to encourage that person to put in the necessary effort and time to achieve their goals. However, stress could start to pile up, which is where mindfulness may play an important role. By practicing mindfulness, this person could learn to manage stress and stay calm and focused even when things get tough. They might take regular breaks to clear their mind or use mindfulness techniques to handle pressure. 


On the other hand, ambition can help ensure that mindfulness doesn’t lead to complacency. While mindfulness can teach people to appreciate the present, ambition can remind them to also look toward the future, set goals, and strive for improvement. An article on mindfulness and ambition published in Forbes states, “Researchers found ambitious personalities — that is, people who are socially self-confident, competitive, leaderlike, and energetic — to be more mindful. While this may seem counterintuitive, the researchers offer a good explanation for it. They theorize that ambitious individuals have learned to be effective at balancing their attention and awareness to achieve their goals. In other words, the mental focus necessary to be an ambitious person translates into many of the same qualities associated with mindfulness.” Both can be necessary for a balanced, fulfilling life: ambition typically provides the drive, and mindfulness can offer the peace and clarity needed to navigate the journey.

Strategies for balancing ambition and mindfulness

Balancing ambition and mindfulness can be key to achieving a fulfilling, well-rounded life. It often requires one to intertwine mindfulness within their ambitious pursuits, creating a harmonious blend of forward-thinking drive and present-moment awareness. 

One effective strategy that may help individuals strike a balance between ambition and mindfulness is setting boundaries around their time. It can be essential to designate specific times for work and rest, ensuring that the quest for success doesn’t overshadow the need for mental tranquility and physical wellness. 

Part of setting boundaries can be taking the appropriate time for self-care, which could include journaling, exercising, or spending time with loved ones. By practicing self-care and being cautious about balancing rest and work, people can more effectively support their mental well-being, which may help them to chase their dreams without experiencing burnout. 

Additionally, embracing the journey rather than focusing solely on the destination can prevent ambition from causing unnecessary stress. It can be important to find joy in the process and celebrate small wins along the way.  

When it comes to mindfulness techniques tailored toward ambitious individuals, mindful goal-setting can be crucial. This involves setting clear, achievable goals while also being fully present and aware during the process of working toward them. Meditation can also be a powerful tool for achieving mindfulness. Regular practice of this technique can help clear the mind, improve focus, and reduce stress, all of which can support ambition. Lastly, taking mindful breaks or periods of rest where one fully disconnects from work-related thoughts can prevent burnout and help an individual maintain a balanced outlook.

An article on ambition published in Time states, “The target of your ambition may have a stronger impact on mental health. Studies have consistently shown that people who are motivated by ‘extrinsic’ markers of success, such as wealth, status, or popularity, aren’t as psychologically fulfilled as people fueled by ‘intrinsic’ motivators, such as personal growth, deep relationships, or knowledge. Reaching an extrinsic goal may briefly satisfy you, ‘but it’s not long-lasting,’ says Tim Kasser, a professor emeritus of psychology at Knox College.”

Individuals struggling to find ambition and motivation may benefit from discovering what they’re passionate about. Whether it’s being creative, helping people, or becoming an entrepreneur, a person’s passions can direct their future. Those who aren’t sure what they’re passionate about could benefit from taking some time to themselves to consider what makes them feel happy and fulfilled. By staying mindfully present throughout the day and trying new things, individuals might identify what unique interests spark joy in them and go after those with a newfound sense of ambition. 

Striking the balance with online therapy

Individuals striving to strike a balance between ambition and mindfulness could benefit from professional guidance through therapy, whether in person or online. This virtual approach allows for flexibility and convenience, accommodating the busy schedules often associated with ambitious individuals. Online therapy allows individuals to seek therapeutic guidance without compromising their pursuit of professional or personal goals.

Additionally, online therapy can offer tools and methods to assist individuals in cultivating mindfulness practices. With the help of a licensed therapist, individuals may learn techniques needed to stay grounded amidst their ambitious pursuits, which can ultimately aid in the achievement of a harmonious balance of ambition and mindfulness.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Want to incorporate mindfulness on your path to success?

The effectiveness of online therapy

Mental illnesses like depression can make it more difficult to stay motivated and mindful. Online therapy has been shown to assist in treating mental health conditions to enable individuals to lead healthier lives. In one study, researchers found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can contribute to significant decreases in symptoms of anxiety and depression. CBT is a therapeutic framework that typically helps people identify and replace their negative thoughts with more helpful ones, thereby helping them change their problematic or otherwise unwanted behaviors. 


Striking a balance between ambition and mindfulness can be integral to a healthier, more satisfying life. This harmony may allow for a relentless pursuit of one’s goals without compromising the tranquility that comes from being present. Ambition and mindfulness can be woven together in individuals’ daily lives through practices like self-care and boundary setting. One does not have to overshadow the other; instead, ambition and mindfulness can work together, complementing and enhancing one another. Adopting this balanced approach can significantly enhance one’s mental health and overall quality of life. The quest for success does not have to be a battle against one’s peace of mind, and online therapy can be a valuable resource for those seeking mental health support as they pursue their goals. Take the first step toward achieving balance between ambition and mindfulness and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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