Exploring Ambition: Factors That Influence Our Drive For Success

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Ambition can be a significant factor in finding success, but the meaning and implications have changed over time. Exploring the reasons behind ambition could help someone prioritize their goals and idea of success. It might be a motivating force that drives people to pursue their dreams and achieve their goals. However, it could also become a detriment if taken too far, such as extreme competitiveness or obsession with success at any cost.

Definition of ambition

Ambition is defined as a “desire for success and achievement.” It can be a powerful emotion to encourage individuals to reach their goals, whether tangible achievements such as career advancement or intangible ones like personal growth. Ambition can be a positive trait because it incites action and development but may also become toxic if left unchecked.

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Take control of your ambition with effective strategies

Value of exploring ambition

Exploring ambition allows us to understand how it influences our lives, society, attitudes, and behaviors, both positively and negatively. These insights may help us develop healthier approaches to ambition and success by making more informed decisions about our futures.

Positive effects of ambition

Ambition can inspire hard work, perseverance, and dedication, which can facilitate significant advancement in our professional and personal lives. Ambition can get us to take risks and challenge ourselves, especially if we need to be creative with our solutions. People with a balanced sense of ambition tend to have robust support systems, which can be beneficial for creating lasting relationships with others.

Adverse effects of ambition

While ambition has benefits, it can also have adverse effects. Unchecked ambition may lead to toxic behaviors such as being overly competitive, chasing success at any cost, or overworking. This state of mind can cause people to burn out or experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

An overactive sense of ambition may also cause relationships to break down from ignoring those close to you, viewing others as stepping stones on your way to success, or refusing help when needed.

Strategies for balancing ambition and realistic expectations

Ambition can be a powerful motivator when balanced. Having realistic expectations, setting achievable goals, and understanding the possibility of failure can help prevent perfectionistic mindstates or overreaching.

Additionally, seeking support from family and friends when needed can help individuals keep their ambitions in perspective. Taking time for relaxation and reflection can help prevent burnout and motivate people on their journey.


Setting measurable goals

Try to set measurable goals to make the most of your ambition. One of the most popular models for goal-setting is the SMART method. SMART is an acronym that breaks your goals down into Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound factors. Setting SMART goals can help keep you on target without letting your ambitions get the best of you.

Reviewing your SMART goals at each milestone of your journey can also help redefine or change your path if certain strategies don’t work or if you find a different way to get something done.

Focusing on the process, not just the outcome

While ambition can drive us to succeed, it can also keep us from enjoying the journey and only worrying about the destination. Racing to the end result may cause undue stress or anxiety out of fear of not doing as much as possible as soon as possible. Taking time to focus on the process could be as rewarding as the result and may lead to insights that can help people grow in ways they hadn't expected.

Taking time for self-care

Self-care can be a great help as you pursue your ambitions. The amount of work and planning to reach your goals can be tiring and stressful, especially to stay balanced in the process. Remembering to take breaks after achieving one goal before starting the next may be what you need to stay motivated. 

Rewarding yourself with relaxing activities such as a massage, baths, or a weekend away from the hustle can make each milestone feel like a significant accomplishment. Self-care can also look like treating yourself to a nice gift, going out to dinner, or enjoying your favorite music or shows each evening after each day.

Whatever it means to you, remember to take time out for yourself.

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Take control of your ambition with effective strategies

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy can go a long way to managing ambition. A therapist can provide support and understanding for people to explore their motivation. With therapy, people may better identify their aspirations and develop strategies for reaching their goals with balance and mindfulness. Online therapy can also be helpful to people when in-person sessions may not be an option due to location or financial constraints.

Studies have found that online therapy can be as effective as traditional in-person therapy. People can also benefit from online therapy by having sessions from the comfort of their own homes after spending time working hard on their goals without needing to drive to an office. Cutting out travel times and office visits can help people feel more relaxed and allow them to decompress before their sessions start so they can go in with a clear, more positive mindset.


Ambition can be a fantastic trait to facilitate personal and professional growth, but it helps to recognize its positive and negative effects. Strategies like SMART goals, appreciating the journey and those helping you along the way, and practicing self-care can help you stay mindful and balanced. 

Having the support and insights of a mental health professional can also be an effective way to reduce stress and prevent burnout. If you feel like an online therapist can help you focus your ambition and provide the resources to reach your goals, get started with BetterHelp!

Explore your drive and ambition in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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