How To Conquer Fluctuating Ambition in 5 Steps

Picture this.

It’s 10 PM and I’m excited about life. I decide to go to the gym tomorrow at 8 AM.

The morning arrives, and I peel my body out of bed, and I don’t go to the gym.

What happened? It’s fluctuating ambition.

Four Reasons Why Ambition Fluctuates:

1. Energy Levels

Energy levels usually determine our desires in the moment. If energy is low, so is ambition. Who can conquer the world while taking a nap?

2. Procrastination

Ambitious night Stephen runs the first leg of what I call the delayed responsibility relay race. “Ok, morning Stephen, you can take it from here.” Morning Stephen then passes the baton off to afternoon Stephen, who gives it to tomorrow Stephen, who trips.

Procrastination is easy, but it messes up ambition.

If you want to make progress, but also want to delay the work, you’ll get ambitious when you can’t do anything about it. You’ll label tasks as non-urgent and pass the baton to sleeping *your name here*, who can’t do anything but sleep. This cycle often repeats itself and nothing gets done!

3. Fear of real opportunities

Bold ideas are tamed like a circus tiger when you know they’ll never happen. What’s scary about the idea of fighting crime when you’re at home in your pajamas? Nothing, but it’s scary to walk the streets with the full intention of engaging evil doers!

When I saw the beautiful girl at the zoo, it was intimidating to walk up and talk to her, so I didn’t (true story, isn’t it great? I should have learned to¬†talk to strangers). When you’re sitting down at your computer with an hour to spare, it’s easier not to write the outline for your first novel. So we decide to eat ice cream instead.

Meaningful action is scarier than meaningless action. That’s the takeaway point.¬†If you only find yourself inspired when you can’t do anything about it, there’s a good chance you fear real opportunities.

4. Lacking confidence

Related to fear, low confidence will stop you from doing great things. Ambition the night before shows you want it, but it could be that deep inside you don’t believe you’ll get the results you want. If you don’t envision success, you’ll avoid action.

The higher your confidence, the more stable your ambitiometer will be.

Five Solutions To Conquer Fluctuating Ambition

1. Learn to turn your brain off

In times of extreme ambition, you think clearest about what you want. Since you’re likely removed from the action aspect of it, you’re not scared to imagine a great future. Don’t be fooled by your tired, timid, scared self the next day, because you’re overthinking it. A great solution to this problem is to turn your brain off and mindlessly do whatever your earlier self said would improve your life. If you can master this trick, you’ll form good habits, which will carry you through times of low ambition.

2. Find your prior mindset

Maybe, for one reason or another, you can’t shut your mental stations down. In this case, try to recapture your ambitious thoughts and feelings. How did you get ambitious before? Why were your ideas appealing then? The only thing that’s changed is you – your ambitious ideas from before are still great. Focus on the exciting benefits of taking action and you might just reclaim your ambition before the day is gone.

3. Do something else

Just kidding. What a terrible idea. No!

4. Talk to a friend

Have you ever talked to a friend about something and answered all of your questions without them saying a word? Knowing that another mind is analyzing their thoughts and ideas makes people think in a more logical manner. Beyond that, friends can offer new insights and ideas to help you move forward.

If you said you were going to work out the night before and now you’re tired, perhaps encouragement from a friend will convince you to stick to your original plan or maybe your friend will join you at the gym! Two wolves are more powerful than a lone wolf.

5. Move it

Yes, physically move around.

Ambition is a mental trait, and the best way to jumpstart yourself mentally is to get active (or yes, caffeine works too, you addicts!). Even a brisk walk can do wonders for your ambition. Once I ran a few miles and came home frustrated. Why? I had so many ideas during the run that I couldn’t remember them all.

Exercise is magic.

6. Learn to love progress 

I added a bonus sixth step because #3 didn’t count.

Everyone loves success, but progress is the choice of champions. Progress is how every single expert becomes an expert. Progress is how athletes become elite. Progress is how you’ll get good enough to achieve whatever your ambition drives you towards.

Don’t focus on success, or your ambition will jump around according to your results and fluctuating expectations of reaching success or failing.

But when you focus on progress, you’ll always get it with effort, and your ambition will remain stable if your aim is true. Progress can be made without success, but success won’t happen without progress.

Where is your ambition at? If your ambitiometer is low, use these tips to recharge it. If your ambition is soaring, it’s probably two in the morning and you can’t do anything about it, but now you’ll know what to do to recapture the magic when it’s time for action.

Stephen Guise frequently generates effective ideas for life improvement at the award-winning blog, Deep Existence - Personal Development’s Deep End. If you subscribe for updates, you’ll receive Stephen’s Stress Management Redefined E-book as a gift. It’s recommended for those who want to eliminate stress in their lives. Get it here!

19 Responses to How To Conquer Fluctuating Ambition in 5 Steps

  1. Great topic, Stephen. This is something I was thinking about the other day because I’ve noticed it in myself that my ambitions do fluctuate at times. I like your idea of finding the prior mindset. It is similar to Tennis. You want to find that perfect groundstroke motion and keep practicing it. Chances are that you will break it down over time but that is why you try to find that sweet spot.

    I always look for support through my friends and I find that they are great motivators when it comes to my ambitions. It keeps me going and allows me to pull through during my moments of fluctuation.

    Thanks again, Stephen.

  2. BB the Coach says:

    Just what this
    Spotted Zebra asked for this morning! I love the phrasing “Fear of Real
    Opportunities” People talk a big game when their sitting around discussing
    the things they want in life but then when it knocks they often do not answer
    the door! I just received a request for a proposal from a huge company, did I
    say HUGE company, that is overseas. My
    brain said Oh Crap you have never done one of these! You may not be ready for
    this opportunity. Yet I had been talking about the fact I wanted to go to this
    particular country. So I pulled on my Big Girl Panties and called on others I
    know who have done this before and borrowed their Brains for the how to part
    and some mentoring. Also some That a Girl you can do this! In put too. Our
    brains sometimes are so limited on what WE can accomplish but our spirit is
    limitless on what it believes about US!

    Thanks Stephen
    for your writing has spurred me into a creative space I have missed for awhile


  3. Hi Spotted Zebra,

    Great example of fluctuating ambition! It looks like you handled it perfectly though. I’ve got a skype interview coming up that will be seen by 50,000 people that I almost wanted to turn down because “I’m a writer, not a speaker.” But I said yes because it’s a great opportunity and a way to get my ideas out there.

    The bigger the opportunity, the scarier it is. But if it’s scary, you should probably be doing it because it’s important!

    Thanks BB, and I’m glad you’ve connected with my writing! I appreciate your input and insights.

  4. Hi Vincent,

    I like to use both of those methods as well. One day I noticed a drop in ambition and I asked myself, “what has changed from when I was ready to take over the world?” The only answer was my mindset. So I followed the thought patterns that lead me to excitement previously and it worked!

    Friends are invaluable on so many levels. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how encouraging they can be. A friend and I are getting up early every day and meeting on Skype. It’s a lot easier when you have “a meeting” to show up at and a friend to complain to about how tired you are. 😛

    My pleasure Vincent!

  5. Wow, that is amazing that you and your friend are both so committed to the support system! I have a few friends I left back in California when I moved that I wish would have time (and energy) to do this every morning. I will bring this up as a suggestion though because I can see how all of our days can be immediately brightened by this. Thanks again, Stephen! Your words prove to be invaluable once again. :)

  6. Yes, it’s been great. I recommend it. You’re welcome. :-)

  7. Sam Matla says:

    Great post, very well written and I laughed multiple times!

    I love your outlook and will be looking through your blog, looks awesome!

  8. Hey Sam, I appreciate that! Thanks for connecting and checking out my blog.

    I saw in your article here that you use HabitRPG. That name combines two of my favorite things. I might have to check that out (plus, rewards are nice). I reward myself in the morning with an ice cold coconut water. It’s expensive, but if it gets me up earlier…it’s worth it.

  9. Sam Matla says:

    HabitRPG is amazing and I highly recommend it. From someone like me who’s grown up playing rpg games it’s pretty nostalgic.

    I don’t like self-plugging myself, but I actually wrote a review of HabitRPG on my blog. Feel free to check it out :)

  10. The problem with relying on ambition or motivation to get things done is *precisely* because it’s always fluctuating.

    That will never change. It’s the nature of Motivation . . . she’s a fickle lover. She’ll adore you one day then leave you the next.

    Better to put your faith in persistence. Habit. Consistency.

    These are the traits that will lead to real achievement. Use your fleeting ambition to get yourself started, but rely on persistence when that urgency evaporates. Ambition may come and go, but persistence will always stay by your side.


  11. Agreed Trevor.

    Persistence until a behavior becomes habit is a magical formula.

  12. I will check it out. Thanks Sam!

    I don’t own a video game console right now. Maybe this will tide me over… :-)

  13. Great post!! My ambition is too fluctuating at times. Sometimes I lose faith. But now I guess this post will help!!

  14. Thanks, I hope this will help steady your ambition. :-)

  15. Morgan Decker says:

    I’m not one to procrastinate, but whenever I do it is almost always avoiding the gym in the morning! To avoid this I always work out at night and completely dodge this situation entirely, but I like your tips and I’ll try this next time I want to motivate myself to get up and get moving bright and early!

  16. David says:


    The tips about procrastination is awesome, recently i came across a blog named They also have good cotent about personal development

  17. Matt Maresca says:

    I sent you a message about your take on procrastination, which is so great. But I figured I’d add my $.02 here on your bonus step 6. Learning to love progress is the one thing I credit more than anything else with turning my situation around. I may never get everything I “want” but every day I can get more of who I am. And I think that’s just a great way to look at life and living each day for the opportunities it presents.

  18. Riyaz says:

    Good One for Every One!!

  19. Priyanka Balraj says:

    I completely relate to the ‘ambitious at night’ part. But the next day i revert back to my original anxious self. I guess taking baby steps everyday towards your goal will help.

    Focussing on the journey to your goal is more important than the destination itself!

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