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!


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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