What do you dream about? What do you want to achieve in life? Who do you want to become? Many people wonder how to give more meaning to their life or how to become happier. The answer is never simple and depends solely on us, but one thing is for sure: to find your happiness and give more meaning to your life, you need to know the answer to at least one of those three questions. You can have one or many answers––it depends on you.
The thing is, happiness is strongly related to achievement. The more successful we feel––however we define the success––, the happier we are. The more in-line we are with ourselves and our values, the more meaningful we feel. While it all sounds very simple, it actually requires a lot of self-work.
Before we dive into aspirations, let's talk about intentions and goals. Defining your intentions is important because it gives a general direction to your goals. At the same time, having clearly defined, well-elaborated, achievable goals is crucial. But, even with the best-defined goals, you can still fall off track. That’s why you have your aspirations. Even if you’re not completing everything that’s necessary for your goal achievement, you can still keep your mindset in the right direction.
What are aspirations?
Compared to goals and intentions, which are practical and productivity-driven, aspirations have an additional layer of meaning––a strong focus on ambition.
Aspirations can be mapped along the line of our dreams, motivations, goals, or ambitions. They are more general than any of these concepts as they encompass all of them. Aspirations provide us with energy to stay focused and consistent on what is important to us and they give us a direction in life. They are the highest level of focus on the future.
Although many people think that aspirations are necessarily connected to professional achievement, perhaps because of their close relationship to ambition, that doesn’t always have to be the case. Your aspirations can cover relationships, traveling, lifestyle, education, or other areas of your life.
Many of us are also unaware of our aspirations. We sometimes have some vague idea of where we are headed and what we are doing, but the concrete aspiration is lying somewhere in the subconscious. In this article, we’d like to show you ways in which you can become aware of your aspirations and learn how to use them to feel more motivated in life.
Internal aspirations: our personal needs
One could argue that all needs are personal, but here we are distinguishing between those that can be related to, but not necessarily involve other people, groups, or the society as a whole. By that, we mean psychological, emotional, mental health, and other aspirations that improve our overall well-being.
External aspirations: our instrumental goals
For example, landing a good job so that one could have more money and increase their social standing.
If you’re familiar with motivation theory, you may already know that internal motivation is much healthier than external, because it keeps us driven for a longer period of time. People who study because of their desire for knowledge may get worse grades in school, but they are happier and long-term motivated, while those who are externally (grades, money) motivated, can quickly burn out, becoming uninterested or frustrated.
The same rule applies to aspirations. External motivation doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, but, in many situations, it can be harmful to our well-being. Let’s look at some basic, schoolbook examples of both external and internal aspirations.
External aspirations are usually directed towards achievements such as popularity, physical beauty, wealth, etc.
A financial aspiration can be geared towards earning or saving a certain amount of money while having a popularity aspiration would mean that you’d like others to like you better, to become famous or dominant inside your social group.
Although these kinds of aspirations are very common, they are also associated with some negative outcomes such as increased stress, the feeling of emptiness and depression, and a lack of personal autonomy. This is due to the fact that self-worth is based on the wrong reasons––material possession, status, influence, etc.
Unlike the external variety, internal aspirations are centered around psychological needs. Forming relationships with other people, improving the life in your community, learning, growing, expanding your worldviews, or maintaining good mental and physical health are some examples of internal aspirations.
Internal aspirations can involve the desire to learn a new skill, make friends, deepen your relationships with other people, but also forming a family, or spending more quality time with your loved ones.
When our behavior is driven by internal aspirations, we are usually much more motivated to persist with our goal-oriented efforts, because that’s what we truly want, from the inside, unline with external aspirations, where the reward or the goal are a product of social competition, and not a person’s interest.
Can you Have Both?
Actually, most of our aspirations are a combination of external and internal aspiring. For example, your job-related aspirations can involve earning money, getting a raise, and other instrumental activities, but they also encompass expanding your skills, gaining new experiences, growing, and making new achievements.
The impact of aspirations
The impact of aspirations mainly concerns goal achievement. If there is a long-term personal goal that you want to achieve, having an aspiration can help you be on the right track to achieve that goal.
Being the powerful organizer of our behavior that they are, aspirations help us gain meaning and increase our odds of succeeding at a certain goal we have in our lives. They are the connection between daydreams, hopes, fantasies, and the real world. By boosting our motivation and focus, aspirations help us transform an idea into reality.
They are also important for determining whether a certain set of actions you are performing is bringing you closer or taking you further from your desired state of being, which means that you can use them as a performance measure when tracking your progress towards a certain goal.
How do you know whether you have aspirations?
By now you may be wondering: How do I know whether I have aspirations? We asked you earlier about your dreams and goals in life, and having these certainly counts, however, here are some of the most common signs that aspirations are present in your life:
- You are prone to hard work;
- You strive to become the best version of yourself no matter what;
- You have a growth mindset;
- You embrace and analyze your weaknesses as you try to improve yourself;
- You always look at the bigger picture;
- Whenever you’re doing something, you are present and focused in the moment, but a part of you is always planning for the next step;
- You often catch yourself daydreaming about certain goals in life;
- You have clear goals in life;
- You have an idea about your ideal self;
- You are clear about your values in life.
How to build and develop aspirations
Like with many other things, there is a certain level of individual differences among people when it comes to their aspirations.
Some people are raised and socialized to become ambitious and aspired, while others can have an upbringing that makes them inclined to set lower-level goals or even feel lost in life because they haven’t learned to nurture their aspirations and goals.
If you desire to develop or improve your aspirations as a means to inspire yourself to do great things in life, here are a few tips on what you can do right now to set yourself on the right track.
Think About Your Purpose in Life
A feeling of purpose in life is something so deeply personal and individual that nobody else but you can give you even a hint on what your purpose might be. However, by figuring out what activities or outcomes of activities make you feel fulfilled and meaningful, you’ll be one step closer to discovering your aspirations.
Embrace Change in Your Life
If you’re developing aspirations and committing to them, it means that you are ready to embrace change in your life. In at least one area of your life, you will experience constant change that you’ll need to understand and accept.
Think about what change means to you and remember some situations in which you handled change well. What was it that you did so well back then? Can you use something from that experience now?
You Are the Measure of You
The only one who you should compare yourself to is you. Evaluating yourself by using others as a criterion is not only counterproductive but also dangerous. To be happy and satisfied in life, we need to find our own pace of moving forward and growing. Just because someone else has “bigger” goals in life than you do doesn’t mean that your goals are less worthy. It also doesn’t mean that their goals would be right for you.
Search for your aspirations inside yourself by thinking about what makes you feel like you, and learn how to stop comparing yourself to others.
Don’t expect that you’ll develop aspirations right after reading this article. Give yourself enough time to explore and analyze the possibilities and to discover what works best for you.
Never Stop Asking Yourself Questions
When it comes to your aspirations, the only person with answers is you, therefore, you are the most important resource of information, and the person who you should be asking questions.
The questions you need to ask yourself involve:
- Who do I want to become?
- What’s my ideal self?
- Where do I want to be in five years?
- What do I dream about most often?
- Which activities make me feel happy and fulfilled?
- Which activities give my life meaning?
Seek Professional Help
In some situations, the reason behind our lack of motivation and aspirations in life can be impaired mental health. Depression, anxiety, burnout, and many other conditions can have a profoundly negative impact on our overall motivation and energy. They can also leave us feeling confused and with the sense that we don’t have a plan. Never hesitate to seek professional help if you feel like this is happening to you.
How to reach your aspirations
Of course, working on your aspirations doesn’t end with their formulation, which only serves to give you a general idea of the direction you need to take. After you’ve committed some time to developing your aspirations, it’s time to start reaching for them and turn fantasy and daydreaming into reality.
1. Enhance your self-awareness
How well do you know yourself? Do you know what drives you? What is an absolute turn-off when it comes to your motivation to be productive?
Being on track with your goals and following your aspirations means enhancing your self-awareness and learning about your mind, psychology, emotions, and drives.
There are some simple ways to improve your self-awareness. Meditation, breathing exercises, journaling in general, but also gratitude journaling are just some of the most popular methods, so think long and hard about which of them make sense for you and give them a try.
2. Do the things you love
If you’re trying to follow your aspirations but you’re engaged in a goal that doesn’t truly spark your interests, it’s difficult to find the inner motivation to proceed working on your aspirations.
On the other hand, if you carefully choose your aspirations so that they spark your inspiration, they will be much easier to manage, as self-discipline and the genuine desire to allocate more of your time to your goal achievement will come naturally.
3. Set goals and draft an action plan
If you haven’t yet dedicated time to working on your goals, try experimenting a bit by formulating some concise, simple, and achievable goals and drafting an action plan for achieving them. You can find some step-by-step guidance in one of our previous articles on how to set achievable goals.
Goals and action plans help you put your aspirations into motion because they help you think in simpler and smaller units. Instead of blindly gearing yourself towards a distant goal, you can try working on each small step and enjoy the gratification that comes with every small victory.
You may have deduced this yourself by now, but aspiring to something can be hard and challenging, and it’s not without its pitfalls. One of them is developing aspirations towards goals that are not truly yours but are imposed by someone else, like your family, your peer group, or society as a whole.
They might create fake beliefs and action plans for turning these aspirations into reality. In the end, things might work out great, but in many cases, people end up feeling like they lost something just because they listened to others and didn’t follow their true desires.
Also, aspiring for outcomes that are not realistic can leave one feeling empty and with the idea of being an underachiever. We’re not saying that one shouldn’t aim high––of course, you should always challenge yourself to go further, but there are certain limitations imposed by reality. It can also involve frustration over your inability to succeed and the necessity for a lot of trial and error until you finally master each step in the way.
Turning aspirations into reality and working on your dreams and goals is a non-linear process that requires a lot of self-discipline, learning, embracing change, and letting yourself grow. Focusing your energy on aspirations that you intrinsically care about is more than rewarding and is a sure way to happiness.