Ambition is the drive to excel, reach new heights, and complete goals. It is a positive thing and paramount to personal success, and to the economy. But of course, you know this because you're smart and successful already. Sometimes, though, do you find yourself in such an intense pursuit that when you take a second to slow down and pick your head up, you end up asking: why? Why am I doing this? Does this really matter to me? The motivation for our ambition indicates if our ambition is healthy or not. In such scenarios we are reminded that setting high expectations for ourselves is an important predictor of success but it can also be a double-edged sword. When our goals are unrealistically high, the risk of failure increases, and when the risk of failure increases we naturally begin putting too much energy into the service of meeting that singularly high goal. It is this addictive cycle of risk reinforcement that David Hume calls the “incurable passion” of ambition. The solution? With such a complex problem, it will not come as a surprise that the solution is equally as complex. Here are three steps you can take toward setting a healthy mindset of balance between ambition and anxiety-driven motivation.

1. Set the right kinds of goals

Ambition can be organized into two camps: intrinsic and extrinsic. Ambition becomes unhealthy when it's fueled by the pursuit of purely extrinsic goals. If you view your ambition like a portfolio manager, what percent of your goals are fueled by extrinsic motivation? According to Sheri L. Johnson, a professor of psychology at the University of California–Berkeley, “People who set extrinsic goals tend to be more unhappy and dissatisfied over time,” and, “people who are more self-critical about not making the goal are the ones that are more likely to feel depressed or anxious as setbacks happen.” We can counter this issue by reframing our goals using intrinsic motivation. For example, instead of using qualifying statements like “I want to get a 4.0 because it will look good on my resume,” I have reframed this goal by saying, “I want to do the best I can academically by staying ahead of my work and utilizing all of my resources so that I know I have done the best I can do.” By adjusting the goal to entail a personally meaningful statement instead of one motivated by image, I have mitigated the intense fallout coupled with failing to meet extrinsic goals (titles, accolades, promotions, etc.) By setting intrinsic goals, we challenge the notion that our ego or identity will ever be fulfilled by an extrinsic achievement.

2. Forfeit perfectionism

While healthy high standards can motivate us to accomplish great things, perfectionism feeds our ambition addiction and makes us unhappy. Logically we all know perfection is unattainable and I think it's important to remind our anxious mind that perfection won’t make us happy. Like the lyrics from one of the favorites from The Sound of Music, “How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” perfection is a cloud that you cannot pin down with any amount of ambition. Expending energy to be perfect only leaves us drained and unfulfilled.

3. Connect

The final solution to our 24/7, go-go-go, digital world of immediate gratification is human connection. A 75-year Harvard study revealed that the most important component to a satisfied life is love and belonging. Research by psychiatrist George Vaillant stated, "Joy is connection and the more areas in your life you can make connections, the better." All of this is to say no external source of achievement will make you happy or bring you satisfaction. Ambition is a positive virtue and crucial to personal and professional success. However, it is the ambition imbalance that many of us experience which creates unhealthy high standards that ultimately lead us to feel unfulfilled. We can remedy and counteract the intensity of extreme ambition with gratitude and appreciation. Appreciation for what we have, for who we are, where we come from and where we are going.