Do you have a fire in the belly, a burning ambition that keeps you awake at night and a drive that never gets extinguished? Where does it come from? Family genes, culture or even a learned skill. I’ve been curious about this question for a long time because of my own experiences with success and failure.

Derived from personal experience coming from a large working-class family made me hungry for success. As far back as I can remember I had a burning desire to better myself and improve my own personal and financial circumstances. Watching the bills come in as a child and seeing the stress they created had profound effect on me. Maybe this formed part of my drive mechanism. However, I’ve been blessed with two major driving forces in my life, which are my love of running and the ambitions to succeed.

When I try and think deeply about my own drive, my conclusion is always the same. My drive has always been there since as early as I can remember and it can’t only be about financial gain, because I didn’t really understand financial gain as a child. So maybe there is a genetic or metabolic element to it.  It seems that those people with ‘the drive’ also have high energy levels and a high capacity for work. Put these elements together + a project + time = success. If only it was as simple as teaching this formula to the non-ambitious and children.

Men and women express ambition differently, so do different nationalities, baby boomers compared to millennials, the different economic classes and there are certainly biological, natural, cultural and economic aspects to consider. Mothers have a long-term drive to look after their young. Whilst men or fathers naturally have a need to feed the family on a daily basis and demonstrate a frequent competitive and mating instincts’ when it comes to drive.

Not only do we struggle to understand why some people seem to have more ambition than others, but we can’t even agree on just what ambition is. Professor Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University’s business school has analysed this sensibility, among other things, to achieve a better understanding of ambition and risk in large commercial projects (megaprojects). Professor Flyvbjerg posits solutions so that megaprojects can be better managed. “We’re born to be optimistic,” says Professor Flyvbjerg, “it’s the way we’re hard-wired. Meaning you either have large amounts of ambition or you don’t. I conclude from this that maybe we would not have become the dominant species, were we not hard-wired this way to succeed. It certainly seemed to have worked with 7.3-billion humans on the planet and said to reach

9.7-billion by 2050.

Other researchers believe it’s possible for the non-ambitious to jump-start their drive, providing the right project comes along. “Energy levels may be genetic,” says psychologist Professor Dean Simonton, “but a lot of times it’s just finding the right thing to be ambitious about.” Simonton and others often cite the case of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who might not have been the same President he became — or even become President at all — had his disabling polio not taught him valuable lessons about patience and tenacity. We often see cases of ordinary individuals – soldiers for example who achieve great sports feats after a tragic event losing a limb.

There are no hard rules for the kinds of families that turn out the highest achievers. Most psychologists agree that parents who set tough but realistic challenges, applaud successes and go easy on failures produce kids with the greatest self-confidence.

Ultimately, it’s the rewards we project ahead from our pre-frontal cortex that makes dreaming big dreams and pursuing big goals worth all the hard work and hassle. Ambition is an expensive impulse, one that requires an enormous investment of emotional capital. Like any investment, it can pay off in countless ways both financial and cognitive. The skill is recognising good opportunities (read my blogs on opportunity & failure) when they come knocking.

This is what I recommend you to light that fire in your belly:

  1. Find something that ignites interest and passion.

Having drive and ambition isn’t always about making money. You can be ambitious about anything. Many of us compete for pleasure against others in our chosen activity or sport. Or you might set yourself a personal private goal to achieve. Whether it is to improve yourself or beat others you will only invest the time, effort and expense in something you are passionate about.

  1. Set a goal or target to achieve

Ambitious people are goal-oriented and seek to strive towards the next accomplishment. This can be a short-term goal like completing a piece or work or not stopping on a run when you get to the top of a hill, or long-term like completing a degree, training for a marathon or saving for your first home. The best tip I can ever give you is to visualise the goal in your head. There is a part of the pre-frontal cortex that allows you to use a ‘mental sketch pad’ creates a visual representation of what your success will look like i.e. receiving your degree in your cap and gowns, crossing the finish line in a race or stepping over the threshold of your new home. Keep this image alive in your head daily because it maintains your thoughts in your pre-frontal cortex, which can keep you motivated.

  1. Focus on execution

The most successful people complete their goals in tiny steps. One small action at a time. It doesn’t matter how small the contribution to the overall goal because each tiny step gets you closer to completion. The secret is to keep going and don’t stop because success come from many accumulative small steps. Further, writing your goal down in stages to be achieved and following a strategy will give you mini rewards along the journey.

  1. Be prepared to take risks

Ambition takes a willingness to step into fear and anxiety. Successful people are better able to step out of their comfort zone, perhaps because they are more courageous, committed, or driven. When you have endured stress, fear and exhaustion and achieved your goal, the victory feels so much sweeter. If it was easy everybody would do it and the world would be a mundane place to dwell.

  1. Knowledge is power

Research your chosen goal and become an expert yourself. The most successful people read around their subject constantly and are not afraid to learn from better people. Personally, I listen to a podcast, read a blog or watch an educational video on YouTube daily. This has helped me so much and motivated me even on the days I don’t feel like making a contribution. But I keep contributing anyway.

My running has become a metaphor for my daily projects in that when I’m running at my most painful and exhausted bit of the run, for example at the top of a hill – I will never stop. Even if my pace slows to a snail pace I still do the running action (single limb support) and in my head at that stage I tell myself that if I stop I am failing at other projects too. It really helps me when times get tough in other aspects of my life, because I didn’t stop during the run I did the same morning.

  1. Think out of the box

Think of the craziest ideas and give them ago. Innovators do not follow the crowd and stay safe in fear of ridicule. Don’t worry what the social media trolls think. Innovate, create and standout. It might just make you great! And what a legacy to say you were unique and changed someone else’s life with your ideas. I am so proud to say I developed ‘The Pelvic Equilibrium Theory’ and innovated the Digital pelvic Inclinometer. They change people’s lives daily around the world by reducing lower back pain and this makes me feel amazing and proud.

  1. Surround yourself with like-minded people.

The best boost and drive you will ever receive will come from people like you. We are all subject to the -sum-total’ of our peers. Research demonstrates that you will become like those around you, so choose your peers and friends carefully.




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