What Are Aspirations?

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What Are Aspirations?

Aspirations are dreams, hopes, or ambitions to achieve a life goal. They can be thought of as overarching life goals that can help provide a sense of purpose and direction.

While the term is often used synonymously with goals, there are some important differences. Goals tend to be backed by actions and are often centered on the short-term or near future.  Aspirations tend to be much more future-focused and are often more general.

This article discusses different types of aspirations, their impact on your life, and how to come up with aspirations that will help you feel motivated to live your life to the fullest.

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Signs You Have High Aspirations

The aspirations you have can vary in terms of what they are about and how high they are. Some people have simple aspirations that are focused on goals that are relatively easy to achieve. Other people have high aspirations that may focus on achieving things that many people often only dream about. 

Some of the signs that you have high aspirations for life include:

  • Daydreaming about lofty goals
  • Always thinking about your next step forward toward achieving your dreams
  • Thinking about the big picture
  • Assessing your weaknesses in order to become stronger
  • Working hard to become the absolute best you can be
  • Being described as ambitious or even overachieving

Your level of aspiration may be connected to your sense of self-worth. Having high goals can be motivating and may indicate that you have a strong belief in your ability to achieve those ambitions. Low goals, on the other hand, can also lead to low achievement and may indicate a lack of self-belief.

Types of Aspirations

Researchers suggest that there are two main types of aspirations:

  1. Intrinsic aspirations are those that help satisfy psychological needs. These goals play an important role in enhancing an individual's well-being.
  2. Extrinsic aspirations are those focused on achieving an instrumental outcome such as becoming rich or famous. These goals can sometimes hurt well-being and consume resources that are sometimes better directed toward intrinsic aspirations.

Intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations often center on some common themes. Some different types of aspirations you might have are outlined below.

Extrinsic Aspirations

Extrinsic aspirations often focus on achieving things such as being seen as physically attractive, becoming wealthy, or being popular.

  • Financial aspirations: Aspirations related to money are also common, often centering on achieving a specific financial goal (such as financial independence) or earning a specific amount of money.
  • Popularity goals: Being held in esteem by others is a common extrinsic goal. It may center on become famous on a large scale, but it can also focus on becoming popular in a narrower social group.

Financial aspirations are common, but also often connected to negative outcomes. Research suggests people who base their self-worth on financial success are more prone to stress, anxiety, and decreased autonomy.

Intrinsic Aspirations

Intrinsic aspirations often center on things such as forming meaningful relationships with others (affiliation), contributing to your community and the world (generativity), having good physical and mental well-being (health), and developing as an individual (personal growth).

Examples of intrinsic aspirations include:

  • Social aspirations: Social aspirations may center on doing things like making friends, building relationships, volunteering for a cause, or doing something to contribute to your community.
  • Family aspirations: Aspirations that are focused on family may involve doing things like starting a relationship, getting married, and having children.
  • Skill aspirations: Sometimes aspirations center on becoming skilled or talented in something you are interested in. For example, you might aspire to become a talented musician or artist. 

Career aspirations can often have both extrinsic and intrinsic elements. “What are your career aspirations?” is a common question you might be asked during job interviews. These aspirations center on things such as gaining career-related skills, experiences, or achievements.

Sometimes these goals are focused on extrinsic factors such as image or wealth, but they can also be tied to personal growth, self-awareness, and community contributions.

One study found that aspirations centered on power and social adherence to groups were extrinsic aspirations, while those focused on the desire for mastery and self-expression were intrinsic aspirations.

How to Develop Aspirations

Sometimes people have broad, overarching aspirations for their life. Others have a very specific vision for what they want. But it also isn't uncommon for people to not really be sure what their aspirations are.

If you are trying to develop life aspirations that can serve as a source of inspiration, there are some things you can do to make sure this vision of your life will have a positive influence.

Some things you can do include:

  • Ask yourself questions: What are some of the things you hope to achieve or experience one day? What are some of the activities you pursue that you feel the most excited or passionate about? Thinking about your dreams or your passions can give you a hint into the type of things you might aspire toward.
  • Give yourself time: It is important to remember that while aspirations can be motivating and inspiring, you don't need to pressure yourself to figure it all out now. Instead, give yourself the opportunity to learn and grow. Try new things, gather information about yourself, and then think about how what you have learned might contribute to your aspirations.
  • Don't compare yourself to others: Aspirations don't need to be grand or lofty to be important. Other people might have very high aspirations, but that doesn't mean that those goals are right for you or your life. Instead, you should focus on finding aspirations that will help you feel fulfilled and satisfied in your life.
  • Find your purpose. Figuring out what gives your life meaning and purpose can also help you develop aspirations.
  • Talk to a professional: Sometimes a lack of aspirations might be connected to a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. If you struggle to feel motivated or have lost interest in things that you used to enjoy doing, it is important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Effective treatments, including medication and psychotherapy, can help relieve such symptoms. 

Impact of Aspirations

These long-term personal goals can help you make life choices and engage in certain behaviors that can put you on the path toward achieving those life aspirations.

A person who aspires to become a doctor, for example, will make educational choices throughout their life that will help them eventually achieve that goal—or at least improve their chances of finding success.

Aspirations can also help give life purpose and meaning. They can give you something to hope for and aim towards. Even if these aspirations might sometimes more closely resemble daydreams, they offer a glimpse into the type of life you might hope for in the future.

Having a vision for the future can also help you feel more motivated and inspired. When you have an image of what you want in your mind, it can help you stay focused on the things that you need to do to ultimately make that dream happen.

Having aspirations can also help keep you on task and oriented toward your goals. Instead of spending time on wasteful actions that don't help move you forward, working toward your goals, however slowly, will help keep your progress on track.

Tips for Reaching Your Aspirations

If you're looking for a way to reach your aspirations, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Work on building self-awareness. Develop a stronger understanding of the things that are intrinsically rewarding. When you work toward goals that meet your needs, it can help you avoid chasing after things that don't ultimately serve your psychological well-being.
  • Stay open to change. Not all aspirations come to fruition. Sometimes the situations changes or you realize that the dream you once had isn’t something you want to pursue anymore. Being flexible and open to switching gears can help you keep working toward new goals.
  • Do what you love. Research suggests that when people pursue goals that they are intrinsically self-motivated to pursue, they have an easier time persisting when things get difficult.

Potential Pitfalls

It is important to recognize that aspirations aren't always helpful. Some examples of when they may be unhelpful or even destructive include:

  • Aspiring for things because they are seen as being ideal by society or culture regardless of whether those things actually bring you happiness
  • Aspiring for things that are unrealistic or outside of the realm of possibility
  • Aspiring for things that create conflicts in your daily life or harm your relationships with other people

They can also lead to feelings of disappointment and sadness when people fail to achieve their aspirations. You can protect yourself by trying to maintain an optimistic outlook and developing a strong sense of resilience.

When a dream or goal doesn’t pan out, being able to pick yourself up and keep going with a positive attitude can help you either find new ways of reaching your goals or finding new ones to aspire to.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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