Maslow’s Theory of Self-Actualization

Self-actualization is a trait that sits on top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle.

Maslow suggests that although we are all capable of reaching the state of self-actualization, we do not all reach it in our lifetimes. There is a select few who achieve this wonderful state of mind. He studied the characteristics he believed are needed to achieve this state of nirvana and came out with some surprise findings.

The pinnacle of his famous needs triangle highlights the individual’s ability to reach the full potential as a person. His list included the following famous personalities as examples of people having achieved their potential amongst many others:

Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt.

He suggested that we study people’s peak experiences, defined as a moment in your life when you are ecstatically happy. This is when you feel the most alive and real. A person is concerned with “being” and is unaware of any other feeling such as deficiency or what others think of him at that particular moment.

Various other psychologists in this field found that peak experiences are not a result of conscious planning. These peak performances appear to be a natural progression of the inherent art of the performers.

“Musicians must make music, artists must paint,poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their nature. This need we may call self-actualization.” – (Motivation and Personality, 1954)

The following points highlight the characteristics of self-actualizers:

  • They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty:
  • Accept themselves and others for what they are
  • Spontaneous in thought and action
  • Problem centred (not self-centred)
  • Good sense of humour
  • Able to look at life objectively
  • Highly creative
  • Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional
  • Concerned for the welfare of mankind
  • Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experiences
  • Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
  • Peak experiences

The following points highlight behaviour leading to self-actualization:

  • Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration
  • Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths
  • Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition or authority or the majority
  • Avoiding pretence (‘game playing’) and being honest
  • Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority
  • Taking responsibility and working hard
  • Trying to identify your defences and having the courage to give them up.

Maslow’s findings in the respect of the success of high achievers are significant in that his research shows the importance of reaching that state of just being and not concerned with the self being a relatively “natural” state. True satisfactory success and the drive to attain high achievement is something which is located within us.

To achieve this state of just being and of feeling at one with the world, the main attribute needed is that you have to bring out the best in yourself by allowing your creative juices to flow.

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“Just One” Poem by Maryam Kazmi

The Power of One

Have you ever thought about the value of the number one? Although we may appear to be strong in number, it is the solitude of the number one which allows the other numbers to gain momentum.

Consider the poem “Just One” by Maryam Kazmi which puts the strength of this powerful number into perspective.

One Tree can start a Forest Image

One Tree can start a Forest Image

One song can spark a moment

One flower can wake a dream

One tree can start a forest

One bird can herald spring

 

One smile begins friendship

One handclasp lifts a soul

One star can guide a ship at the sea

One word can frame a goal

 

One vote can change a nation

One sunbeam lights a room

One candle wipes all the darkness

One laugh will conquer gloom

 

One voice can speak with wisdom

One heart can know what’s true

One life can make a difference

You see it’s up to you                                       By Maryam Kazmi

Never underestimate your own value as a single individual. 

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle

As a humanistic theorist, Abraham Maslow was an American Psychologist who proposed a triangular type of structure, highlighting the needs of an individual. This structure is best known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle.

Through this triangle model, Maslow in effect described the psychological health of an individual.

Maslow proposed that there are 2 distinct forces at work on an individual:

  1. The physical and psychological needs of an individual. These needs refer to the basics such as ensuring to survive and feeling a sense of belonging in the community.
  2. Those forces which encourage self-actualisation – this is to realise one’s full potential and Maslow’s (1970) suggests “becoming everything that one is capable of becoming”. This quote refers to the intellectual and creative areas of an individual’s life.

The first force is at work for its own needs sake whereas the second force comes about due to an individual feeling internal satisfaction as a result of the basic needs being met.

Image of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Triangle

Image of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle

Maslow’s pyramid structure is made up of the following distinctive, 7 levels of needs, starting with primary needs which form the base of the Triangle:

1. Physiological Needs – Food, drink, oxygen, temperature regulation, elimination, rest, activity etc.

2. Safety Needs – Protection from potentially dangerous objects or situations, e.g. the elements, physical illness. The threat is both physical and psychological. (e.g. “fear of the unknown”). Importance of routine and familiarity.

3. Love and Belongingness – Receiving and giving love, affection, trust and acceptance. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem Needs – The esteem and respect of others AND self-esteem and self-respect. A sense of competence.

5. Cognitive Needs – Knowledge and understanding, curiosity exploration, need for meaning and predictability.

6. Aesthetic Needs – Beauty – in and nature – symmetry, balance, order, form.

7. Self-Actualization – Realising your full potential by “becoming everything one is capable of becoming.”

The structure of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle has the following important points which need to be considered:

  • Physiological needs must be satisfied before we can get to the next level. For example, if we are in pain or hungry – we cannot go to the next level to concentrate on safety. Albeit there have been exceptions – we have to carry on despite the hunger!
  • Psychologists suggest that needs at the higher end of the pyramid are a later evolutionary development. This means that self-actualization appears to be a recent development in our species.
  • Also the higher up the hierarchy we go the greater the link to life experiences and the lower the link to biological factors. The younger we are, the more concerned we are with basic needs. E.g. babies are more concerned with their bellies than brains!
  • Self-actualization is reached in different ways and through different activities. This is related to experience and not biology. The higher up we go in the triangle, the harder it is to achieve these targets.
  • The pinnacle of achieving self-actualization is therefore the most difficult to achieve and a lifetime can be spent getting there. Some individuals never even come close to this part in their lifetimes.

Have you worked out what your level is yet? How much further do you have to climb on the triangle? What is delaying you from getting to the pinnacle of your achievable potential success?

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