Everyone wants to be the best version of themselves – but not everyone knows what steps to take to actually attain this goal! The proper term for this is ‘self-actualization’- a term that was posed by an American Psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Maslow was a psychologist who emphasized the importance of focusing on the positive attributes in people, as opposed to focusing on the negatives and consequently treating people based on their diagnostic labels. I love this field of psychology – positive psychology; it’s one where theorists and clinicians emphasize the strengths and qualities that people have, rather than placing emphasis on their weaknesses. Maslow, too, believed that everyone has a natural drive and desire to live a life that mirrors their values and is in harmony with their personal morals, beliefs, and ethics.
In Maslow’s theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he suggests that self-actualization is, after all, the highest and most prosperous state of ‘existing’. However, as the diagram suggests, for someone to reach the level of ‘self-actualization’, they must first meet all the other levels below. It is important to note that while Maslow originally thought that each level must be met before a person can progress onto the next, he then realised that sometimes a person can go back and forth between levels; they are not strict, they are rather closely related.
These needs are those necessary for human survival. Air, food, and water are all requirements, along with clothing and shelter. If these needs are not met, the human body will not function optimally.
Safety and security needs include personal security, financial security and health and well-being. These needs should be met to move into the next stage, and for those who do not satisfy their safety needs may find it difficult to progress as quickly. For example, individuals who experience financial difficulties may experience excessive levels of stress and find it difficult to progress onto self-actualization until they meet their financial security.
Love and belonging
Every individual needs to feel a sense of belonging – this is a very strong need (many mental health professionals observe both adults and children clinging onto abusive partners and parents even though abusive relationships can pose as a threat to the first two needs of the hierarchy). Individuals tend to fulfill this need through small or large groups (e.g. social clubs, religious groups, small friendship groups of 2-3 people etc.). A sense of love must also be present for the individual to meet this need – both romantic and non-romantic. If this need is not met, especially during childhood and adolescence, it can adversely affect a person’s ability to build and sustain emotionally significant relationships (romantic, friendly, family). Further, if this need is not met, it creates susceptibility for the person to experience social anxiety or a form of clinical depression.
All individuals have a need and desire to feel accepted, valued, and respected by other people. Certain people even choose professions simply to gain respect from others, or to give them a sense of contribution or worth. Most people have a need for stable self-respect and esteem – when this need is deprived, the person may feel weak, inferior, or even helpless.
This is the level where the person reaches their full potential – the person’s intense desire. For example, someone may have desired to become a doctor and once they became a doctor, they had reached self-actualization. After many years, Maslow added a level and named it “Self-transcendence” – it is closely related to self-actualisation but revolves around the person finding self-actualisation only when they give themselves some higher goals (one’s that are not necessarily materialistic but are rather altruistic and spiritual).
Ideas and Tips on getting closer to Self-Actualization
Stop measuring yourself against other people
When you compare yourself to other people, it can really bring down your self esteem. Remember to not compare your chapter 1 with someone else’s chapter 20. Everyone is different, and therefore, everyone ‘sprouts’ at different times. Think of it like popcorn – all are in the pan at the same time, under the same heat, however they don’t all POP at the same time!
Begin to accept yourself as a whole. Learn to accept all parts of your body – not just a few. Accepting yourself in a holistic way will allow you to progress further in life by furthering your confidence levels. And if there are things that youd like to improve about yourself, then by all means, do those things! But the take-home message is to not continuously wear your confidence and esteem down because you are not happy with a certain aspect of your natural self.
Make a vision board
A vision board enables you to map out all of your dreams and desires. Create a vision board by hanging up pictures that inspire and motivate you, as well as words and quotes that do the same. If you’re working on ‘becoming kinder’ for example, you can write your own little mission statement outlining all of the things that you do, or will do, to be kind. Just remember to phrase everything in the present tense so that it coincides with the law of attraction! Ultimately a vision board is a great tool to use on your journey to self-actualization because it allows you to map out all of the important things you want to achieve!
Set goals that are aligned with your vision
This is the next step – once you make a vision board, you will have a concrete image of all the things you want in life! Now – the planning is really fun, but all of the magic happens when you take action. So let’s say you want to become ‘kinder’ as a person, or you want to get a Masters in Engineering, or perhaps you want to become a Yogi! What steps do you need to take to make these things a reality? Make a list of the steps you need to take – a lot of these steps will be in the form of long-term goals, but that’s totally fine! Then, really start implementing these things – if you’re interested in becoming a Yogi, your first-steps might look like (I) doing some research about institutions, finances, and whether you have time to commit and (II) making some phone-calls or writing some emails to find out some more information, (III) signing up. These seem like the simplest of steps, but once you actually do them and tick them off your list, you tend to feel HALF-WAY THERE!
Understand that you hold the driver’s seat in your life
Yes, while there are some circumstances in our life that are not necessarily in our control, most of our life IS in our control. So once we really learn and realise that we sit in the driver’s seat (instead of fate), we learn about our true potential to SOAR and achieve everything we’ve always wanted. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can hold you down if you want something enough.
Don’t stop learning – continual growth is vital
The human brain has often been referred to as a sponge – we soak up so much information (both consciously and unconsciously). Continuously learning new information gives the archive of wealth in your brain all the more tools it needs so that you can reach your full potential, and subsequently conquer your dreams! Finished your most recent book? Great – start a new one! Finished watching your favourite TV show? Awesome – why not try a documentary series?
Await the unknown with open arms
Say yes to new experiences – going out there and actually doing new things further adds to your wealth of knowledge. These experiences, whether they are international travels or even new jobs in different states, really frame the way you have an outlook on life. New experiences also add to your skill of autonomy and independence (which are both things that will help you on your journey of self-actualization). Saying yes to new experiences can increase the chances of you enduring a peak experience – this is a moment that Maslow defined as ‘a euphoric mental state’ where the experience is generally ‘rare, exhilarating, deeply moving, and inspiring’. The experience can be majestic and ultimately, totally transform an individual. The elements of peak experiences are perceived together in a holistic way that makes up the moment when the individual reaches their full potential. Inspiring?
Work on self-development
Self-development can be implemented within each stage of Maslow’s hierarchy. Read books, news articles, and blog posts that talk about how you can become your greater self. Watch videos on YouTube. Watch documentaries about self-development. Track people like Tony Robbins & Robin Sharma – I absolutely and 100% am motivated to reach my greater-self when I watch, listen to, or read the words of such inspiring people.
There are many ways to work on reaching your full potential, and true self-actualization. There are definitely many more ways than those listed on this post, but these are simply some of my favourites. I wish each and everyone of you well on your path to greatness.