Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was a famous American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. He believed that there are fundamental needs that everyone has in common, and all behavior is simply an attempt to meet these six needs. These needs explain how come human beings do the things they do; they are the underlying forces that drive and shape all of our emotions, actions, qualities of life, and ultimately, our destinies. According the Maslow, these fundamental human needs include the following:
1.Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships. * Please note that while we all have a need for love and belonging that comes from our community and relationships, we must also love ourselves first and foremost, and we must come to realize that our sense of belonging resides in us; we belong to ourselves, the universe, and if you’re spiritual or religious, you’ll come to realize that you belong to a higher power or God as well. Our house of belonging resides within us.
4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.
6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
7. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
Although we are all, theoretically, capable of self-actualizing, most of us will not do so, or only to a limited degree. Maslow (1970) estimated that only two percent of people will reach the state of self actualization. He was particularly interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as persons. By studying 18 people he considered to be self-actualized (including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein) Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of a self-actualized person.
Characteristics of self-actualizers:
1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty; As a marriage and Family Therapist, NLP Practitioner, Certified Dharma Life Coach, Sports Psychology Consultant, I believe that this characteristic is very similar to a person’s ability to master the art of achieving a state of equanimity even in the midst of life’s unforeseen viscissitudes, trials, and tribulations.
2. Accept themselves and others for what they are; They do not reject parts of themselves or others that they do not like. Instead, they compassionately improve on the parts of themselves they do do not like and understand, feel empathy for, and even forgive other’s limitations.
3. Spontaneous in thought and action;
4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);
5. Unusual sense of humor;
6. Able to look at life objectively;
7. Highly creative; Self-Actualizers choose to think outside of the box. In fact, they are often visionaries and innovators.
8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional; In other words, they are willing to individuate from their family of origin and separate themselves from the “trance of unworthiness” that is so pervasive in our culture and discover and embrace the truth of who they truly are.
9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity; they choose to be of service to others,and they deliberately provide the stepping stones that benefit other people’s lives.
10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
12. Peak experiences; Instead of avoiding pain, they turn toward having enriching, peak life experiences that bring immense pleasure to their lives.
13. Need for privacy;
14. Democratic attitudes; They believe in the principle of fairness, and they understand the Law of Requisite Variety, which states that the person who with the most flexibility of mind, heart, spirit,and behavior cultivates an aura of moral ( not to be mistaken with formal) authority. In addition, they believe in creating win-win agreements with others.
15. Strong moral/ethical standards. In turn, they create a list of their highest values and guiding principles and their actions consistently align with them.
16. *I believe that self-actualizers have an internal unity of mind, body, heart, and spirit governed by their conscience; You cannot have peace of mind without peace of conscience
17. *I also believe that self-actualizers subordinate their impulses, moods, and emotions and choose instead to align their actions with their highest values, guiding principles, and Universal Laws.
19 *As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve come to believe that self-actualizers are great listeners; they seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Behaviors leading to self-actualization:
(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;
(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;
(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;
(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;
(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;
(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;
(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.
The characteristics of self-actualizers and the behaviors leading to self-actualization are shown in the list above. Although people achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share in common many of these characteristics.
With the aforementioned in mind, it is important to recognize that self-actualization is a matter of degree:
‘There are no perfect human beings.’ The growth of self-actualization (Maslow, 1962) refers to the need for discovery, fulfillment, and personal and interpersonal transformation through personal growth that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always “becoming” and never remains static in these terms. In regards to self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. It is not necessary to display all 19 of these characteristics to become self-actualized, and not only self-actualized people will display them. Thus someone can be silly, wasteful, vain and impolite, and still self-actualize!!
As each person is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions (Kenrick et al., 2010). For some people, self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art, writing, painting pictures, and inventing; for others self-actualization is attained through sport, in the classroom, within a corporate setting, being a loving and nurturing Mother or Father, developing extraordinary emotional intelligence, etc.
8. Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self actualization. * In my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, NLP Practitioner, Dharma Life Coach, Certified Hypnotherapist, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I wholeheartedly agree with Maslow that that helping and being of service to others includes helping them to find their own voice, being of service to them in a time of need, affirming them, and continuously reflecting back to them with such unwavering resolve, force, intensity and conviction your belief in their intrinsic value and potential that they come to see it in themselves. Other self-transcendent acts include securing freedom for others, participating in organizations or causes that create paradigm shifts in governments, challenging and transforming antiquated local or international institutions that undermine the highest good of those they claim to serve, etc. A person’s spiritual need for self-transcendence echoes the sentiments shared in the following quote by an anonymous source:
” I sought my God, and my God I could not find, I sought my Soul, and my Soul eluded me, I sought my Brother to serve him in his need, and I found all three; my God, my Soul and Thee.”
Although Abraham Maslow passed away in 1970, it is worth noting that knowledgeable Marriage and Family Therapists, Psychologists, Master NLP Practitioners, Certified Hypnotherapists, and Sports Psychologists agree that his Hierarchy of Human Needs are on point. While human beings likely have more fundamental needs that he may have overlooked at the time, his list accurately contains the bulk of them. In recent years, other people in the healing fields have shared many of Maslow’s fundamental human needs and added to them or simplified them so that people can benefit from understanding what these needs are. As a matter of fact, world famous Life Coach Tony Robbins has recently reduced Maslow’s list of human needs 6 that he believes are most fundamental to all people. I’ve personally found his abridged list illuminating, and I hope that you will too.
According to Tony Robbins, The Six Human Needs include the following:
1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, please note that looking for significance outside of yourself too much can lead to an unhealthy dependence on other people’s perceptions, judgements, and validation of you. While our need for significance is real, I believe it is even more important to love and validate yourself, and it is imperative that you wholeheartedly know and trust that you are already intrinsically worthwhile, loveable, and significant in and of yourself. This paradigm will spare you the emotional and psychological ups and downs that come with or without outside praise and criticism. I believe that if you don’t feel like you’re enough without it, you’ll never feel like you’re enough with it.
4. Connection/Love/Belonging: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something.
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding.
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to, and supporting others.
According to Tony Robbins, theses 6 fundamental needs and/or drives are encoded in our nervous system. The means by which people meet these six human needs are unlimited. For example, one of the six human needs is the desire for certainty so that we can avoid pain and gain pleasure (i.e. comfort). Some people might pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives, while others obtain certainty by giving up control and adopting a philosophy of faith. Variety often contributes to us feeling alive, stimulated, and engaged. Then there’s the desire for significance—a belief that one’s life has meaning and importance. Some individuals will pursue this need by competing with others, or by destroying and tearing down those around them. Others may strive to fulfill this need by working synergistically with other people, doing a great job at work, being a nurturing and loving son or daughter, sibling, or Mother or Father. People who are looking to fulfill their need for connection, love, and belonging will choose to cultivate deep, meaningful friendships, join a church or synagogue, participate in a Men’s or Women’s group, adopt a loving puppy, etc.
I believe that what drives our endeavors to meet our fundamental human needs is our penultimate drive for a sense of fulfillment in our lives; we all have a need to experience a life of meaning. Although the first 4 needs that Tony Robbins addresses are incredibly important for us to nurture, our need and yearning for fulfillment can only be achieved through a pattern of living in which we focus on the two spiritual needs: 1) the need to continuously grow; and 2) the need to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way. Most dysfunctional behaviors arise from the inability to consistently meet these needs. When our attempts to reach fulfillment fail, we will settle for comfort—or for meeting our needs on a small scale. I want to take this moment to invite you to look to replace any dis-empowering ways of meeting your needs with things that empower and support you and others. I sincerely believe that understanding your needs, and which ones you are trying to meet in any given moment, will help you create new patterns that lead to you to living a life brimming over with a sense of lasting fulfillment.
With this in mind, I want to encourage you to take a moment and develop your Peak Performance Action Plan and reflect on the following questions:
1. Which of these six needs do you tend to focus on or value the most?
2. What are the ways (good and bad) you meet these needs? For example, in your relationships, work, eating, exercise, etc.?
3. How can you increase your focus on growth and contribution? What are some things you can do, or new experiences you can participate in?
I hope and trust that after you’ve answered these questions, you will feel more self-aware, more enlightened as to what needs you’re predominantly focused on meeting, and newly inspired to take action that will support your own personal growth as well contribute to the well being of others!!
Thank you for taking your time to read my most recent blog; I hope and trust that you found it informative, illuminating, and inspirational.
John Boesky, LMFT/Master NLP Practitioner/ Dharma Life Coach, Certified Hypnotherapist & Sports Psychology Consultant