This isn’t a psychology lecture, so don’t worry and pack up your pencil case and notebooks just yet …
What some of you might remember, or be able to resonate with, is a popular psychology lesson about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Don’t worry if you don’t, as all will soon be revealed about exactly what these are. But, importantly, Maslow was a famous psychologist who, many many years ago, shared a popular idea that is still widely adopted today.
This idea is that we humans are motivated, first and foremost, to satisfy our basic needs (i.e. for food, water and safety) before we can begin to fulfil our higher mission and purpose in life. Maslow placed these basic needs at the lowest level of a pyramid, where he placed other needs that humans are driven by above different levels in the pyramid - hence, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs were formed.
Beyond basic needs, when individuals meet these, Maslow said that humans are driven by a need to experience acceptance and love from others (i.e. in the form of friends, family and intimate relationships).
Further up the hierarchy pyramid, Maslow also placed the motivation for esteem, which simply means to feel effective and accomplished at certain tasks (e.g. at work or family life). In relation to the topic of this discussion though, right at the top of the pyramid is the need for self-actualisation, or what is sometimes referred as the motive to 'reach one’s full potential'.
According to Maslow, individuals higher needs could only be fulfilled once their basic needs or needs below another ‘higher’ need had been met.
But what does this actually mean?
Despite it being at the top of the ladder, and the phrases self-actualisation and full potential being widely used, it is often poorly understood or practically applied. I feel that this is important to understand and apply, as much of our society gets very focussed and caught up about meeting basic needs - sometimes unnecessarily.
For example, in western societies, there is a focus on eating the ‘best’ diet, or having a ‘perfect’ physique or amazing job with a high financial income. However, although we might strive for these, sometimes fulfilling them doesn’t lead to self-actualisation, but instead feelings of un-fulfilment and as though something is missing in our complex lives...
In simple terms, Maslow referred to self-actualisation as occurring when we maximise opportunities in our lives, and when we realise that we are doing our best and leading a meaningful life that we can live to the full - not just meet basic needs or society’s standards. But what does this translate to in practice? And, more to the point, what are the characteristics of individuals who have been able to meet their basic needs and go on towards becoming self-actualised and reaching their full potential?
Well, to answer those very questions, below are several key points and characteristics of individuals who can be described as self-actualised.
Self actualised people:
1) Accept themselves with self-compassion, despite any imperfections
They realise that they are already ‘good enough’ as they are now, and do not have to worry about imperfections or not meeting society’s unrealistic standards of beauty, career or diet or body image. Instead, they accept themselves fully, and realise that humans are perfectly imperfect while not negatively judging themselves constantly or feeling ashamed and guilty in relation to others (yes, that includes that which happens on social media too!)
2) Listen to their inner wisdom and embrace the unknown
They feel confident enough to make decisions and engage in tasks where there is not necessarily a known outcome. Instead, they are able to get in tune with their own instinct and inner wisdom to direct the course of their own life, in the belief and faith that there will be a meaningful or positive outcome. The same goes for making decisions that might be negatively judged by other people - self-actualised individuals will still go ahead and make the decision that suits their own needs, beliefs and values.
3) Are motivated by personal growth, and not just satisfying basic needs
They look beyond simply food, fluid, exercise and a good career and financial income as the route to a fulfilled life. Alternatively, they are able to meet these in ways that suit them best, and realise that their mission in life is not to have the perfect body, nutritional intake, mindblowing fitness regime or most financially rewarding job.
4) Enjoy the journey, and don’t just strive for the end goal
They notice, enjoy and feel grateful for the process of learning to become self-actualised, rather than focusing on only being satisfied when they achieve the outcome being aimed for in the long run. Even downfalls and set backs are celebrated as markers on the journey that help them to learn and personally grow from rather than prevent the desired end goal from happening all together
5) Are able to see the bigger picture
No matter how small or insignificant their experiences or actions they seem, self-actualised individuals don’t get too caught up on the trees, instead being able to see the full forest. In other words, they don’t worry about specific details, actions or outcomes (including setbacks), as long as they remain feeling connected and in trust of their higher purpose that they will eventually reach. In reality, they realise that they will still be able to reach their full potential in time, and that worrying about small concerns adds little value or improvement to the future / bigger goal.
6) Feel as though they have a sense of purpose
They have a sense of ‘knowing’ that they have a mission in life to fulfil - usually a problem that needs to be solved for the greater good of mankind or the planet. This purpose might be within or even go beyond their own lifetime, but they sense a feeling of responsibility and ownership to pursue that mission in a compassionate and unselfish manner.
7) Acknowledge things in their life to feel grateful for
They take care to acknowledge the little things in life that add value, health, happiness and wellbeing to their lives. This can be as simple as being able to meet their basic needs, and noticing the enjoyment of a sunny day, a good meal, or catching up with close friends and family. They don’t get lost in their huge ambitions, but take care to appreciate all the positive opportunities and experiences that help them along on the journey.
8) Share deep and strong relationships with a few, but also positively identify and feel compassion for the human race as a whole
Self-actualised individuals tend to find it much easier to make strong connections with others, as they are usually more open and trusting with exchanging thoughts and feelings. Similarly, other individuals tend to feel comfortable in their presence, and free to share personal information without worrying about negative judgement. This allows strong bonds to develop, where self-actualised individuals can provide compassion and love to others as well as themselves. Also, because they tend to be openly accepting and understanding of others, they feel sympathy and/or empathy for the nature of all human beings - regardless of age, race, social status or ability.
9) Feel confident with who they are as unique individuals while resisting being moulded to fit in line with society
They trust in the fact that they are amazing individuals just as they are, because ultimately they are unique. They also trust that they can follow their own path, while resisting being made to fit in and be moulded by society’s expectations.
This allows self-actualisers to speak to other people and undertake certain tasks that (although might seem unconventional or scary at first) lead to positive changes in individual lives, communities, societies, positive causes and even the planet as a whole.
Ultimately, self actualised individuals go beyond meeting basic needs, and focus on personal growth. They understand that this is not selfish, but instead a positive goal that allows them to live in line with a greater meaning and purpose that will eventually have huge positive impacts on other people and the world.
If you would like to start living as someone on a journey to self-actualisation, rather than simply meeting basic needs, then the first step is to question what society says should be the main functions of your life.
If having the best paying job or successful career really fitting with what you know inside makes you feel meaningful. Ask yourself, is your purpose greater than having a perfect body, diet or fitness plan? Do you have a sense that life is calling you to fulfil a different mission other than living in line with what someone else is expecting of you?
To answer those questions, Nourishing Routes and its whole philosophy provides many insights and tools about living as a self-actualised individual, which is through the journey of becoming a Compassioneer.
All you need to do is dedicate more of your time to finding out more and beginning to try ways of living a life beyond the basic needs. The journey forwards and upwards is nothing less than self-actualisation.