Anyone interested in the psychology of personality couldn’t have helped but notice a new buzzword recently – self-actualization.
Self-actualization is the final goal of Albert Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is the realization of ones’ potential in the world. However, it can only be achieved once all other needs are fulfilled.
Maslow’s hierarchy is typically shown as a pyramid. Our most basic physical needs at the bottom and the more complex psychological ones at the top. The idea behind the theory is that humans must meet each set of needs before they can move onto the next level.
At the bottom are our most basic physiological needs for food, water, sleep etc. The next level is safety and security, then love and belonging, followed by esteem and finally self-actualization.
Self-actualization can be summed up as becoming the best version of yourself by realising your dreams and living up to your potential. Maslow himself describes it as:
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.” Maslow
For example, if you have ambitions to be a great musician then by realising this dream you have achieved self-actualization. So, how do you achieve self-actualization? These ten characteristics are essential if you want to realize your potential:
Ten Characteristics of Self-Actualization
- Continued Freshness of Appreciation – E.g. I often feel gratitude for the good in my life no matter how many times I encounter it.
- Acceptance – E.g. I accept all sides of myself, including my shortcomings.
- Authenticity – E.g. I take responsibility for my actions.
- Equanimity – E.g. I tend to take life’s inevitable ups and downs with grace, acceptance, and equanimity.
- Purpose – E.g. I feel as though I have some important task to fulfil in this lifetime.
- Efficient Perception of Reality – E.g. I am always trying to get at the real truth about people and nature.
- Humanitarianism – E.g. I have a genuine desire to help the human race.
- Peak Experiences – E.g. I often have experiences in which I feel one with all the people and things on this planet.
- Good Moral Intuition – E.g. I have a strong sense of right and wrong in my daily life.
- Creative Spirit – E.g. I am often in touch with my childlike spontaneity.
Let’s break each characteristic down and explain exactly what they mean.
Continued Freshness of Appreciation
Feeling blessed and grateful for what you have in your life is the first step towards self-actualization. This means living in the moment, enjoying life by being grateful for everyday things. Finding joy in life, appreciating nature, and other people and living fully.
Accepting who you are, what you are and where you are in life. Life is about the choices we make. By accepting the ones we have made we can move on without regrets. It takes a strong person to fully admit their flaws and foibles. To say this is me and I am not perfect. Accepting yourself and then using this knowledge to better oneself is a sign you are heading towards self-actualization.
Instead of blaming others for our own actions or mistakes, if we can celebrate our uniqueness we can live truthfully.
Take responsibility for your own actions. Those that blame others for their lot in life will never be able to take control and change it for the better.
Wallflowers need not apply. Be brave and share your opinions, even if everyone else disagrees with you. Speak out if you feel misunderstood.
Efficient Perception of Reality
Learning that self-actualization is a process and not an end state. Keeping it real and being truthful with yourself by accepting your failures and successes in equal measure.
Feeling empathy for other people, animals, the world around us is a sign that you put your own needs last and are concerned about the welfare of others. Selfish people can never reach self-actualization.
Have you ever experienced something and felt pure joy, happiness and euphoria? These are the times when we truly feel alive and are the essence of the meaning of a good life.
Good Moral Intuition
Do you instinctively know what is right and what is wrong? There are some people that do but ignore their instincts anyway. It can be hard to stick to your morals but this is a sign of strength and good character.
There are some people that take a childlike delight in the world. They will get up early to see a sunrise, they’ll find beauty in the most mundane of things. Life has meaning when we experience a renewed joy and excitement in the world.
These are the factors that lead to a self-actualized life. But if you don’t find these particularly easy, how can you work towards self-actualization yourself? By testing yourself and trying out these uncomfortable experiences:
Three Uncomfortable Experiences That Help You Realise Self-Actualization
Stop being envious of other people
Do you covet the things your friends have? Are you jealous of celebrities and their lifestyle? You can never know what another person is going through in their life.
I remember reading about a successful model who had amazing looks, gorgeous homes and lived an incredible lifestyle. She committed suicide in a dingy hotel room in her early twenties. The moral is to live your own life, stop measuring yourself against others and be grateful for what you have. There’s always someone worse off than you.
Self-actualization is exactly that – SELF, it’s not about others, it’s all about you and what you do.
Realise that you are in control
Life may just happen to us, but the one thing we can control is how we react to it. So no matter what has occurred in your life, what it is important is how you deal with it. You can take charge of your actions, your emotions and your reactions.
If you already your weaknesses and strengths, you are more prepared for what life has to throw at you. You will know immediately what you need to do when you experience setbacks. Understand that once you accept who you are and that you are responsible for your own happiness, the world is your oyster.
Self-actualization is not an endgame where once you have achieved your goal, you can stop trying. It is an ongoing process that requires moving forward towards the next level of achievement. It is about being the very best version of yourself that you can be. As a result, you can never stop trying to be this person, there’s always something more you can do.
Remember, people that are self-actualized are:
- Accepting of other people
- Have social compassion
- Have a realistic outlook on life
- Rely on their own judgement
- Are open-minded to new ideas
- Grateful for the small things in life
- Have a continued sense of wonder
- Are happy being alone
- Work at their relationships
- Enjoy their passions
Let’s leave the last word to Maslow to describe self-actualization:
“Self-actualizing people enjoy life in general and practically all its aspects, while most other people enjoy only stray moments of triumph.” Abraham Maslow
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