If you resonate with any of the messages presented to you in the writings on this site, you’re already of the mindset of someone who knows the importance of Growth and Self-Actualization.
But what is it exactly? Why is it important – at least to some of us who are driven beyond the normal and mundane?
Personal Growth is the desire to self-develop yourself; to become more than you are today; to discover the possibilities within you; to achieve more in life (and I don’t necessarily mean material achievements).
Not all people are interested in personal growth. I think it must be due to personality differences. For me – and the audience I write for – the need to self-improve, self-discover, grow and expand your personal horizons is an important element of life. I can’t get away from it. It’s part of my personal being – part of my life’s Purpose and Mission – even before I went through the formality to determine them several years ago. I always knew deep within there was more to discover and more to accomplish. I had to take that path.
Growth doesn’t come from doing nothing, or doing the same thing over and over. If during your waking hours you’re only working your job, watching TV, playing video games and sleeping, you won’t get Growth. It can’t happen. Couch Potato-ism doesn’t equal growth.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” – Jessie Potter
If you desire to live an enriched life in this mundane world, and you’re not living it now, then you must decide to do something different. You need a burning desire within you to be more…. to do more…. to have an impact on yourself and others. You need an internal fire within to grow as a human being towards your realized and exciting potential.
Growth comes in three opportunity packages:
- Growth by starting something new
- Growth by stopping something you are presently doing
- Growth through the mistakes we make
You can see by this list that Growth requires action. You have to start something new, stop something you’re doing, and/or make mistakes to learn valuable lessons. Sitting secure in your comfort zone and doing nothing differently will not get you Growth.
“Seek opportunity, not security. A boat in a harbor is safe, but in time its bottom will rot out.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr., Life’s Little Instruction Book
Make a decision to do something different. Make a decision that will count for something critical to your best self. Decide to grow – not rot. Don’t sell yourself short.
“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” – Abraham Maslow
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a psychological theory of motivation developed by Abraham Maslow, and is a step-by-step progression of human needs to be pursued for maximum satisfaction and happiness. Here are the basics:
Think of a pyramid. Human needs start at the bottom of the pyramid and move upward as each is achieved. Here’s the hierarchy in the order they’re typically met (bottom-to-top in the pyramid diagram):
- Physiological Needs – It starts at the bottom of the pyramid with the fact that people in a base/primitive existence will be trying to achieve physiological needs (air, water, food, sex – basic human survival needs).
- Safety Needs -Once the basic survival needs are met, people can then be concerned with basic safety and security issues around personal life, health and finances.
- Love & Belonging Needs – Assuming physiological and safety needs have been met, then people will gravitate towards gaining psychological needs of loving and belonging – feeling loved and accepted (friendships, family, relationships).
- Esteem – After achieving the prior three needs, we move to pursuing the needs of ego and social status. We desire to be respected and valued by others.
- Self-actualization – After mastering esteem and the other needs, an industrious person can now work towards becoming the best self they can be. To self-actualize.
Maslow called the first four needs basic or deficiency needs – meaning, they are a lack of something and are met externally. The final need is called a growth need – and is not a lack of something externally but instead a desire for personal growth, which is met internally.
The growth need of self-actualization moves a person beyond other people’s opinions – or any external validation for that matter. Its driven by a desire deep within us.
Not all needs have to be met in the precise order presented in the theory. There are individuals who tackle their growth need at the same time as they’re working on some of their deficiency needs; there’s no hard-and-fast rule.
This article is concerned with the highest need – the growth need of “Self-Actualization.”
What does Self-Actualization really mean?
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” – Abraham Maslow, 1954, Motivation and Personality
This is a state of being; of self-awareness and concern for fulfilling your potential. Maslow referred to those in this state as “self-actualizers.”
Growth and self-development is a lifelong process. You really don’t ever get to a point where you can say you’ve completed your path to self-actualization. It’s a process of wonderful growth and self-discovery, progressing continually to realize your potential.
Your Purpose and Mission should be a result of deep reflection and passion for what is critically important to your being, and this will directly drive your path to self-actualization. Follow your passion and bliss. Let it drive your life and its actions in fulfilling your potential. Live a life of self-discovery and adventure!
What are the Characteristics of a Self-Actualizer?
I have to admit that I hadn’t previously been exposed to Maslow’s list of characteristics for Self-Actualizers. It’s quite an eye opener, and I see many that apply to my own life – particularly over the last 30 years of growth. A self-actualizer doesn’t necessarily have to display all these elements of character. As stated previously, this is a process. As long as you’re able to look at the list and see some of them reflected in your growth path, then you’re on the right track.
Here is the list direct from Maslow’s Motivation and Personality, Chapter 11, “Self-Actualizing People: A Study Of Psychological Health”:
1) More Efficient Perception of Reality and More Comfortable Relations with it
Self-actualizers have a keen sense of realism. This includes the ability to correctly judge people because they can detect false and dishonest people. They live more in the real world of nature than the man-made abstractions, beliefs and stereotypes most people confuse as the world. They are logical and rational, perceiving what is real rather than their own (or other’s) wishes, hopes, anxieties or beliefs. They’re not frightened or threatened by the unknown or ambiguous; rather, they often desire and welcome it.
2) Acceptance (Self, Others, Nature)
Self-actualizers accept themselves and others as they are. Because they more clearly perceive reality, they see human nature as it is and not as they would prefer it to be. They accept it and don’t give it much concern or thought, viewing any deficiencies as neutral personality characteristics. Because of this they tend to lack guilt, shame, inhibition or anxiety – enjoying life free from these burdens, without regret or apology.
3) Spontaneity; Simplicity; Naturalness
Self-actualizers are relatively open, spontaneous and unconventional – in both thoughts and behavior. They’re not confined by norms – not allowing rules and regulations they feel are trivial to prevent them from achieving their important goals. Although unconventional, if the situation calls for it, they will go through the ceremonies and rituals of convention with a good-humored shrug and with the best possible grace.
4) Problem Centering
Self-actualizers focus on problems that are outside of themselves (problem-centered) rather than problems within themselves (ego-centered). They typically have a mission in life to fulfill which enlists their energies – tasks they feel compelled to do for others. They feel it is a calling to serve a greater cause. They’re concerned with basic issues and eternal questions in the philosophical and ethical realm. They live in the widest possible frame of reference, a large horizon, a broad vision, never losing sight of the forest due to the trees – focusing on the big picture.
5) The Quality of Detachment; the Need of Privacy
Self-actualizers positively like and desire their solitude and privacy. Since they’ve moved beyond deficiency needs and are focused on growth, they don’t need others in the ordinary sense. They don’t need external reassurances, or other’s opinions. They’re very independent and use their time for developing their own individual potential. This detachment is often viewed by others as aloof, cold, snobbish, and unfriendly. They’re objective, strong self-starters who are active, make up their mind and are responsible for their own decisions and destinies. They’re not pawns who are helplessly “determined” by others.
6) Autonomy; Independence of Culture and Environment; Will; Active Agents
Self-actualizers are independent and not reliant on their main satisfactions coming from their external environment or other people. They are “self-contained.” While deficiency-motivated people need others available to satisfy their lower hierarchy needs (safety, love, respect, prestige, belongingness), growth-motivated people are actually hampered by others. Their satisfactions come from within rather than from outside social interactions.
7) Continued Freshness of Appreciation
Self-actualizers have the wonderful capacity to repeatedly appreciate, freshly and naively, the basic goodness of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others. They experience a richness of subjective experience in the form of joy, ecstasy, pleasure, inspiration and strength – whether in music, beauty, nature, people, or even in the basic elements of life. They don’t take their blessings for granted and maintain a sincere gratitude for life.
8) The Mystic Experience; The Peak Experience
Self-actualizers experience moments that Maslow called mystic or “peak” experiences. This is an intensification of any experience in which there’s a loss of self or transcendence of it. The experience can provide feelings of limitless horizons, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placing in time and space, and finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened. The individual is to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences. The intense feelings do not come all the time but occasionally and at the most unexpected moments.They can also occur in lesser degrees of intensity. While one would be apt to identify this as a religious or supernatural experience, it’s actually a natural experience.
9) Gemeinschaftsgefühl (Identification with mankind)
Gemeinschaftsgefühl, a word invented by Alfred Adler, describes the feelings for mankind expressed by self-actualizated people: it’s an identification with humankind. They have a genuine desire to help the human race, as if they were all members of a single family. Even though the self-actualized person is very different from other people in thought, impulse, behavior and emotion, they have a deep sense of empathy for those around them. They are often saddened, exasperated, and even enraged by the shortcomings of the average person, yet however far apart they are from them at times, they nevertheless feel a basic underlying kinship with them – much as an older brother.
10) Interpersonal Relations
Self-actiualizers have deeper and more profound relationships than any other adults. They’re capable of deep ties and greater love than other people would consider possible. However, these especially deep ties occur with only a few individuals. They have a small circle of friends and these relationships are likely to be healthier and closer than the average person – much closer.
11) The Democratic Character Structure
Self-actualizers are friendly with anyone of suitable character regardless of class, education, political belief, race, or color. As a matter of fact it often seems as if they are not even aware of these differences, which are for the average person so obvious and so important. They find it possible to learn from anybody who has something to teach them – no matter what other characteristics he may have. They share a quality that could be called humility of a certain type – humble before people who can teach them something that they do not know or who have a skill they do not possess.
12) Discrimination Between Means and Ends, Between Good and Evil
Self-actualizers are fixed more on the ends rather than the means. The journey is just as enjoyable and important as the arrival. Very few are religious in the orthodox sense, but they have strong ethical and moral standards and are certain about what’s right and wrong (although their notions of right and wrong and of good and evil are often not the conventional ones).
13) Philosophical, Unhostile Sense of Humor
Self-actualizers are often seen by the average person as rather sober and serious. Their sense of humor is not of the ordinary type. They don’t find humor in making fun of people in a hurtful, denigrating way. Philosophically-oriented, thoughtful humor is more to their liking – poking fun at foolishness or inflated egos – even laughing at themselves. Think of it as humor with a message.
Self-actualizers are creative in a youthful, childlike manner. They retain a fresh, naive and direct way of looking at life. Most people lose this as they become enculturated, but not those who are self-actualized….. they’re more spontaneous, more natural, more human. They do things without inhibition and with spirit and insight of perception. They’re not necessarily gifted with a “special” talent such as playing the piano or writing literature or poetry, but display more of an uninhibited, youthful, creative expression – like young children.
15) Resistance to Enculturation; the Transcendence of any Particular Culture
Self-actualizers maintain a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they’re immersed. They’re autonomous and less molded by societal influences. They may appear to be culturally adapted in terms of what they wear or their social practices, but it’s not a genuine “buy in.” If cultural conventions are too annoying or troublesome, they rid themselves of this superficiality and focus on what’s important to them. They’re not radical rebels, but if needed – they could be. They’re primarily intellectual in nature and have a mission of something important to improve the world. They’re not likely to make useless sacrifices – being more of a realist.
“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” – Unknown
It’s Your Choice.
Life is about choices. Our lives are the sum total of the consequences of our choices. Choose to be more. Choose to pursue your potential. Choose to self-discover. Choose to adventure in Growth and Self-Actualization!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
“Human life will never be understood unless its highest aspirations are taken into account. Growth, self-actualization, the striving toward health, the quest for identity and autonomy, the yearning for excellence (and other ways of phrasing the striving “upward”) must by now be accepted beyond question as a widespread and perhaps universal tendency . . .” – Abraham Maslow, 1954, Motivation and Personality
Self-actualizing people enjoy life in general and practically all its aspects, while most other people enjoy only stray moments of triumph.” – Abarham Maslow
“Growth takes place when the next step forward is subjectively more delightful, more joyous, more intrinsically satisfying than the previous gratification which we have become familiar or even bored. – Abraham Maslow
Some decent online sources:
- Abraham Maslow, Pursuit-of-Happiness.org
- The Five Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, VeryWellMind.com
- Self-actualization, Wikipedia
- Motivation And Personality, Abraham Maslow
- A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Actualization: 5 Key Steps to Accelerate Your Growth, ScottJeffrey.com
- The Theory of Abraham Maslow Part 2: The 15 Characteristics of Self-Actualised People, SilentJourney.com