Many people have studied Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in psychology class, but not everyone understands it. More specifically, they don’t understand the top level, which Maslow called “self-actualization.”
Self-actualization is less mysterious than many people believe it is. It means becoming the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Self-actualization is as much a journey as it is a destination, but here are some signposts to guide you along your way.
1. Start With the Basics
According to Maslow’s theory, you can only strive toward self-actualization when your other, more basic needs are taken care of. These include physical needs such as shelter, water, food, and sleep as well as psychological needs, such as interpersonal connections with others. Once you have taken care of the basics, the way is clear for you to work on improving other aspects of your life.
2. Show Love and Appreciation
Being kind to others is not only a way of meeting the psychological and emotional needs on Maslow’s hierarchy, e.g., forming connections with others. Showing kindness, appreciation, and love creates a feedback loop. In other words, what you put out in the world tends to come back to you, so make sure you’re putting out good things.
3. Stick With What Works
People who are successful in one or more areas of life repeat behaviors that have worked for them in the past and discontinue those that don’t. However, determining exactly what works for you and why may require some analysis on your part. Make note of any positive feedback that you receive, not only mentally but with literal pen and paper (or the electronic equivalent of your choice). If the feedback is not specific, feel free to ask questions of the person providing the feedback to find out what, precisely, he or she thought was good. Consider your general strengths as well as specifics. Consciously understanding what works allows you to repeat it until it becomes habitual.
4. Be Honest About Your Goals
Too many people set goals for themselves based on what other people want from them. For example, your parents may want you to study law because of the money and prestige that being an attorney can confer. However, you may be the sort of person who does not seek notoriety and shrinks away from conflict with others. Therefore, even if you have the required intelligence, you are unlikely to be successful or fulfilled in the practice of law because it is not in concordance with your values. When you set goals for yourself, be honest about what you want to do and what you think will make you happy.
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