If you’re not familiar with self-actualization, the idea comes from renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation. Maslow hypothesized that unsatisfied needs drive our behavior. Needs like food, water, and safety need to be met first, then we strive to achieve social connection and self-esteem. Once all of these goals are met, we move on to seeking self-actualization—or achieving our full potential.
Later, an additional need was added—contributing something purposeful that is greater than ourselves. This is also referred to as “Beyond Self-Actualization,” “Transcendence,” or “Selfless Actualization” (Greene, & Burke, 2007).
Maslow suggested that lower-level needs are “deficit needs.” We need them to survive, so they take priority. Self-actualization and beyond are “growth needs.” Personal growth is considered to be a crucial precursor to well-being (Ryff, 1989). We may focus on actualizing our potential and extending our abilities to serve others. We might have:
- The desire to make bad situations better
- The desire to create something that makes the world better
- The desire to reward and praise others
So how do we strive toward self-actualization? Here are a few tips:
When we think in black-versus-white, we miss opportunities to learn, grow, and experience things that could bring more meaning to our lives. That’s why self-actualization involves being open to alternative information and points-of-view (Greene, & Burke, 2007). We’re served by looking at problems in creative ways and from different perspectives. So try to be more open to experience if you’re aiming for self-actualization.
If you aim to self-actualize and become your best self, it’s important to first get clear on your values (Greene, & Burke, 2007). If we strive to reach goals that go against our values or morals, we could end up feeling worse off—unfulfilled and unhappy.
When we think of self-actualization, many of us actually are thinking of esteem needs (Krems, Kenrick, & Neel, 2017). Maybe we strive for love and belonging or for career success. There is nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, according to Maslow, we need to satisfy these needs before moving on to self-actualization. Once we feel like we are loved and respected it may be easier to shift our focus to personal growth and selfless pursuits.
Each of us desires to achieve different goals and manifest different dreams. By exploring what it is that we really want, we can feel more fulfilled in pursuing it.
Self-actualization is a peak experience that many of us strive for. But it should also be thought of as a lifelong pursuit. It is about growth and giving back. With some effort, we have the potential to experience all that self-actualization has to offer.
- Greene, L., & Burke, G. (2007). Beyond self-actualization. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 116-128.
- Krems, J. A., Kenrick, D. T., & Neel, R. (2017). Individual perceptions of self-actualization: What functional motives are linked to fulfilling one’s full potential?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(9), 1337-1352.
- Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069.