He said Freud was an unhappy old man who never considered the human spirit in the health of the mind.
Abraham Maslow, who died in 1970, was a different kind of psychologist. Rather than studying what goes wrong with a person’s mind, he chose to study what made the mind right. He called this state of being “self-actualization” which is the point we get to when we’re realizing our full potential as a human being.
You know you’re living to your full potential when you experience “ah ha” moments of joy, discovery and connection.
Self-actualization is not a place where you arrive. Instead, it’s a never-ending state of “becoming”.
Definition of self-actualization:
The realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities.
Maslow had one caveat. He believed that self-actualization – being able to release negative thoughts so we can see our true value – is either not possible, or becomes difficult, if basic human needs are not being met. These include the need to feel safe, to sleep and eat, to love and be loved, and the need for self-esteem.
Therein lies the problem. In today’s society – those basic needs, for many, are not being met.
According to Maslow, until we can meet them, true self-actualization is hard to come by. And because he knew just how elusive they can be, he estimated that only 2 per cent of people will ever reach the stage of self-actualization.
There are those in the health field who say Maslow’s “positive psychology” can do nothing for people with mental illness. Knowing how to achieve a sense of well-being, they argue, is insufficient for those experiencing depression, requiring deep therapy and drugs.
But for those of us not suffering from serious mental health issues, self-actualization may seem like a worthy goal. How do we get there?
Maslow created this list of behaviors leading to self-actualization. How many of these are you practicing?
- Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration.
- Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths.
- Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority.
- Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and instead, being honest.
- Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority.
- Taking responsibility for your life rather than blaming society or others.
- Trying to identify your defenses (hot buttons – things that make you defensive) and having the courage to give them up.
Maslow had studied Lincoln, Einstein and other great people of history and said that by practicing the above behaviors, they developed the following self-actualizing characteristics.
- They perceived reality efficiently and tolerated uncertainty.
- They accepted themselves and others for who they were.
- They had a sense of humor.
- They were able to look at life objectively.
- They were creative.
- They were genuinely concerned for the welfare of humanity.
- They were capable of appreciating basic life-experiences such as enjoying a country walk.
- They were able to establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people.
- They had strong moral and ethical standards.
In many ways, Maslow’s prescription for self-actualization is about looking inside yourself – getting to know YOU, accepting what you learn, and moving on.
In today’s world of distraction, taking the time to know yourself is more important than ever. Letting go of what the world has to say, and choosing to accept yourself, is the beginning of self-actualization.