Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist and academic. In 1943, he developed a theory known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He believed that there are different stages of development, and once we reach one stage, we can move on to the next stage. He presented the hierarchy in a pyramid, with the first stage as physical survival, and the last stage as self-transcendence.
What are the stages?
1. Physical Survival: oxygen, food, water, sex, rest
2. Safety and security: security of body, employment, morality, family, health, housing/protection from the elements, law and order, freedom from fear
3. Belongingness and Love: friendship, family, intimacy, affection
4. Esteem: achievement, independence, status, prestige, respect
5. Cognitive needs: knowledge, meaning, curiosity, exploration
6. Aesthetic needs: appreciation and search for beauty, balance & form.
7. Self-Actualisation: realising potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth, peak experiences, experiencing a sense of joy and wonder in the world (being in the moment).
8. Self-Transcendence: helping others to achieve self-actualisation.
How do we progress through the stages?
To proceed through the stages, we must be a functioning adult with a lively inner child. This means that we must balance hard work and responsibility with creativity, a sense of wonder and fun. Maslow noted that the powerful and wealthy individual will not achieve self-actualisation if they cannot be curious, innocent and independent of the good opinion of other people. On the other hand, we cannot achieve self-actualisation if we don’t have a home or a job. And of course we will not be concerned with beauty and self-transcendence if we are in the midst of emotional turmoil. The more we can practice mindfulness and be fully absorbed in the moment, the easier it is to progress through the stages of life development. According to Maslow, to move through the stages we must try new things, be honest, and follow our own feelings rather than those of the majority or authority.
What are the six characteristics of self-actualisers?
Maslow wrote, “What a [person] can be, [they] must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for [one] to become actualized in what [we are] 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.”
According to Maslow, people who have achieved self-actualisation have the following six characteristics:
1. Problem-centred, rather than self-centred: Self-actualisers are motivated by strong moral standards, ethics and a sense of personal responsibility. They seek to solve problems outside themselves and are concerned for the welfare of humanity.
2. Open to the way things unfold: self-actualisers accept themselves and have realistic perceptions of the world. They can tolerate uncertainty;
3. Follow the beat of their own drum: self-actualised individuals can conform, but do not follow conventions unless they believe in them. They are spontaneous in thought and behaviour. They are creative, quirky and often have an odd sense of humour.
4. A need for solitude: self-actualisers value their independence. They cultivate deep interpersonal relationships with a handful of people, but also need time to focus on realising their potential. This may come in the form of visualisation, meditation or some other practice of solitude.
5. Wonder and awe: Self-actualisers have a deep appreciation for basic life experiences. They see wonder in the mundane. They see beauty in the simple things.
6. Peak experiences: These are naturally induced moments of intense joy, ecstasy and inspiration, which leave self-actualisers renewed and transformed.
The final stage is self-transcendence, when self-actualised individuals feel inspired to teach self-actualisation to others.