Personal development is any activity that makes you a better person. Its goal is to give you more confidence and make you a happier, more satisfied individual. It concerns itself with improving awareness, honing talents, developing emotional intelligence and building your appreciation of yourself and all of your attributes. As with any significant undertaking, but especially one that can be as life-changing as personal development, it’s worth taking a deep look at why it is undertaken, or, to put it differently, what your motivation should be before taking it on.
Motivation is the fuel that will keep you going as you discover and create the best version of yourself. It’s intrinsically related to purpose, because if you don’t know your purpose in life, you can hardly know what your destination should be and what motivations you need in order to get there. By reminding yourself of what your purpose or bottom line is, you are more likely to have the self-motivation to persist and succeed when the going gets tough.
The best way to know and appreciate your purpose in life is to have a firm understanding of basic human needs. They are brilliantly described by Abraham Maslow in his motivation theory and graphically expressed in his hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy not only helps us understand what our basic needs are but also demonstrates how they are interrelated. Understanding all this can be instrumental in formulating and implementing a viable path to that highest of values, self-actualization.
Updated Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
According to Maslow’s theory, people must satisfy their needs on the base level of the pyramid before moving up to the next tier. After that, they can address the next level up, and on in like fashion until reaching the pinnacle, self-actualization. However, people differ, and there is room for flexibility in the scheme. Some people are ready to move up before they have satisfied what for others would be a prerequisite. Also, not everyone needs 100% satisfaction on any particular level before moving up. Nonetheless, the hierarchy is a useful way of thinking about what people want from life, its importance and how they might prioritize the quest for self-actualization.
At the foundation of Maslow’s pyramid are the physiological needs required for survival — things like air, water and shelter. Until they are satisfied, all other levels are secondary. For example, if you haven’t had anything to eat for a long time, it’s going to be difficult to think about your personal development goals.
Once physiological needs are satisfied, people turn to their safety needs. These are such things as stability and freedom from fear. Together with physiological needs, Maslow considers these basic needs. In my coaching, I call them necessities.
People next look to satisfy their needs for companionship and belonging, often found in families, work environments and social communities. Such groups satisfy needs to trust and be trusted, feel connected and feel accepted and loved. This tier of the pyramid is the first step on the path of personal fulfillment.
Never underestimate the power of belonging and interpersonal connection to motivate. To appreciate the potential and pervasiveness of belonging needs, think of how much time is spent on social media every day.
Following and sometimes overlapping with belonging needs are self-esteem needs. The two are often grouped as psychological needs. Esteem needs include things like mastery, independence and recognition.
Along with the need to belong, the need for safety and physiological needs, esteem needs can be considered deficiency needs; that is, they are not felt so much in their presence as they are in their absence. When they are satisfied, we feel normal and up to the task of moving on to the higher needs. That’s why it’s easy to take them for granted. However, when they are not satisfied, not only are we hindered in moving up, we are apt to spend an inordinate amount of time in pursuit of their satisfaction.
Growth Needs — Cognitive and Aesthetic
In Maslow’s words, “It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” That is when, of course, we look to satisfaction of our growth needs.
Satisfaction of growth needs, cognitive and aesthetic, takes us near the pinnacle of the pyramid, just below the ultimate goal, self-actualization. These are not deficiency needs that weaken and eventually disappear with satisfaction. Instead, they continue to be felt even when they are attained.
In fact, as one nears attainment, an even stronger need for satisfaction of growth needs may be felt. This is because growth needs tend to feed on themselves. Their satisfaction feels good, and people want more. For anyone on the path of personal development and self-actualization, this is extremely useful information to take advantage of. It is a great opportunity to receive, enjoy and use abundant self-motivational energy in pursuit of dream and purpose fulfillment.
Because it is such an opportunity, let’s talk a little more about these cognitive and aesthetic needs before moving on to discussing the ultimate goal: self-actualization.
Cognitive needs are those involving knowing, understanding, creating, finding meaning and solving problems. They are all features of the brain, rather than satisfaction of the bodily functions described on the lower levels of the pyramid. These needs include things like appreciation of beauty and the love of form.
As grand as it is to let your mind linger and revel in these noble satisfactions, there is a still higher and even more satisfying attainment: self-actualization.
Growth Need — Self-Actualization
At the self-actualization level, individuals realize and reach their true potential, and they feel grateful and fulfilled. Continually seeking further personal growth and peak experiences, they often turn their attention to the growth of others and focus on altruism rather than just their own personal satisfactions.
At the lower levels of the hierarchy, people tend to be occupied with solving their own problems. Even at the middle levels, concerns are mainly person-centered (or self-centered). However, as we near the top of the pyramid, would-be self-actualizers are much more likely to have a problem-centered orientation, which means that they will be more likely to focus on and derive fulfillment from addressing the problems and difficulties experienced by others rather than just their own.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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