What is Self-Actualization?
I wondered the same thing myself when I first came across the term, but after researching a bit more, I think it perfectly describes the type of lifestyle I've been trying to describe and live these first two months that I've been writing this blog.
Self-Actualization is, in a phrase, the attempt of an individual to realize their intrinsic potential. Dr. Abraham Maslow popularized the term in his article, A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow explained that self-actualization is ""the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is 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."
When it comes down to it, this is the type of lifestyle that I'm all about. When I had my Thanksgiving Moment of Clarity (TMOC), I came to the realization that, absent any positive intervention, I was going to become a comfortable, out-of-shape, good-but-not-great member of society, who preferred watching TV and drinking to actually getting shit done. Maslow thought that the need to self-actualize is at the heart of everyone's purpose on this planet, and is the final stage that a human being can hope to achieve.
What are some common traits of self-actualized individuals? According to this article, the self-actualized are:
- They have realistic views of themselves and others. The self-actualized aren't deluded into thinking that they're necessarily better than everyone else at everything. They recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and know when to ask for help. They also don't put other people on a pedestal, nor do they needlessly denigrate them.
- They are focused on finding solutions to problems. They not only want to solve their own problems, but also those of others. They are motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and ethics to make the world a better place.
- They are spontaneous. They don't find a need to conform to needless social constructs and rules, and tend to be spontaneous in their thoughts and deeds.
- They need to be autonomous and occasionally be left alone. They are social people and enjoy interacting with groups, but they realize that they need some alone time to work toward their true potential. Basically, there is a tendency for the self-actualized to be independent in their work and other pursuits.
- They continually appreciate the nature of the world around them, often viewing it with wonder and awe.
- They have had peak experiences. According to Maslow, these are moments of intense joy, wonder, awe and ecstasy (not the drug…I think…). These experiences can be transformative or reinvigorating.
Sounds pretty kick-ass, right? Maslow estimated that self-actualization only occurred in less than one percent of the population. This may have been because he thought that individuals had to progress through a hierarchy of psychological states to achieve self-actualization. This hierarchy has been challenged by a number of scholars, but is still taught in psych classes.
Because we're all on this planet for such a short amount of time, isn't self-actualization a pretty sweet goal to aim for?
Who doesn't want to reach their full potential? Well, judging by what I see most of the time, a bunch of people.
All of the Bitchers, for example. Doers are inherently on their way to self-actualization. But Bitchers that come up with excuse after excuse, or eschew a sense of personal responsibility to always play the victim will never achieve self-actualization. Don't you want to be in the top 1% of all humans? Jesus, it's like being one of the X-Men or something. Until you actively start searching for what you're capable of and take affirmative steps in that direction, you'll never know what you're full potential is. Until you try to scratch the surface of your abilities, you are wasting the wonderful gift of life that you've been given.
By no means am I saying that I'm there yet—in fact, I think I've just started on the journey to self-actualization. But as the old proverb goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Stop the excuses. Stop the bitching. Get on the road to self-actualization. Become superhuman.
How close are you to self-actualization? Leave your stories in the comments below.
Questions? Comments? Want to know the secret of life? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on twitter @djgelner.