Here’s a conversation I accidentally overheard the other day.
Two woman in their thirties were having coffee together, at the table next to mine.
I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, because they were talking so loudly. One had a problem with her partner, and the other was saying how she wasn’t sleeping well lately.
During all this, the following was said (word for word – I actually typed it up as they were talking :P):
Woman 1: I just need something more.
Woman 2: You want to take a class or something? Go back to school?
Woman 1: No, I need something else, I don’t know what. I’m missing something.
Woman 2: What are you missing? You’re bored at work?
Woman 1: Well, who isn’t bored at work. No, I can’t describe it. It’s like I’m bored of everything, but I know that’s not it.
Woman 2: So what’s the problem? Maybe you should get out more.
Woman 1: I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I feel I can do more of…something.
And on Woman 1 continued, for another 5 minutes or so. I was fighting the urge to jump up and tell these two women that the word they were looking for was ‘self actualization’. But instead, I sat, drinking my coffee and not disturbing anyone’s day.
The Definition of Self-Actualization
Well, what is self-actualization, then?
Those words are fairly understandable apart, but when you put them together, they sound a bit confusing. How do you ‘self-actualize’? Are you not actually yourself?
To put it very simply, self-actualization means fulfilling your needs. And no, not the needs to eat, sleep, rave and repeat – the needs that come once those basic ones are met. The type that Woman 1 in the coffee shop just couldn’t put her finger on. It’s working out what your dream is, and what would make you happy – and then doing it.
Because, as we all know, self actualization is a tricky one. It sounds so simple – ‘I want to do what makes me the happiest’- but when it comes down to it:
- Knowing what makes you happy, and
- Knowing how to do the thing which makes you happy
Are probably two of the trickiest things to work out – it’s much easier to accept that job which was offered to you, even though you know if you tried a bit harder, you could have gone for a more challenging and fulfilling one. It’s choosing to watch TV every night when you come home, despite wanting to open that business you’ve been thinking about, but just don’t have the time, money or energy to get it up and running.
And that’s self actualization, in a nutshell.
Self Actualization Theory
The theory of self actualization comes from a famous psychologist of the 20th century – Abraham Maslow. His theory was so influential, it’s used nowadays as a basis for everything from teaching to motivational workshops, in business plans and workplaces.
His self actualization theory says that every human being has basic needs which they need to be fulfilled in order to have the most basic of lives.
Then, once these most basic needs have been met, they have more, slightly more complex needs – the need to feel secure.
Once those security needs have been met, they then needs something even more complex – the need to feel loved and belong – to have friendships and relationships. This in turn leads to more needs – to feel good about themselves, and confident.
Once all of these different levels of needs have been met, it’s time for some good old-fashioned self-actualization: in other words, feeling so confident and good about yourself, that you’re ready to make yourself happy and maximise your talents.
It’s a similar idea to the one discussed in A Beginner’s Guide to Better Self Confidence.
Self Actualization Needs
The woman in the coffee shop, while she was confused and uncertain about exactly what she was missing was still in a great position – many of us never make it to the self actualization stage in the pyramid, and it’s mostly because of low self-esteem or our mental health.
Take another look at the pyramid above. Has there ever been a level which you’ve found hard to reach?
When someone is suffering from depression, for example, it’s common for them to feel as if they are stuck in the ‘Needs’ stage – getting through life by doing the bare minimum they need to – eat, breathe, go to the bathroom etc.
And if you look at the next stage – Safety, and needing to feel safe in your body, in your surroundings, in your job or school – doesn’t that just scream of anxiety?
The point is, self actualization is possible to achieve, but only once you have gone through the pyramid and strengthened yourself through the other needs, and all the issues they bring.
Self Actualization Examples
People in the self actualization stage are pretty easy to spot. They exude confidence, and they make things happen. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, in public at least, are great examples of self actualization.
Those two women are:
- Confident – they look it and inspire others to be confident,
- They’re trendsetters – remember Gaga’s meat dress? Or Beyoncé’s Lemonade surprise?
- Both have changed the music industry to fit around them – and not changed themselves to be a part of it, like other celebrities might.
If you looked at the confident, strong people in their life, what would they all have in common?
The fact that they seem happy in themselves. Depressives and anxiety sufferers would find it hard to reach the self actualization stage without first managing their depression/anxiety.
Self actualized people are confident, but not big-headed. Quick, easy ways to spot someone in the self actualized zone are:
- They aren’t troubled by little things, and tend to see the bigger picture,
- They are fun and easy-going to be around,
- They are accepting – of people, of good or bad situations and, most importantly – of themselves,
- They’re always looking to grow and learn and explore – they know there is always more to do on their journey.
In short, they are pretty awesome people to hang around with.
Take the Self Actualization Test
A good way to measure your own characteristics of self actualization, or how far away you are from that stage, is to take the following test, which I’ve simplified a bit.
Give yourself a score for each question, from 1-10, and keep track of it for each question.
A ‘1’ means you disagree completely and don’t fit this description at all, and ’10’ means you agree completely and fit this description perfectly):
- Are you realistic – about life, accepting good and bad things, the highs and lows, as they happen?
- Are accepting of yourself, of other people, and things out of your control?
- Are you capable of being spontaneous, and doing what comes naturally to you?
- Are you able to problem solve – your own, but also other people’s and in the world around you?
- Can you do things for yourself and make your own decisions?
- Are you appreciative of the things around you, and can you see familiar things in a different light?
- Have you ever felt so happy that you thought you were floating? Would you ever be able to feel that happy?
- Do you feel connected to the people around you>
- Can you be by yourself? And even without your smartphone?
- Can you make your own decisions?
- Do you like people? Do you feel neutral/connected to even total strangers, or see the good in them?
- Can you tell the difference between good and bad, right and wrong?
- Do you have a sense of humour (and not a mean or sarcastic one)?
- Are you creative, in whatever way that means to you?
- Are you able to be an individual, or do you follow crowds/trends/the latest craze?
- Do you feel that you have more to learn and grow? Or do you feel that you’re perfect?
Count up your numbers.
The way it works is – the higher your number, the higher up Maslow pyramid of needs you are. The lower your number, the lower down on the pyramid you are, and it;s a good idea to work out what you can do to become a more self actualized person.
Self Actualize Yourself
And there we have it – your mini-guide to self-actualization.
Next time you overhear a similar conversation to the one above, please point them in this direction.
How is your own self actualization journey going? What’s working well for you, and what do you think you could improve on? Let me know in the comments!
All the best,
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Also published on Medium.