Self-actualization is most famously known to be the final tier in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. Reaching self-actualization is a process that can’t be achieved unless all other pyramid levels are met first. When I try to grasp self-actualization, I find a deeper sense of purpose and a better understanding of myself.
Self-actualization is the process of becoming one’s true self by understanding and fulfilling the highest level of potential. Rooted in psychology, this concept can also be defined as the desire to become the best version of oneself.
Do you believe you have high potential? Do you desire to achieve and fulfill that potential? There are many benefits to becoming self-actualized and traits that set these people apart from others.
What is self-actualization?
Self-actualization is the psychological act of recognizing and reaching one’s fullest potential. This is the highest tier on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. The term’s origins can be traced back to the German psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein, but it was expanded upon by Abraham Maslow when he created the human hierarchy of needs, which was later put into the visual of the pyramid.
Self-actualization is fulfilling your potential and essentially becoming who you are to the deepest and truest form of yourself. It is the process of self-development. Because the concept is the highest level on the pyramid, Maslow believed that all other foundational needs must be met (to a certain degree) before achieving self-actualization.
Benefits of Self Actualization
There are many benefits of self-actualization. By reaching one’s fullest potential, those who experience self-actualization also experience an improved sense of confidence, independence, and empathy. They become more aware of the needs of those around them, creating a desire to do good, seek truth, and make a difference in the world.
Self-actualization promotes a deeper sense of purpose, increased creativity, and greater problem-solving skills. By discovering and reaching your highest potential, you open yourself up to a larger perspective and can understand others better.
People who are self-actualized see things from a higher perspective.
Self Actualization Needs
Maslow stressed the importance of meeting the physical, social, and emotional needs before becoming self-actualized. He created a hierarchy (in the visual representation of a pyramid), starting with basic physical and environmental needs and working his way up through social and emotional needs before ending with the highest tier of deeper physiological needs or self-actualization.
Like climbing the rungs of a ladder, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a process of internal growth and personal development. Self-actualization occurs when all the other needs are met. The needs are as follows, starting from the base of the pyramid and working up to the peak:
- Physiological Needs – food, water, shelter, rest, clothing, reproduction
- Safety Needs – personal security, employment, resources, health, property
- Love/Social Needs – friends, family, relationships, belonging
- Esteem Needs – self-esteem, accomplishment, confidence, respect.
- Self-Actualization Needs – fulfillment, truth, morality, empathy, creativity, problem-solving, etc.
Characteristics of Self Actualization
Maslow also expanded on the traits that self-actualized people have in common by studying various people who had achieved self-actualization. There are a variety of characteristics that self-actualized people possess that sets them apart from the average person. Let’s take a look at some of these traits.
15 Characteristics of Self Actualization
- They are independent – People who experience self-actualization find autonomy. They rely on themselves and don’t need the approval of others. They are confident in their abilities and will stand up for themselves.
- Self-actualized people have a great sense of purpose – They believe in a specific and unique mission that they must achieve and work relentlessly towards that goal. They believe that there is a greater purpose to life than simply going through the motions.
- They are creative, critical thinkers, and humanitarians – Self-actualized people have a heart for the world and want to help those in need. This requires thinking outside the box, problem-solving, and compassion — all traits they possess.
- They have a great sense of humor and can find laughter in their problems or failures – Instead of being hard on themselves, self-actualized people can see the good in every situation. They understand they aren’t perfect and choose to find humor when encountering problems instead of succumbing to negativity, cynicism, or judgment.
- Self-actualized people are grounded in the present moment. They don’t dwell in the past, reliving their mistakes and failures, nor are they only focused on the future. They are in the here and now, appreciating each day’s highs and lows.
- They accept themselves and other people – To reach self-actualization is to face who you truly are. Self-actualization allows for full acceptance of oneself, flaws and all, which is passed on to those around them. They treat everyone the same regardless of ethnicity, background, age, gender, etc.
- They place importance on being in a state of refreshed gratitude – Each day is a day to be thankful and express gratitude for life and everything in it — the gifts, the trials, and everything in between. Self-actualized people maintain a state of gratitude which heightens their energy.
- People who are self-actualized have strong morals – They seek to do good in the world and aren’t easily swayed by societal conditioning. They want to help others, spread joy and peace, and create an equal world. They care greatly about justice and truth.
- They constantly seek personal growth and development – Because self-actualization is the process of becoming one’s true self and reaching the highest potential, they will continue on the path of personal development throughout life. It’s incredibly satisfying and can be addictive to discover new parts of themselves that they didn’t know existed.
- They are realists – Not only are they present, but those who are self-actualized look at the world logically and have good judgment. Because they are truth-seekers, they also possess a stronger sense of those who are fake or dishonest than the average person.
- They are spontaneous and unconventional – Self-actualized People can be seen as different by those around them. They don’t conform to societal norms and don’t care what others think about them. They seek a life outside what is considered “regular” and aren’t afraid to take chances doing things that might be regarded as “unconventional.”
- Self-actualized people are empathetic – They have a heart for others and can see where people are coming from based on their sense of self-love.
- They cultivate and maintain deeper, fulfilling relationships – Because of their empathy, compassion, and acceptance, self-actualized people can connect with others on a deeper level and create meaningful connections. Instead of a large group of acquaintances, they generally have a few close friends as their support system.
- They recognize “Peak Experiences” – These types of experiences can’t be sought out. Instead, they deviate from the norm, broadening perspectives and giving higher levels of euphoria, joy, and excitement. These experiences are a regular thing for self-actualized people because they tend to deepen their understanding of themselves and those around them.
- People who are self-actualized embrace the uncertain and the unknown – While many people tend to be comfortable in a routine and fear the unknown, self-actualized people can be spontaneous and love the thrill of trying new things. To reach one’s full potential, people must step into the unknown, so self-actualized people are no strangers to stepping outside their comfort zone.
Theories of Self Actualization
Self-actualization was born in psychology where it branched off into a few major theories by different professionals in the field. These theories are similar in their core beliefs but have slight differences that make them unique from each other. Self-actualization comes from psychology, and there are three men who introduced and expanded upon the concept.
Self-Actualization in Psychology
Kurt Goldstein, a German neurologist, first introduced the idea of self-actualization. In his book, “The Organism,” Goldstein discussed his holistic theory of the human organism. He focused on the “organism as a whole,” and the concept of self-actualization was born from there. Goldstein believed that all things – humans, plants, and animals have a singular goal of actualization, which wasn’t so much a process of recognizing potential but simply just being or becoming what is.
Maslow Self Actualization
American psychologist Abraham Maslow massively expanded on the theory in his 1943 paper by creating the iconic pyramid of innate human needs. Maslow believed that all lower-level needs must be met before reaching self-actualization. According to a review of the Theory of human motivation published in Psychological Review journal, “If all the needs are unsatisfied, and the organism is then dominated by the physiological needs, all other needs may become simply non-existent or be pushed into the background.”
The pyramid levels start with physiological needs: food, water, shelter, rest, clothing, and reproduction. Once those basics are covered, a person can move up to the next level. Safety needs: personal security, employment, resources, health, and property. If someone is constantly struggling with the basics of human life, it is virtually impossible to achieve self-actualization because they are focused on the basics of surviving.
The next level in the pyramid is love: friends, family, relationships, and belonging. Having a support system is vital to weathering the storms of life. The next level is esteem: self-esteem, accomplishment, confidence, and respect. Then comes the final tier of self-actualization: fulfillment, truth, morality, empathy, creativity, and problem-solving.
Later in his career, Maslow added two additional tiers to the pyramid before self-actualization and one after. The first two are cognitive: the necessity of knowledge and comprehension of oneself, others, and the world, and aesthetic: the need for symmetry, beauty, and order. Then after self-actualization comes the tier of self-transcendence: reaching the highest level of human consciousness.
Through research and studying self-actualized people, Maslow also introduced the characteristic traits of self-actualization. These traits were similar in multiple self-actualized people and can help determine if you have climbed to the top of the pyramid. Some attributes include being a truth seeker and having the ability to see through the fake and dishonest, having a great sense of empathy, being more accepting of oneself and others, and finding humor and joy in any situation. People who are self-actualized see things from a higher perspective.
Carl Rogers Self Actualization
Carl Rogers’s theory of self-actualization was rooted in Maslow’s theory, but with a unique twist. The American psychologist believed that self-actualization was not just the recognition and fulfillment of one’s potential but achieved when a person was “congruent,” meaning their ideal version of themselves lined up with their actions.
It is a sense of striving to become the best version of oneself by aligning their actions meant for self-actualization. Rogers also stressed the importance of the environment and how external factors could affect one’s perspective of themselves versus who they are and who they want to be. Rogers believed that everyone could achieve this type of self-actualization, whereas Maslow believed that as few as 1 in 100 people would achieve it.
Examples of Self Actualization
Self Actualization Pyramid
Here are the tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with the three additionals that he discovered later in his career:
- Self-Transcendence – reaching the highest level of human consciousness.
- Self-Actualization Needs – fulfillment, truth, morality, empathy, creativity, problem-solving, etc.
- Aesthetic Needs – the need for symmetry, beauty, and order.
- Cognitive Needs – knowledge and comprehension of oneself, others, and the world.
- Esteem Needs: self-esteem, accomplishment, confidence, respect.
- Love/Social Needs: friends, family, relationships, belonging.
- Safety Needs: personal security, employment, resources, health, property.
- Physiological Needs: food, water, shelter, rest, clothing, reproduction.
How to Achieve Self Actualization
There’s no doubt that self-actualization is beneficial and has been extensively researched by psychologists over the years, but how does one achieve self-actualization? Here’s a step-by-step process on how to recognize and achieve your highest potential.
Learn to enjoy the adventure, hold plans loosely, and don’t be surprised if you take a detour or dive down a couple of rabbit holes to achieve that fulfillment you’re seeking. Pull Quote
Meet All Other Needs
Maslow stressed the importance of meeting all other needs before reaching self-actualization. It would be hard to focus on personal growth when other areas of life are lacking, such as not having a good home environment or struggling to find a job or a supportive group of friends. Life will never be perfect but aim to meet all the needs on all other tiers of the pyramid, so you have a good foundation for self-actualization.
Take a good look at yourself — not physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a human being? What areas need healing? Where do you see the potential for growth happening? Determine the areas of yourself that you can expand on.
Envision the ideal version of yourself or one where you’ve reached your potential. What does that look like? How does it feel? How is that version different from who you are now?
Set goals based on what you’ve discovered and where you’d like to be to start seeking experiences that will enable you to grow in those areas. The task of “achieving self-actualization” can feel daunting if it’s ambiguous. Getting clear on exactly what you want to achieve or become will create a pathway to success.
It’s a Journey, Not a Destination
It might seem contradictory given the previous step, but self-actualization is an ongoing process, not a checklist that can be completed. While it’s good to have goals to get started, personal development is a journey. Learn to enjoy the adventure, hold plans loosely, and don’t be surprised if you take a detour or dive down a couple of rabbit holes to achieve that fulfillment you’re seeking.
We’re not talking about moving the body but working out the mind. Consciously aim to develop traits of self-actualization by doing them. Practice empathy, find autonomy and be truthful. As you work toward reaching your potential, these various characteristics will develop naturally inside you. Pay attention to the growth and follow it when it happens.
Okay, this is a lot easier said than done. It takes honesty, perseverance, and patience to achieve one’s full potential. Just remember, it’s an ongoing process. You might reach potential in some area, only to see that there is more to be achieved in another. By getting comfortable with who you are, you’ll unlock the highest tier in the pyramid.
Self Actualization Exercises
In their review of empirical research analyzing studies of mindfulness and the self-published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal, Qianguo Xiao, Caizhen Yue, Weija He, and Jia-yuan Yu reveal that positive changes in attitudes toward the self and others as a result of mindfulness-enabled practices can play an important role in modulating many mental and physical health problems.
Try using these mental exercises to help you get into the mindset of self-actualization. These exercises are based on the characteristics of self-actualized people and will empower you to reach your highest potential:
- Find Independence – Get comfortable with being alone. Try taking yourself out on a solo date, or find ways to provide for yourself if you’re with a partner. Learning how to be autonomous is an essential element of self-actualization.
- Practice Empathy – Put yourself in other people’s shoes, see where they are coming from, and imagine if you were them. Open yourself up to the feelings of others. Understanding others leads to more peace.
- Be True and Honest – be who you are. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions (try to avoid being harsh or critical), and learn to stand up for what is right. People might not understand, but don’t worry about conforming to society. If you fully accept yourself, it doesn’t matter what others think of you.
- Get to Know Yourself – part of the process is diving deep and learning who you are, which can be painful. Bringing the shadows and the weaknesses to light is uncomfortable and isn’t always fun, but getting to know yourself fully allows for self-actualization.
- Practice Self-acceptance and Acceptance of Others – once you see yourself for who you are, you can accept yourself. And when you no longer judge or condemn yourself, you are set free. This allows for a broader perspective, where you can see everyone is going through their own set of struggles and problems, and you can give others grace, spreading love through acceptance.
- Be Spontaneous – try new things outside your routine or avoid having one. Don’t let what’s different throw you off; instead, learn to enjoy the excitement of trying something different, new, and unexpected.
- Embrace the Unknown – going off of the last point, get used to walking hand-in-hand with uncertainty. You don’t need to have everything figured out or planned. Trust your intuition and follow where it leads you.
- Peak Experiences – notice those times when you encounter new levels of understanding, joy, and peace. Those experiences where you’re transcending your current state of being cannot consciously be reached, but be on the lookout for them so you can fully submerge yourself in them when they happen.
- Be Present – focus on being in the present moment. It’s easy to slip into the winding river of memories floating in the past, while it’s just as easy to have tunnel vision when trying to reach a goal, completely closed off from what’s currently happening. Staying grounded in the present enables more self-awareness and more gratitude.
- Practice Gratitude – “the attitude of gratitude” has so many benefits. Choosing to be thankful helps you navigate difficult situations with ease; it creates a greater perspective and enjoyable life. It also enables you to stay present.
Check out this helpful video for a better understanding of what constitutes optimal psychological health and self-actualization.
What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
Maslow stressed the importance of meeting the physical, social, and emotional needs before becoming self-actualized. He created a hierarchy of needs, which was later made into the visual representation of a pyramid, starting with basic physical and environmental requirements and working his way up through social and emotional, before ending with the highest tier of deeper physiological needs, self-actualization.
Like climbing the rungs of a ladder, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a process of internal growth and personal development. Self-actualization occurs when all the other necessities are met. The needs are as follows, starting from the base of the pyramid and working up to the peak:
- Physiological Needs – food, water, shelter, rest, clothing, reproduction.
- Safety Needs – personal security, employment, resources, health, property.
- Love/Social Needs – friends, family, relationships, belonging.
- Esteem Needs – self-esteem, accomplishment, confidence, respect.
- Self-Actualization Needs – fulfillment, truth, morality, empathy, creativity, problem-solving.
How does self-actualization feel?
There are so many components to self-actualization; how does one know when it’s happening? How does it actually feel? There is the comfort of all basic needs being met: physiological, safety, love, and esteem. Self-actualization can feel like the traits it possesses, for example, gratitude, empathy, acceptance of oneself and others, and humor in light of difficult situations.
Self-actualized people also experience a more profound sense of self, confidence, independence, higher morals, and excitement for the unknown. If you are experiencing these traits, then you are feeling self-actualization.
Why is self-actualization important?
Self-actualization is essential because it benefits the human brain in many ways. It helps us recognize the greatness within ourselves and drives us to achieve said greatness. Or, as Carl Rogers said, self-actualization allows us to become the greatest version of ourselves. Going through the process of self-actualization will enable us to go on a soul journey, work through the darkest parts of ourselves, and become better humans.
By becoming self-actualized, people give more love and care to those around them, seek truth and justice, and confidently face the unknown. Self-actualized people don’t just think about themselves; they think about the world around them. In these unprecedented times, we need more empathy, gratitude, and humor than ever before.
What Real People Think About Self-Actualization
While the term “self-actualization” is buzzing around the internet, many people still don’t fully understand what it is, although they are interested in learning more about it. When polled on social media, only 50% said they had heard of self-actualization. They understood self-actualization as becoming more aware of oneself, setting goals and reaching them, and the highest level on the pyramid.
All answers were close to the true definition of self-actualization (recognizing one’s potential and fully achieving it), but they weren’t exactly on the mark. Of those who had never heard of it, 100% said they were interested, so even without knowing what it is, it is clear that people want to learn more about this type of personal development.
|Poll of People on Their Awareness of Self-Actualization|
|50% of people have heard of self-actualization|
|27% of people see self-actualization as becoming more aware of oneself|
|18% of people understand self-actualization as setting goals and reaching them|
|54% of people know that self-actualization is the highest tier on the pyramid of needs|
|100% of people were interested in learning what self-actualization is|
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Self-actualization is a beautiful process of self-discovery that starts with recognizing your true potential and the act of achieving it. Becoming self-actualized allows you to look beyond yourself and to the needs of others. It enables you to go deep within and work on becoming the best version of yourself. The world needs more people to be self-actualized and encourage the acceptance, empathy, and truth that come with it. Tell us, what can you do to start your journey to self-actualization?