Self-actualisation is a term coined by psychologist Abraham Maslow to describe the ongoing process of fully developing your personal potential. The first thing to note about self-actualisation is that it is a process not a goal. In other words, self-actualisation is not something that you aim for: it is something that you do. The second thing to note is that self-actualisation is not restricted to high-profile, high-achieving individuals; you don’t have to be famous to self-actualise.
Self-actualisers feel safe, calm, accepted, loved, loving and alive. They share a number of characteristics:
- Peak experiences. Self-actualisers frequently experience moments of high excitement, ecstasy, harmony and deep meaning.
- Higher purpose. Self-actualisers have a mission in life. They attempt to solve problems and pursue goals that are outside of themselves.
- Spontaneous. Self-actualisers are willing to take risks and experiment with their lives. They are unrestrained and uninhibited.
- Fresh and renewed appreciation. Every day provides an opportunity to enjoy the good things that life has to offer. Self-actualisers never tire of seeing (for example) a golden sunset. Their enjoyment and appreciation are as intense the twentieth time as they were the first.
- Social interest. Self-actualisers take an interest in others. They care about the well being of others and the community in which they live. Additionally, their relationships with loved ones are deep and committed.
- Comfortable with being alone. As well as enjoying close relationships with others, self-actualisers enjoy their own company. They regularly enjoy being alone.
- Sense of humor. Self-actualisers are able to laugh at themselves. Because their sense of humor is non-hostile, they are able to make jokes about others that are not hurtful or spiteful.
- Critical thinking. Self-actualisers are not easily fooled. They are both open-minded and skeptical, willing to consider all ideas, but equally willing to dismiss them if they don’t stand up to critical analysis.
- Accepting of imperfection. Self-actualisers are comfortable with their own flaws as well as the flaws in others. Similarly, they calmly accept that life is full of uncertainty and frustration.
- Self-directed. Self-actualisers are autonomous; they choose the direction of their own lives. They are independent and resourceful.
How to self-actualise
Unfortunately there is no pill you can take that will turn you into a self-actualiser overnight, but there are some steps that you can take starting now that will head you in the right direction:
- Assess your life. Are you living a life that you find deeply rewarding and meaningful? This is not a “once-only” step. It’s a question you’ll need to ask yourself regularly.
- Assess your motives. Are you holding yourself back because of fear? Base your life choices on a desire to grow, rather than as a reaction to fear.
- Be willing to change. If your life isn’t rewarding you’ll need to be willing to change, willing to get off your backside and take a new direction.
- Take responsibility. Don’t expect others to make changes for you. It’s your life and its up to you to make the necessary changes that will lead to greater fulfillment.
- Cherish your uniqueness. Be prepared to break away from the herd and be different. Don’t be afraid to follow your impulses.
- Realise your dreams. Instead of wallowing in wishful thinking, write down your goals and take the appropriate action to achieve them.
- Accept your fallibility. Be willing to say, “I was wrong.” Be honest with yourself and with others.
- Learn from the good times. Try to repeat experiences that you find deeply meaningful or awe-inspiring or that lead to feelings of excitement, ecstasy, humility or personal fulfillment.
- Join in. Get involved in life. Become an active member of your community.
- Look for the good in others. Every one of us has good points and bad. All too often we overlook the good and focus on the bad. Get into the habit of looking for the good in others.
- Assess your progress. Take the time to reflect on all that you’ve accomplished as well as to honestly assess how you can do more to improve your life and the lives of those around you.
Hierarchy of human needs
No discussion of self-actualisation would be complete without a mention of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Some needs are more basic and therefore more powerful than others. Our basic needs are physiological: food, water, sleep, sex etc. Once these needs have been satisfied, we seek safety and security. Once we feel safe, we are free to pursue love and a sense of belonging. Our next goal is for esteem and self-esteem. It is when you meet these goals that you can more fully focus on growth needs that lead to self-actualisation.