Healthy Beginnings

Reach your full potential: Tips to get on the path of self-actualization

Meditation is one important way to build a habit of self-calming. Photo: Shutterstock

Twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow is most well known today for his hierarchy of needs. At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs like food and sleep, followed by safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and at the very top, self-actualization.

Self-actualization, in short, is the state in which people are at their very best. Maslow saw it as the default state for humans when all of their needs are met.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization,” he wrote in his 1954 book “Motivation and Personality.”

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Photo: Shutterstock

“I think of the self-actualizing man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away,” he adds. “The average man is a full human being with dampened and inhibited powers and capacities.”

Self-actualized people accept themselves and others, are realistic and autonomous, have frequent peak experiences, have a strong sense of personal ethics and responsibility, and are able to express their emotions.

Darcia F. Narvaez, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame, argues that having our needs fully met during our early childhood years is integral in a person’s journey toward self-actualization.

“It’s reaching your full potential as an individual, and everyone has their own uniqueness,” says Narvaez. “Just like snowflakes, we are all unique, so to reach your full potential, you have to listen to your inner voice and develop your intuition well, which requires good early experiences to shape your body and mind and encourage your spirit.”

But there is internal work that can be done to further the goal regardless of your upbringing, she says.

“You’ve got to undo all the harm and trauma before you can actually start to pay attention to your own spirit and be relaxed about doing something different and being a nonconformist,” says Narvaez. “You have to build habits of self-calming, which would be belly breathing, meditation and things like that.”

She suggests fostering connections with the people and natural world around you, as well as working to expand your imagination through visualization.

“A lot of the students in my class are very smart and they know how to take tests really well and they are really intellectually advanced, but their social and emotional intelligence, their intrapersonal intelligence, their own sense of who they are is underdeveloped,” says Narvaez. “But when we do the visualization, it’s trying to get them to tune into that sense to figure out what their heart of hearts tells them to do.”

Narvaez also encourages her students to practice emotional presence to tap into who they truly are at their core.

“I ask them to get to know themselves, what they like and dislike, as opposed to following others and to be honest with themselves and realize that this is all a process,” she explains. “They will need to develop courage to follow their own path.”

Here are five other tips, according to Maslow, for becoming a more self-actualized person from his book “Motivation and Personality.”

  1. Self-actualized people accept themselves for who they are.

“They can accept their own human nature in the stoic style, with all its shortcomings, with all its discrepancies from the ideal image without feeling real concern … One does not complain about water because it is wet, or about rocks because they are hard…simply noting and observing what is the case, without either arguing the matter or demanding that it be otherwise.”

  1. They know their purpose.

“(They have) some mission in life, some task to fulfill, some problem outside themselves which enlists much of their energies … This is not necessarily a task that they would prefer or choose for themselves; it may be a task that they feel is their responsibility, duty, or obligation … In general these tasks are nonpersonal or unselfish, concerned rather with the good of mankind in general.”

  1. They are grateful.

“Self-actualizing people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naïvely, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others … Thus for such a person, any sunset may be as beautiful as the first one, any flower may be of breath-taking loveliness, even after he has seen a million flowers … For such people, even the casual workaday, moment-to-moment business of living can be thrilling.”

  1. They are non-conformists.

“(They) make up their own minds, come to their own decisions, are self-starters, are responsible for themselves and their own destinies … too many people do not make up their own minds, but have their minds made up for them by salesmen, advertisers, parents, propagandists, TV, newspapers and so on.”

  1. They enjoy the journey.

“Our subjects are somewhat more likely to appreciate for its own sake, and in an absolute way, the doing itself; they can often enjoy for its own sake the getting to some place as well as the arriving. It is occasionally possible for them to make out of the most trivial and routine activity an intrinsically enjoyable game or dance or play.”

Claire Cudahy is a Reno-based freelance writer and contributor to Healthy Beginnings Magazine.