How to self-actualize

Many individuals living in wealthy countries want to be self-actualized. Have you reached that lofty perch?

According to Abraham Maslow, who coined the term, self-actualization involves individuals making the most of their potential. 

Maslow said that self-actualized individuals have several important characteristics. First, they are open to experience and to the unknown. Second, they accept themselves. Third, they have a strong sense of purpose. Fourth, they look at life from a perspective that focuses on major events and long-time periods. Fifth, they appreciate what they have, Sixth, they understand the limits of their knowledge. Seventh, they have deep relationships. Eighth, they go their own way in life in important ways rather than merely following conventions. 

Maslow considered several well-known individuals, including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein, self-actualized. 

I would like to join that esteemed group. With self-serving bias, I see myself as meeting the first seven criteria.

Number 8, going my own way in life, still eludes me though. With politics, I am in a crowd. I teach by having students apply principles that they learn ā€“ I cannot get a patent on that idea.

On the unconventional side, I drink coffee and tea with a straw. I eat hundreds of peas every morning for breakfast. I usually read while I walk to work. As a scientist I study many different matters rather than focusing on only one topic ā€“ that approach sets me apart. The most innovative research I have done is on how to increase excitement in life. Maybe I am somewhat self-actualized.

It is not easy to stray from the conventional. Conformity forces can apply great pressure. Original thinkers are often ridiculed initially. Think of Hungarian doctor Semmelweis who spouted off about dirty surgeon hands spreading deadly germs to mothers giving birth. His breach of conventional thought ruined his career before it saved the lives of countless women.

How does one become self-actualized? The first step, according to Maslow, involves satisfying lower-level needs such as safety, belonging-love, and self-esteem.

Going toward challenges and new situations can help open a person up to experience and increase self-confidence. Deciding on a mission in life and working persistently on it helps provide a sense of purpose.

Looking at the big picture in life involves devoting little energy to small matters and the short-term and instead focusing on big goals and periods of years, decades, and longer. Switching to big thinking takes self-confidence, self-control, and practice.  

Thinking positively can help us appreciate what we have. Thinking optimistically helps motivate us to push ahead toward goals. Thinking realistically helps us realise what we do not know and what we cannot control. Valuing others and relationships helps us develop and maintain deep friendships. Opening up to others and showing caring and empathy can also contribute to good relationships. 

Self-actualization is a process as much as an endpoint. Working on it may have as much value as reaching it.

What are you doing to move toward self-actualization?

[Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash]

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