Applying Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to deal with challenge
Do you remember psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It is a list of human needs that stack from the bottom up. The bottom or lowest layer of needs include health, food and sleep and the next level up is safety and shelter. Then comes belonging (the need for people or groups with which to feel connected.)
Then as we move to the upper layer, we find the need for esteem (to esteem self and receive esteem from others) and above that the next ladder rung is Self Actualization. This top level of Maslow’s ladder of needs (self-actualization) is where a person’s psychological needs have been met so that he is free to understand more fully who he is and to make an impact on the world, to really be their best selves. .
As we aspire to optimize our experience of self, we begin to have peak experiences or moments of extreme happiness, high performance, or bliss. This is when we feel most successful and operate at our full potential.
Maslow arrived at this hierarchy of needs by studying happy, healthy people – from regular folks to high achievers, like Albert Einstein. His quest was to understand how they were able to achieve happiness and success in their lives.
This same quest has always intrigued me. As a child I would read every biography and autobiography available with one question in mind, how did this person know he/she could accomplish what he did? Be it Paul Revere riding through villages to warn people that the “British are coming,” or becoming president of the United States or leading a troop of soldiers in war. In each case it seemed that there was a spirit in the individual that spoke to them and drove them to take the lead and do more.
I believe we all have this Spirit and perhaps it isn’t about forcing ourselves to perform, but developing the self esteem and confidence to open to the opportunities we face daily and freeing our creativity, talent and potential to meet the demands and be our best selves in those situations. This could be as simple as being the best parent, sales person, or soldier possible. Each opportunity we face in life is part of this progression – each one brings us closer to living our full potential and having peak experiences.
So what if our real work is to assist others to actualize in every area of life - as a parent, teacher, boss? To really help each one realize that they have greatness within and the capacity to rise above their challenges and do great things? Maybe we are to create situations where folks can develop their talents and potential.
Often as parents or perhaps as co-workers and employers, we want to make it easy for people and we do the work for them. So when we do this, are we really supporting and believing in the ones we are there to help? Sometimes we even call it love when we take care of things that others need to do for them selves. In actuality we are stealing from them. We are demonstrating our greatness, but not letting them express theirs!
So what is the message? If it really is a challenge…. how can we encourage others to be their best selves and in the process, become our own best selves? Think of it this way… are you doing something for someone who needs to do it for themselves…. because if you are, you are denying them the opportunity to develop and express their talents and creativity.
Maslow’s insights into personal psychology may offer the challenge we all need. What if my job isn’t about coercing performance, but encouraging people to rise to their full potential? What if my job is to believe that each person has it in them to be great? If that is so, then let’s begin with ourselves by meeting whatever challenge is in front of you, and, as you do that you encourage each person in your world to do the same. Let’s make a practice of studying healthy attitudes and asking ourselves, “How can I be like that?” In this way we shift to self-actualize and possibly help the world be a more exciting, rewarding place as well.