Everything in the Universe is hard-wired to grow and evolve, from a single cell to a complex being like a human. Although evolution happens naturally beyond one’s individual or collective consciousness, you have an innate ability to direct your personal growth.
It’s called self-actualization — the human ability to reach one’s fullest potential in every aspect of life.
You can look at self-actualization as the life journey you embark on once your basic needs are met. Most importantly, it’s your birthright to become fully actualized.
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What Is Self-Actualization?
In a nutshell, self-actualization means reaching and utilizing your full social, intellectual, and creative potential.
First coined by Kurt Goldstein, it was defined as a motive to reach full potential in life. It’s what drives you to lead a more meaningful life. Later on, this theory was expanded by American psychologist Carl Rogers. According to him, people have an inner need to actualize, so self-actualization is your intrinsic need to activate and express your capacities.
This involves leveraging your abilities and talents. As a result, the self-actualization process is unique to every individual.
Why is it important to self-actualize?
Jon Butcher, founder of Lifebook and trainer of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Online Quest, defines self-actualization as the ultimate purpose. It’s the state you reach when your life isn’t about your needs and desires. “It’s your desire to be all you can be as a human being,” he adds.
In his opinion, self-actualization entails spirituality. In other words, spirituality is a quest for self-actualization and your commitment to helping others achieve the same.
Reaching your fullest potential in all areas of your life isn’t possible without other people. As humans, we are wired to be connected to each other, and cultivating deep connections with others is impossible without your aspiration to be of service.
On top of that, it’s one of the most significant predictors of happiness and fulfillment. And if you want to serve others, you must actualize yourself first. And this is the ultimate purpose of your human experience — to transcend your own life.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Besides Kurt Goldstein and Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow went on to define self-actualization even further by creating a hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s self-actualization is closely linked to motivation.
You can look at this hierarchy as a pyramid with six stages:
- The base of the pyramid holds basic physiological needs like food, water, air, bodily functions, etc.,
- Once these needs are met, people are motivated to move up and seek safety,
- After personal safety, a person needs love and belonging, which occupy the middle level of the pyramid,
- The penultimate level is self-esteem, and
- Those who achieve high self-esteem can become truly self-actualized.
- Finally, you can reach self-transcendence, the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid.
This six-stage model represents two types of needs — deficiency needs (D-needs) and being needs (B-needs). The first four levels are D-needs, and the top two are B-needs.
According to Maslow, D-needs are your vital needs, stemming from a sense of lack. They have to be more or less satisfied for you to elevate to the next level. These are the needs that motivate you when they aren’t met.
Unlike D-needs, B-needs stem from your desire to grow as a person. Ultimately, when you meet all your needs, you reach Maslow’s self-actualization.
9 Characteristics of a Self-Actualizing Person
Self-actualizing people don’t have a single defining characteristic. They possess a core set of personality traits that allow them to reach their full potential. Some of the common features include:
People who have a high level of self-actualization know who they are and accept themselves as they are, despite their flaws and limitations. It also allows them to accept and embrace others with respect and non-judgment.
2. Having a sense of purpose
This characteristic is about having compassion and awareness of others. Self-actualized people wish to make unselfish contributions to humanity.
4. Having frequent peak experiences
Self-actualized people approach every aspect of life with creativity. Be it problem-solving or social skills, they employ a creative spirit to achieve personal growth and help others grow along the way.
Self-actualization isn’t a destination but a journey. You can have clear goals, but you can still enjoy the process of achieving them.
When you are self-actualized, you highly value your privacy and me-time. Solitude is essential for your growth and development. You can enjoy it as much as you enjoy being around your friends and family.
Self-actualization implies independence and self-sufficiency. You no longer rely on external authorities and conform to other people’s expectations but live from your unique understanding of happiness and contentment.
9. Able to cultivate deep connections with others
Although self-actualizers are highly independent and low-key people, they can cultivate deep and loving relationships with others.
Examples of Self-Actualized People
Based on case studies of historical figures, Maslow identified a few self-actualized individuals who meet the criteria of self-actualization:
- Abraham Lincoln, American president
- Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist
- Albert Schweitzer, writer and philosopher
- Aldous Huxley, philosopher and writer
- Baruch Spinoza, philosopher
- Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and activist
- Jane Addams, sociologist and activist
- Thomas Jefferson, American president and philosopher
- William James, philosopher and psychologist
Though there haven’t been any case studies of contemporary figures who may be considered self-fulfilled, here are a few contemporary individuals who have characteristics of self-actualizers:
- Jon and Missy Butcher, founders of Lifebook and trainers of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Online Quest
- Vishen, founder of Mindvalley
- Michael Beckwith, world-renowned spiritual teacher and trainer of Mindvalley’s Life Visioning Mastery Quest
- Ken Wilber, American philosopher and trainer of Mindvalley’s The Integral Life Quest
- Sadghuru, mystic, visionary, and trainer of Mindvalley’s A Yogi’s Guide To Joy Quest
- Elon Musk, business magnate and investor
- Dr. Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist
How to Achieve Self-Actualization
Maslow’s self-actualization concept is often perceived as a prerogative of an elite few. But it can be achieved by people from various backgrounds and occupations.
It’s not about achieving all your goals but rather your mindset that enables you to deeply appreciate yourself and approach your life challenges with acceptance and understanding. Most importantly, your genuine inclination to be of service to others is what drives your motivation to be better and better.
Here’s what you can practice to become more actualized:
- Cultivate acceptance: Working on becoming more accepting of yourself and the people around you can help you cultivate self-love and self-acceptance and build deeper relationships with others.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you become more present and aware of yourself and the world around you. It’s an essential tool to become more content in your everyday life.
- Strive for peak experiences: Deep sense of connectedness, ecstasy, awe, wonder, and gratitude — the more you strive to experience these, the more self-actualized you will feel.
- Develop empathy: You can work on cultivating empathy by putting yourself in other people’s shoes, volunteering, and looking for ways to serve your local community.
- Practice openness: Cultivating a sense of openness can help you see the world anew. Most importantly, openness allows you to approach your challenges with curiosity.
- Build confidence: Self-confidence means feeling comfortable in your own skin and embracing your essence. When you are confident, you can withstand any hardships and challenges on the way to self-actualization.
Self-actualization is a journey, and it’s unique from person to person. Some people see their careers as the main gateway to realizing their fullest potential. In contrast, others see this journey as a solely spiritual path. And it’s up to you to define the unique peak of your human experience.
Defining Your Self-Actualization
While we’re all intrinsically driven to grow and evolve, not everyone knows what they want and what exactly drives their motivation in life. So having crystal clarity on your goals across all aspects of your life is foundational to the journey of self-actualization.
Where can you start? Mindvalley’s free 90-minute Lifebook Online Masterclass with Jon and Missy Butcher. They will guide you through the fundamental process of reaching your fullest potential in every aspect of your life.