Self Actualization

By Leo Gura - February 12, 2014 | 17 Comments

A deep definition of Abraham Maslow’s concept of self-actualization and why it’s the greatest idea of all time.

Video Transcript

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Hey, this is Leo for and in this quick self-help segment we’re going to talk about self actualization. Oh man, I’ve been waiting for a long time to do this video because I love this topic. For me, this is what inspired me to create this website. That’s why I named it because I think self actualization is a super important and inspiring topic.

So we’re gong to talk about all of the nuances here and there’s a lot. There’s a lot more than you read about in the text books and the little glosses that you get here and there on Wikipedia or elsewhere.

So, self actualization, what is it? And what does it really mean? Why is it important? Why should we care about it?

Abraham Maslow and Self-Actualization

Bottom line, and this is kind of where it all starts, is I’m going to give you a little bit of the history of it. Self actualization is really a term coined and promoted by the grandfather of positive psychology, Abraham Maslow.

Maslow, you might know from introductory psychology classes, is the guy that created the hierarchy of needs, the pyramid of human psychological needs. There he talked about the different needs that we have. At the bottom level we have just the very physical base needs of oxygen, water, food, that’s the most essential thing that we need to survive.

Then, the next level up from that is we have safety needs. Obviously we want shelter, we want some protection from the cold and heat. We also want to be protected from being stabbed in the back or being assaulted or injured physically in some way.

We’ve got the next level up from that is we start to want to get a sense of community, a sense of belonging. So, being part of a tribe, part of an organization, being part of something important.

Then the next level up from that might be something like a friendship and love, intimate relationships. Then building up on top of that is self-esteem. Needs for self-esteem, needs for recognition, needs for significance within your life.

And then, at the very, very top, at the top of that triangle is what he called self actualization. That is really the need for growth. The need to realize your full potential. So that’s what self actualization is, but that is a very simplistic, surface definition.

I want to go in depth and tell you exactly what it means to be self actualized. Because I find people throwing around this term, self actualization, it tends to be abstract. Even though I understand what it means, most people when they use it, are not very specific. Because they’ve never gotten the full, rich definition that Maslow gives. Maslow gives a brilliant definition of this and you can read this.

If you’re really interested I encourage you to read his book called Toward The Psychology Of Being, where he gives a lengthy, deep discussion of self actualization, which is so inspiring that when I read it, I started my website. It’s just amazing, you have to go and read this.

Personal Growth Is Not A Luxury

One of the key points that he makes there is he says that we’ve got these needs and everyone agrees that we need food or we’re going to die. And we need social interactions, we possibly need intimate relationships. We need to be part of a community. We need to have some sort of sense of significance to feel good about ourselves. These are needs. But what most people don’t recognize is that there’s also this need to live to your full potential.

This is not a luxury. This is not something that would be nice to have. This is a need.

Maslow says that this is something that if you do not honor and that you do not live up to your full potential when you know what you are capable of, then what it’s going to do is rot you from the inside. Actually what it’s going to lead to is psychological dysfunction. It’s going to lead to neurosis.

So ignore this at your own peril.

And really what he compares this to, he makes this analogy, that just like there are vitamin needs that the human body has in order to function optimally, and to not have some sort of diseases or deficiencies, the same thing with the human psyche is that we have these very subtle needs. Just like a vitamin. A vitamin is this small little thing that normally we don’t consider we have a deficiency in but if you are deficient in it, all of a sudden it creates a huge problem.

So the same thing here, is that normally if your setting goals for yourself and you’re achieving things then you don’t have a problem with this need of self actualization. But if what you’re doing is, for example, settling for less than your best, then that problem starts to rot you from the inside out. And that becomes a big problem.

A lot of people out there I see ignoring this need for self actualization. What they’re doing is basically just handling their lower level needs and that higher level need they’re ignoring and they don’t know why they aren’t satisfied with life.

They don’t know why they’re unfulfilled. They don’t know why they just feel this general malaise about life and they don’t want to do anything, they’re not motivated. Well, that is why, because this is a need. It’s not just a luxury.

Being Human

The other nice thing about self actualization, and what’s inspiring about reading Maslow, is it’s really about what it means to be human, to pursue self actualization. Because that other stuff, that’s nice, but the joys that you get from that are not giving you the same level of clean high that you get when you’re going after and living on your edge and pursuing your full potential and actually going after that self actualization.

There is quite a distinct boundary between the two types of needs. The lower level needs are like base needs. They’re nice to have, they make you feel safe and comfortable and secure. But, it’s pursuing those higher level needs, those ideals, that really get you charged up, pumped up and really gets you excited and gets you really passionate about your life.

You can be comfortable with just your base needs. But you get a charged life by living according to your ideals. So that’s what is really inspiring here. So what I want to do next is cover and go down this list that Maslow has in his book where he talks about what it means to be a self actualized person.

When I read this list it literally put tears in my eyes. It inspires me, because this is how I imagine my best self. This is who I want to be. This is really what is about, helping you become this.

What A Self Actualized Person Looks Like

This is the full on, rich definition of what it means to be self actualized. So here’s what a self actualized person is, here are the qualities that he has:

A self actualized person has a heightened perception of reality. He sees reality more objectively than other people.

He has an increased acceptance of himself, others and nature.

He has increased spontaneity in his behavior. He’s not so rule bound, he’s able to be outrageous and spontaneous.

Self actualized people are more focused on the problems and challenges in life than they are on themselves. They’re not so focused on themselves, which counter-intuitively, makes them feel better, because they aren’t focused on their own limitations. They have an increased detachment from things. They don’t cling to things as much.

They have a deeper desire for privacy. They value solitude because they value time to contemplate and to think.

Self actualized people have an increased sense of autonomy and individuality. That means they feel like they’re agents. They don’t feel like they’re victims in their life. They take full responsibility for how their life unfolds.

Self actualized people are resistant, or at least more resistant, to social conditioning than other people. They are world citizens not beholden to culture. That means they aren’t a slave to culture. They pick and choose from culture what works for them in their life and the things that empower them and leave the rest on the table.

Self actualized people are comfortable being themselves even when it means being unpopular. They don’t need approval from others, they’re self-reliant.

Self actualized people have a sense of what is real and unreal. And they value truth and facts over mere beliefs or superstitions or dogma. They have a more scientific type of thinking.

Self actualized people have a great freshness and appreciation and richness of emotional reaction. That means they aren’t always logical or locked in their heads, on the contrary, they’re open to experiences and open to emotions. They experience emotions fully and richly.

Self actualized people have a higher frequency of peak experiences so that means they’re in that flow state more often. And they get those really thrilling, passionate experiences in life more often and more consistently.

Self actualized people have an increased identification with human species. They feel like they’re part of the species and that the species is doing something good.

Self actualized people have improved interpersonal relationships. They’re better able to deal with relationships and to manage their relationships. Their relationships are not up and down roller coaster rides.

Self actualized people have a more democratic character structure. They don’t feel that they need to be dictating to people. They don’t feel that they have to be controlling or manipulating people.

Self actualized people have greater, increased creativity. So they’re more creative. They want to go out there and create something and be original. They’re always thinking about that.

Self actualized people have a deep knowledge and understanding of who they are. They know themselves, which I find many people do not.

Self actualized people are constantly moving towards unity and integration in their personality and world view. They’re always taking information and they’re synthesizing it together into some sort of deeper understanding.

Self actualized people are actively nurturing of their talents. That means they recognize what their talents are and they build them up. They train, they build up skills.

Self actualized people place great value on their ideal values. Maslow goes into this at length. He talks about what the values are of a self actualized person. Here is a partial list: truth, beauty, goodness, uniqueness, wholeness, justice, simplicity, richness, effortlessness and playfulness.

So these are the ethereal, top level, platonic values of humanity. As opposed to some of the base values, like the need for security or the need for comfort, or the need for approval. Or the need for money, which generates greed.

A self actualized person is chasing and pursuing higher level needs like truth and beauty, which to me, is just amazing. I love that. It sends chills down my spine when I hear that.

Self actualized people are driven by positive and intrinsic motivation. They aren’t driven by “lack”. A self actualized person is not actually doing things in their life because they need to, they’re doing them because they want to, they love to. So they’re not going to their work because they have to. They’re not in a relationship because they need to be.

They’re doing these things because they love it, they enjoy it. This is something that is driven from the inside. They’re not so much driven from the outside.

Self actualized people are generally able to enjoy more aspects of life. They don’t just enjoy triumph and peak experiences, they also enjoy those quiet moments. So they’re able to be happy even when they are not stimulated from the outside.

Self actualized people take pleasure in functioning at their prime. So they love to pursue peak performance and they love to be excellent at what they’re doing.

Self actualized people have a non-interfering, non-condemning attitude towards other people, which basically means that they take other people just as part of the world and just as beings, rather than some sort of objects or pawns that are there for their approval or satisfaction or their stimulation or their enjoyment. So it’s not judging other people and just being comfortable with how people are even when they’re different than you.

Self actualized people are more loving. They need less love but are able to give more love.

Self actualized people embrace conceptual dichotomies and polarities and conflicts by infusing, transcending or resolving them. They’re comfortable with paradoxes, contradictions and not knowing.

Have you ever known someone who always has to be right? Who’s so firm in their beliefs they can’t be around other people? Well, a self actualized person is comfortable. They’re able to tolerate the unknown.

Self actualized people have desires and wants that actually correlate to what’s good for them. So they’re not reaching for that doughnut when they know it’s bad. They’re able to resist it, and to resist it in an easy sort of way without a lot of harsh discipline. What they want actually aligns with what is good and healthy for them.

Self actualized people have solid psychological health. Self actualized people live on purpose in their life with a mission. They view their work as a precious cause, their work is personal to them, it’s important to them. They take great pride in their work. They want to do it excellently.

Self actualized people are generally involved with improving the world. They don’t just care about themselves, they want to make a contribution and improve the world in a positive way.

Self actualized people are willing to admit and correct mistakes. They’re not perfect but they’re willing to admit they aren’t perfect. They’re willing to work on themselves. Self actualized people have an easy discipline about them, an easy self discipline, which is hard for the average person. For them, their duty is the same as their pleasure.

Self actualized people gratify themselves moderately rather than abstaining through harsh discipline. So, instead of saying no to that doughnut, maybe they’ll take one bite of it but they’ll stop there. They won’t go overboard, they can find that balance that other people find difficult to find.

Self actualized people express their impulses yet they use less control to do it. Their controls are not rigid and they’re not so anxiety driven as it is for other people.

Self actualized people are able to express their aggression in a healthier way. They express it as sort of a righteous indignation rather than a physical lashing out.

Self actualized people have a different, new set of concerns than ordinary people have. They have what Maslow calls “being challenges” versus “needs challenges”. That’s actually too deep a concept to go into here, but it’s a very powerful and fascinating concept.

Self actualized people live to experience joy rather than to experience pain. So they’re moving towards things rather than moving away from things. They’re positively motivated.

Self actualized people live in the present moment, they’re not focused on the past, they’re not focused too much on the future.

Then, lastly, self actualized people make more conscious decisions. They’re generally at a higher level of consciousness, which allows them to tap into this list of things I’ve just rattled off.

Wrap Up

So that is it. A little bit over time, but I hope you get a deeper, richer idea of what self actualization is. I hope this inspires you to be a self actualized person. I don’t know how you can listen to this list and not want to be that. For me, this is it. This is what being human is all about. This is the peak of being a human being, is getting yourself into all these characteristics and living them and embodying them.

That’s why I started is to help you understand how to do that. Now I’ve talked about all the things self actualization is, now the question is, how do you become self actualized? And for that, I’m going to let you check out

So, I’m going to wrap it up here. Go ahead and like this. Please share it. Leave me your comments down below. Go to where I’ve got tons of information on self actualization; how to do it, all the different intricacies involved. It’s really a deep topic. Subscribe to my newsletter there and you’re going to get free updates every week with how to become more self actualized.

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Abongile Rwexu says:

I like the list of stuff you just gave. I really live for my personal growth and I’d love to be a catalyst of positive change to the people around me. I recently started watching your videos a few days back, and i like your way of thinking and viewing of things. That really inspires me, though some of your ideas scare me to some extent.

I’d really like it if you could maybe draft up a list or whatever of the things one can try and attain in order to grow at a healthy exponential way. what are the steps one can take in order to be self actualized?

Just one more thing for me to add, I’d really love it if you could help me understand and solve why I tend to judge myself based on my surroundings and also judge my surroundings based on myself. After watching a number of videos and after just 2 days of carrying around an ‘open’ mindset I see that I’m a very negative and fearful person.

I desperately need growth. Please help Leo!

Leo Gura says:

All the videos are showing you all the steps you should be taking to self-actualize. Click on the “Blueprint” tab up above. There’s your list.

Everyone judges him/herself. This is just what an undeveloped mind does.

Angella says:

Hey Leo, thanks again for wonderful videos. I keep searching your other video on how to become or work towards self actualization. I can’t find it here.
Could you please give me the name for that vid?
Appreciate it.

Angella says:

By the way this solid background goes well with your style.

Gerry says:

I really like this description on Self-Actualization…It has really inpsired me.

Devon Fitzpatrick says:

This is by far the best info I have found on self-actualization theory thus far (It may be surpasses, though, by “Towards a Psych. of Being”). I am hoping to build these ideas into a rap for a presentation in my First Year Experience at Coastal Carolina University. I love your blend of composure and energy! I also thank you for putting together this website. Namaste

Asaiah Powers says:

hi leo wanna say thanks for this website and insights because its not every day some guy does this even for free. Just thought it was cool that the letter A in actualization looks like the triangle of Actualization.

Marjorie says:

I am speechless, i never imagined how much i lack coaching.

April Thomas says:

I congratulate you on being such a powerful and uplifting person in the world!
I have lived in this world for many years not understanding why I didn’t see the world through the same lens almost everyone around me did. I felt lost and confused for so long. I lived with a very deep calling to share this vision I have of life, the journey , and the world.
I can still remember the day I stumbled upon Maslow’s Self Actualization explanation. I was taking a home study course on relaxation therapy as I am a sponge for the mind, body,spirit connection. I began to study a chapter on movers and shakers in the field of psychology. I began reading on Maslow and I was immediately drawn in. I began to get tingles and goosies. I felt an alignment in my energy as if I had just found myself! I absolutely related so strongly to this personality that was being described. It has indeed become my map of being. I am always living to learn, to grow, to change and ride on a wave of vibes that leaves me floating. I have been called an alien, been told I don’t belong in the world. I am not at all sure how I got here, to this depth. But, I am always searching and wanting more!
I believe the world is a better place when people come together to uplift and inspire. Every person you touch out there in the world is truly a blessing of change! Much love and many blessings to you for the change and difference you are making in the world!

Michael says:

I see much of the self-actualised traits in my own personality. It is something that I developed since being a child. At least now I have something to guide that growth. Thanks!

Kathy says:

If we had more self actualized people on this planet, we would turn this whole thing around overnight. We have too many living from the lower levels than the higher. This is my observation. Thanks Leo.

Ruby Simpson says:

Hi Leo, my daughter referred me to your website. I think you’re terrific. Just watched the first of many of your lovely passages. Saw a problem however, the closed caption titles had errors and I thought you should know. I watched self actualization. I mean not like a couple of spelling errors, but added and missing words. (Retired secretary, can’t help it.) I love what you have to say, I’m going to be sharing your website with a friend this afternoon. We’re going to watch depression together. We really need the inspiration and I’m so thankful that you’re there for us and everyone else. Blessings to you and yours, Ruby

Leo Gura says:

Closed captioning is done automatically by Youtube’s algorithms. So of course it will be crap. Don’t rely on it.

Dorothy says:

Very enlightening…good stuff!

Katie says:

I didn’t hear you mention the fact that, according to Maslow, without the lower needs being met…one cannot get to the point of self-actualization. For example: If your time and energy are spent just trying to find food and shelter, you don’t have a lot of time and energy to put towards self-actualization. Self-actualization requires a high degree of meta-cognition. So…it’s not that the other stuff doesn’t matter if you don’t retain self-actualization, I think it’s the other way around. You can’t move up that pyramid if lower needs not being met.

pm says:

When Maslow originally explained the hierarchy in 1943, he stated that higher needs generally won’t be pursued until lower needs are met. However, he added, a need does not have to be completely satisfied for someone to move onto the next need in the hierarchy. Instead, the needs must be partially satisfied, meaning that an individual can pursue all five needs, at least to some extent, at the same time.

I find it useful to think of Self-Actualization as a continual process, that is the sum of working through the hierarchy of needs to realize your potential. The hierarchy of needs might be considered as dimensions of innate DRIVES that are simply aspects of ones life that Maslow elicited.

It’s great to here talk on probably the most important subject in our society, making life matter!

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