“I have not deliberately worked with an ad hoc control group, i.e., non-self-actualizing people. I could say that most of humanity is a control group, which is certainly true.” — Maslow
This post includes Maslow’s writing on self-actualization from The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (Amazon).
Post Contents: Click a link to jump to a section in the post below
- What is Self-Actualization (& Who are Self-Actualizers?)
- 8 Behaviors Leading to Self-Actualization
- Self-Actualizers on Identity & Work
- Self-Actualizers on Money
- Discovering Your Own Personal Path
- The Paradox of Selfishness & Unselfishness
- Motivations and Gratifications of Self-Actualizers
As always, all quotes are from the author unless otherwise stated, and I’ve added emphasis to quotes in bold.
- “Some years ago, l reported that self-actualizing people were 1) very good perceivers of reality and truth, and also 2) that they were generally unconfused about right and wrong, and made ethical decisions more quickly and more surely than average people.”
- “What do we really mean by self-actualization? What are the psychological characteristics that we are hoping to produce in our ideal educational system? The self-actualized person is in a state of good psychological health: his basic needs are satisfied so what is it that motivates him to become such a busy and capable person? For one thing, all self-actualized people have a cause they believe in, a vocation they are devoted to. When they say, ‘my work,’ they mean their mission in life. If you ask a self-actualized lawyer why he entered the field of law, what compensates for all the routine and trivia, he will eventually say something like, ‘Well, I just get mad when I see somebody taking advantage of somebody else. It isn’t fair.’ Fairness to him is an ultimate value; he can’t tell you why he values fairness any more than an artist can tell you why he values beauty. Self-actualizing people, in other words, seem to do what they do for the sake of ultimate, final values, which is for the sake of principles which seem intrinsically worthwhile. They protect and love these values, and if the values are threatened, they will be aroused to indignation, action, and often self-sacrifice. These values are not abstract to the self-actualizing person; they are as much a part of them as their bones and arteries. Self-actualizing people are motivated by the eternal verities, the B-Values, by pure truth and beauty in perfection. They go beyond polarities and try to see the underlying oneness; they try to integrate everything and make it more comprehensive.”
Eight ways in which one self-actualizes:
1. “Self-actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption. It means experiencing without the self-consciousness of the adolescent. At this moment of experiencing, the person is wholly and fully human. This is a self-actualizing moment. This is a moment when the self is actualizing itself.”
2. “Let us think of life as a process of choices, one after another. At each point there is a progression choice and a regression choice. There may be a movement toward defense, toward safety, toward being afraid; but over on the other side, there is the growth choice. To make the growth choice instead of the fear choice a dozen times a day is to move a dozen times a day toward self-actualization. Self-actualization is an ongoing process; it means making each of the many single choices about whether to lie or be honest, whether to steal or not to steal at a particular point, and it mans to make each of these choices as a growth choice. This is movement toward self-actualization.”
3. “To talk of self-actualization implies that there is a self to be actualized. A human being is not a tabula rasa, not a lump of clay or Plasticine. He is something which is already there, at least a ‘cartilaginous’ structure of some kind. A human being is, at minimum, his temperament, his biochemical balances, and so on. There is a self, and what I have sometimes referred to as ‘listening to the impulse voices’ means letting the self emerge.”
4. “When in doubt, be honest rather than not. I am covered by that phrase ‘when in doubt,’ so that we need not argue too much about diplomacy. Frequently, when we are in doubt we are not honest. Clients are not honest much of the time. They are playing games and posing. They do not take easily to the suggestion to be honest. Looking within oneself for many of the answers implies taking responsibility. That is in itself a great step toward actualization. This matter of responsibility has been little studied. It doesn’t turn up in our textbooks, for who can investigate responsibility in white rats? Yet it is an almost tangible part of psychotherapy. In psychotherapy, one can see it, can feel it, can know the moment of responsibility. Then there is a clear knowing of what it feels like. This is one of the great steps. Each time one takes responsibility, this is an actualizing of the self.”
5. “We have talked so far of experiencing without self-awareness, of making the growth choice rather than the fear choice, of listening to the impulse voices, and of being honest and taking responsibility. All these are steps toward self-actualization, and all of them guarantee better life choices. A person who does each of these little things each time the choice point comes will find that they add up to better choices about what is constitutionally right for him. He comes to know what his destiny is, who his wife or husband will be, what his mission in life will be. One cannot choose wisely for a life unless he dares to listen to himself, his own self, at each moment in life, and to say calmly, ‘No, I don’t like such and such.’“
6. “Self-actualization is not only an end state but also the process of actualizing one’s potentialities at any time, in any amount. It is, for example, a matter of becoming smarter by studying if one is an intelligent person. Self-actualization means using one’s intelligence. It does not mean doing some far-out thing necessarily, but it may mean going through an arduous and demanding period of preparation in order to realize one’s possibilities. Self-actualization can consist of finger exercises at a piano keyboard. Self-actualization means working to do well the thing that one wants to do. To become a second-rate physician is not a good path to self-actualization. One wants to be first-rate or as good as he can be.”
7. “Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization. They are moments of ecstasy which cannot be bought, cannot be guaranteed, cannot even be sought. One must be, as C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘surprised by joy.’ But one can set up the conditions so that peak experiences are more likely, or one can perversely set up the conditions so that they are less likely. Breaking up an illusion, getting rid of a false notion, learning what one is not good at, learning what one’s potentialities are not—these are also part of discovering what one is in fact.”
8. “Finding out who one is, what he is, what he likes, what he doesn’t like, what is good for him and what bad, where he is going and what his mission is—opening oneself up to himself—means the exposure of psychopathology. It means identifying defenses, and after defenses have been identified, it means finding the courage to give them up. This is painful because defenses are erected against something which is unpleasant. But giving up the defenses is worthwhile. If the psychoanalytic literature has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that repression is not a good way of solving problems.”
- “When you are totally absorbed in non-self, you tend to become less conscious of yourself, less self-aware. You are less apt to be observing yourself like a spectator or a critic. To use the language of psychodynamics, you become less dissociated than usual into a self-observing ego and an experiencing ego; i.e., you come much closer to being all experiencing ego. (You tend to lose the shyness and bashfulness of the adolescent, the painful awareness of being looked at, etc.) This in turn means more unifying, more oneness and integration of the person.”
- “Perhaps we could say that love can be defined as the expansion of the self, the person, the identity.”
A feeling of destiny or fate “outside themselves”:
- “I think it is possible to go pretty far with the notion of destiny or fate. This is a way of putting into inadequate words the feeling that one gets when one listens to self-actualizing people (and some others) talking about their work or task. One gets the feeling of beloved job, and, furthermore, of something for which the person is a ‘natural,’ something that he is suited for, something that is right for him, even something that he was born for. It is easy to sense something like pre-established harmony or, perhaps one could say, a good match like the perfect love affair or friendship, in which it seems that people belong to each other and were meant for each other. In the best instances, the person and his job fit together and belong together perfectly like a key and a lock, or perhaps resonate together like a sung note which sets into sympathetic resonance a particular string in the piano keyboard.”
- “And then, of course, it can be said of such a person with real meaningfulness that he is being his own kind of person, or being himself, or actualizing his real self. An abstract statement, an extrapolation out from this kind of observation toward the ultimate and perfect ideal would run something like this: This person is the best one in the whole world for this particular job, and this particular job is the best job in the whole world for this particular person and his talents, capacities, and tastes. He was meant for it, and it was meant for him.“
- “I hesitate to call this simply ‘purposefulness’ because that may imply that it happens only out of will, purpose, decision, or calculation, and doesn’t give enough weight to the subjective feeling of being swept along, of willing and eager surrender, or yielding to fate and happily embracing it at the same time. Ideally, one also discovers one’s fate; it is not only made or constructed or decided upon. It is recognized as if one had been unwittingly waiting for it. Perhaps the better phrase would be ‘Spinozistic’ or ‘Taoistic’ choice or decision or purpose—or even will.”
Their cause/call/mission is one with their identity:
- “If one asks such a person, i.e., self-actualizing, work-loving, ‘Who are you?’ or ‘What are you?’ he often tends to answer in terms of his ‘call,’ e.g., ‘I am a lawyer.’ ‘l am a mother.’ ‘l am a psychiatrist.’ ‘I am an artist.’ etc. That is, he tells you that he identifies his call with his identity, his self. It tends to be a label for the whole of him, i.e., it becomes a defining characteristic of the person.”
- “From the simple statement, ‘I am a lawyer and I love my work,’ one cannot assume very much. It is my strong impression that the closer to self-actualizing, to full-humanness, etc., the person is, the more likely I am to find that his ‘work’ is metamotivated rather than basic-need-motivated. For more highly evolved persons, ‘the law’ is apt to be more a way of seeking justice, truth, goodness, etc., rather than financial security, admiration, status, prestige, dominance, masculinity, etc. When I ask the questions: Which aspects of your work do you enjoy most? What gives you your greatest pleasures? When do you get a kick out of your work? etc., such people are more apt to answer in terms of intrinsic values, of transpersonal, beyond-the-selfish, altruistic satisfactions, e.g., seeing justice done, doing a more perfect job, advancing the truth, rewarding virtue and punishing evil, etc.”
They transcend the dichotomy of inner requiredness and outer requiredness:
- “In the ideal instance, inner requiredness coincides with external requiredness. ‘l want to’ with ‘l must.'”
- “But all these words still assume a separation between the wanter and what he wants. How shall we describe what happens when this separation is transcended and there is some degree of identity or fusion between the person who wants and that which he wants? or between the person who wants and that which, in a sense, wants him?“
- “This ideal situation generates feelings of good fortune and also of ambivalence and unworthiness.”
- “I often get the feeling in this kind of situation that I can tease apart two kinds of determinants of this transaction (or alloying, fusion, or chemical reaction) which has created a unity out of a duality, and that these two sets of determinants can and sometimes do vary independently. One can be spoken of as the responses within the person, e.g., ‘l love babies (or painting, or research, or political power) more than anything in the world. I am fascinated with it…I am inexorably drawn to…I need to…’ This we may call ‘inner requiredness’ and it is felt as a kind of self-indulgence rather than as a duty. It is different from and separable from ‘external requiredness,’ which is rather felt as a response to what the environment, the situation, the problem, the external world calls for or requires of the person, as a fire ‘calls for’ putting out, or as a helpless baby demands that one take care of it, or as some obvious injustice calls for righting. Here one feels more the element of duty, or obligation, or responsibility, of being compelled helplessly to respond no matter what one was planning to do, or wished to do. It is more ‘I must, I have to, I am compelled’ than ‘I want to.'”
They transcend the dichotomy of work and play:
- “Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves. They are devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them—some calling or vocation in the old sense, the priestly sense. They are working at something which fate has called them to somehow and which they work at and which they love, so that the work-joy dichotomy in them disappears. One devotes his life to the law, another to justice, another to beauty or truth.”
- “Of course, as soon as we accept this and get the feel of it, then we move over into another realm of discourse, i.e., the realm of being, of transcendence. Now we can speak meaningfully only in the language of being (‘The B-language,’ communication at the mystical level, etc.). For instance, it is quite obvious with such people that the ordinary or conventional dichotomy between work and play is transcended totally. That is, there is certainly no distinction between work and play in such a person in such a situation. His work is his play and his play is his work. If a person loves his work and enjoys it more than any other activity in the whole world and is eager to get to it, to get back to it after any interruption, then how can we speak about ‘labor’ in the sense of something one is forced to do against one’s wishes?“
- “What sense, for instance, is left to the concept ‘vacation’? For such individuals it is often observed that during their vacations, that is, during the periods in which they are totally free to choose whatever they wish to do and in which they have no external obligations to anyone else, that it is precisely in such periods that they devote themselves happily and totally to their ‘work.’ Or, what does it mean ‘to have some fun,’ to seek amusement? What is now the meaning of the word ‘entertainment’? How does such a person ‘rest’? What are his ‘duties,’ responsibilities, obligations? What is his ‘hobby’?”
The reality today doesn’t seem too different from Maslow’s time 50 years ago:
Unfortunately, the education system isn’t currently designed to help humans learn how to live or discover their identity:
- “Another goal which our schools and teachers should be pursuing is the discovery of vocation, of one’s fate and destiny. Part of learning who you are, part of being able to hear your inner voices, is discovering what it is that you want to do with your life. Finding one’s identity is almost synonymous with finding one’s career, revealing the altar on which one will sacrifice oneself. Finding one’s lifework is a little like finding one’s mate.”
Discover who you are to find your path:
- “What we have learned is that ultimately, the best way for a person to discover what he ought to do is to find out who and what he is, because the path to ethical and value decisions, to wiser choices, to oughtness, is via ‘isness,’ via the discovery of facts, truth, reality, the nature of the particular person. The more he knows about his own nature, his deep wishes, his temperament, his constitution, what he seeks and yearns for and what really satisfies him, the more effortless, automatic, and epiphenomenal become his value choices.”
How? By listening:
- “Taoistic Listening. One finds what is right for oneself by listening in order to let oneself be molded, guided, directed. The good psychotherapist helps his patient in the same way—by helping the patient hear his drowned-out inner voices, the weak commands of his own nature on the Spinozistic principle that true freedom consists of accepting and loving the inevitable, the nature of reality.”
- “Similarly, one finds out what is right to do with the world by the same kind of listening to its nature and voices, by being sensitive to its requiredness and suggestions, by hushing so that its voices may be heard; by being receptive, noninterfering, nondemanding and letting be.”
If you’ve made it this far, you may still be thinking, “Isn’t it selfish to want to self-actualize? To simply do what’s best for yourself?” Maslow says it’s not. There are a couple key ideas here.
Selfishness implies that there’s a self. But, what if you transcend the self/not-self dichotomy (in other words, enlarge your sense of self to go beyond yourself)?
- “To identify one’s highest self with the highest values of the world out there means, to some extent at least, a fusion with the non-self. But this is true not only for the world of nature. It is also true for other human beings. That is to say that the most highly valued part of such a person’s self, then, is the same as the most highly valued part of the self of other self-actualizing people. Such selves overlap.“
- “This introjection means that the self has enlarged to include aspects of the world and that therefore the distinction between self and not-self (outside, other) has been transcended.”
- “Just as beloved people can be incorporated into the self, become defining characteristics of it, so also can beloved causes and values be incorporated into a person’s self. Many people, for instance, are so passionately identified with trying to prevent war, or racial injustice, or slums, or poverty, that they are quite willing to make great sacrifices, even to the point of risking death. And very clearly, they don’t mean justice for their own biological bodies alone. Something personal has now become bigger than the body. They mean justice as a general value, justice for everyone; justice as a principle. Attack upon the B-Values is then also an attack upon any person who has incorporated these values into his self. Such an attack becomes a personal insult.”
- “An interesting aspect of the B-Values is that they transcend many of the traditional dichotomies, such as selfishness and unselfishness, flesh and spirit, religious and secular. If you are doing the work that you love and are devoted to the value that you hold highest, you are being as selfish as possible, and yet are also being unselfish and altruistic. If you have introjected truth as a value so that it is as much a part of you as your blood, then if a lie is told anywhere in the world, it hurts you to find out about it. The boundaries of yourself in that sense now extend far beyond your personal sphere of interests to include the entire world.”
- “In highly developed, psychiatrically healthy people, self-actualizing people, whichever you choose to call them, you will find if you try to rate them that they are extraordinarily unselfish in some ways, and yet also that they are extraordinarily selfish in other ways.”
- “Self-actualizing people tend more to this kind of perceiving. But I have been able to get reports of this kind of perception in practically all the people I have questioned, in the highest, happiest, most perfect moments of their lives (peak experiences). Now, my point is this: Careful questioning shows that as the percept gets more individual, more unified and integrated, more enjoyable, more rich, so also does the perceiving individual get more alive, more integrated, more unified, more rich, more healthy for the moment. They happen simultaneously and can be set off on either side, i.e., the more whole the person (the world) becomes, the more whole the person becomes. And also, the more whole the person becomes, the more whole becomes the world. It is a dynamic interrelation, a mutual causation. The meaning of a message clearly depends not alone on its content, but also on the extent to which the personality is able to respond to it. The ‘higher’ meaning is perceptible only to the ‘higher’ person. The taller he is, the more he can see.”
- “As Emerson said, ‘What we are, that only can we see.’ But we must now add that what we see tends in turn to make us what it is and what we are. The communication relationship between the person and the world is a dynamic one of mutual forming and lifting-lowering of each other, a process that we may call ‘reciprocal isomorphism.’ A higher order of persons can understand a higher order of knowledge; but also a higher order of environment tends to lift the level of the person, just as a lower order of environment tends to lower it. They make each other more like each other. These notions are also applicable to the interrelations between persons, and should help us to understand how persons help to form each other.”
- “For instance, one of the consequences generated by what I have been talking about, is a flat denial, an empirical denial (not pious, or arbitrary, or a priori, or wishful) of the Freudian contention of a necessary, intrinsic, built-in opposition between the needs of the individual and the needs of society and civilization. It just is not so. We now know something about how to set up the conditions in which the needs of the individual be-become synergic with, not opposed to, the needs of society, and in which they both work to the same ends. This is an empirical statement, I claim.”
- “Certainly simple selfishness is transcended here and has to be defined at higher levels. For instance, we know that it is possible for a person to get more pleasure (selfish? unselfish?) out of food through having his child eat it than through eating it with his own mouth. His self has enlarged enough to include his child. Hurt his child and you hurt him. Clearly the self can no longer be identified with the biological entity which is supplied with blood from his heart along his blood vessels. The psychological self can obviously be bigger than its own body.”
- “Such a hierarchy suggests a solution of the problem of hedonism, selfishness, duty, etc. If one includes the highest pleasures among the pleasures in general, then it becomes true In a very real sense that fully human people also seek only for pleasure, i.e., metapleasure. Perhaps we can call this ‘metahedonism’ and then point out that at this level there is then no contradiction between pleasure and duty since the highest obligations of human beings are certainly to truth, justice, beauty, etc., which however are also the highest pleasures that the species can experience. And of course at this level of discourse the mutual exclusiveness between selfishness and unselfishness has also disappeared. What is good for us is good for everyone else, what gratifying is praiseworthy, our appetites are now trustworthy, rational, and wise, what we enjoy is good for us, seeking our own (highest) good is also seeking the general good, etc.”
Motivations and Gratifications of Self-Actualizing People (in addition to basic-need gratifications)
- Delight in bringing about justice.
- Delight in stopping cruelty and exploitation.
- Fighting lies and untruths.
- They love virtue to be rewarded.
- They seem to like happy endings, good completions.
- They hate sin and evil to be rewarded, and they hate people to get away with it.
- They are good punishers of evil.
- They try to set things right, to clean up bad situations.
- They enjoy doing good.
- They like to reward and praise promise, talent, virtue, etc.
- They avoid publicity, fame, glory, honors, popularity, celebrity, or at least do not seek it. It seems to be not awfully important one way or another.
- They do not need to be loved by everyone.
- They generally pick out their causes, which are apt to be few in number, rather than responding to advertising or to campaigns or to other people’s exhortations.
- They tend to enjoy peace, calm, quiet, pleasantness, etc., and they tend not to like turmoil, fighting, war, etc. (they are not general-fighters on every front), and they can enjoy themselves in the middle of a “war.”
- They also seem practical and shrewd and realistic about it, more often than impractical. They like to be effective and dislike being ineffectual.
- Their fighting is not an excuse for hostility, paranoia, grandiosity, authority, rebellion, etc., but is for the sake of setting things right. It is problem-centered.
- They manage somehow simultaneously to love the world as it is and to try to improve it.
- In all cases there was some hope that people and nature and society could be improved.
- In all cases it was as if they could see both good and evil realistically.
- They respond to the challenge in a job.
- A chance to improve the situation or the operation is a big reward. They enjoy improving things.
- Observations generally indicate great pleasure in their children and in helping them grow into good adults.
- They do not need or seek for or even enjoy very much flattery, applause, popularity, status, prestige, money, honors, etc.
- Expressions of gratitude, or at least of awareness of their good fortune, are common.
- They have a sense of noblesse oblige. It is the duty of the superior, of the one who sees and knows, to be patient and tolerant, as with children.
- They tend to be attracted by mystery, unsolved problems, by the unknown and the challenging, rather than to be frightened by them.
- They enjoy bringing about law and order in the chaotic situation, or in the messy or confused situation, or in the dirty and unclean situation.
- They hate (and fight) corruption, cruelty, malice, pompousness, phoniness, and faking.
- They try to free themselves illusions, to look at the facts courageously, to take away the blindfold.
- They feel it is a pity for talent to be wasted.
- They do not do mean things, and they respond with anger when other people do mean things.
- They tend to feel that every person should have an opportunity to develop to his highest potential, to have a fair chance, to have equal opportunity.
- They like doing things well, “doing a good job,” “to do well what needs doing.” Many such phrases add up to “bringing about good workmanship.”
- One advantage of being a boss is the right to give away the corporation’s money, to choose which good causes to help. They enjoy giving their own money away to causes they consider important, good, worthwhile, etc. Pleasure in philanthropy.
- They enjoy watching and helping the self-actualizing of others, especially of the young.
- They enjoy watching happiness and helping to bring it about.
- They get great pleasure from knowing admirable people (courageous, honest, effective, “straight,” “big,” creative, saintly, etc.). “My work brings me in contact with many fine people.”
- They enjoy taking on responsibilities (that they can handle well), and certainly don’t fear or evade their responsibilities. They respond to responsibility.
- They uniformly consider their work to be worthwhile, important, even essential.
- They enjoy greater efficiency, making an operation more neat, compact, simpler, faster, less expensive, turning out a better product, doing with less parts, a smaller number of operations, less clumsiness, less effort, more foolproof, safer, more “elegant,” less laborious.
You May Also Like:
- What is Transcendence? The True Top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- 24 Characteristics of the Self-Actualizing Transcender (Maslow Theory Z Summary)
- Go Beyond the Hierarchy of Needs in Maslow’s “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature” (Book Summary)
Also published on Medium.