How to Get on the Path to Self Actualization

Maslow gave eight steps for becoming a self-actualizer.

Posted Feb 18, 2018

Maslow had advice for those who wanted to become self-actualizers. Self-actualization refers to optimizing one's potential. How does that happen? In his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, he gave eight suggestions.

1. Be here.

Experience your life “fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption.” When you do this you are being wholly yourself and it is a moment of self-actualization.

Avoid self-consciousness. Avoid shyness and postures. Let down your defenses.

Throw yourself into the moment, into experiencing it with all your senses.

It helps to be in nature or to have a friend with whom you can be emotionally expressive—through silliness, music making or other forms of play.

2. All day long, pay attention to how you choose.

Like wisdom traditions emphasize, each moment in your life is one of choice—will you be open or defensive? Maslow says that a dozen times a day you face the choice of moving toward self-actualization and growth or toward defense, safety, and staying afraid. The examples he uses are moral ones (honesty or dishonesty, steal or not steal) but choices involve everything you do—e.g., trying new foods/music/activities or how you approach others you meet.

3. You are a self. Know your self.

Let your true self emerge. Shut out the noise of the world that tells you how you should think, feel, behave. Instead, pay attention to your own body’s signals: “Does this taste good on your tongue?” Do you like the flavor? Did you feel good or bad during the movie? Does your spirit like this activity? Does it feel good and right? Honor your own body and spirit’s reactions instead of suppressing or silencing them.

Listen to the inner voices that press you toward growth and connection.

4. “When in doubt, be honest rather than not.”

Avoid playing games with others emotionally. Avoid posing to be accepted. Look inside for the real you. Take responsibility for your own feelings and reactions. Accept them. “Each time one takes responsibility, this is an actualizing of the self.”

5. Dare to follow your unique path.

By listening to your inner self, by being honest about your own feelings and reactions, you inch closer toward better life choices. Each of the little choices will lead you to perceive what is truly better for you on your life path—what your mission and destiny are.

Most people do not listen to themselves and are not honest, making them unable to self-actualize. “Making an honest statement involves daring to be different, unpopular, nonconformist…If clients, young or old, cannot be taught about being prepared to be unpopular, counselors might just as well give up right now.”

6. “Self-actualization is not only an end state but also the process of actualizing one’s potentialities.”

Self-actualization is demanding as it takes practice to become good at something. One must prepare, with all the prior steps, to reach the point of one’s full potential. One wants to aim to be first-rate at one’s life goal, whatever one’s inner self desires. One must work hard.

7. Set up the conditions for peak experiences.

Find the places where you are “surprised by joy” (as C.S. Lewis wrote) and increase your exposure to those situations. Break up illusions and false notions—“learning what one is not good at, learning what one’s potentialities are not,” Maslow explains, help you discover yourself and find the realms where you peak experiences may be found.

8. Be ready to address your psychopathologies.

“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.” One must find and dismantle the defenses set up against knowing oneself. One must face the unpleasantness so that one can heal and not be governed by defensive systems.

As an addendum, Maslow discusses the importance of resacralizing what has been desacralized. Resacralizing means shifting perspective to perceive the sacred, eternal, poetic, symbolic in the people and entities around us—taking the perspective of eternity (Spinoza’s idea). In this way we will keep sex, interpersonal relationships and our own selves sacred. This a right-hemisphere directed form of attention that is receptive, holistic and nonjudgmental, unlike the left-hemisphere form of attention, which is categorizing, narrowly focused and judgmental (the form that we practice endlessly in most schooling). For more see Iain McGilchrist's book, The Master and His Emissary.

Maslow concludes his advice by saying that “self-actualization is a matter of degree, of little accessions accumulated one by one.” Self-actualizers, little by little, find out who they are and follow it not only in terms of spiritual direction and life path but what their unique biological nature is like (e.g., if beer keeps me up all night, I stop drinking it; if certain materials make me itch, I avoid them)—as noted in #3, this might be an easier place to start. 

SERIES

1 Self actualization: Are You on the Path?

2 How to Get on the Path to Self Actualization

3 The ‘On-Demand’ Life and the Basic Needs of Babies

4 Does Positive Psychology Promote Self-Actualizaton?

References

Maslow, A. H. (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking.