Abraham Maslow influenced how we understand motivation for decades with his hierarchy of needs. But there is an adjustment to his theory you might not have heard about. This new hierarchy of needs might be the solution to the biggest issues humanity faces.
Abraham Maslow came up with his idea of the five stages of human needs in 1943. The American psychologist suggests that humans have specific needs and that these needs are hierarchical. Some needs (like eating) are more basic than others (like being part of a social community).
The higher need is what motivates us to achieve more. You can compare it to a video game. Once we have fulfilled a need, we want to reach the next level.
We start with basic physiological needs like eating or sleeping and advance to a need for security. Then we reach the emotional needs of having relationships and developing esteem through a feeling of accomplishment. If you want to find out more about the first four stages, this video goes deeper into the subject:
What is Self-actualization?
Only after we reached all other stages of needs, can we get to the highest stage: self-actualization. On this highest level, behavior is not driven or motivated by a deficiency but by a desire for personal growth. The goal of humans is to do what they are capable of.
Every individual has a unique motivation for self-actualization. Some people might achieve self-actualization through writing a book; others are teaching a language or building an app. The possibilities are endless.
"A musician must make music; an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself." – Abraham Maslow
Nevertheless, there is no perfect state of "happy ever after" you can reach. Instead, Maslow sees self-actualization as a continual process of becoming. The person discovers a meaning to life that is important to them.
The New Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow published his theory in the 1940s, but he lived until the 1970s. During these decades he took in some of the criticism he faced toward his approach and adapted it in his later work. For instance, he cleared out that you do not have to fulfill a need 100% before you can reach the next stage. Otherwise, you would have to stop working the moment you are hungry or feel sleepy.
But his most significant change was adding an apex to the pyramid: self-transcendence. You can compare it to a spiritual need to transcend our thoughts. We have to see ourselves as part of the broader universe to develop common priorities and goals. Once this need is fulfilled, we can see beyond our individual well-being to the needs of us all.
What We Can Learn from Maslow Today
This sixth need, to feel part of something bigger and to develop joint strategies as humans, is essential for our life today. It is what inspires people to fight climate change, hunger or poverty. It is our ability to not only look after ourselves but see that we are part of something bigger.
The ways to reach self-transcendence are familiar to us today. They include mindfulness or flow. Maslow thought that these techniques could help individuals achieve a broader perspective.
But these methods are not only tweaks to optimize the mind. They are vitally important tools to fight the most significant issues humans are facing together. To come together as a global community and find solutions together.
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