Self-Actualization︱It’s Time to Give Perfectionism “the bird”
How to Break the Cycle of Perfectionism and Achieve Real Life Fulfillment
Self-actualization is not a destination. It is not a step by step process to achieve or attain perfection. What do you love doing? What are your talents? What’s your potential? How do you become your best self? Living your life learning how to fully become you and fulfilling your purpose, warts and all — not perfectly — this is self-actualization.
HIERARCHY OF NEEDS
In 1943 Abraham Maslow created the iconic Hierarchy of Needs. His paper for Psychological Review, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, shows how all humans have certain basic needs that need to be met before we can be motivated to move on to more advanced needs and goals that pertain to the human experience.
We can’t even think about self-actualization until these basic needs are met. That makes sense, right? If Momma’s “hangry”, not only should you stay out of my way, I guarantee you I’m not thinking about how to meet my potential. I’m thinking, ”Where’s the closest Chipotle?”
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs commonly, but inaccurately is displayed as a pyramid. We start at the bottom and move our way up as our most basic physiological needs are met, never going back to revisit the previous levels. This is not what Maslow had in mind.
Maslow emphasized that we are always in a state of becoming and that one’s “inner core” consists merely of “potentialities, not final actualizations” that are “weak, subtle, and delicate, very easily drowned out by learning, by cultural expectations, by fear, by disapproval, etc.,” Maslow made it clear that human maturation is an ongoing process and that growth is “not a sudden, saltatory phenomenon” but is often two steps forward and one step back.
DESTINATION VS JOURNEY
Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D. Cognitive Psychologist from Yale redefined Maslow’s work more accurately using a more complete metaphor for his teachings. Kaufman says “the pyramid from the 1960s told a story that Maslow never meant to tell: a story of achievement, of mastering level by level until you’ve “won” the game of life. But that is most definitely not the spirit of self-actualization that humanistic psychologists like Maslow emphasized. The human condition isn’t a competition; it’s an experience.”
Life is better described as an unpredictable sea, full of challenges. Our individual lives are a sailboat navigating the sea. A storm could be right around the corner or the wind could suddenly switch directions and pull our boat in a totally different direction. This too is the unpredictability of our lives. Our boat is what keeps us afloat. When the boat is free of holes, we have now met our basic physiological needs. Because these needs are met, we can now open our sail. We can now direct our boat towards our greater needs — towards finding and achieving our life goals. We are now safe to go further, to be curious, and find fulfillment in our lives.
“The organism has one basic tendency and striving — to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.”
HOW TO BECOME SELF-ACTUALIZED
- Experience life like a child, with full absorption and concentration
- Try new things instead of sticking to safe paths
- Listen to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority, or the majority
- Avoid pretense (‘game-playing’) and be honest
- Be prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority
- Take responsibility and work hard
- Try to identify your defenses and have the courage to give them up
CHARACTERISTIC OF SELF-ACTUALIZERS
- They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
- Accept themselves and others for what they are
- Spontaneous in thought and action
- Problem-centered (not self-centered)
- Unusual sense of humor
- Able to look at life objectively
- Highly creative
- Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional
- Concerned for the welfare of humanity
- Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience
- Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
- Peak experiences
- Need for privacy
- Democratic attitudes
- Strong moral/ethical standards
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist agreed with Maslow, but added that for a person to “grow”, they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood).
Without these, relationships and healthy personalities will not develop as they should, much like a tree will not grow without sunlight and water.
Rogers believed that every person could achieve their goals, wishes, and desires in life. When, or rather if they did so, self-actualization took place. This was one of Carl Rogers’s most important contributions to psychology. He believed that humans have one basic motive, which is the tendency to self-actualize — i.e., to fulfill one’s potential and achieve the highest level of ‘human-beingness’ we can.
When we open our sails we are making a choice to engage with “the more” of life. What’s out there? Sitting in the boat without the sail is purely survival. Survival is obviously needed but to really embrace the beauty of life and to really live it, we need to open our sail.
It takes determination, curiosity, and it takes courage. Our quest at sea can take us in a multitude of directions. This is what I love about comparing life to the sea, there isn’t just one direct road to get to a destination — to get through life. Often people live their lives to just be endured, as if they are on a road, maybe it’s time to get a boat and open your sail. Live your life on the sea and be prepared for the storms, the waves, and the wind, but also make lots of turns, visit all the islands, and bask in the sunshine. Your voyage is just one big adventure, embrace all of it. The ebbs and flows of life are continuous and make life rich and beautiful. Enjoy the ride.
“I have gradually come to one negative conclusion about the good life. It seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. It is not, in my estimation, a state of virtue, or contentment, or nirvana, or happiness. It is not a condition in which the individual is adjusted or fulfilled or actualized. To use psychological terms, it is not a state of drive-reduction, or tension-reduction, or homeostasis.”
“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”