Abraham Maslow turned the field of psychology on its head. He studied healthy people instead of studying the opposite. His pyramid which is famous put the hierarchy of human needs and at the top of the pyramid was something called self-actualization. This is all about actualizing your highest potential and leads to lasting fulfillment. He also mentioned that all these people appreciate truth and beauty. He identified several characteristics that make up a self-actualized person that can help all of us on our journey of life.
Here are my favorite ones with my take on each.
They accept themselves as they are – All of us should accept ourselves just as we are. This is the key to happiness. Each of us is unique and we all have unique talents. Once you accept yourself the way you are the entire world opens and you feel great about yourself.
They resist enculturation – This ties into your uniqueness. They resist all attempts of society to define what they should be or what they should want. My point is you don’t have to have ambition if you don’t want to. You don’t have to set goals if you don’t want to. When you live true to your values or vision then happiness flows. Never allow others to dictate what you want out of your life. The more important thing is never compare yourself with anyone in the world. You are unique and have your own path to fulfill which is independent of what anyone else does.
They have a powerful sense of purpose – Always ask why a lot. Why is what you are doing important? What is the purpose of your life? As Dan Pink says in his book Drive one of the keys to a successful life is to find your purpose. As Simon Sinek says in his wonderful Ted talk and book Start with Why. His thesis is people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Martin Luther King had the “I have a dream” speech not “I have a plan” speech. You need to have a strong identity and purpose. Your motivation becomes more intrinsic when you have a strong purpose. This quote from Victor Frankl hits the nail on the head “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” With some time in your hand you can take the time to define a mission statement for your life. This can be done through soul searching and deep introspection. As Stephen Covey says begin with the end in mind. The exercise he gives is to imagine yourself at your own funeral and then imagine four people are there to give an eulogy. Imagine what you would like them to say about you. Now define your mission with the vision of what you would like your life to stand for.
They have more peak experiences – It is amazing how far ahead Maslow was that he identified what we call the flow state way back. This is where you feel anything is possible. This reminds me of when Stefan Edberg beat Jim Courier in the 1991 US Open final in straight sets. He said at that time he felt on that day where he could do anything, and he could make no mistakes. This state is amazing and all of us have experienced it at some time where we feel totally together and absolutely on top of the world. The key is to repeat those experiences more often.
They are childlike and spontaneous – They have a sense of awe about everything and are spontaneous. They have an openness and naivety about the world. They believe in themselves and have high curiosity.
They are detached from outcome – This is what all the spiritual traditions advise us on the path of enlightenment. Do everything you can to achieve what you want but then just leave the outcome. Don’t get hung up on outcomes and invest in the process. Do everything you can to make sure you get what you want but have the corresponding belief to accept whatever outcome shows up. This is applicable in every area of our lives. Sometimes life’s timing is different from our expectations.
They are independent of the good opinion of others – Others opinion is something they are totally entitled to. Even others opinion about us is something they have the right to. However, you have the right to process that opinion anyway you want. You can take it or leave it. The self-actualized people care more about their opinion of themselves than what others think of them. You will be more peaceful if you apply this principle in your life.
They embrace solitude – There are entire books on this subject and all of us struggle with this especially considering all the distractions in our modern world. However even going out in nature has shown to be a sweet restorer of peace, tranquility and serenity. Taking a quiet walk in nature restores balance to our lives. We in fact achieve more when we are relaxed. I don’t think there is anything wrong in being relaxed.
They have a genuine love of people – Dealing with people is an art. If we master this art, we will be happier and more content. The self-actualized people have a genuine love of people and make sure they connect with them from their heart. Some the techniques are to be a good listener, praise people, never gossip and never condemn.
They are totally humble – Know yourself. This is the oldest advice and it is still a valid principle for leadership. Once you know what your strengths are you can align your work accordingly. You can delegate the tasks on your weakness and the strengths of others. Knowing yourself will also give you a strong sense of identity. As Buckminster Fuller asked “What is my job on the planet.” As Steve Jobs said your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Honesty and Integrity are the twin qualities needed for authentic leadership. Humility makes you more accessible to everyone around you
There you have it the traits of a self-actualized person. All of us can try adopting some of these to enjoy life even more. Thanks for reading this post.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.
If you are interested I have written more than 400 articles and you can check it out in my personal blog titled Maximise Potential. Maximise Potential