from the world's big
Should people really pursue self-actualization?
It's a popular buzzword among the self-help community, but does trying to become self-actualized do any good?
- Abraham Maslow first came up with the hierarchy of needs many decades ago.
- At the top of this hierarchy was the idea of self-actualization, a human need to become all that we can possibly be.
- It's struck a chord outside of academic circles, but both pursuing this goal and the concept itself are a little problematic.
It's a staple of pop psychology. Most are, by now, familiar with Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The model describes 5 varieties of needs, each of which must be satisfied before one can move up to the next level of the pyramid. At the very bottom, there are physiological needs like the need for food, water, and sleep. If you haven't got enough food, for example, it's very unlikely that you'll feel motivated to pursue the needs at the next level of the pyramid, which are safety needs. These include feeling financially secure, safe from harm, and being healthy. The next level focuses on the need to feel social belonging, such as feeling loved and having friendships. Then there are the esteem needs, such as a sense of mastery and competence. And finally, there's the summit of the pyramid, the ultimate goal of self-actualization.
The model makes intuitive sense, and it gives us the impression that so long as we work hard, we can make inexorable progress to the top of the pyramid. It's grown so popular that unlike most academic theories, it's broken out of the ivory tower and has gained new life among wellness blogs and motivational speakers. But Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the idea of self-actualization in particular have some serious flaws. In fact, our dogged pursuit to become the best version of ourselves and live our best lives might be doing more harm than good.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Flickr user BetterWorks Breakroom
Maslow's work was revolutionary in the sense that prior to his hierarchical theory of human motivation, most psychology only sought to explain disorders — the ways in which human beings deviate from "normal." The trouble is, nobody knew exactly what a "normal" human was. Maslow's hierarchy of needs landed him in the growing field of humanistic psychology, which seeks to explain human nature holistically.
But Maslow's hierarchical model represents just the first few steps into a developing field, not a definitive picture of human nature. As Maslow's model spread outside of the realm of the academic, it took on more of an air of something obviously and inherently true, a roadmap to becoming a complete and happy human being. But Maslow never intended the hierarchy of needs to be a prescriptive model. It doesn't tell you what you should be doing. Instead, it's a descriptive model; it tells you the way things are under certain conditions. Striving for self-actualization rather than allowing for the need to self-actualize arise naturally might actually do more harm than good.
For starters, people don't exactly know what self-actualization means. In "A Theory of Human Motivation," one of the earliest works to describe this model, Maslow described self-actualization as
"[…] the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for [an individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming."
The key here is that self-actualization is a fulfillment of what one is actually capable of becoming — not what one wants to become. This misconception becomes tricky when we think of self-actualization as a goal in and of itself. Rather than pursuing the natural, innate motivations that would lead to self-actualization, sometimes we pursue the concept of self-actualization itself. More often than not, this leads down a futile path of struggling to become a person we're not, of transforming our real selves into an illusory self-image. This quickly turns into a pursuit of perfection, which works against self-actualization. Perfectionism has been linked to higher levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. In his later work, "Critique of Self-Actualization Theory," Maslow wrote:
"In a word, when life is judged as not worthwhile — whether through the accumulation of pains or the absence of peak-experiences and positive joys — then humanistic psychology is worthless. It speaks only to those people who want to live, grow, become happier and more effective, fulfill themselves, like themselves better, improve in general, and move toward the ideal of perfection, even though they never expect fully to reach that point."
Does self-actualization even capture the big picture?
In addition to misunderstanding Maslow's description of self-actualization, we should also be aware that the concept itself has some major flaws. For starters, Maslow's picture of self-actualization is an awfully subjective one. In his book, Motivation and Personality, Maslow describes the qualities of self-actualized people as being realistic, accepting of the self and others, possessing a sense of autonomy, having a focus on completing tasks or fixing problems, possessing a constantly renewed perspective of the world, having few but close friends, being comfortable with solitude, and self-reliance, among others.
These sound like good qualities, and probably qualities that any self-actualized person would have, but that's more or less the same amount of academic rigor that Maslow applied when defining a self-actualized person.
Maslow developed this list of qualities by studying the top 1% "healthiest" college students and several historical figures that he believed had been self-actualized. As part of his definition of the healthiest students, he looked for those with an absence of neuroses as well as those whom he thought were good examples of self-actualized individuals. This is, unfortunately, a circular methodology. Maslow was studying living and historical individuals he believed to be self-actualized with the goal of qualifying what self-actualization is.
Between public misunderstandings of the term and its own subjective nature, we have to question whether pop psychology's fascination with self-actualization is a useful one. Yes, it's a concept that makes sense; we all know we can become better, and realizing our potential in a way that strives for perfection without vainly becoming obsessed with it strikes us as behavior that's inherently correct. But self-actualization is merely a description of a phenomenon, and not an entirely accurate description at that. Worrying about what one needs to do to accomplish self-actualization and whether one can become self-actualized is counter-productive.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs was never designed to live outside of the ivory tower of academia. Within that tower, it has been criticized and refined and criticized again, but we don't often receive the benefit of those reviews outside of academia. So, the next time a self-help guru tells you what you need to do to achieve self-actualization, take it with a grain of salt.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgyMzg1NX0.ZY8qmhtoZfbRMAqrNnmbgyk7GLabglx_9lBq3PKcy7g/img.png?width=980" id="99882" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="68e8758894b0359c6ef61b2c158832b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="970e9c15f3c3d846dde05e2b2c6ebf12" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b38a957408940673ccc744f0f6828d18" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f735418322b34382dcd882299c9ccc48" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDMzMDc3N30.p9BEtkf3-PV3EtDSQMUGUeopsimiCHUagx97P4f8IBw/img.jpg?width=980" id="e8ab8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0063ce99bdd22fbebe1279244b87935c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Coccyx. Image source: decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45469ca5ee5f43433a782f7d4ac0a440" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
You're always in control of your breath.
- Anxiety is triggered environmentally and emotionally, but a physiological response quickly follows.
- Calming breathing techniques help to tamp down the physiological response of anxiety.
- The following four exercises are known to help calm anxiety and develop focus.
Stressed? Use This Breathing Technique to Improve Your Attention and Memory, with Emma Seppälä<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac308f8ef7490814bcb4c1841725cf35"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NrJZu6bGyHg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Alternate Nostril Breathing</h3><p>Emma Seppälä, science director at Stanford Center For Compassion And Altruism Research And Education, says American culture values intensity yet undervalues calmness. We never shut off. While intensity has its place, every animal in nature inherently knows the necessity of rest in order to store up energy for when it's actually needed. Americans are careless with our energy reserves, which is why so many of us are chronically tired, overworked, and stressed out. </p><p>Seppälä knows that breathing changes our state of mind. She recommends a popular yogic breathing technique, <em>nadi shodhana</em>, also known as alternate nostril breathing. </p><p>Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand on your forehead. Use your thumb to close your right nostril while inhaling through the left nostril, then close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Repeat this for at least two minutes, then sit quietly for another minute or two, breathing normally. </p><p>There are many variations of this technique. My favorite is a four-cycle breath: inhale for a count of four through one nostril, retain your breath for a count of four, exhale for four, hold your breath out for four. If you're new to this breathing technique, retention might initially create more anxiety than it relieves, so try the basic inhale-exhale pattern until you can last for at least five minutes before moving onto breath retentions.</p>
Mind Hack: Combat Anxiety with This Breathing Technique<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0cd55bb6ac6c7dd5daab3c29b7a82843"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7xalaT2FwS8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Power Breath</h3><p>Game designer and author of "Superbetter," Jane McGonigal, recommends the Power Breath: exhale for twice as long as you inhale. She says this will shift your nervous system from sympathetic to a parasympathetic tone—you'll calm down. Simply sit comfortably, close your eyes, and begin by inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of eight. </p><p>This is also a popular yoga breathing technique. As with <em>nadi shodhana</em>, it can initially kick up rather than diminish anxiety. If you find long exhales challenging, begin by inhaling and exhaling at an even rate: a count of four in both directions. Then try to slowly increase your exhale to a count of five, six, and so on. Longtime practitioners can inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of 50. As with any muscle, you can train your breathing. The benefits are immense. </p>
Breathing Techniques to Help You Relax<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="56511aaa4d1c06cc65077b8daf7670fb"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHpTR2wRc8c?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Focus Word Breathing</h3><p>Lolly, a Mind-Body Specialist at the University of Maryland Heart Center, offers what she calls Focus Word Breathing. Traditionally, this is known as Mantra meditation. Choose a word that has meaning to you—<em>calm</em>, <em>grace</em>, <em>ease</em>—and repeat it during every inhalation and exhalation. As your mind wanders, the word becomes a sort of flagpole that you've mentally planted to bring you back to this moment. </p><p>As a former sufferer of anxiety disorder, I remember how important my thoughts were when having a panic attack. The power of the physiological symptoms increased when I dwelled on negative thoughts. This spiral felt like being sucked into a vortex. By contrast, when I was able to redirect my thinking, the symptoms lessened. </p><p>Mantra meditation never completely worked during an attack. By that point, my physiology had been hijacked. But as a regular practice, this breathing technique is powerful. Think of it as training for the big game of life. You teach yourself to focus on beneficial words. Your attention goes where thinking leads you, but you also have control of your thoughts. By integrating a mantra with breathing, you're priming your mind to focus at will.</p>
How to do Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall) w/ AnaMargret Sanchez<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ebcd48808f1ef73d5d35b9b4f58e8e8"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YHxoiq1YivE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Deep Belly Breathing</h3><p>This exercise is commonly used by yoga instructors to bring their students into Corpse Pose (Savasana). Place your hands over your stomach while lying down and focus your attention there. Take deep, even breaths into your hands. As with the last technique, focus your mind there. Relax the muscles at your extremities: your toes, fingers, and forehead. Allow yourself to melt into the floor. </p><p>I love doing this breath while in <em>Viparita Karani</em>, otherwise known as Legs Up the Wall posture. The video above explains how to enter this pose; a blanket or pillow under your lower back makes the posture comfortable. Once there, I practice deep belly breathing. This technique always calms me down. I've recommended it to friends suffering from insomnia; they all responded with positive anecdotal feedback. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Get 11 hours of proven techniques on candlestick, day trading, and investment.
- Becoming a successful trader involves learning the psychology tricks of the trade.
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