Can This Pyramid Help You Live Up To Your Potential In Life?!

Mar 6, 2012 | Prosperity

maslow pyramid of self actualization from The Tao of Dana

Welcome to Abraham Maslow‘s expanded Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid.  Maslow, a psychologist and professor, created this pyramid after years of study of mentally healthy subjects.  His goal was to better understand what self-help gurus have co-opted as “peak states” of life and the structure of needs that must be met for someone to fulfill their potential.

Self-Actualization is Maslow’s terms is an optimal state where an individual is having fun, feeling secure, trusts themselves and operates on a high level with their needs fully met.  While Maslow didn’t emphasize any need to be “perfect”, this little pyramid can help you to understand where and why you might be getting tripped up along your road to living your dream life…

And, of course, once you can see what is out of whack, you can absolutely get on track!

How can you use this little pyramid as a guide to focusing your energy to create a more balanced, creative existence?

Many years ago when I first found this pyramid I was instructed to start at the bottom .  Start at the bottom and non-critically, non-judgementally ask yourself how you are doing in each of the levels of the pyramid.  (*worth noting: this is a psychological and pragmatic pyramid, not a spiritual one, to put things in context. This pyramid isn’t about reaching a spiritual state, although that is important, too!)

The first four Motivating Needs starting at the bottom of the pyramid:

Physiological Needs: Are you eating? Well? How is your health? Do you sleep? Exercise? Do you feel well? If you are just getting by physically, you might want to look at this.  After all, health is the foundation upon which you build the rest of your life!

Safety Needs: Do you have a home? One that you like? Do you have enough money (to  live well, not to retire to a desert island that you own!)? A job? Are you holding on to a job that you hate just to hold onto security? If you are living with someone you shouldn’t be living with based on a need for safety, or your work is a misery, that’s considered faltering ground in the security area of the pyramid.

Belongingness: Family, Intimacy, Relationships, Friendships… How are you doing?  If you have not yet met your soulmate, this isn’t the end of the world, however if you feel lonely, isolated, introverted or socially off-kilter, this is a big area to explore.

Esteem Needs: These are both what you think about yourself, and, according to Maslow, what other people think about you.  So, that whole idea that being superficial and caring about being dressed up or having nice things… it partially does hold water here.  Your appearance is a part of how people view you.  However, this is not the primary part of our discussion, since what other people think of you is a slippery slope to focus on.  Lets look at how you feel about you, since you can’t control other people’s perceptions and you can get very lost in trying!!!  How do you feel about who you are? How do you talk to yourself? Are you never satisfied and never fulfilled? Do you feel you are doing well?

Before we go any further, take a quick look at how you feel about each of these areas of your life.  If you feel like you are not that solid in one area on the pyramid, examine how strong you are in the area beneath it.  For example, if you are having a hard time getting a job (Security), how well are you eating, sleeping and thinking these days (Physiological)? If you look at the level below you get clues as to how to approach the problem or need that you are motivated to resolve.

Another example: If you have a poor sense of self worth and constantly feel broken or sub-par (Esteem), look to your relationships and see how engaged you are in them and how healthy they are (Belongingless).  A bad egg of a friend can make you feel terrible about yourself, just as a bad relationship with a parent can leave you feeling worthless even if you are doing great things in life.   Working on bettering those relationships, accepting, changing or understanding of them can help you build greater Esteem.

Is this making sense?!  I hope so!  The “Higher Needs” (the Cognitive need to understand things, the Aesthetic need for creativity and beauty, the need to Self-Actualize or live up to your potential and, finally, the need to hit Transcendence and help others to become actualized) are the ones we might not meet as often if we get caught up in bad habits and a struggle for survival at the bottom of the pyramid.

I wanted to share this with you as it can be an exciting tool to re-focus your energy in the pursuit of your dream life!  Again, the pyramid was not created to judge you, nor was it meant to be a one-size-fits-all equation.

That said, more often than not, if you are melting down in any area of the pyramid you might have a hard time developing solid progress above it. Does this mean you won’t be able to make art if you have a terrible relationship with your parents? Nope.  It does mean that unless you reconcile those emotions with your family  in some way (and it doesn’t need to be airy fairy, but just confronted) this emotional instability may affect your ability to feel good enough about yourself to actually make art or feel good about it and yourself even if you are productive!  So, the pyramid gives you a hint as to where you might want to focus and smooth out the anxieties and tensions.

Many times I see people struggling to fulfill the the top needs of the pyramid (” I want to be transformed !”) before they have the bottom needs (“I hate my job.”)  met.  That’s the joy and irony of our modern society.

This little pyramid tool can help you to get focused on the basics & the basics are where it’s at if you’re looking for happiness and stability, and, ultimately, self-actuaization!

xoxo Dana



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  1. Carolyn

    Sooo well explained! Must share! So glad I get to read your blog posts. Awesome!

  2. Lulu

    I think It’s really helpful to identify the problematic are in a quick in grafic way. Awesome!

  3. Eman

    I disagree about putting Aesthetics needs above Cognitive needs.

    Thank you for your care 🙂

    (typo in my first post. my name is Eman not Emaqn)

    • danaclaudat

      Hi! I’m not quite sure what you mean. Can you explain?



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