What is Self-Actualization and How Can It Be Achieved?

by Noah Rue

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Living the dream. Being your best self. This is what self-actualization is all about. 

But, unfortunately, while many of us dream of finding peace and fulfillment in our lives, few of us understand what that really means of how we can get there. And that’s a shame because it’s in your power to build the life you want and deserve.

This article explores the power of self-actualization and provides helpful strategies for achieving it in your own life.

What Is Self-Actualization?

Self-actualization, at its core, is about building a life filled with joy and purpose by learning how to be true to yourself and the person you are meant to be.

Because self-actualization is about discovering your authentic self and building your life around it, the way that you understand and manifest self-actualization in your world will be unlike anyone else. After all, there is only one you — and no one but you can tell you how to achieve actualization in your own life.

So, while there is only one way to achieve self-actualization in your life — and that’s your way — there are lots of paths that can divert you from it. When you find yourself making decisions about your own life to please others or to avoid their negative judgment, you might not be living a self-actualized life. 

But there are other warning signs as well: You find yourself losing your sense of wonder and engagement in life. You sense you’re losing interest in and compassion for others. You feel that your life has grown stagnant and unimportant. If you’re experiencing any of these things, chances are, your life, and you, are falling short of your potential.

Reaching the Top of the Pyramid

The concept of self-actualization comes from humanistic psychology and, especially, the ideas of the psychologist, Abraham Maslow. In a nutshell, Maslow says that all human beings have a particular set of needs that must be fulfilled for them to live healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives.

Importantly, Maslow uses his theory of the “hierarchy of needs” to show how these universal human needs build on one another. Our sense of peace, happiness, and purpose increases as we move up the needs pyramid. Once more basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, safety) are met, we move on. We want and require more from our lives.

With every level of the pyramid that we ascend, we grow just a little bit more. We become stronger, more mature, and more capable in mind and spirit. And at the very top of the hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. This is the level you reach when you’ve discovered your truest self and you’ve built a life of integrity and authenticity.   

How to Get There

The simple fact is that no one charts the same path to the “top” of Maslow’s pyramid. Self-actualization demands that you stop comparing yourself to others. Your path isn’t their path and you can’t expect to live an authentic life if you’re trying to live someone else’s journey. 

That means that walking the path to your authentic self is going to require you to learn to stand on your own. Self-actualized people tend to be fiercely independent, and, while they may take great joy in the company of others, they’re also usually just as content with being alone

That’s because a self-actualized person doesn’t need anyone else to define who they are. And they don’t have to rely on someone else to make them happy. When you are actualized, you’re by definition always thinking for yourself. That can be frightening but it is also wonderful. Mainly because you’re not relying on someone else’s tired perspectives on the world and how you should live in it. Every new day in your life is a new experience, a new opportunity, and you get to choose what to make of it.

Power to the People?

At first blush, self-actualization can sound almost, well, selfish. But that actually could not be further from the truth. Maslow even noted that the most self-actualized people also tend to be the most self-transcendent. It’s as though you are finally free to see the world and the people in it once you have discovered joy, fulfillment, and authenticity in your own life. 

It’s said that hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people. And the same seems to be true of self-actualization. Self-actualized people help people self-actualize in turn. 

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to become a martyr once you’ve reached this level. If you’re truly going to live a life of authenticity and integrity, then you’re going to have to set and prioritize your boundaries. You’re going to have to make it okay to protect this state of self-truth and self-care that you’ve achieved, no matter what might be going on in the world around you. 

The Takeaway

Self-actualization isn’t just some fancy theory coming to us from the world of psychology. It’s a goal that all human beings aspire to, whether we realize it or not. And it’s far closer to our grasp than most of us realize. Above all, self-actualization means having the course to discover your authentic self and to live a life that honors that truth.

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About the Author 

Noah Rue

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