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Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Self Actualize

Self Actualization Guide

What does it mean to be self-actualized? What are the characteristics of self-actualization? Are you self-actualizing? What steps to self-actualization involves?

To answer these questions, we will look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs...

Let's jump in...

Self-actualization occurs when a person's potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled. Most often, it is at the top of the Hierarchy of Needs.

Interestingly, self-actualization was coined by the organismic theorist! Kurt Goldstein first used the term to describe the motive to realize one's full potential. He defined it as "the tendency to actualize itself as fully as possible is the basic drive ... the drive of self-actualization." [1]

Later, Carl Rogers added that self-actualization is "the curative force in psychotherapy – man's tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities ... to express and activate all the capacities of the organism." [2]

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Self-Actualization & the Revolution of Humanistic Psychology

Psychology during Maslow's time was devoted to studying mental illness.

Psychologists focused on neurosis, psychosis, and unhealthy individuals as they attempted to comprehend and possibly treat mental illnesses.

Maslow, however, adopted a different strategy. Instead of researching mental illness, he posed the following query:

What does sound mental health entail?

His exhaustive investigation into this issue culminated in the original notion of self-actualization and a new school of thought: Humanistic psychology.

Humanistic Psychology adopts a holistic viewpoint on life and gives special consideration to concepts like creativity, free will, and the potential for good in people.

It promotes the idea that we are "whole people," greater than the sum of our parts, and it fosters self-exploration over the analysis of other people's behavior.

Spiritual aspiration is recognized as a crucial component of the psyche in humanistic psychology. It has ties to the newly developed discipline of Transpersonal Psychology and Positive Psychology.[4] [5]

So what exactly is Self-Actualization?

Maslow's Definition of Self Actualization

Maslow defined self-actualization as "the full realization of one's potential" and one's "true self." [4] Self-actualization is "the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." [3] This desire can take hold once lower-order needs have essentially been met.

Self-actualisation is found at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and is considered the exception rather than the rule since most people are working to meet more pressing needs.

Self Actualization Definition.jpg

What is Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs is a model that describes human motivation.

Maslow used the terms "physiological," "safety," "belonging and love," "social needs," or "esteem," "self-actualization," and "transcendence" to describe the pattern through which human needs and motivations generally move.


The stages describe what motivates human behavior. It's a holistic approach focusing on a positive view of human nature, the human being and their potential. 

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs Stages
  • Self Transcendence: spiritual needs, going beyond the individual's self-concept, integrity.

  • Self Actualization: focus on self-growth, actualizing one's full potential, and self-fulfillment.

  • Aesthetic: beauty, aesthetics, and aesthetically pleasing experiences.

  • Cognitive: creativity, foresight, curiosity, and meaning

  • Esteem: self-respect, high evaluation of oneself, achievement, reputation/prestige, self-confidence, strength, competence, mastery, independence, and freedom.

  • Love & Belonging: affection, intimacy, friends, family, and trust

  • Safety: health, personal security, emotional security

  • Physiological Needs: biology derived needs such as air, water, food, heat, light, sex, sleep

Growth vs. Basic Needs

Did you know that Maslow never put these needs in a pyramid?

Maslow distinguished between those driven by the need for growth and those by the need for survival. Below self-actualization, all needs are basic needs. They were also known as deficiency needs by Maslow.

Dynamic hierarchy of needs

When our basic needs aren't met, we feel like something is missing from our lives, making us tense and prone to neurotic behavior.

For instance, our need for security would be jeopardized without a roof over our heads. Our attention is dominated by satisfying our basic needs until those needs are met.


Once our needs are met, we can turn more and more of our attention to those needs. Growth needs are internal as opposed to basic needs, which are external.


We are no longer driven by what other people—family, friends, coworkers, or anyone else—think when we have growth needs. Instead, something is propelling us.

Personal Growth

Self-actualization is a process of ongoing personal growth for its own sake. It's a way of life, a way of being in the world.

Some of the main attributes of this process are:

  • The ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities, and talents

  • Fulfillment of mission (or calling, fate, destiny, or vocation)

  • A fuller knowledge of and acceptance of the person's intrinsic nature, and

  • An unceasing trend toward unity, integration, or synergy within the person.

Characteristics of Self Actualization.gif

17 Characteristics of Self-Actualization

What does it mean to be a self actualized person?

Self-actualization is one of the final stages of Maslow's hierarchy. It describes the feeling of knowing and experiencing meaning in your life, feeling completely alive, and manifesting your full potential.

While self-actualization has been widely considered a key outcome in life, Maslow suggested that very few people achieve self-actualization. Less than 1% of adults are fully self-actualized.

Maslow's self-actualizing characteristics:

  1. Comprehensive perceptions of reality: Self-actualizes have a more encompassing view of reality and can judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to superficiality and dishonesty.

  2. Greater acceptance of Self, others, and nature: They are more Self-aware and Self-accepting. This attitude leads to deeper compassion, acceptance of others, and what it means to be human.

  3. Changes in Values: Natural update in values that is paradoxically more flexible, inclusive, and firm.

  4. Spontaneous and genuine: Authentic self expression instead seeking to impress.

  5. Mission & Higher Purpose: Having a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem 'beyond' themselves (instead of outside themselves) to pursue.

  6. Autonomy and Freedom from Enculturation: They are relatively independent of their cultural environment and are more focused on developing their potentialities. In contrast, the average person is dependent on and motivated by social or cultural forces.

  7. Freshness of Experiences: They have a freshness of experiences, like a child eating ice cream for the first time.

  8. Gratitude: They experience a steady state of appreciation and gratitude.

  9. Profoundly Deep Relationships: Deeply loving interpersonal relationships.

  10. Enjoy Solitude: They value and enjoy being alone.

  11. Non-hostile sense of humor: Can joke without being sarcastic or demeaning others.

  12. Peak experiences: All of Maslow's subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences, which were characterized by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, deep meaning, and oneness.

  13. Socially Compassionate: They are more democratic and humanistic. They are friendly with anyone of suitable character regardless of class, education, political belief, race, or color.

  14. Few friends: Few close intimate friends rather than many perfunctory relationships.

  15. Increased detachment: Detached to outcomes, results, and what others think. More focused on the way of life.

  16. Increased Creativeness: A universal characteristic of all self-actualizing people Maslow studied was an increase in creative expressions, such as innocent, playfulness, and spontaneity.

  17. Gemeinschaftsgefühl: They tend to be more 'world-centric' instead of 'ego centric' (focus on themselves) or 'social-centric' (their group). Feel a shared brotherhood of all humans and a sense of oneness.

Self Actualized People

Examples of Self-Actualized People

Maslow identified several individuals that he believed had reached self-actualization. (Maslow 1970: 1). 

  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; American President)

  • Albert Einstein (1879- 1955; Theoretical Physicist)

  • Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965; Writer, Humanitarian, Theologian, Organist, Philosopher, and Physician)

  • Aldous Huxley (1894- 1963; Philosopher and Writer)

  • Baruch Spinoza (1632- 1677; Philosopher)

  • Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962; Diplomat and Activist)

  • Jane Addams (1860-1935; Settlement Activist, Sociologist, Public Administrator)

  • Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826; American President, Architect, and Philosopher)

  • William James (1842- 1910; Philosopher and Psychologist)

Benefits of Self-Actualization

Overall, it was found that self-actualization was associated with greater levels of stability and the ability to avoid disruption or distraction from achieving higher-level goals. Self Actualizers had lower levels of disruptive impulsivity, nonconstructive thinking, and a lack of authenticity and meaning.

In line with Maslow's predictions, those who scored higher on self-actualization were much more driven by growth, exploration, and love of humanity than the need to meet their lack of basic needs.

Additionally, scores on self-actualization were linked to a variety of positive traits, such as higher levels of life satisfaction, curiosity, self-acceptance, supportive relationships, environmental mastery, personal growth, autonomy, and a sense of purpose in life.

There were connections between self-actualization, increased work performance and satisfaction, and increased reports of talent, skill, and creative ability in various fields, including the arts, sciences, business, and sports. 

Maslow predicted that there would be a significant (but small) correlation between humor ability and self-actualization (he often viewed humor ability as one of the defining characteristics of self-actualization).

The Importance of self-actualization.

As human beings, we have basic psychological needs for personal growth and development throughout our lives. When you become self-actualized, you will discover a deeper meaning and purpose in your life and say you truly 'lived.'

From Self-Actualization to Self Transcendence

It was also very intriguing to consider how self-transcendence and self-actualization relate to one another.  

Both increasing feelings of oneness and self-salience characterize self-transcendence people. According to Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., self-actualizers showed a decreased relationship to self-salience and a strong positive correlation with increased feelings of oneness with the world. 

As we grow from Self-Actualization to Self-Transcendence, we begin to untangle our Identity. Our Identity becomes less and less important until it disappears and we have transcended our ego.

"The goal of Identity (self-actualization . . .) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of Identity. This is like saying its function is to erase itself. Put the other way around, if our goal is the Eastern one of ego-transcendence and obliteration, of leaving behind self-consciousness and self-observation, . . . then it looks as if the best path to this goal for most people is via achieving Identity, a strong real self, and via basic-need-gratification." Maslow 

Self-actualized people don't sacrifice in order to serve others; instead, they use their full powers in the service of others.

You don't have to choose between self-actualization and self-transcendence because both are necessary for leading a rich and fulfilling life.

As we grow, each level subsumes and includes the previous levels. For example, self-actualized people also meet their basic needs. Self-transcendence individuals are also self-actualizing. 

Are you Self actualizing?

Looking at these self-actualization traits, how would you rate your development over the last five years?

For instance:

  • Are you more independent?

  • Do you enjoy being alone?

  • Have you gotten better at creating stronger bonds?

  • Do you lead a more creative life?

Now, consider the following:

  • What do you spend the majority of your attention on? Why?

  • What types of problems are you most focused on:

    • Personal problems? (putting out fires in your personal life)

    • Personal goals? (focused on the next promotion)

    • Community/Family concerns? (worries about your family, friends, church, or tribe's problems)

    • Focused on a Mission? (a higher purpose that extends beyond yourself.

  • How often do you experience peak experiences?

  • How often do you feel a deep sense of gratitude?

Maslow discovered that as we fulfill our basic needs, self-actualization happens naturally.

How to achieve self-actualization

There are several steps you can take to move towards becoming self-actualized. This process is better thought of as a journey that will not go in a straight line but rather one that will take you on the ride of your life. 

The journey is the process of becoming; the only way to become anything is through being. A musician becomes a musician by playing music, fully and deeply engaging with it, and living it. 

The goal of the musician isn't to get to the end of the song. Instead, it's all about the joy of playing music. 

Now it's time to find your muse. 

How do I start my self-actualization journey?

Here are the 7 Steps of your Self Actualization Journey:

Step 1: Increase Self Awareness

  1. SWOT: Learn the core strengths & weaknesses of your personality, beliefs, values, and capabilities. 

    1. Take our Free Personality Test here.

  2. Well Being & Self-Care: Assess your overall well being. How good are you at self-care? 

  3. Motivation: Consider what motivates human behavior and why you do the things you do. What gets you excited? What gives energy and brings a smile to your face?

  4. Self-Esteem: How do you feel about yourself and your ability? In what situations is your self esteem high, and when do you feel less confident?

  5. Self Discovery Program: Take our Free Self Discovery Program, which is a deep dive into your Personality, Values, Beliefs, and Identity.

Self Discovery Program

Step 2: Practice Mindfulness

  1. Present in the Moment: Be the observer, just watching the thoughts and feelings emerge. Practice being in the moment without judging (e.g., this is a 'bad thought,' 'stop thinking', 'I'm so bad at this', 'Wow, why didn't I think of this before') or following the thought or feeling. Instead, watch what comes up. You're only here to observe.

  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach: Practice being the observer, and notice patterns. Your mind will entice you with the most exciting ideas, stories and thoughts. If that doesn't work, it will move on to worries and judgments. It's like a feral monkey. Just watch the monkey, and soon, you'll learn its patterns.

Step 3: Craft a Vision for your Life

  1. Ideal Vision: Create a Vision that incorporates your Ideals and a higher purpose.

  2. Meaning & Purpose: Life is short; consider who you really are, how you view your own life, what life is about for you and what makes it so worthwhile.

  3. Hero's Journey Program: Free Program that helps your Discover and Life your Best Life

Hero's Journey Program

Step 4: Put together a Plan

  1. Alignment: Align your Vision your Ideals with your Identity, values, beliefs, and capabilities. This holistic plan takes your Identity, personality, beliefs, values, and skills onto account.

Step 5: Practice Focus

  1. Spend 5 minutes each morning imagining yourself taking action and actualizing your plan. Feel the feeling of being it.

Step 6: Practice Gratitude

  1. Spend 5 minutes each morning and evening reflecting on what you are grateful for.

Step 7: Walk the Walk towards Self Mastery

  1. The journey is the destination. In this sense, you practice being who you are becoming every day.


How to Reach Self Actualization Inforgraphic

Final Thoughts on becoming a Self Actualized Person

Self-Actualization & the Revolution of Humanistic Psychology

Maslow believed that self-actualization is a psychological need and a sign of good mental health.

Self-actualization is not reserved for the talented few. Everyone has a birthright to achieve their personal potential and reach self actualization.

Fear prevents many of us from moving toward self actualisation. This was "aborted self-actualization," according to Maslow.

This is something we unknowingly do. For instance, when we're consuming most of our time with media, we've strayed from our intended course.

The good news is that we can begin again immediately once we become aware of it.

Follow your passions, the things that excite you and pique your curiosity, and see where they lead you.

It's a fantastic journey of learning and development.

So what exactly is Self-Actualization?
Maslow's Definition of Self Actualization
What is Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?
growth vs basic needs
personal growth
17 Characteristics of Self-Actualization
Examples of Self-Actualized People
Benefits of Self-Actualization
The Importance of self-actualization.
From Self-Actualization to Self Transcendence
Are you Self actualizing?
How to achieve self-actualization
How do I start my self-actualization journey?
Final Thoughts on becoming a Self Actualized Person

Become the Hero.


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