Unlocking Human Potential

Unlocking Human Potential
Written By: Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 02-01-2024

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A Guide to Maslow s Theory of Motivation

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a paper titled "A Theory of Human Motivation," which introduced his now-famous Hierarchy of Needs. This pyramid-shaped model proposes that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy, with the most basic needs at the bottom and the most complex needs at the top. According to Maslow, people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.

Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

Physiological Needs
The most basic needs are physiological needs, which are necessary for survival. These include the need for food, water, air, shelter, sleep, and sex. If these needs are not met, it is difficult to focus on anything else. For example, if you are hungry, it is difficult to concentrate on work or school. The physiological needs include those that are vital to survival. Some examples of physiological needs include:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Breathing
  • Homeostasis

In addition to the basic requirements of nutrition, air, and temperature regulation, physiological needs also include shelter and clothing. Maslow included sexual reproduction in this level of the hierarchy as well, since it is essential to the survival and propagation of the species.

Safety Needs
Once physiological needs are met, people turn their attention to safety needs. These include the need for physical safety, security, and stability. Safety needs are often triggered by fear or anxiety. For example, if you live in a dangerous neighborhood, you may be more concerned with safety than with self-actualization. At the second level of Maslow’s hierarchy, the needs start to become a bit more complex. At this level, the needs for security and safety become primary.

People want control and order in their lives. Some of the basic security and safety needs include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and wellness
  • Safety against accidents and injury

Finding a job, obtaining health insurance and health care, contributing money to a savings account, and moving to a safer neighborhood are all examples of actions motivated by security and safety needs.

Love and Belonging Needs
After safety needs are met, people turn their attention to love and belonging needs. These include the need for love, affection, intimacy, and belonging. Love and belonging needs are important for mental health and well-being. For example, if you do not have close relationships, you may feel lonely and isolated. The social needs in Maslow’s hierarchy include love, acceptance, and belonging. At this level, the need for emotional relationships drives human behavior. Some of the things that satisfy this need include:

  • Friendships
  • Romantic attachments
  • Family relationships
  • Social groups
  • Community groups
  • Churches and religious organizations

In order to avoid loneliness, depression, and anxiety, it is important for people to feel loved and accepted by others. Personal relationships with friends, family, and lovers play an important role, as does involvement in groups—such as religious groups, sports teams, book clubs, and other group activities.

Esteem Needs
Once love and belonging needs are met, people turn their attention to esteem needs. These include the need for self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect from others. Esteem needs are important for self-worth and motivation. For example, if you do not feel confident in your abilities, you may be less likely to take risks or pursue your goals. At the fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for appreciation and respect. Once the needs at the bottom three levels have been satisfied, the esteem needs begin to play a more prominent role in motivating behavior.

At this level, it becomes increasingly important to gain the respect and appreciation of others. People have a need to accomplish things, then have their efforts recognized. In addition to the need for feelings of accomplishment and prestige, esteem needs include such things as self-esteem and personal worth.

People need to sense that they are valued by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world. Participation in professional activities, academic accomplishments, athletic or team participation, and personal hobbies can all play a role in fulfilling the esteem needs.

People who are able to satisfy esteem needs by achieving good self-esteem and the recognition of others tend to feel confident in their abilities. Conversely, those who lack self-esteem and the respect of others can develop feelings of inferiority.

Self-Actualization Needs
At the top of the hierarchy are self-actualization needs. These include the need to fulfill one s potential, to be creative, and to make a difference in the world. Self-actualization needs are often expressed through work, hobbies, and relationships. For example, someone who is self-actualized may be a successful artist, entrepreneur, or scientist. At the very peak of Maslow’s hierarchy are the self-actualization needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others, and interested in fulfilling their potential.

"What a man can be, he must be," Maslow explained, referring to the need people have to achieve their full potential as human beings.

Maslow’s said of self-actualization: "It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing. They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they capable."

Different Types of Needs
Maslow s hierarchy of needs can be separated into two types of needs: deficiency needs and growth needs.

Deficiency needs: Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs, which arise due to deprivation. Satisfying these lower-level needs is important to avoid unpleasant feelings or consequences.

Growth needs: Maslow called the needs at the top of the pyramid growth needs. These needs don t stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person.

While the theory is generally portrayed as a fairly rigid hierarchy, Maslow noted that the order in which these needs are fulfilled does not always follow this standard progression.

The Expanded Hierarchy of Needs
In 1970, Maslow built upon his original hierarchy to include three additional needs at the top of his pyramid, for a total of eight:

Cognitive needs. This centers on knowledge. People generally want to learn and know things about their world and their places in it.

Aesthetic needs. This addresses the appreciation of beauty and form. People might fulfill this need through enjoying or creating music, art, literature, and other creative expressions.

Transcendence needs. Maslow believed that humans are driven to look beyond the physical self in search of meaning. Helping others, practicing spirituality, and connecting with nature are a few ways we might meet this need.

Implications for Daily Lifestyle

Pyramids are a common way to represent Maslow s hierarchy of requirements. The most fundamental requirements are found at the base of the need pyramid, while the most complicated demands are found at the summit.

People can proceed to the next level of demands once their lower-level wants have been satisfied. Psychological and social needs increase as people go up the pyramid.

The need for self-worth and a sense of achievement is ranked highest on the pyramid. Similar to Carl Rogers, Maslow placed a strong emphasis on the concept of self-actualization—the process of evolving personally in order to realize one s own potential.

Maslow s Hierarchy of Needs has important implications for our daily lives. By understanding our own needs and the needs of others, we can make choices that will help us live happier and more fulfilling lives.

Here are a few examples of how Maslow s Hierarchy of Needs can be applied to daily life:

  • Eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. This will help you meet your physiological needs for food and sleep.
  • Exercise regularly. This will help you meet your physiological needs for exercise and can also help you meet your safety needs by reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Spend time with loved ones. This will help you meet your love and belonging needs.
  • Set goals and work towards achieving them. This will help you meet your esteem needs.
  • Find a career that you are passionate about. This will help you meet your self-actualization needs.

Maslow s Hierarchy of Needs is a valuable tool for understanding human motivation. By applying this model to our own lives, we can make choices that will help us achieve happiness and fulfillment.

However, Maslow s Hierarchy of Needs can be a valuable tool for understanding human motivation and making choices that will help us live happier and more fulfilling lives.


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  2. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.
  3. Fisher, A. (2022). Understanding how needs drive behavior: Maslow s hierarchy of needs. HopeQure: https://www.hopequre.com/Hopequre-GetStarted
  4. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.
  5. Morgan, C., & Morris, C. L. (2018). Psychology for life today*. John Wiley & Sons.
  6. Ng, S. (2016). Maslow s hierarchy of needs in the workplace. International Journal of Business and Management, 11(18), 105-113.
  7. Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1999. The autonomy motive: Its role in coping, well-being, and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 449.

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