This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 09 table of contents.

Maslow's Advice on Self-Actualization

During years of lecturing, Maslow was asked many times to give specific advice on what it took to become a self-actualizer. Sometimes it seemed that people wanted easy answers and quick solutions. Maslow wrote:

The trouble with most of these youngsters who have been after me is that it seems they have in the back of their heads some notion of self-actualization as a kind of lightning stroke which will hit them on the head suddenly without their doing anything about it. They all seem to want to wait passively for it to happen without any effort on their part. Furthermore, I think that practically all of them have tended unconsciously to define self-actualization in terms of getting rid of all inhibitions and controls in favor of complete spontaneity and impulsivity...

By contrast, Maslow said, self-actualizers tend to be hard-working, disciplined people.

Who were "the only happy people" Maslow knew?

The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important....This was a universal truth for all my self-actualizing subjects. They were metamotivated by metaneeds (B-values) expressed in their devotion to, dedication to, and identification with some great and important job. This was true for every single case. (Maslow, 1965, p.6)

But students wanted more specific advice. They wanted answers to the practical question: What does one do ? How did self-actualizing people get this way? What could students do to encourage self-actualization in their own lives, assuming it could be done voluntarily? Maslow did not want to be cast in the role of a guru or preacher. But he also believed such questions should not be evaded. So he provided students with his best guess about ways to become self-actualizing. Here is the list from Maslow (1971).

What was some practical advice Maslow gave to students?

1. Do things that allow absorption, lack of cynicism or self-consciousness. Put 100% of your concentration into some high-quality creative act, or cultivate open-minded appreciation of nature or music.

2. Choose "growth alternatives" rather than "fear alternatives." When you face a fork in the road, take the challenging path, which makes you grow, rather than the easy path, which reduces your fear.

3. Dare to trust your intuitions, values, and perceptions. Maslow asked his students what they would do if they first sampled a glass of wine then saw from the label that it was (a) very expensive or (b) very cheap. Would it change their evaluation of the wine's taste?

4. When in doubt, be honest. There are exceptions—times when "white lies" are necessary to avoid hurt feelings. But as a rule, honesty pays off and is valuable in itself.

5. Work to be first rate at whatever you do. It does not matter if it is athletics, raising a baby, scholarship, art, or gardening.

6. Allow conditions that facilitate peak experiences. For example, listen to beautiful music. Go to beautiful natural surroundings. Enjoy your love relationships to their fullest.

What is "resacralization"?

7. Cultivate attitudes that "resacralize" things (art, family, nature). This means overcoming the cynicism that many people learn during adolescence. It means rediscovering the powerful responses latent in humans to such things as babies, music, spiritual feelings, social communion, rhythm and dance, nature, and art. Resacralization means making these things sacred again.


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