What is Self Actualization?

Self-actualizing is the desire to be our best selves. The term was popularized by humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow describes self-actualization as “to become the most that one can be.”

Self- actualization brings happiness because our self image matches reality. This concept is called personality congruence.

The stages of congruency are:

Incongruent– there is little overlap between how a person sees themselves and who they would like to be. This can make them feel unfulfilled, unhappy, and have a general sense of low self-worth.

Increasingly congruent– When there is more common ground between self-image and an ideal self, a person feels better and has a more positive frame of mind.

Self-actualization– When a person’s perception of who they are aligns with who they want to be, they have achieved self-actualization. This creates deep happiness as they reach their full potential.


Self-actualization looks different on everyone because we are unique in our talents and desires. There are general qualities that are indicative of a self-actualized person; enjoying the present moment, feeling secure in who they are, being able to laugh at self, knowing how to fulfill needs, a sense of purpose, and acceptance of other people, situations, and reality. Maslow says self-actualizing people also experience an increase in “peak experiences”. Peak experiences are defined as moments of pure joy, wonder, and awe that feel significant or spiritual.

Maslow observed a hierarchy of growth that unlocks the level of self-actualization. He says that fulfilling the needs of one level raises motivations in the next. Only when all of the first four core needs have been met we can move on to the level of self-actualization.

The 5 levels are:

  1. Basic physiological needs– food, water, shelter, rest. He says that all other needs become secondary when these are not met.
  2. Safety– feeling safe and protected. This includes financial security, social/political stability, and good health. A freedom from fear.
  3. Belonging and love– After basic and safety needs have been met we move into desires for social needs- like friendship, love, community, trust, and acceptance.
  4. Self-esteem– feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and worth. This can be fulfilled by a sense of self-worth as well as respect from others.
  5. Self-actualization– the realization of one’s fullest potential, seeking growth, nurturing talents, and engaging in creative activities. Becoming the ideal version of yourself.

There have been periods of my life when I’ve been on a self-actualized path and times when I’ve fallen out of it. As an example, the best version of myself is easygoing and optimistic. The covid pandemic left me unemployed and I felt finically unsafe. My core need of safety was unmet and I was on anxious and on edge. Once I regained financial stability I was able to re-focus on personal growth and the creative persuits that bring me joy.

Wanna work towards self-actualization?

1. Check yourself. What needs are going unmet? How can you fulfill them? Tackle your unmet needs to prime yourself for self-actualizing growth.

2. Grow– confront your fears, squash your guilt, resolve your anger. Find your center. Take responsibility for your actions and life.

3. Follow your joy– nurture talents, find your bliss, live in the present moment, do what lights you up. Decide what your best self looks like and work towards it.

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