What Motivates Us?

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.” – Abraham Maslow

I wanted to find something more positive to psychology than psychopathology. I’ve read blogs about depression, schizophrenia, and child abuse. There are so much negative aspects to psychology that people focus on currently. The emphasis of psychology has a lot of to do with crisis, trauma, and depression. I started thinking of what drives people to do what they do? How are people motivated? How do we find our true potential in life? How do these ambitions affect us?

I found the study of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist that had the same questions as I do. He trusted that people have a set of motivation systems unrelated to rewards or unconscious desires.

In 1943, Maslow stated that individuals are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled, people seek to fulfill the next one and then the next one. Need in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that a need is which someone or something must do or have something.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is arranged in a hierarchy of five stages of needs that are modeled on a pyramid.


The original hierarchy of needs model

  1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, freedom from fear, etc.
  3. Social Needs – belongingness, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships, etc.
  4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others, etc.
  5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that we must satisfy each need in all stages in order to reach our higher potential or our self-actualization. Only when the lower needs are satisfied, then we are motivated to do are. For example, in order for me to be truly motivated and study a test, all of my physical desires such as hunger and sleep deprivation must be fulfilled. I would need to feel secure and comfortable, and make sure my social relationships are virtuous such as I would feel distracted if I were in an argument with my boyfriend. Lastly, I would need to feel good about myself, or respect myself to a level that will make me feel like I could nail that test.

The expanded hierarchy of needs

The crossed out levels are the additional stages that were later discovered.

  1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
  3. Social Needs – Belongingness and Love, – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
  4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
  5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.
  6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
  7. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
  8. Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self-actualization.

Here is video that explains more about the extension if interested. It explains more about cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, and transcendence needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model was extended in the 1970’s. Although he reviewed those certain aspects, he did not include ‘Cognitive’, ‘Aesthetic’, and Transcendence’ as stages in his own expression of Hierarchy of Needs.

Psychopathology is the scientific study of mental disorders, which was very popular in the 40s’. In 1943, Maslow was more fascinated in human potential, and how we accomplish that potential.


Abraham Maslow discovered the following:

  • Human motivation is based on people wanting fulfillment and change through person growth.
  • Self-actualized people are those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.
  • Growth of self-actualization is the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life.
  • Self-actualization could be measured through the concept of peak experiences. This could only happen if a person experiences the world for what it is and feel nothing but joy.

He stated the following:

“It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.

The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions” –Maslow, 1943

Self-Actualized People

Maslow studied 18 people he considered to be self-actualized, including Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, William James, Aldous Huxley, Gandhi, and Beethoven.

Characteristics of Self-Actualized People

  • keen sense of reality, aware of real situations, and objective judgment rather than subjective
  • see problems in terms of challenges and situations requiring solutions, rather than see problems as personal complaints or excuses
  • need for privacy and comfortable being alone
  • independent, and not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views
  • non-conformist
  • democratic, fair and non-discriminating
  • socially compassionate
  • accepting others as they are and not trying to change people
  • comfortable with oneself, despite any unconventional tendencies
  • a few close intimate friends rather than many surface relationships
  • sense of humor directed at oneself or the human condition, rather than at the expense of others
  • spontaneous and natural
  • true to oneself, rather than being how others want
  • excited and interested in everything, even ordinary things
  • creative, inventive and original
  • seek peak experiences that leave a lasting impression

Are You Self-Actualized Or Know Someone Who Is?

Of course my natural response is that I guess not all my needs are satisfied because I do NOT feel self-actualized. On the other hand, researching and writing this entire post definitely reminded me of one of my best friends, Estevan Munoz. I have known him for about 6 years now, and he is unquestionably the motivated person I know. He’s very kind and funny, and I’ve rarely seen him angry.

First meeting him, you’d know his passion is for movies. I could bring up a movie and he would go off for hours about his opinion on it. He doesn’t just watch movies; he studies them as for own personal satisfaction. He knows every actor, actress, and director out there and easily remembers all of their names.

A few months ago, Estevan told me that he realized his true potential in life was to become a director, and I have done nothing but support him. I have been in one of his films called I Have Aids.

After first reading all of this information I instantly texted Estevan saying that he reminds me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He texted me back later and said that someone already told him that about a month ago! What?! NUTS! He said it’s the nicest compliment he’s ever heard. He is a great guy and a great movie director. To me, he’s met all of his motivational needs and is ready to do anything he sets his mind to. Looking back, he fits every single characteristic of self-actualization especially the last one, seek peak experiences that leave a lasting impression. He is leaving to Portland to make something of himself because he “has not experienced enough”.

I find this topic to show such a brighter side to psychology, rather than disorders and addiction. It is encouraging to know about motivation and the different aspects to it. I will think of self-actualization when I meet some that seems over the top and galvanized and maybe even compliment them about it. Everyday I now always try to keep my motivational needs balanced and maybe one day I will feel self-actualized.

Here is a link if anybody is interested in the film I was in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhO5sneqcG0




  1. Homeostasis is one thing, but we humans have the need to be with other individuals.

    My thought though is, do we all need have to this thing called “power” to be happy?

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