“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call Self-actualization.”
“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them. Life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” –Gabriel García Márquez
The term “self-actualization” was originally coined by the theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive of realizing one’s full potential, but was brought fully to light by Abram Maslow in his hierarchy of needs theory of human development. Essentially self-actualization is the prominent feeling of being fully alive and aware of what it means to be a meaning-bringing creature in an otherwise meaningless universe.
It is the self-realization of one’s individuated maturity in balance with an interdependent spirit. Self-actualized people have a healthy perception of reality and practice healthy habits. Here are seven things self-actualized people don’t do in order to achieve their most authentic self.
- They don’t fear change
“Nature will not let us stay in any one place for too long. She will let us stay just long enough to gather the experience necessary to the unfolding and advancement of the soul. This is a wise provision, for should we stay there too long, we would become too set, too rigid, too inflexible. Nature demands change in order that we may advance.” –Ernest Holmes
Self-actualized people realize that there is no permanence. Everything changes. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s because things change, because things begin, because things grow and blossom and wilt and die and grow again that there is such a thing as beauty to begin with. It is exactly because things end that things are so beautiful while they’re here. Everything is more precious to the self-actualized person precisely because everything is fleeting and transitory. They don’t fear change, they change fear. They are flexible and adept at adapting to the many vicissitudes of life.
- They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control
“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” –Deborah Reber
Self-actualized people understand that not everything is under their control. And that’s okay. For the same reason that you put an oxygen mask on yourself before a child, you need to discover a Locus of Control before attempting to control the locusts, the “locusts” being a metaphor for “everything else.” Self-actualized people realize that they can’t control people. They can only teach people and hope those people learn. They can’t control fate.
They do, however, understand that they have control over their attitude, and choose to place their energy into adapting their attitude to a situation rather than complaining about how things are not working out. They discover that by changing their attitude they are more likely to create a positive outcome. But even if they can’t, at least they have the satisfaction of having tried something positive.
- They don’t feel unworthy
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle
Self-actualized people never feel sorry for themselves. There’s no point. They realize that self-pity is poison. Worthiness is a matter of attitude, and they have the right attitude. They make being worthy a habit, and they practice it every single day. They don’t worry about how other people treat them.
They are not concerned with circumstance. They are only concerned with how they manage their own worth in regard to others and to circumstance. They understand that nobody else gets to dictate their own worth. Worthiness is a choice, and they have simply chosen to be worthy.
- They don’t fear taking risks
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Self-actualized people understand that living a full life requires stepping outside of their comfort zone. There’s adventure on the other side of those walls we put up in order to maintain our comfort, and self-actualized people are determined to leap those walls in pursuit of higher fulfillment.
They seek to test the limits of the human spirit. They are not reckless or foolish risk-takers, however. They are calculative and circumspect about their risk-taking. They have a proper orientation between fear and shame. They can extend the limits of what’s possible without fear, because they are proactive and courageous about transforming boundaries into horizons.
- They don’t have a sense of entitlement
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” – Mark Twain
Self-actualized people don’t feel the world owes them anything. What they get, they earn. If they should get something they didn’t earn, they are appreciative and never take it for granted. They don’t just assume that other people will take care of them. Rather, they take care of themselves and “let the chips fall where they may.”
They don’t suffer from unhealthy expectations. They also don’t need immediate gratification, understanding that sometimes the best things in life take time to develop. They don’t resent the success of other people. Instead, they are happy for other people, and tend to learn from both the successes and the mistakes of others.
- They don’t see setbacks as “setbacks”
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” – Bruce Lee
Self-actualized people seek opportunity in every obstacle. Every failed attempt can be used as a stepping stone for the next attempt. And no matter how many attempts it takes, self-actualized people don’t quit. They don’t agonize over past mistakes. They don’t cling to the past. And they definitely don’t hold onto resentment.
They are very present and centered, especially during setbacks. They understand that through mistakes they can become wise, but only if they learn from those mistakes. But they also don’t make the same mistake over and over again. They make new mistakes, understanding that trial and error is the mother of all invention. They intuitively understand the meaning of the Zen proverb: “The obstacle is the path.”
- They don’t let negative thoughts control them
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself, if you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” –Lao Tzu
Self-actualized people never assume the worst. Instead, they hope for the best and prepare for the worst. They know that they can adapt and overcome anything that comes their way. They understand that negative thoughts can hijack their perspective if they allow them to, so they are ever-vigilant and cognizant of how their perception of reality is affecting reality.
At the same time, they don’t resist the truth of reality. If a situation is negative, or it is creating a negative emotion, they embrace the moment and the emotion and then they transform that emotion into a positive one, thereby transforming the situation into a positive one. They are also adept at transforming the negative energy of past traumas into positive energy for the present moment. They have learned, as Sogyal Rinpoche teaches, “What we have to learn in both meditation and in life is to be free of attachment to the good experiences and free of aversion to the negative ones.”