Blueprint >> Self-Actualization

Disclaimer: This document is in raw form as I process and distill 4 years-worth of my personal development notes. Expect some typos and cryptic language for now. I will be updating frequently and polishing up.

Prescription: Understand what self-actualization is. Get inspired by your potential as a human being.
Related Concepts: Motivation, Life Purpose, Top 10 Values

What is Self-Actualization?

The idea that we all have an ideal to develop towards and that being self-actualized is where life gets really good.

Why is it Important?

This is what life should be about! You don't even know your potential until you see what self-actualized people are like. Self-actualization is the vision for your development as a human being. It's what makes personal development so exciting.

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Coach Leo Gura
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Self-Actualization: Key Points

Self-actualization is the expression of your true self, your fullest potential, and your great capacities. A self-actualized human being is one that's firing on all cylinders, functioning at his peak. What would the fully evolved and authentic you look like?

Self-actualized people look like the following:1

  • Have a superior perception of reality — they see things in an objective, accepting way without intruding themselves upon what is being perceived.
  • Have an increased acceptance of self, others, and nature.
  • Have increased spontaneity in behavior — they can be unpredictable and outrageous.
  • Are more focused on the problem than themselves.
  • Have increased detachment and desire for privacy.
  • Have increased autonomy and sense of individuality — take full responsibility for how their lives unfold.
  • Are resistant to social conditioning. World-citizens not beholden to any one culture. Pick and choose what they like from culture.
  • Are comfortable being themselves even if that means being unpopular.
  • Have a good sense of what is real and unreal. Value truth and facts over beliefs.
  • Have great freshness of appreciation and richness of emotional reaction.
  • Have higher frequency of peak experiences. Being in flow state more often.
  • Have an increased identification with the human species.
  • Have improved interpersonal relationships.
  • Have a more democratic character structure.
  • Have greatly increased creativeness.
  • Have a deep knowledge of themselves.
  • Are constantly moving toward unity and integration of their personality and world view.
  • Are actively nurturing their talents.
  • Place great value on truth, beauty, goodness, uniqueness, wholeness, justice, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, and playfulness.
  • Are driven by positive, intrinsic motivation, not by lack.
  • Generally enjoy most aspects of life, not just achievement, triumph, or peak experiences.
  • Take pleasure in functioning at their prime.
  • Take a non-valuing, non-judging, non-interfering, non-condemning attitude towards others.
  • Are more loving. They need love less but are able to give love more.
  • Embrace conceptual dichotomies, polarities, and conflicts by fusing, transcending, or resolving. Are comfortable with paradox, contradiction, and not knowing.
  • Have desires and impulses that correlate with what's good for them.
  • Have solid psychological health.
  • Live on purpose with a sense of mission. Work is a precious cause.
  • Involved in improving the world.
  • Willing to admit and correct mistakes.
  • Have an easy self-discipline which comes hard to average people. Duty and pleasure are the same.
  • Gratify themselves moderately rather than abstaining through harsh self-discipline.
  • Express impulses more yet use less control. Controls are less rigid or anxiety-driven.
  • Are able to express their aggression in a healthier way, as a sort of righteous indignation rather than a lashing out.
  • Have a different, new set of concerns: being-challenges vs needs-challenges.
  • Live to experience joy rather than avoid pain.
  • Live in the present moment.
  • Make more conscious decisions.

Self-actualization basically means that you are mostly driven by your ideals rather than by your base desires. A self-actualized person is someone who's met his basic reptilian and mammalian needs: physical safety, employment, sexual intimacy, friendship, etc.

Growth isn't a luxury for humans, it's a need. Like your body needs vitamins or it develops a disease, your mind needs growth. If you stop growing for too long you won't just sacrifice higher states of happiness, you will develop neuroses. Pursuing your potential isn't a mere nicety.

  • "Frustration of the higher need, the need to express yourself or the need to self-actualize, can lead to illness and dysfunction in subtle ways."1

Self-actualization isn't a clear level, it's a matter of degree. You become more self-actualized as you fulfill your basic needs and pursue more growth needs, like the need for creativity, knowledge, or justice. The best strategy for increasing your self-actualization is to make sure you have your basic needs satisfied. It's hard to pursue or even care about things like creativity, knowledge, and justice when you lack food, shelter, employment, friendship, sex, intimacy, self-esteem, or your family is in danger. So get that stuff handled first!

  • "Basic needs gratification is better strategy than authoritarian self-denial of the basic demands of the organism, which generally leads to frustration."1

Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

  • Physiological: breathing, water, food, sleep, sex, excretion
  • Safety: shelter, employment, resources, safety of family, health, and property
  • Love/Belonging: friendship, family, intimacy
  • Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect
  • Self-actualization: morality, creativity, knowledge, fairness, rationality, playfulness, excellence

The more you fulfill your basic needs, the more free you will be to pursue higher virtues like: adventure, growth, contribution, creative expression, consciousness, truth, beauty, individuality, playfulness, tranquility, justice.

In practice, you don't strictly need to fulfill all the base desires to pursue higher ideals like creativity, but it will be harder and more painful. You will be frustrated, for example, if your creative output is high but you neglect the basics like friendship, family, and employment.

The great thing about becoming more self-actualized is that you are driven more by growth motivation rather than needs motivation. "Growth motivation is different in that satisfying it doesn't reduce the desire or drive but amplifies it." 1 Examples: education, mastering the violin, or being a good doctor — the motivation grows as you get better in each case.

Every day you face a choice between safety and growth. You can either shrink from the challenge and succumb to the fear, or you can summon the courage to venture out of your comfort zone. Some level of safety is necessary to venture out and grow, but the more you opt for growth, the better off you'll be.1

If you're psychologically healthy your desires and impulses will correlate with what's good for you, otherwise they won't and you will be suspicious of your desires. 1 This makes psychological health all the more desirable — life is too painful when there's a wide gap between your higher and lower self. Ideally you want to close that gap as much as possible.

  • "Self-actualized people have easy self-discipline which comes hard to average people. For self-actualized people duty and pleasure are the same."1
  • "Only to the self-disciplined, responsible person can you say, Do as you will and it will probably be all right."1

Growth is inherently challenging. This cannot be avoided. Self-actualization offers the promise of amazing happiness, but this happiness isn't just a pure, never-ending hit of euphoria. It's not about creating a euphoric lifestyle, but about achieving a higher-quality "high". Instead of getting a dirty high off of eating a greasy cheeseburger and smoking a cigarette, you'll get a clean high off of thinking about a beautiful idea while working out at the gym. The self-actualized life is more challenging than the comfortable life.

  • "Growth has not only rewards and pleasures but also intrinsic pains and always will have. It often means giving up a simpler, easier, and less effortful life in exchange for a more demanding, more responsible, more difficult life."1

8 Ways to Self-Actualize:1

  • Experience things fully, vividly, and selflessly. Throw yourself into the experience. Let it totally absorb you.
  • Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety out of fear and need for defense and risk for the sake of progress and growth. Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.
  • Let the self emerge. Try to shut out the eternal clues for what you should think and feel. Let your experience enable you to say what you truly feel. Don't seek approval.
  • When in doubt, be honest. By being honest you take responsibility. Taking responsibility is self-actualizing.
  • Listen to your own tastes. Be prepared to be unpopular.
  • Use your intelligence. Work to do well the things you want to do, no matter how insignificant they seem to be. If it's worth doing, isn't it worth putting in the extra attention? Your work should manifest to others that you cared about it.
  • Make peak experience more likely. Get rid of illusions, idealizations, and false notions. Learn what you are good at and what your potentialities are not.
  • Find out who you are, what you are, what you like and don't like, what is good and what is bad for you, where you're going, what your mission is. Opening yourself up in this way identifies your defenses and find the courage to give them up.

"It's necessary to play up the dangers of safety and minimize its attraction while at the same time minimizing the dangers of growth and playing up its attraction."1


  1. Toward a Psychology of Being, Abraham Maslow
  2. Future Visions, Abraham Maslow
Coach Leo Gura
Hire me as your coach. Super-charge your life. Email me now!
  • Redesign your life to align with your purpose
  • Mindsets and tools for exceptional success