10 common traits of self-actualized people
The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously proposed in 1954 the “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” which theorized that psychological health culminated in self-actualization. Maslow saw that as being able to fulfill your potential, becoming your true self.
The pyramid of human needs devised by Maslow was based on the idea that human motivations follow a prioritizing pattern. The 5-level hierarchy of needs goes from purely “physiological” towards “love”, and “esteem,” with each stage needing to be satisfied before moving on to the next.
Maslow’s ideas are regarded as humanistic psychology, arising in part as a reaction to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism. This line of thought sees individuals as inherently striving towards self-actualization, where their capabilities and creativity are fully expressed. This point of view also regards all people as inherently good and more than the sum of their parts.
In 2018, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, published a study that updated Maslow’s work with modern statistical methods and proposed 10 specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.
Kaufman updated Maslow’s methods and language and utilized surveys of over 500 people on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to zero in on these 10 characteristics that each made a distinct contribution towards self-actualization.
Taken together, this total pattern of data supports Maslow’s contention that self-actualised individuals are more motivated by growth and exploration than by fulfilling deficiencies in basic needs.
Another significant takeaway from the study is that people who reach self-actualization ultimately appear to be on the path towards self-transcendence. This observation confirms Maslow’s extension of his own theory in later years with concrete data. The more self-actualized you are, the more one with the world you feel.
If you find yourself not scoring as high as you would like, Kaufman thinks you can develop such characteristics by changing your habits.
“A good way to start with that, is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don’t forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization […] Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. I do think it’s possible with conscientiousness and willpower.”
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
A 2018 study updates Maslow's famous "Hierarchy of Needs" through modern methods. The research shows that self-actualized people share 10 specific traits.
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