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Maslow's Advice on Self-Actualization

During years of lecturing, Maslow was asked many times to give specific advice on how to become a self-actualizer. Sometimes it seemed that people wanted easy answers and quick solutions. Maslow wrote:

The trouble with most of these young­sters who have been after me is that it seems they have in the back of their heads some notion of self-actualization as a kind of lightning stroke which will hit them on the head suddenly without their doing anything about it. They all seem to want to wait passively for it to happen without any effort on their part.

Furthermore, I think that practically all of them have tended uncon­sciously to define self-actualization in terms of getting rid of all inhib­itions and controls in favor of com­plete spontaneity and impulsivity...

By contrast, Maslow said, self-actualizers tend to be hard-working, disciplined people.

The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important...This was a universal truth for all my self-actualizing subjects.

They were metamotiv­ated by metaneeds (B-values) expressed in their devotion to, dedication to, and identification with some great and important job. This was true for every single case. (Maslow, 1965, p.6)

Who were "the only happy people" Maslow knew?

Students wanted specific advice. They wanted answers to the practical question: What does one do?

How did self-actualizing people get this way? What could students do to encour­age self-actualization in their own lives, assuming it could be done voluntarily?

Maslow did not want to be cast in the role of a guru. But he also be­lieved such questions should not be evaded. So he provided students with his best guess about ways to become self-actualizing. Here is the list from the book published after his death, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971):

1. Do things that allow absorption, lack of cynicism or self-conscious­ness. Put 100% of your concentra­tion into some high-quality creative act, or cultivate open-minded appreciation of nature or music.

2. Choose "growth alternatives" rather than "fear alternatives." When you face a fork in the road, take the challenging path, which makes you grow, rather than the easy path, which reduces your fear.

3. Dare to trust your intuitions, values, and perceptions. Maslow asked his students what they would do if they first sampled a glass of wine then saw from the label that it was (a) very expensive or (b) very cheap. Would it change their evaluation of the wine's taste?

What was some practical advice Maslow gave to students?

4. When in doubt, be honest. There are exceptions–times when "white lies" are necessary to avoid hurt feelings. But as a rule, honesty pays off and is valuable in itself.

5. Work to be first rate at whatever you do. It does not matter if it is athletics, raising a baby, scholar­ship, art, or gardening.

6. Allow conditions that facilitate peak experiences. For example, listen to beautiful music. Go to beautiful natural surroundings. Enjoy your love relationships to their fullest.

What is "resacralization"?

7. Cultivate attitudes that "resacral­ize" things (art, family, nature). This means overcoming the cynicism that many people learn during adoles­cence. It means rediscovering the powerful responses latent in humans to such things as babies, music, spiritual feelings, social communion, rhythm and dance, nature, and art. Resacralization means making these things sacred again.

Theory Z

Maslow called his final theory "Theory Z" (Maslow, 1971). It was published post­humously, and it is less widely known or discussed than his early ideas like the pyramid of needs.

Theory Z presented some major changes in Maslow's theoretical perspective. For example, in Theory Z, Maslow changed the meaning of self-actualizer.

Originally, Maslow said less than 1% of the adult population was self-actualizing. No doubt this was a difficult message to deliver to people aspiring to self-actual­ization, virtually every group Maslow faced.

Maslow decided toward the end of his life that mental health and happiness (like peak experiences) were not as rare as he once thought. He greatly broadened the concept of self-actualizer.

In Theory Z, the self-actualizer was re-defined as a normal healthy person, good-hearted and energetic, not neces­sarily extremely creative. He or she was mentally healthy and played a construc­tive role in society.

Missing from the new characterization of self-actualizers was the mystical or awe-inspiring aura, so to speak. The new self-actualizer could have peak experiences but was not necessarily familiar with them on an everyday basis like the original Maslow self-actualizer.

How did Maslow change his description of the self-actualizer type, in Theory Z? What was the "transcender" like?

In Theory Z, Maslow described a personality resembling the original 1-in-100, awe-inspiring self-actualizer. This type was called the transcender.

Transcenders were people who con­sciously built the characteristics of peak experiences into everyday life. Transcen­ders were "less appalled by elitism" than self-actualizers.

In other words, they were more willing to recognize special people like them­selves. Maslow said in Theory Z that transcenders "somehow recognize each other."

For the transcender, Maslow said, peak experiences become the high spots and validators of life. Transcenders "speak easily the language of being," finding it relatively easy to express thoughts and feelings about the nature of existence.

Transcenders are "perpetually in awe of reality" and perceive sacredness in everyday things. In their daily work they are "conspicuously metamotivated," pursuing the B-needs such as truth and justice.

Transcenders tend to beautify things, and they are more likely to have feelings of oneness with the environment. They are likely to be innovators, coming up with truly new ways of doing things instead of following established paths.

With Theory Z, anybody who was a reasonably good person leading a constructive life could legitimately claim the title of self-actualizer. A new niche (the transcender) was created for highly unusual types exploring the farther reaches of human nature.


Maslow, A. (1965). Eupsychian management: a journal. Homewood, IL: Irwin-Dorsey.

Maslow, A. (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking.

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