April 29, 2023




How to reach your potential with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

At a glance

Welcome to the new friends of the A Players newsletter who have joined us since last week!

This week, we tackle how to reach your potential with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Let’s get to it!

Fast Summary

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.

  • When we acknowledge and fix our basic needs, we can assume high levels of self-awareness and become better people.

  • To achieve self-actualization, try new things, be transparent with those around you, maintain a healthy self-concept, and set personal boundaries.

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a basic way to understand motivation. Other motivational theories like goal-setting theory, self-determination theory, and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation theory, build off Maslow’s principles.

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If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you take with you?

I’ve heard firewood, a favorite book or movie, or a loved one in response to this question. I’d bring a boat capable of taking me back to the mainland, but that’s just me.

Each of these answers begs another, more complicated riddle: What do we really need to survive?

According to Abraham Maslow, psychologist and creator of the popular structure, Maslow’s five-tier Hierarchy of Needs, we have five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.

Maslow argued that lower needs, or survival needs, must be satisfied before needs higher on the pyramid can be satisfied.

Physiological needs or individual needs include basic human needs like food, water, and shelter—just what you should bring to a deserted island. Sleep and breathing—basic human processes—are included in this category. Keep in mind: The higher levels cannot be satisfied if we’re struggling with our health and shelter.

Safety needs can be satisfied by society, and include employment, family, and health.

Longing and belonging needs, or love needs, refer to friendship, trust, intimacy, and human connection.

Esteem needs refer to respect, self-accomplishment, and confidence. Esteem needs involve both the self and others; we cannot show others respect until we show respect to ourselves.

Self-actualization needs are the desire to be the best version of ourselves. These needs occupy the top of Maslow’s pyramid and refer to self-fulfillment and a desire for personal growth.

Those who achieve self-actualization acknowledge their flaws, look at life objectively, are flexible and adaptable, take responsibility for their actions, and are, in many cases, relatively creative.

When our needs aren’t satisfied, we succumb to physical and emotional distress. If we don’t have shelter or health, we can experience illness. If we aren’t safe or feel belonging, we suffer from anxiety, trauma, and loneliness. If we experience low self-esteem, we might have low-self confidence and self-worth. And, if we don’t achieve self-actualization, we can become cynical about the world around us.

We need the lower, basic needs to survive, and we need the higher, more psychological needs to thrive.

In short, Maslow’s theory dictates that, when we acknowledge and fix our basic needs, we can assume high levels of self-awareness, and, in turn, become better people.

You can see Maslow’s theory each time you step outside. Children who aren’t fed an adequate diet aren’t able to focus and learn to their full potential in a school setting. When adults experience financial hardship, they become anxious and their anxiety affects their relationships. When we don’t have intimacy or relationships in our lives, our self-esteem takes a hit.

So how do we apply it to our own lives? Where are we on the hierarchy?

It’s a little tricky.

There are a few online tests available to help you understand where you are on the hierarchy, but I’ve boiled down these tests to a few basic questions for you:

  • Physiological: Do I have reliable access to healthy food, clean water, and a place to stay? Do I get a good night’s sleep?

  • Safety: Do I feel safe in my home or neighborhood? Do I have steady employment? Do I have access to reliable healthcare? Do I fear ill health or disease? Am I afraid to go to school or work because of bullying or mockery?

  • Belonging and Intimacy: Do I have friends, family, or romantic partners whom I trust? Do they trust me? Am I connected with others?

  • Esteem: Do I feel respected and acknowledged by my peers? Do I respect myself? Do I have personal freedoms and act on them?

  • Self-actualization: Do I feel satisfied in my life? Do I have a strong sense of identity? Do I understand my own potential? Do I appreciate reality and have a strong sense of what life means?

This is not a diagnosis, but if you answered ‘no’ to any of the above questions, it’s likely that is the category you’re struggling to overcome.

Understanding where you are on the hierarchy can be a little tricky. Many people say ‘no’ to questions in a few different categories.

For example, you might say ‘no’ to a few of the safety or esteem questions, but ‘yes’ to those in the self-actualization category.

Critics cite the hierarchy’s rigid structure as the point of tension, and, in reality, our needs are more fluid than those presented on the pyramid. It’s possible to be highly creative and self-confident while still struggling with finances or health concerns.

However, Maslow’s hierarchy serves as a model that can be applied to anyone struggling to reclaim their sense of self and achieve self-fulfillment.

So how can you achieve the highest level?

After satisfying basic needs, there are many things you can do in your own life to achieve self-actualization, including:

  • Engaging in new experiences

  • Concentrating on and absorbing the world around you

  • Being transparent with peers and family members

  • Identifying where your feelings come from

  • Interacting with those you find admirable

  • Setting personal boundaries and sticking to them

Maslow’s theory is, at its core, a theory about motivation. When our needs are for safety, security, or food, we’re motivated to seek those things above all others. And, when we achieve those needs, we’re motivated to seek companionship, and achievements, and to fulfill our potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a basic way to understand motivation. Other motivational theories like goal-setting theory, which states that once an individual has set a goal, they’re more motivated to achieve it, or self-determination theory, or the theory that we have full control over what happens to and within our own lives, and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation theory, which dictates that we experience motivation from both ourselves and the world around us, build off Maslow’s principles.

Our behavior is motivated by our basic needs for survival, our needs to feel wanted and desired, and lastly, by our intrinsic need to find purpose in life.

In reality, our needs and motivations are complicated and shift throughout the day. To achieve the life you want, you must acknowledge where your motivations lie.

So, when asked, “What would you take with you to a deserted island?” stop before replying. You need many things to be the best version of yourself.

Weekly Challenge

For this week’s challenge, I want you to consider the mini-quiz you took while reading. If you haven’t taken it yet, do it now. Grab a pen and paper, and take some time to reflect on your own needs and motivations.

  1. Consider the specific categories.

    a. In which category did you say ‘no’ more rather than ‘yes’? Oftentimes, we become preoccupied with a category on the hierarchy. Consider what about that category is bothering you.

    b. What is holding you back from saying ‘yes?’ Are your reasons financial, personal, or professional? What is the fork in the road?

    c. What steps can you take to overcome these roadblocks and move forward?

  1. What is motivating you right now?

    a. What motivates you to go to work, to come home, or to cook and exercise?

    b. Where are these motivations coming from? In other words, when did you begin engaging in your personal behaviors, and why?

  1. How can you achieve self-actualization?

    a. Using both the list provided and your brain, list some things you can do to get started in self-actualization.

    b. If you feel you’re already there, that’s great! However, there are always steps we can take to achieve a more solidified sense of self.

When we know what we want, and who we are, and understand the world around us, we’re more equipped to reclaim it.


I’d love to hear from you:

Question 1: What is motivating you at this moment?

Question 2: Do you feel you’ve achieved self-actualization?

Question 3: Which category did you find most surprising?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Until next week,


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