#TheoryThursday: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Rather like myself, Maslow wanted to understand what it is that motivates people. He believed that people operate a subconscious “system” of motivation to satisfy desires.

The hierarchy of needs (initially constructed in 1943) consists of five motivational needs, which are translated into hierarchical levels within a pyramid. More broadly, the needs are then grouped as Basic Needs, Psychological Needs, and Self-Fulfillment Needs.

Basic Needs

These are split into Physiological Needs, and Security Needs, and it is the lack of these elements that will motivate someone to fulfill them when they are not met. They are things that the majority of us take for granted.

Physiological Needs – food, water, warmth, rest

Safety Needs – security, safety

Unsurprisingly, the pressing nature of these needs increases the longer the person is denied of them. E.g. the longer someone remains hungry so increases the motivation to seek food.


Psychological Needs

The next two levels in the hierarchy of needs are related to our interactions with others, and how well we perceive ourselves to be achieving at various conquests.

Belongingness and Love Needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.

Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.

Maslow suggests that esteem can be broken down even further

  1. a need for strength, achievement, mastery and competence
  2. a need for reputation, status, recognition and appreciation. If this is achieved, it leads to a sense of self-confidence, worth, and value

Self-Fulfillment Needs

Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

…So what level am I?

Well, truth is, we all fluctuate – ALL of the time. Throughout our lives we will reach varying levels in the hierarchy of needs. Progress can often be disrupted by a failure to meet lower level needs. For example, someone may have a very successful career with lots of opportunities for growth (which may take them to the highest bracket – self-fulfillment), however if they aren’t looking after themselves adequately – getting enough sleep and eating well – then they will not experience the full effects of self-actualisation and therefore stay right where they are.

Life experiences; redundancy, divorce, loss of a loved one for example may all cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.

Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs.

In Maslow’s own words:

‘It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?

At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency’ (Maslow, 1943, p. 375).

I think one of the most important things to be taken from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is how to reach Self-Actualisation.

Because if you’re reading this, I will assume that you are on a quest to reach the highest tier. If you’re not on a quest to reach the highest state of motivation… why?!

Next week I’m going to be looking into the top tier of the hierarchy of needs to work out just how we can reach self-actualisation and more importantly, why we should.



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