Throughout our day to day conversations, we regularly punctuate our dialogue with our various expressions of need. How often do we find ourselves saying things like – ‘I need a drink/smoke/snack/nap? Maybe we feel like we need a new job, a change, a holiday or at the very least a 7-day weekend?! Our minds can wander off chasing countless ‘needs’, a mélange of tempting possibilities that we feel will enhance our lives. Occasionally this chase actually just leads us away from what’s truly necessary. We’re numb to what we really require and lose ourselves in the search for perceived fulfilment.
The definitive line between needs and wants is easily blurred so how can we figure out a way to genuinely satisfy our needs? I did a little looking into it and then got a little passionate about it and here’s what I’ve found.
Maslow had an interesting approach to our needs as a means of achieving self-actualisation. Within his hierarchy of needs he ticked off the basics and encouraged our progress from there. Starting from the bottom moving upwards he advised to address our needs like this – physiologically, safety, love and belongingness, esteem and finally reaching self-actualisation. Later, cognitive and aesthetic were thrown in for good measure, along with transcendence to help spread the self-actualised bliss.
That probably all sounds a bit wordy. So if we want to take Maslow up on his approach, we’re going to have to translate it into application.
Physiological basically asks - What does your body need? Now and then, it can be easy to think our mind knows better than our body. Depending on the latest diet, drug or drinks promotion, we are essentially telling our body to shut up while we source what we think will benefit us.
What actually needs to be done is simple – listen to our bodies. Think of all the processes that go on within the body every single second that do no feat smaller than y’know, keep us alive. I think it’s fair to say that’s it worth tuning in, with the trust that it’s unlikely to steer us wrong. So when it comes to getting the basics sorted; a nice balance of food, drink, air, sex, shelter, sleep and warmth, is where it’s at.
If we meet these biological needs we can look towards our safety needs next. Protection comes in many forms in our lives, but ultimately it’s got to come from ourselves for ourselves. Being our own source of security and maintaining order tends pretty nicely to this need. Then we surround ourselves with those who make us feel safe too.
Then we want to feel like a part of this world. Regardless how independent and self-sufficient we may be (or want to appear), love and belongingness definitely have their part to play. We need people. Straight up, we need affection and we need bonds with other human beings. Cultivating a real relationship with another person is a fantastic thing. Allowing people into our lives can be tricky at first, it might be preferable to avoid intimacy at all costs in case we get hurt. But that means avoiding love too, so we’ve got to toss up which ‘need’ we’re going to attend to.
Esteem is one that can take significant attention to improve. I’m no stranger to low self-esteem, like not even on the scale of esteem it was so low. So I wasn’t nurturing this need, I was neglecting it. I didn’t respect myself, see my own worth or acknowledge any of my achievements. So it’s no surprise that I found myself fairly stuck. It kept me down, feeling useless and thinking that I needed to just be someone else or find a way out of being me.
What I actually needed was to nourish my esteem. This is a ‘need’ that might be overlooked because it takes time, work and effort. But in its absence, we end up chasing various other irrelevant ‘needs’ – needing to look a certain way, find a way out, try to impress others. Esteem means realising who we are, how valuable we are and blossoming belief in ourselves.
Now then, we could potentially find ourselves edging towards self-actualisation, if we’re taking the original route of the Hierarchy. This is where we have peak experiences, discover and seek out our potential. We can take steps away from settling, from our cushy comfort zones and push ourselves towards the dreams that we now know we can achieve. We find a meaning of life that’s important to us and continually progress towards it.
When we starve ourselves of any of our needs, we deprive ourselves of our potential. Plenty of people dip in and out of meeting their needs and plenty will lose sight of them after reaching a certain point. For me, to put it mildly I know I‘ve slacked on satisfying most or in truth, all of these needs before. I tried to control my body, push people away, put myself at risk and put myself down. I ignored what I needed and the possibility of me having any potential escaped my mind.
Life has so much more meaning and opportunity since I started to nourish my needs. I think for any of us, whether we give a toss about Maslow or not, could benefit from checking in with ourselves a bit more, answering the call of what we need and seeing what we can nurture next.
None of us need to settle or deny ourselves our potential, we need to take the steps to embrace what our lives are screaming out for.