Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs | Motivation Series Part 1

Do you understand your motivation?
What motivates you?

Do you ever catch yourself saying things like, “If I was motivated enough,” “I need more motivation,” “I just don’t feel motivated”?

To understand and stimulate our motivations, I will be creating a 4 part series on motivation. We will be looking at a variety of motivation types and how we can apply the knowledge to our daily lives. Motivation is usually broadly defined as a strong will or desire, but things that motivate me may not motivate you, and at its core, motivation is a very personal topic and its foundation may be vastly different for each individual.

In the next few days, I will be posting the following:

Discovering Your Motivations – Motivation Series Part 2

8 ways to Boost Your Motivation – Motivation Series Part 3

The Formula of Motivation – Motivation Series Part 4

This post is the 1st of a 4 part motivation series, and I will be introducing you to a popular theory of motivation to get you started in understanding our motivations.

The Hierarchy of Needs by Abraham Maslow is one of the most famous and widely publicized theories of motivation. Although this theory may not apply to everyone, it gives us a great foundation to understand why we’re motivated to do the things we do. Abraham Maslow proposed that our motivations are based on a hierarchical need consisting of 5 levels. When all the needs of one level are fulfilled, we are then motivated to seek out the needs of the next level. According to Maslow, only when the needs of the previous level(s) are satisfied are we able to move to the next level.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Below are the 5 levels of need in their respective order:

  1. Physiological – At this level, we’re motivated to meet the basic human needs to exist and this includes things such as food, water, oxygen and sleep.

  2. Safety – When the basic survival needs are met, we are then motivated to seek out safety and security. This includes personal safety, health, and reasonable financial security.

  3. Belonging/Love – When safety and security needs are met, we are motivated to satisfy the needs to belong and to love and be loved. (Affection, acceptance and intimacy) If this need is not met, people tend to have difficulty in social interactions.

  4. Self-Esteem – Self-esteem is the need for our self worth and competence, the need for achievement and respect from others.

  5. Self-Actualization – The fifth and final step in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization is the attainment of one’s full potential. Although most people are not able to reach this level, it is said that the easiest path to self-actualization is to serve and contribute to the well-being of mankind.

By taking a look at the model proposed by Maslow, we can understand where our needs and motivations lie at any given time. The 5 levels are not concrete and you may find yourself in one level today, and another tomorrow. For example: I could be living in a middle class neighborhood with all the love and affection I need, enjoying my family time and hobbies. This would put me in the self-esteem category (4), but I experience a catastrophic earthquake the next day and lose my house and loved ones. I don’t have food, water, nor shelter, which will put me in the physiological level (1). At this point, my primary motivation will be solely on meeting my basic needs.

The Hierarchy of Needs by Maslow is a great way to look at why you’re motivated to do the things you do. By taking some time to evaluate where you are and where you want to be, you’ll be able to focus and begin fulfilling your specific needs.

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25 thoughts on “Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs | Motivation Series Part 1”

  1. Hi Ken,

    This is an excellent start to exploring Maslow’s hierarchy. The top of the pyramid is the part that excites me the most. If you haven’t read Wayne Dyer’s book, Manifest Your Destiny, get your hands on an audio version. He explores Maslow in great detail and does an awesome job explaining that part of it. We even studied this in a business school class.

  2. What is interesting, I think, is that most of our grandparents spent their lives at the physiological and safety levels.

    Our parents spent most of their lives at the belonging/love and esteem levels.

    Now the majority of people in developed societies are able to pursue the highest level of the pyramid, self-actualization.

    Life is great, yet we still complain so much about insignificant things.

    1. @John: I think you really got something here. The people of developed societies live in a great time with great opportunities that our parents, nor any other previous generation had. Unfortunately, I feel that many people in the current generation of wealthy countries is/were brought up with a sense of entitlement of ‘me’ that holds them from developing interpersonal bonds that go beyond simple hobbies and in turn, holds society down.
      But you are right, when we open our eyes to the possibilities of today, we need to stop complaining and take action because life is great!

  3. I love this hierarchy. Never heard of it before now. Awesome description by you.

    I think trying to attain the best of each of the levels has become my goal. I love trying to become the best human being I can at each of these. I think this hit’s life right on the head of the nail.

    Thanks for sharing Ken

    Dave Damron

    P.S. will definitely RT this

    1. @Dave: I’m glad that you found Maslow’s theory helpful! Knowing the idea of the hierarchy helps us understand where we’re at and how to get to a better state. I really like your motivation toward improving yourself which motivates me too! Thanks for the RT.

  4. One thing I want to point out is that losers also are motivated. They say they want to lose weight and get rich and yet they never do. 5 years later they’re still fat losers. Motivation without focus is useless. However, when focus is used with motivation, then you can achieve great things.

    1. @Gordie: That’s quite interesting. I’ve recently been thinking about how large the gap between motivation and action toward your goal truly is. As you point out, focus is a definite must.

  5. Motivation has always been enigmatic to me. At one time I’m motivated but in a split of a second I lose it. I need to understand its true nature. 🙂

    1. @Walter: I understand exactly! I find it easy to become motivated but the motivation leaves just as fast. There’s more to motivation so stay tuned!

  6. A great refresher on Maslow’s theory! I was a psychology major in college and your post gives a terrific overview of the hierarchy of needs. Even for those who have never studied it, I feel it makes sense that lower needs must be satisfied before our attention can be turned to higher needs. The great thing is that attainment isn’t final, which forces us to continually strive and be motivated upward.

    1. @Becca: Although Maslow’s theory doesn’t apply 100% to all people, the theory covers a lot of what people are in need of. And you’re right we are continually striving to reach the next level. By the end of his life, Maslow had also pinpointed a 6th level called transcendence.

  7. Hey Ken!

    think john bardos is way on point. as usual.

    also really fresh to see mazlow applied to personal dev motivation. okay okay i know he’s plastered all over personal dev but i usually just zone out, mark it down to “i already know that give me something new” and skip it but you put it really slick – made a lot of sense and good points 🙂

    awwwsome site all round – honest raw power content and slickness all-round.

    keep well mate. and in touch.
    alex – unleash reality

  8. @alex: Thanks, you’re right Maslow is cited in many articles both on the blogosphere and in scholarly writings. His Hierarchy of Needs is probably one of the most famous theories of motivation because its easy to understand and makes sense. Have a good one!

  9. last week our class held a similar talk on this subject and you illustrate something we haven’t covered yet, appreciate that.

    – Laura

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