EP 12 – The Hierarchy of Needs: How to Use It To Motivate Yourself

Nov 23, 2022 | Live it Not in it, Podcast

The Hierarchy of Needs: How to Use It To Motivate Yourself

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who developed a hierarchy of needs to explain human motivation. His theory suggested that people have several basic needs that must be met before people move up the hierarchy to pursue more social, emotional, and self-actualizing needs.

  • The process of self-actualization is always striving to reach your full potential. 
    • Self-actualization is not an endpoint or a destination. It is an ongoing process. People continue to stretch themselves and achieve new heights of well-being, creativity, and fulfillment.
  • Maslow believed that self-actualizing people possess several key characteristics. 
    • Self-acceptance, spontaneity, independence, and the ability to have peak experiences.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an idea in psychology proposed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” He subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. 

  • It is a type of human development psychology focusing on describing the stages of growth in humans.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization.

Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.

The hierarchy of needs is split between deficiency needs and growth needs, with two key themes involved within the theory being individualism and the prioritization of needs. 

Deficiency Needs vs. Growth Needs

The five stages divide into deficiency needs and growth needs. The first four levels are often referred to as deficiency needs, and the top level is known as growth needs.

Deficiency needs: Physiological, Safety, Love/belonging, Esteem

Motivate people when they are unmet. 

  • The motivation to fulfill the needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. 
  • For example, the longer a person goes without food, the more hungry they will become.

individuals must satisfy lower-level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher-level growth needs. 

When a deficit need has been satisfied, it will go away, and our activities become habitually directed toward meeting the next set of needs. 

Growth needs: Self Actualization 

Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something it is a desire to grow as a person. 

  • Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one can reach the highest level called self-actualization.

Every person is capable of moving up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualization.

  • Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by a failure to meet lower-level needs. Life experiences, including divorce and the loss of a job, may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.

Not everyone will move through the hierarchy uni-directionally but may move back and forth between the different types of needs.

Five Stages of the Hierarchy of Needs Model 

Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

Physiological needs

  • These are biological requirements for human survival: air, food, water, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, and sleep.
  • If these needs are not satisfied, the human body cannot function optimally. 
  • Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.

Safety needs

People want to experience order, predictability, and control in their lives. These needs can be fulfilled by the family and society.

  • e.g., police, schools, business, and medical care.

Emotional security and financial security 

  • e.g., employment, social welfare

Law and order, freedom from fear, social stability, property, health, and wellbeing

  • Safety against accidents and injury.

Love and belongingness needs

The third level of human needs is social and involves feelings of belongingness. Belongingness refers to a human emotional need for interpersonal relationships, affiliating, connectedness, and being part of a group.

  • Examples of belongingness needs include friendship, intimacy, trust, acceptance, receiving and giving affection, and love.

Esteem needs

The fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy includes self-worth, accomplishment, and respect. Maslow classified esteem needs into two categories: 

  • Esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence).
  • The desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).

He also indicated that the need for respect or reputation is most important for children and adolescents and precedes real self-esteem or dignity.


The highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy, and refer to the realization of a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, and peak experiences.

  • The desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.

Individuals may perceive or focus on this need very specifically. For example, one individual may have a strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, the desire may be expressed economically, academically, or athletically. For others, it may be expressed creatively, in paintings, pictures, or inventions.

Regarding the structure of his hierarchy, Maslow proposed that the order in the hierarchy “is not nearly as rigid”.

The order of needs might be flexible based on external circumstances or individual differences.

  • For example, for some individuals, the need for self-esteem is more important than the need for love. For others, the need for creative fulfillment may supersede even the most basic needs.
  • Most behavior is multi-motivated, and any behavior tends to be determined by several or all of the basic needs simultaneously rather than by only one of them.


Human beings are motivated by a hierarchy of needs.

  1. Needs are organized in a hierarchy of prepotency in which more basic needs must be more or less met (rather than all or none) prior to higher needs.
  2. The order of needs is not rigid but instead may be flexible based on external circumstances or individual differences.
  3. Most behavior is multi-motivated, that is, simultaneously determined by more than one basic need.

Self-actualization According to Maslow

Psychologist Abraham Maslow stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who are fulfilled and doing all they are capable of.

  • Refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. 
  • For Maslow, a person is always ‘becoming’ and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning in life that is important to them.

For some people, self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others, through sports, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting.

Maslow believed self-actualization could be measured through the concept of peak experiences. This occurs when a person experiences the world totally for what it is, and there are feelings of euphoria, joy, and wonder.

It is important to note that self-actualization is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of a ‘happy ever after’

Maslow offers the following description of self-actualization:

‘It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potential.’

Characteristics of self-actualized individuals:

  1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;
  2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;
  3. Spontaneous in thought and action;
  4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);
  5. Unusual sense of humor;
  6. Able to look at life objectively;
  7. Highly creative;
  8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
  9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;
  10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life experience;
  11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
  12. Peak experiences;
  13. Need for privacy;
  14. Democratic attitudes;
  15. Strong moral/ethical standards.

Behavior leading to self-actualization:

  1. Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;
  2. Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;
  3. Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority, or the majority;
  4. Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;
  5. Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;
  6. Taking responsibility and working hard
  7. Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.

People achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share certain characteristics.  However, self-actualization is a matter of degree, ‘There are no perfect human beings

Maslow did not equate self-actualization with perfection. Self-actualization merely involves achieving one’s potential. Thus, someone can be silly, wasteful, vain, and impolite, and still self-actualize. Less than two percent of the population achieves self-actualization.

Learn more about the Hierarchy of Needs by clicking on the full episode here, check it out! 👇😎


00:00 Introduction
02:56 About Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
09:44 Deficiency needs vs. Growth needs
13:55 Physiological needs
14:58 Safety needs
18:55 Love and belongingness needs
19:55 Esteem needs
21:15 Self-actualization
25:16 Characteristics of self-actualizers
34:41 Behavior leading to self-actualization
43:02 Wrapping up the show