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Humanistic Psychology– Understanding the Motivation Theory

Every morning, we need a certain push, to get ourselves of the bed, and to get us going through the day. This push will make sure that we complete our tasks on time, with precision in mind, all the while keeping the benefits of the tasks waiting on the other side of it, in mind. This push is what helps us cramp all night before an exam or even get us through a new diet. This push is motivation.

Motivation is the key that helps us do the things we should be doing or we want to do. A motive, can be either grades or a deadline, or even just enjoying the very task you have to complete. Motivation is an absolute necessity to help us achieve our goals or make ourselves better. And in today’s era, we have motivational speakers and multiple channels on YouTube who put up motivational videos to give us that external push when we can’t seem to motivate ourselves. One thought that is constantly within us is the need to become better versions of ourselves. We usually find ourselves constantly probing into our conscious, trying to figure out what and why is it some things motivate us and some don’t. To find the answers to these questions, 20th century American psychologist Abraham Maslow went on a deeper quest to widen his understanding of human behavior and our motivation to reach our ultimate version of being.

So in his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, he proposed the hierarchy of needs, also known and the theory of self actualization. Now, what is self actualization and why is this necessary? It is the idea of reaching the highest level of our potential, simply because we, no matter who and where we are, always have this innate desire to grow, and be a better person. Some might argue that, not everyone would want to be an ideal being, and some might want to be a villain, and this theory is not written in this particular light. However, if examined technically, this theory shows the psychology of a why villain too, strives to be a better one each day. So no matter who we are, we all would want to do what we are doing better, and probably even achieve something along this journey of getting better.

This theory is sort of a step-by-step guide on how an individual can attain self actualization. It falls in the school of humanistic psychology, which rose in opposition to what existed before it– the Freudian era, and clearly challenged it’s precepts. In humanistic psychology, human motives aren’t seen as repressed. Rather, our innate desire to grow and exist to our utmost potential is a natural phenomenon.

This hierarchy of needs is given in the form of a pyramid. The lowermost level comprises of ‘physiological needs’, like food, water and clothing. Above it, we find ‘safety needs’, which includes the requirements of shelter and protection. The third set of needs, of ‘belonging and love’ includes relationships and bonds that we must form in life. The uppermost needs are ‘esteem needs’ (anything which helps with our self esteem, like winning prizes, having new accomplishments) and the final need of achieving ‘self-actualization’. Originally, Maslow had ascertained that reaching self-actualization was a strictly upward process– if any of the lower needs weren’t met, the person wouldn’t be able to fulfill his need of self actualization. But later, he changed his stance in the year 1987, claiming that there can be a flexibility in the movement between the needs, clarifying “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges”. He also stated that “hierarchies are interrelated” and not “sharply separated”.

This theory has been used in the fields of psychology, sociology, management studies and research. It gave way to a new school of psychology which focused on positive human motives, and gave us a new perspective on how we as humans can be motivated to achieve our goals for the sake of betterment rather than a way of adjustment. However, a clear flaw in this theory was that Maslow only studied whom he called “exemplary people” like Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that “the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.” Maslow studied the healthiest 1% of the college student population. Now this shows that although the theory sounds very positive, it wasn’t based on the everyday man.

So, as we move to the conclusion, we can take away the good from this theory, and incorporate that into our everyday life. This can help us achieve our goals much more easily, keeping in mind that our physical and emotional needs need to be met at least to a certain degree before we can start moving towards achieving our big goals and dreams. It helps us bring attention to the rather ignored fact that basic necessities are essential. Even if people possess the skill that is required to achieve any goal, nothing will work if they don’t have their basic needs fulfilled and lack an emotional support system. This theory throws a clearer perspective on why everyone should be able to have access to basic necessities, not just to survive but to live, with warmth and love around them.

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