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Don’t Focus on Happiness. Focus on Self Actualization

Don’t Focus on Happiness. Focus on Self Actualization

As a child, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied, “The happiest person in the world.” Adults probably saw me as either someone starting too early on a path to self-actualization or as just a really strange kid.

Most of us are in pursuit of happiness, yet most base happiness on conditions. For example, many envision they will be happy if they were wealthy.

I have met some of the wealthiest people yet they suffered from depression, loneliness and anxiety.

I have traveled across the poorest countries and met some of the most impoverished individuals. Yet, they frequently laughed and seemed to enjoy life, despite owning almost nothing.

True happiness is never in pursuit of happiness. It is a state of existence, irrespective of circumstances and this is what focusing instead on self-actualization will empower you to do.

What is self-actualization?

The psychologist Abraham Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs [1] theory, which depicts a five-tier pyramid of human necessities. It begins with the most basic needs at the base and progresses to the top tier.

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The model consists of:

Tier 1. Biological and Physiological needs – food, drink, air, shelter, warmth, sleep.

Tier 2. Security needs – protection from elements, safety, security, job, stability, freedom from fear.

Tier 3. Social needs – love, family, friendship, intimacy, belonging, affection.

Tier 4. Esteem needs – achievement, accomplishment, self-worth, self-respect, respect from others.

Tier 5. Self-Actualization needs – self-fulfilment, personal growth and peak experiences.

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What are the characteristics of people who have experienced self-actualization?

  • Unafraid of the unknown; they accept and embrace it.
  • Instead of following what society dictates, they remain true to themselves. They are not sheep, but they do not reject everything like the average rebel.
  • Despite being unconventional, they are not deliberately so in a way to shock or cause a reaction.
  • Accept themselves as they are, along with their flaws. They, however, recognize and work towards changing negative habits.
  • Not dependent on the company of others. They are self-sufficient and can be happy being alone.
  • More interested in the pursuit of deeper and more meaningful connections. As a result, they have deep relationships but only with a few people. That said, they have affection for all people and are not judgemental.
  • Instead of lamenting about problems, they focus more on finding positive solutions.
  • Practice gratitude and appreciate the smaller things in life.
  • Have a strong moral sense of right and wrong.
  • While most people focus on the lower tiers in the ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ they are more focused on personal and meaningful growth.
  • Not driven by social pressures or superficial needs.
  • Search for a deeper meaning of life.
  • Despite it all, they are not perfect and they are happy with that.

What are the benefits of self-actualization?

Our society is governed by pressure and competitiveness which are exacerbated by TV, newspapers, magazines, movies, billboards, the Internet, friends, family, etc. on an hourly basis.

By striving for self actualization [2], you can positively manage your life, happiness, and dreams. Your anxieties, stresses, and worries will be recognized for what they are: man-made fears, which mostly exist in the future. Anything that hasn’t yet happened (or may not happen) is not worth worrying about.

How to achieve self-actualization

Stop comparing yourself to others

Don’t measure your worth based on what other people are doing.

Maybe one of your friends became a high-flying lawyer and another friend settled into the perfect married life with children. And perhaps you haven’t found your dream career or partner yet, but maybe that gives you the freedom to go travelling. Something neither your lawyer friend nor married friend would be able to do.

Remember that everyone’s path is different and everyone has days where they feel the same as you.

Stop using social media

A study revealed that 25% of participants [3] who used social media for an average of an hour a day, showed very high signs of depression.

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Social media promotes depression and jealousy. It creates indirect peer pressure. People feel inadequate by how others are (seemingly) over-achieving. They then feel pressured to validate how happy their lives are also by updating statuses or photos accordingly. It becomes a never-ending cycle where no one is ever truly being himself or herself.

Don’t log in as often or if you are truly strong, delete it. Those who are your real friends will know how to stay in touch.

This too shall pass

No matter how stressed or worried you feel, remember that it is temporary and nothing ever remains the same.

Be true to yourself

Follow your own sense of purpose and love yourself (even your flaws).

And you can still keep adopting positive habits, for instance, if you have been trying to become fitter or to stop smoking.

Experience life in the here and now

Sometimes it may feel like you are driving in the dark, with no brakes or lights. But one of the most beautiful things about life is its unpredictability. In that darkness, you never know what person, place or moment you may encounter with each turn.

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Be open-minded and welcome that darkness because even if the ride is bumpy, it’s still ok because you are still moving forward.

Realize you can be happy now

Many people think they will only be happy when they become wealthy, have the perfect partner, or the successful career. But they may make millions and still have anxiety. They may find “the one” and still feel depressed.

The only one capable of making you happy is you. Don’t sabotage your own happiness by imposing conditions on it.

Practice gratitude

It is easy to forget the beautiful things to be grateful for. Maybe there is a breathtaking full moon outside your window or someone did an unselfish act of kindness for you this week.

Have integrity

We all know right from wrong yet sadly, not everyone will choose to do what is right. You are responsible for not only your actions, but also for how those actions will affect those around you–positively or negatively.

Self-development

Practicing mindfulness and meditation. Meditating for as little as twenty minutes a day will inspire changes to your physical, emotional and mental state.

Final Thoughts

Did I grow up to be the happiest person in the world? Sometimes I think I did. For the times I think I did not, I think that is still ok too. Life is meant to challenge us, and there is still beauty in that.

Did I grow up to fulfil my own self-actualization? Sometimes I think I did. For the times I think I did not, I think that is still ok too. I will still keep striving to grow, learn and evolve into the best “me” that I can be. Life is the best unwritten script we can get; never underestimate where the adventure of those pages might lead to next.

Reference

More by this author

J.S. von Dacre

Writer at Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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