What Is Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs

I remember learning about Maslow's theory in college and feeling such a greater understanding of the people in my life and the actions that they took on a daily basis. In this post I want to share this theory and explain some of the ways that it plays out in our lives. 

What is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist in mid 20th century that proposed a theory about human motivation. He divided our human needs into sections and placed them in hierarchy based order. The general idea is that each level on that pyramid needs to be met before the next level can be achieved. So the levels build on each other. 

The levels

In the beginning Maslow theorized 5 sections and added a 6th later in life. 

From bottom up, here are the levels:

  1. Physiological Needs (i.e. food, sleep, and water)

  2. Safety Needs (i.e. shelter, clothing, and safety )

  3. Belongingnes and Love Needs (i.e. to be loved, accepted, to belong )

  4. Esteem Needs (i.e. self-esteem, achievement, competence, recognition  )

  5. Self-Actualization Needs (i.e. to live up to our potential )

  6. Self-Transcendence Needs (i.e. to find meaning and purpose )

Other psychologists and theorists have delved deeper into this theory and further separated the levels as well but these are the basic steps with very basic descriptions. 

The theory goes that you must meet your physiological needs before you can move on to meet your safety needs  and so on.

The importance

For some of you it may not come as a surprise at all that our basic needs are to eat and drink water, those are two things we have to do in order to literally survive. The shock comes in when we realize that those are not needs that are innately met by all people.

When thinking in terms of development we needs to understand that our needs are not just a list that is checked off and boom you're good to go! These needs build upon each other and weak building can make any building fall.

For people who have lived the majority of their life in survival mode, seeking to rise up the ladder, is harder than it sounds! There is a big difference between people who have never had to worry about where their next meal came from and who have an easier time allowing that thought to fall into the back of their mind so that they can focus on greater things and people who grew up in a constant struggle to survive. Someone who has never fully experienced a safe environment may not be able to let go of the uncertainty of their safety even when they are in a safe environment. 

Our Needs Change

Another thing to think about is the fact that our needs change with our circumstances. If for example we lose our home in a fire, our needs for self-actualization become less important as we seek shelter and clothing.  

Ever feel "hangry"? Our needs for respect lessen as our hunger rises.

How It Affects Us

I was at a marketing event and one of the speakers talked to us about selling to people who are ready to buy, she brought up this theory and made a point that we can't market self-actualization to people who are barely meeting their basic needs. Those customers would not be able to focus or expend the energy necessary because their focus at the end of the day is whether they will eat or not. 

Often we buy books or programs with the hope of becoming millionaires but we don't take the time to really think about whether we are ready for the changes that are required in order to hit those levels. 

Spending $5000 on a coaching program may not be the best idea if you can't make rent or if you can't afford your phone bill to be able to attend coach calls. 

The reason many of us fail when making big changes in our lives is that we ignore our needs. We all love the rags to riches stories but theres a lot of work that happens in between those steps and we need to acknowledge those needs in order to fully commit ourselves to higher needs. 

Asking Yourself Where You Are

What level are you on? Can you recognize the needs that are not being met? 

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the tough questions. Before accepting a job opportunity 2 hours away, do you have or can you obtain transportation? Do you need a new purse or do you need a working phone? 

I once had a client that needed to lose weight but had no teeth, he opted to spend a lot of money on trying to lose weight before fixing his teeth, but couldn't eat the food he needed to in order to do so. 

How many times have you chosen to do something that would bring you a sense of belonging or acceptance like buying expensive clothing to fit in and  then neglected other important  expenses like paying the water bill?  This is an issue that a lot of people neglect when dating, they aim to impress but then they don't understand why the person they were trying to impress wasn't impressed by them. Let's be honest, a person is going to be more impressed with someone who has a good job over someone who has good shoes.

A lot of people meet their needs for love by having children before they are financially or emotionally ready to care for them. This leads to years of difficulty and in some cases abuse. 

When We Can't Move On

In the examples above, I mention people who are trying to move up, without first establishing a good base to build on but, what about when we have built the base but still can't move up? 

People who have experienced trauma often struggle to move past their need for safety. Even when years have passed and they now live in a safe place and away from any dangers, they still feel the effects. This can keep them from being able to pursue relationship or career goals because at the end of their day, they still believe that their safety needs won't be met. 

This effect can be seen in each level of needs. By recognizing what may be keeping us from moving forward we can then choose to work on meeting those needs. For some people it may be as simple as looking for a higher paying job to meet their bills each month and have extra to save. For others it means seeking medical help or a therapist to work on deeper issues. Some people may need to talk to their friends and family and ask for support as they make the decision to go back to school in order to reach their career goals. 

There are many theories of motivation and human development and they all have their pros and cons but, I think, what matters is that we use them to help ourselves become better versions of ourselves. To read more in depth on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs visit the sites listed below in the further reading section. I hope that this post has given you something to think about and a better understanding of why and how meeting our needs can affect us. If you like this post please like and share it. 


Further Reading