Self Actualization

Why Self Actualization Requires Exercise

Abraham Maslow was wise beyond his time.

He created a simple hierarchy that categorizes the needs of every human being. The hierarchy indicates that the highest level of achievement is self-actualization. But it also reminds us of the necessity of maintaining our most vital physical needs.

On a most basic level, we are required to satisfy our needs for food, water, and air. It is only when these basic needs are met that we can turn our thoughts to higher needs, such as love and acceptance.

As each of these needs is fulfilled, some of us reach a point of restlessness. It is at this point that we begin to seek higher goals of personal fulfillment. We attempt to grow beyond what we currently are and we strive to fulfill our highest potential. This is what Maslow termed self-actualization.

It is self-actualization that many of us seek. Achieving this state of fulfillment, however, involves more than having success in the workplace or the admiration of others. It is a goal that each of us can achieve through different methods and with drastically different results.

But Maslow was smart enough to recognize the flaws inherent in the natural man. He recognized that we often obsess about our goals and leave behind other matters which are vitally important.

According to Maslow:

If they [we] are dominated by a higher need, this higher need will seem to be the most important of all. It then becomes possible, and indeed does actually happen, that they may, for the sake of this higher need, put themselves into the position of being deprived in a more basic need.

This is exactly what so many of us have done today. We have effectively turned the hierarchy up-side-down. Whereas human beings once spent a majority of their time in a physically active state of seeking food and water, these needs are now met as more of an afterthought.

We are irresistibly drawn to fast foods and packaged meals which grant us ever more time to pursue our lofty goals. We have delegated our diet and our health to companies who specialize in providing convenience more than providing nutrition. Our sedentary lives are draining us of all of our energy.

Strengthening the Foundation

The beauty of Maslow’s hierarchy is that it not only points us towards self-actualization, but it also reminds us of the necessity of our basic needs. Using the analogy of a pyramid helps to remind us of the importance of a solid foundation.

How can the top of a pyramid ever be supported if the base is eroding away? If the foundation deteriorates, the whole structure must unavoidably fall with it.

Maintaining your health through physical exercise is necessary to fortify your foundation. Different levels of physical activity obviously lead do different health levels, but an outstanding physique can be achieved using a 1.5-3 hours per week training program.

Here are a few of the most basic guidelines that will help you on your journey:

  1. Eat right: This means avoiding soft-drinks, fast food, and sweets. Eat vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates with every meal. Stop eating when you begin to feel full, not when you are totally stuffed.
  2. Lift weights: Yes, your body needs weight training to stay healthy and to burn your body fat efficiently. This is just as important for women as it is for men. Far too many women are languishing without enough muscle on their bodies and suffer the side effects as a result. Sensible training will not cause women to become big like men.
  3. Do cardio: 3 times a week will help you to maintain your cardiovascular health and burn off some of your daily calorie intake. You can do it right after lifting weights if you desire.
  4. Do not diet: When I say this, I mean that the positive changes you make should be lifelong changes, not short-term diets. Never skip meals or let yourself go hungry. This will cause your body to go into starvation mode and it will save what you eat as fat on your body. Better to eat more and burn more.
  5. Ignore the fads: The fancy diets and magical pills seldom have much to offer. They are catering to our natural desire to have a complicated, yet easy solution to our problems. Instead, realize that a healthy lifestyle involves simple actions that are not always easy to do.

Maslow’s advice is more applicable today than it ever has been. Maintaining our physical health is absolutely necessary to keep our journey towards self-actualization on a firm foundation. Make the investment in your physical health, and you will continually receive dividends throughout the other facets of your life.

Written for PickTheBrain by Jason Tinder. He runs a blog about health, fitness, and training in the gym at World Fitness Network.