August 26, 2013

Making Self-Actualization Actionable #1

After a lifetime of studying and modeling self-actualizing people, Abraham Maslow wrote a chapter about his experiences in a book, Challenges of Humanistic Psychology that James Bugental edited. He titled of the chapter, “Self-Actualizing and Beyond.” What I found wonderful about this chapter is how he described both his original motivations for the modeling project and how he then set about to create benchmarks for self-actualization. So given that one of our key discoveries in Neuro-Semantics is the “secret history” of NLP in the work of Maslow and Rogers and that benchmarking is one of our key contributions to the field of NLP, I thought I would quote extensively from the chapter and relate it to current work that we are doing in Neuro-Semantics.

Modeling: 1935

Forty years before Bandler and Grinder modeled the three Human Potential Movement leaders (Bateson, Perls, and Satir), Maslow modeled two people who showed extraordinary development of human excellence and began the Human Potential Movement. What he discovered was that in

“… trying to understand two of my teachers that he loved, adored, and admired and who were very, very wonderful people … [I] sought to understand why these two people were so different from the run-of-the-mill people in the world. These two people were Ruth Benedict and Max Wertheimer.” (The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1971, Chapter 3, p. 40)

Maslow’s modeling then began out of astonished amazement at two individuals who “were most remarkable human beings.” Unlike the NLP modeling of skills, this model wasn’t about what they did, but what they had become- being more than doing. Now in terms of doing, they were both famous-Max was the co-founder of Gestalt Psychology and Ruth the founder of Cultural Anthropology, the mentor of Margaret Mead, first wife of Gregory Bateson.

“I made descriptions and notes on Max Wertheimer, and I made notes on Ruth Benedict. When I tried to understand them, think about them, and write about them in my journal and notes, I realized in one wonderful moment that their two patterns could be generalized. I was talking about a kind of person, not about two non-comparable individuals. There was wonderful excitement in that. I tried to see whether this pattern could be found elsewhere, and I did find it elsewhere, in one person after another.” (41)

This modeling is driven by the scientific attitude of seeking knowledge about human excellence, something that Maslow spent his entire life searching this out. He selected “wonderful people” “… and then tried to figure them out and found he was able to describe a syndrome-the kind of pattern that seemed to fit all of them.”

Maslow selected people who were visibly successful and who were also inwardly success because he wanted to discover the farther reaches of human nature:

“When you select out for careful study very fine and healthy people, strong people, creative people, saintly people, sagacious people- then you get a
different view of mankind. You are asking how tall can people grow, what can a human being become?”

What did he find as he searched for human excellence? He found that these self-actualizing people were living for what he defined as the being-values-the values of being-the values that were valuable in and of themselves, inherently, innately, and were not valued only for their instrumental use. He commented that these B-values are “the meaning of life for most people.”

“Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves. They are
devoted at something … which is very precious to them … so that the work-joy dichotomy in them disappears.” (42)

Benchmarking Self-Actualization

In his 1967 chapter, Maslow was looking for the actual behaviors that led to and that indicated self-actualization- the benchmarks.

“What does one do when he self-actualizes? Does he grit his teeth and squeeze? What does self-actualization mean in terms of actual behavior, actual procedure?” (43)

That’s when he came up with “eight ways in which one self-actualizes.” I will be quoting him for each of these eight ways in the next weeks and adding comments about each.

1) Total Absorption

“First, self-actualization means experiencing fully, vividly selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption. It means experiencing without the self-consciousness of the adolescent. At this moment of experiencing, the person is wholly and fully human. This is a self-actualizing moment. This is a moment when the self is actualizing itself.” (44)

Maslow wrote that this “can be a very sweet moment” and that’s because in such moments of absorption, one can forget poses, defenses, shyness and “go at it whole-hog.” Such engagement! This is the very thing that Csikszentmihalyi has described in his description of a flow state. The flow state is where one becomes so completely engaged in an activity that one gets lost in it. One becomes so engaged with something, and the amazing thing is that it could be just about anything- an athletic event, a puzzle, rock climbing, reading a book, having a coaching conversation with someone, writing, cooking, making love, playing with a dog- the list is endless.

Csikszentmihalyi - Flow
Csikszentmihalyi – Flow

And it is this kind and quality of total engagement that e call “the genius state” in Neuro-Semantics. Building on the foundational work of DeLozier, Grinder, Dilts, and others, Accessing Personal Genius is all about this- how to turn on your “genius” or “flow” state so that it is yours- at your command. No longer do you have to wait for it, cross your fingers and hope for it, you can “turn it on” and step fully into the zone of your optimal state- at will.

Now given that this is one of the benchmarks of self-actualization, in fact, the first one, and that it is a total absorption and engagement with something outside of yourself- this again clarifies the old confusion between self-actualization and selfishness and why we say that Self-Actualization is not about you, it is through you.

Ready for living the self-actualizing life? Then get ready to move far, far beyond multi-tracking as you step into total absorption of a meaning and value that endows your life with a rich and robust meaningfulness.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.