How real are you? Are you your real self? How much do you live your life to express your authentic self with your highest possibilities and actualizing your best potentials? That’s what the self-actualizing life is all about— creating and living the best version of you so that you can contribute and make a difference. You were made for that. And your potentials clamor within for that. And if you try to shut all of that down, you only doom yourself to being unhappy for the rest of your life.
What this means is that your vitality is related to, and dependent upon, you discovering and being your best self— your real self. The wisdom within this actually goes far, far beyond Maslow to the ancient Greeks who made this one of the points of wisdom: “Know thyself.”
And to others who said, “To thy own self be true.” “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
In Self-Actualization Psychology Maslow forged the way beyond the “empty slate” idea to the realization that each of us are born with unique features and possibilities— potentials of our disposition and uniqueness. And just as we are not born human (we become human, we learn how to become human), so we are not born fully ourselves— we become. We don’t arrive on the scene with “instincts.” We don’t come out of the womb and can run and jump. We develop. Hence, Developmental Psychology arose in the twentieth century to map out how we develop physically, socially, sexually, mentally, emotionally, etc. And all of that resulted in Lifespan studies of the developmental stages.
All this relates directly to your sense of vitality in life. If you want to dampen your energies, reduce the quality of your vitality— try to be someone else! Try to conform to a mold that’s established at school, in the media, by your culture, by Hollywood, or by any group. If you succeed, you will fail at being you. You will fail at being authentic and knowing yourself and with that, you won’t know your best gifts and contributions. So you’ll feel like a fraud, you’ll evaluate yourself as up or down depending on local circumstances, you’ll suffer identity crisis, you won’t know what you like, your values, your unique potentials. And in the long run that will undermine your joy of life and basic vitality.
Another way to dampen your energies, reduce your vitality, and diminish yourself as a person— try to be what you are not. Try to be perfect! Ha, that’s a great way to ruin a perfectly good fallible human being! At first you’ll have lots of energy and effort but then you’ll over-prepare and begin to procrastinate and hyper-worry about flaws and fill your mind-body with anxiety and … yes will make life a party!
Or try to be totally positive and never negative! Yes, at first it will seem like a great strategy— you, the positive thinker. But then whenever you have an experience that doesn’t fit that mental box of “positive” you have to distort your experience and so begins the pretend-life. And the more you refuse to welcome (a very un-positive thing) the so-called “negative” emotions and experiences, you begin to defend yourself against reality. And in the long-run that distortion will undermine your ability to accept reality for what it is.
When your life energies seem down, depressed, empty, or diminished, you may be wasting your energies. You could be wasting them fighting some phantom in your mind like the need to be perfect or positive or never fallible, vulnerable, or mortal. The paradox is that your vitality for life comes more alive with more energy when you fully embrace your true nature as a weak, fallible, and mortal person! Look at any young child— weak, fallible, vulnerable and fully alive to the mystery, excitement, and fascination of life!
Vitality emerges from your needs, not in spite of them. So what do you need? What are the requirements of life that activates your full mind-body-emotions? People become experientially empty and out-of-touch with themselves when they don’t know their true needs and try to live in some synthetic life that Wall Street or Hollywood or some Cultural Bureau of Standards impose on their lives. Then they live by external values, by the clock, by brand names, by what others are telling them they should think, feel, and experience.
Because we come without “instinct,” and because we have to learn how to be human— we are so open to information outside of ourselves. This is our glory and our agony. Maslow said that for the human species is it hard to be the species we are (1971: 179). That’s why we have to discover ourselves, to “know ourselves.”
If your tired of being diminished, devitalized, and living like a zombie, then I’d recommend Unleashing Vitality so you can discover who you are in your lower-level needs and drives and find out how to gratify them adequately and accurately for yourself. Achieving that you can then move on to discovering who you are given your higher-level needs— your being needs and, again, how to gratify them so that it brings out your best and fulfills your nature.