- Maslow’s hierarchy identifies four deficiency needs and a single growth need.
- It is easy to experience a lack of motivation once you have moved past your deficiency needs.
- You must convert your growth need to a deficiency need to find your motivation.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that we prioritize physiological needs: air, water, food, clothing, housing, etc. Maslow called these “deficiency needs,” along with safety and security, belonging, and self-esteem and recognition. When you have no deficiency in physiological needs, he argued, you tend to move up to the next higher need.
In business, we too often overlook recognition, typically trying to replace it with money. Nor do we spend enough time on self-esteem, a deficiency need that is the transition to the only “growth need” in Maslow’s model. The challenge comes in motivating yourself to abandon comfort for real growth.
Why You Are Not Motivated
Chances are, you’ve already found ways to meet your physiological needs, your safety and security needs, your belongingness needs, and for the most part, your self-esteem and recognition needs. This is true even if you don’t realize how much motivation you exerted in meeting your deficiency needs.
While meeting those needs is important, it also makes you comfortable, and comfort is often the worst enemy of motivation. In fact, it’s easy to coast once you’ve met your deficiency needs, unless and until you recognize the growth need that comes next. Maslow calls this need self-actualization, and it’s difficult to even consider when you’re still plagued by deficiency needs.
You Can Be Better Than You Are
Self-actualization means becoming who you are capable of being. It’s helpful to think of this as “being more,” “doing more,” “having more,” and “contributing more,” and in doing so, solving your “growth need.” Any lack of motivation comes from not shifting your focus from deficiency needs to your growth need.
The way to activate your motivation, then, is to treat your need for self-actualization as a deficiency need, recognizing that you are nowhere near the person that comes after the person you are now—and then taking action to become that person. The more progress you make toward that goal, the more you will recognize your potential to become an even better version of yourself, since there is always room for improvement.
Becoming the person that comes after the person you are now is your life’s real project.
How to Find Your Motivation
Like the rest of us, you are a bit of a fixer-upper. There are a lot of good things about you, but you’ve neglected some areas for too long—highlighting, shall we say, your potential for improvement as a human being. If you’re honest with yourself, you can find at least a dozen areas where you might improve, becoming the person that comes after the person you are now. Here are a few places to start.
Physical Health: You may have solved your physiological needs, but you have not done the work to be truly healthy. By treating your overall health and fitness as a deficiency need instead of a growth need, you find your motivation.
Mental and Psychological Health: I am writing this as the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to wind down, a time when it’s easy to see mental and psychological health as a deficiency need. The next version of yourself will have already solved this need.
Personal Development: The long history of humans is marked by finding new and better ways to address our deficiency needs. Those who solve them find the ability to move on to growth needs. In the 21st century, personal development and growth is prominent because we’ve mostly solved our deficiency needs, making space to pursue our potential. What are you doing to activate your latent potential?
Your Relationships: The better version of the person you are now is going to be a better relationship manager. That person is going to be more and do more and contribute more to their relationships in every areas of their life.
There is no end to the areas in which you should be motivated to improve, including family, friends, recreation and renewal, your work, and your financial life. In short, becoming who you are requires that you do a form of a gap analysis, identifying all of the areas where there is potential to improve (basically, every single area of your life), and beginning to close the gaps you recognize.
The big car, the big house, your investment statement, and all the other trappings of success are mostly self-esteem and recognition needs, occurring only because a deficiency was felt. Only becoming the person that comes after the person you are now can truly provide you with self-actualization.
Do Good Work:
- Make your life’s work to become the person that comes after the person you are now.
- Treat your “growth needs” as if they were “deficiency needs.”
- Identify the areas where you have latent potential, then activate that potential by becoming more than you are now.