10 Strategies for Staying Atop the Pyramid

If you’re like me, you want to grow as a person, understand yourself and others better, and figure out how to live an increasingly joyful, fulfilled, and purposeful life.

Abraham Maslow, the psychologist renowned for his pyramid of needs, wanted to understand what motivates people.

He believed that people were compelled by something other than rewards or unconscious desires. Thus, he began to draft the hierarchy of needs.

The original five-stage model includes:

  • Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
  • Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
  • Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).
  • Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
  • Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

At the most basic level, humans need physical survival; and will do anything to ensure it. Once the basic level is satisfied, the next level must be satisfied. Then, the next becomes the motivator. And the next, and so on.

At the top of the pyramid: Self-Actualization, the motivation to achieve one’s full potential.

It’s the only entirely-internal process. It’s the one that doesn’t care that our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love, and other social factors. That is, at this stage, people overcome their conditioning to stop when they’ve received approval from others, and continue to seek their own FULL potential.

Outside approval is not necessary for the self-actualized person.

Self-actualized people are those who are fulfilled in doing all they are capable of, in becoming more of WHO they are. That’s our highest calling, one that comes from within the depths of our souls.

When I got serious about my personal growth, I became less trendy and more practical about the strategies that actually worked for me. Now, I pay attention to what works and continue to use it. I focus on actions and beliefs that lead to improvement.

These strategies have served me well:

Be Present

As much as possible, I focus on RIGHT NOW. I Immerse myself in what I’m doing, no matter if its savoring a bite of food, focusing on every step of a task, or exploring an idea. I try not to dwell or fortune-tell; that is, I let go of what was and trust what will be as long as I’m doing the right thing right now.

What’s done is done. And I figure that, as long as I’m ALL IN, being the type of person who turns goals into reality, my future will take care of itself.

My plan for the future is more intangible—feelings and states of mind—so that I have flexibility in making it real. I think in terms of the type of life I want to live, the person I want to be, and can pursue that no matter what circumstances I’m in.

Operate Free of the Opinions of Others

This changed the game. Once I stopped worrying about what others would think of me, how they might judge me, or how I might disappoint people, I was free to become myself. I was able to be authentic.

There is so much pressure from parents, peers, society, and the media to conform, but we each must create our own “personal operating system” that is a reflection of our true selves.

Real happiness is impossible when you fake it through life in order to make others OK. And, unsurprisingly, when I started to care less about being judged and more about being myself, everything—for me and others—improved.

An Inch Wide and A Mile Deep, Rather than An Inch Deep and A Mile Wide

Rather than trying to do many things and cram life full of activities and achievements (seeking fulfillment and approval), I now focus on fewer things but focus deeply.

When I work, I strive to be engaged in the task at-hand and remove other distractions.

You don’t learn much or experience full joy from just scratching the surface.

Redefine Failure

I don’t like to fail any more than the next person. In fact, I HATE losing (and a broken Xbox controller in a landfill somewhere can attest to that).

But nobody wins 100% of the time. At some point, we face setbacks.

I’ve learned to think of failure as a necessary element of success.

First, “failure” means I had the courage and creativity to try. Second, to acknowledge a “failure” means I’m still around and the game isn’t over. You can’t beat someone who won’t give up. And, finally, “failure” means I have the opportunity to fix things for the next time.

We can spend our lives avoiding failure, but then we take no risks — which confines us to the status quo.

If you want to live a big life, embrace setbacks (that they can and will happen).

Re-Wire Your Brain

The science of neuroplasticity shows we have a huge reservoir of potential for learning, change, and growth. This is particularly meaningful related to how we think about ourselves and how our thinking impacts our motivation and outlook on life.

If our thoughts are constantly negative and self-critical, we are training our brains to accept these thoughts as true. But practicing positive thinking, thoughts of self-love and self-respect, we can retrain our brains to believe these things.

Practicing positive thinking isn’t just feel-good nonsense. It actually changes your brain chemistry and changes how you feel about yourself. (Look at the previous section! “I’m not a failure. I’m smarter now, tested my sills, and have the opportunity to get better.”)


Plenty of life can feel like a struggle. Someone says or does something that strikes a chord, and we respond with defensiveness. Something bad happens, and we get agitated.

But I ask myself, “What does this actually have to do with me?” What someone says, what’s happened… it’s done. I can either let it change me, or I can Be The Change – it’s up to me to choose my reaction.

Oh, and THEN, someone went and coined the phrase “the struggle is real”… no, no, it’s not. Being sleepy is not a struggle. And, even if it feels like one, you had the power to not be sleepy.

It’s not a struggle to go to work. And if you hate it so much, why do you continue to do it? Am I supposed to believe peoples’ entire lives are struggles, but they don’t change one damn thing about them? I can’t abide that nonsense…

Stop telling yourself that everything is a struggle. You’re listening.

K.I.S.S. – You know the acronym….

Keep it simple, stupid.

Life is becoming increasingly multifaceted. We are overloaded with information and the desire to post (for the approval) and other stimuli.

We keep buying stuff. We take on more commitments and obligations. It’s suffocating!

But, guess what, the world will keep turning if you don’t do 425 things on Wednesday afternoon alone.

Less is truly more. Less feels liberating, open, and light.

Get rid of stuff.

Streamline your schedule to the few most important things.

Release people who suck your time and energy.

You need emotional and physical space and time to actually live your life rather than racing through it.

Know What You’re About

Principles are the foundation on which exceptional lives are built. Our values are the guideposts that help us make decisions and set goals.

E very major life decision and action should support or reflect these values. If you don’t define your own values, then you look to others to help you decide what’s important. Or you bounce around trying to “feel your way” through decisions or a direction for your life.

When you know your top 5-6 values, you know exactly what you do and don’t want for your life.

And I’m talking about the stuff that comes from you, that you ACTUALLY feel/think/are driven by. Strip away all the values you’ve been given, then re-build your own set of them. That’s the only way you’ll live in accordance with them.

Have a Beginner’s Mind

You can never be too old, too smart, too experienced, too rich, too powerful, or too creative. And there’s never a bad time to learn something.

Approach each new relationship with wide-eyed anticipation, like a child.

Allow yourself to try something brand new and savor every aspect of it. Not only does this expand your capacity for joy and personal fulfillment, but it also makes you a more interesting, approachable, and attractive person.

“Represent yourself well.”

Before I‘d leave the house, my mom would tell me, “Represent yourself well.”

She meant to act with kindness, grace, and awareness of how my actions were reflecting me.

Kindness and manners are underrated. It’s so easy to simply be kind to people, to speak warmly, to simply acknowledge them.

It is easy to say “Thank You,” to hold a door open, to offer to help. Even in the face of anger, life difficulties, and ugliness, we can elevate ourselves and those around us by being kind and decent people.

When you practice kindness, you inspire others to do the same, and it creates a small but very powerful ripple effect.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. | Marcel Proust