In this episode of our podcast about mental health, host Jackie Pack talks about Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs that dictates a person’s behavior and motivation. We discuss the belief window that figuratively sits in front of our face and also dictates the views we have about ourselves and the world we live in. If we are looking to change our behavior, it starts with changing the perspective that sits on this belief window.
TRANSCRIPT: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Theory of Motivation
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. Today we’re going to be talking about Maslow’s theory of motivation, and this theory of motivation Maslow says has five categories of human needs, and these needs dictate a person’s behavior. So this will help us understand a little bit more about human behavior and studying and understanding human behavior, which sometimes can be a little bit mind-boggling.
This is another one I’m reaching way back into my filing cabinet, clearing things out, scanning them in, making things digital so that I can not have so much paper storage. So this is another one I’m reaching back into my early days as a therapist and using one of the exercises or explanations that I came up with to help me and clients as well understand themselves better.
So we’re going to start out with, you may have seen Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s in the shape of a triangle with the 5 basic needs kind of moving upwards, so this is kind of based on that. That was his theory of motivation and his hierarchy of needs. So basic needs start at the bottom of that pyramid, and then more high-level intangible needs are more at the top, and Maslow stated that a person can only move on to addressing the higher-level needs when their basic needs are adequately fulfilled.
So if you remember, let’s just talk about before I move into the next piece, we need to understand what these 5 basic needs were that Maslow identified. So the first one is physiological needs. This is kind of an id-driven lower need on Maslow’s hierarchy, and these include the most basic human survival needs like food and water, sufficient rest and sleep, clothing and shelter, overall health and reproduction. Maslow states that these basic physiological needs have to be addressed before humans will move on to the next level of fulfillment.
This next level is safety needs, so once we’re having food and shelter and being able to sleep and we have clothing that we need and that kind of stuff, now we move on to another low-level need, but an important need, which is safety. Safety needs include protection from violence and theft, emotional stability and well-being, and then health, security, and financial security.
Once those two, physiological needs and safety needs, are met, then we’ll move on to social needs, which are on the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy, and they relate to human interaction, and they’re the last of the so-called lower needs, although I would say that love and belonging needs are moving up the scale, which he points out in his triangle or pyramid, but again these, our love and belonging needs should be, they aren’t always, and they aren’t often, but they should be being met in infancy, and then they would develop and move with the person as the person continues development and ages. So among these needs are friendships and family bonds, both with our biological family, our parents, our children, our siblings, children when we have them, siblings, and our chosen family, which is our spouses and our partners.
Physical and emotional intimacy will range from sexual relationships to intimate emotional bonds with people who we don’t have a sexual relationship with, and they’re important in order to achieve a feeling of elevated kinship is what Maslow described that. Additionally we’re going to need membership in social groups that contribute to meeting this need. This may start with belonging to a team or being on a team like an athletic sport, may move into the team of coworkers that we interact with as adults, it may include also forging an identity maybe in a union or a club or a group of hobbyists or a certain political affiliation or religious affiliation.
Then we’re going to move up to esteem needs. These are higher needs, and it begins with esteem, and they’re ego-driven needs, but we can’t dismiss ego-driven needs. The primary elements of esteem are self-respect, which is the belief that you’re valuable and deserving of dignity, and self-esteem, confidence in your potential for personal growth and accomplishments. Now I often will talk with clients and say self-esteem at a very, very minimum, basic level is a knowing of the self, and a lot of clients that I work with do not really have that understanding. They may have patched together kind of a self-image, but it may not include this belief that you’re valuable and deserving of dignity, and you may not have confidence in your potential for personal growth and accomplishments.
Maslow specifically notes that self-esteem can be broken into 2 types, so esteem which is based on respect and acknowledgement from others, and esteem which is based on our own self-assessment and our ability to affirm the self. Self-confidence and independence are going to stem from this second type of self-esteem, the one that is internal and that we are in charge of and we can affirm.
Then the last one is self-actualization needs. According to Maslow, self-actualization describes the fulfillment of your potential as a person. Sometimes this is called self-fulfillment needs. Self-actualization needs occupy the highest spot on Maslow’s pyramid, and self-actualization needs include education, skill development, the refining of talents in areas such as music or athletics, design, cooking, gardening, caring for others, and then maybe broader goals like learning a new language, traveling to new places, maybe winning awards for the work that you’re doing.
So again it’s this fulfillment of our potential as a person, but it’s one where we’re really shining. Maslow referred to self-actualization as a growth need, so we have this need for variety so that we don’t get stuck in a rut. He separated it out from the lower four levels on his hierarchy, which he called deficiency needs. So according to his theory, if you fail to meet your deficiency needs, you’ll experience harm or unpleasant results. Conditions ranging from illness and starvation up through loneliness and self-doubt are the byproducts of unmet deficiency needs. By contrast, self-actualization needs can make you happier, but you’re not harmed when these needs go unfulfilled. So self-actualization needs are only going to become a priority when the other four foundational needs are met.
So let’s talk about, I used to use an example, I have a chart that I would sometimes draw out. I eventually made it digitalized and would print out and give to clients, so we need to understand kind of those 5 levels of Maslow’s hierarchy needs and that those are driving and dictating a person’s or an individual’s behavior. So then I would talk about a belief window, and I would say, picture that figuratively this window sits right in front of your face. I have a little image of a window, and so I’m like, everything that you see comes through this window. This is your window to the world, and on that window ledge are your beliefs. Now they may include beliefs like the law of gravity. If you throw something up, it will come down. But on this window ledge may also be opinions. It may also be beliefs that aren’t necessarily big-T truths like laws of gravity, but we need to understand that if this is on my window ledge, then I believe it to be true and I act as though this is truth. Now I’ve done other podcast episodes where I’ve talked about confirmation bias or cognitive dissonance, some of the things that make it difficult for us as human beings psychologically to have kind of a higher order level of thinking in which we recognize that maybe we’re wrong and we have to have this massive overhaul of what’s on that belief window ledge.
So again I’ve got the belief window. All the things that I believe to be true about how I am, how I interact with my world, sit on that window ledge, and I view my world and other people through this lens and through all of the things sitting on my window ledge. Now then I create some rules. So if this is true, then… These are if-then rules. So if this is true, then… And that leads me to the next one that looks at behavior or action, so if this is true, then this is the way that I behave or this is the action that I take, and that’s followed by the last stage in this cycle, which is results, so either my results reinforce my belief window and the things that are on that window ledge, or they begin to challenge my beliefs.
Now again, we have to remember that it can be very difficult for human beings to actually challenge things that they have decided to place on that window ledge as truth, regardless of whether they’re big-T truths or little-t truths. So I used to use an example, and I would pick on one of my childhood friends, and I don’t know that she knows that I ever used her as an example, but I felt like it was a good example that demonstrated this cycle that I just laid out for you.
So let’s say that my friend, my childhood friend, had a fear of dogs, which is true. My childhood friend had this like paralyzing fear of dogs. Now again if we back this up just one step more, we would say this is probably tapping into her psychological need that Maslow described, her need for safety. She believed, so one of the beliefs on her window ledge, was that all dogs are vicious, and she truly believed that, and she had some rules, if-then rules. If all dogs are vicious, then I will cross streets when I see a dog up ahead. I will not leave my house if I hear a dog barking. I will not go play at my friend’s house because they have a dog. I will … all these things. If I’m with my friend and I see a dog, I will claw her to try to get behind her so that I put her between me and this dog.
So all of these if-then rules, and the behavior was she did those things. She would not leave the house because there was a dog that she could hear barking or there was a dog that was kind of running without being leashed in the neighborhood, it got loose from the backyard or whatever, so she would not leave her house. I would have to go over and play at her house instead of her coming outside and playing outside, and for her, the results were that she had never been attacked by a dog, so the results reinforced that this is a good belief, that it kept her safe, that the rules that she had put in place were accurate and they were necessary, and the behavior then that she took following these rules reinforced the results, which is she was safe from all these vicious dogs that were in our neighborhood.
Now I used to say, let’s say that she’s a college student living on her own and she meets this guy in one of her classes and she just absolutely falls head over heels in love with him, and he eventually asks her out on a date, invites her over to his apartment, they’re going to do some cooking, maybe after a movie, something like this, so he invites her over to his apartment, and she’s so excited, totally in love with this guy she met in her college class, and he invites her to his house, and when she knocks on the door and he answers, she sees not only the guy that she’s fallen for, but she also sees his adorable yellow lab, who is anxiously waiting to meet her.
Now what happens to these beliefs depends on what’s going on in these psychological needs that drive behavior. So we have this safety need that has been reinforced year after year as she’s growing up, and all of a sudden it comes crashing into this other psychological need that is love and belonging, this need to love another person and to be loved by this person, and this yellow lab is now getting in the way of her goal of loving another person and being loved by this person.
So what happens to these beliefs? The one belief is sitting on the window, and the other belief or this other maybe not belief but psychological need is all of a sudden coming into conflict with this need for safety. Well she could adjust it just a bit. So maybe let’s say that her date explains that this yellow lab would never hurt anybody. So friendly, just wants to be recognized. Just scratch it on the head a little bit, it’s fine. So maybe the belief shifts just slightly into one that says, well maybe all dogs are vicious except a yellow lab, or except this yellow lab, and besides this yellow lab, all dogs are vicious.
But maybe this belief starts to get dysfunctional. Maybe she wants to go out for a run and one of the ways that she runs past her apartment or outside of her apartment is to run past this park where there’s a lot of dogs, and maybe because she started to date this person who has a yellow lab, a couple of weeks later she’s on her run, not on the run, she would have done that before, but she’s on her run and she notices in the park this guy throwing a frisbee, the dog running, jumping up, catching the frisbee. She just notices this and she thinks, huh that’s kind of cute. But this dog isn’t a yellow lab, so maybe the belief starts to shift a little bit more to where maybe yellow labs and specifically that yellow lab isn’t vicious, and maybe whatever this breed of dog is that she doesn’t know isn’t vicious.
Again, as she starts to look in her world and it is maybe with a different or space for more beliefs to come onto that window ledge, or maybe she’s wiped clean a little bit of that window so she can see things maybe more clearly instead of it being fogged by her opinions or her little-t truths that may not be accurate. Now again, she doesn’t want to go to the other side of this belief that says no dogs are vicious because that’s not true, and she may get herself in trouble because she thinks… she goes from one extreme to the other extreme and says no dogs are vicious, and now she’s approaching all dogs and she’s not recognizing some of the signs that dogs give that say, hey you’re in my space, I don’t like you, I don’t know you, I may attack. So again we’ve got to find the healthy balance between all dogs are vicious and no dogs are vicious, and then we may have a more life-serving belief that is accurate, that’s balanced, that is not in either of the extremes, and we can start to narrow our rules down and our behaviors don’t also have to look so extreme.
Now another example that sometimes I share… so when I was a senior in high school, I had a school counselor, everybody has a school counselor that helps them. If you’re going to go to college, they help you look at next steps, all that kind of stuff. They help you make sure that you’re on target to graduate. So I had a school counselor that I didn’t necessarily talk to very often. She didn’t necessarily know me, and my two best friends in high school had different counselors, and their counselor was the same school counselor. So it was kind of divided by the first letter of your last name. So I had a different high school counselor. Actually my two friends names are at opposite sides of the alphabet, but their high school counselor was on leave, I don’t remember what for, so they ended up working with the same high school counselor, and mine was a different one. I remember all three of us were deciding where we wanted to go to college, and we were going to go to Dixie College. If you want to understand the term Dixie College and why Utah has a college named Dixie, that’s in the episode about “The times they are a-changing.”
So we were going to go to Dixie College down in Southern Utah. It’s a warmer climate. It was a 2-year university, not a university, excuse me, it was a 2-year state college. We thought it would be fun, and we were going to be roommates and we had it all mapped out, and we were trying to see if we could get some scholarships. Now it wasn’t super difficult to get scholarships at Dixie, but you did need to have a good GPA. So I went in to talk to my high school counselor about applying for scholarships, and my high school counselor actually told me that I was not college material. She talked to me about maybe some other options, trade school, different things like that, and again, nothing wrong with trade schools. I know a lot of people who have gone to trade schools. For me, one of the beliefs on my window, though, was that if I wanted to change my life circumstances, meaning if I wanted to have a better life outcome than I saw my parents have, college was one of the ways I could make that happen.
Now again, this is before I was understanding that my dad had a gambling addiction, and my dad did not have any college education, so I could just kind of plug and play those two ideas. If I want to make more money than my parents and not live on such a small amount of income, then college was a way to do that. So I had that belief on my window, and then here comes this belief from my high school counselor that says, well I don’t think you’re college material, so we need to find a different route. I was a little bit embarrassed when she told me that. That was not necessarily an image that I had of myself, and again my two other friends, their high school counselors were not telling them that they were not college material. They had gone to their high school counselor and expressed an interest in going to Dixie College, and he helped them apply for scholarships, and both of them ended up getting a scholarship, while I had never applied for one.
One of my friends had a higher GPA than I did, but the other friend who also got a scholarship had not a bad GPA, but a slightly lower than my GPA. So again, this isn’t quite making sense to me. We went down to Southern Utah. It’s in St. George, Utah. We went down there for spring break. Nice to kind of get away. A lot of college students will go down to St. George for spring break because it’s just warmer than it is in the spring up on the northern part of Utah. So we had gone down there. I had applied to Dixie, as had my friends, and we were going to do a tour of Dixie College while we were down in St. George, and the person who was giving us the tour happened to be one of the counselors who worked with incoming college freshmen, and so as we’re doing the tour, he’s talking about scholarships and my two friends say oh yeah, we got scholarships, and he looks at me and he says, “Did you not get a scholarship?” And I said, “I didn’t apply for one.” And he in just talking was like, “How come?” And I kind of froze because again, I don’t want to tell this college admissions advisor that my high school counselor thinks I’m not college material because I’m touring a college that I want to go to.
He was really great, actually. He asked me what my GPA was. He asked me why I didn’t apply. He was like… I didn’t really give him an answer, and then he was just like, well let’s get that done. Let’s have you apply right now. So I applied, and I was awarded a scholarship, same amount that my two friends had gotten. So the belief that my high school counselor had given me maybe was a little bit challenged. I don’t know that I totally believed it was true, but it was information that I didn’t know what to do with, so I would say it was on my window ledge. It was sitting next to a second belief that I had that was kind of like, well if my two friends are college material and I have a similar GPA that they do, it doesn’t make sense that I’m not college material, other than I came from a little bit more blue-collar family with lower income.
So we go to college, we move in together. Everything’s great, and I did okay in college. My first two… back then we were on terms, not quarters, so we had four terms, similar to like what we had in high school. So the first 3 terms, I did okay in college, Bs, maybe a C. So the fourth term, springtime, so the last term of my freshman year, I signed up for an English class. I had to take an English class, so I signed up for an English class, and I had English from a professor. I still remember the first day he walked in, he kind of had an unusual last time, he walked into the classroom and he wrote on the board “NATS” and then the letters that spelled “KEY”. So he said that’s my name. Natskey. Actually it wasn’t spelled that way, but he was giving us kind of a way to pronounce it because it was more of an unusual name, so his last name was spelled Natzke, but it was pronounced Natskey, and he was like, this is how you say my name.
I did not know sitting in his class on the first day of class in that English class that he would become a faculty member that I would get very close to over the next remaining year and over that term that I was at Dixie College before I graduated. He became somewhat of a father figure to me. So I remember on that first day him explaining his grading rubric basically, and he was saying that because it was an English class, he did say everybody today has an A in my class. That’s how I view you. You have an A, and based on what you do or don’t do during this next term, points will be deducted, and that will be your final grade. Now he also referred to himself as somebody who… he said I think a lot of people overuse commas, and because you’re now in a college English class, you need to learn to properly place commas and not overuse them. That made me a little bit nervous because I kind of referred to myself as the comma queen. When in doubt, just throw a comma in. That was kind of one of my rules for English, and all of a sudden, he was like, if you have a comma out of place, your assignment goes from an A to an A-, and I was like, oh wow I’m going to be failing pretty quickly.
So he assigned us our first paper. This is maybe second week of class. He assigns us our first paper, and I wrote the paper, and again, this is like 1989, so for graduation, my mom had bought me a typewriter, and it was a fancy typewriter that I could backspace and it would auto-correct it. I didn’t have to like roll it up and do the little white paint and roll it back down. So it was kind of a fancy typewriter. So the night before, I would write out my draft so that I could edit it with pen and pencil on the side, and then I would actually type my final paper. So the night before I kind of stayed up a little bit late, my friends and I had done some fun things, and then I got down to finishing the paper and typing it up. So I handed it in the next day, and a few days later, we’re sitting in class and he’s handing the papers out to everybody. So he’s handing the papers, one by one, he’s calling out names. He was still learning names in the classroom, so he would call out a name, that person would say that’s me, he’d walk over, kind of look at their face as he handed them the paper in order to kind of put the name with the face and help him remember the names.
I was the last person, and class was ending at this point, and so the final paper that he handed out was mine. He came over to me and he said… a lot of people were walking out of class at this point, and so he just said this to me. I don’t know that very many people, if anyone actually heard him say this to me, and he just said, “I did not put a grade on this paper. I want to talk to you. These are my office hours. Please come see me either later today or tomorrow.” I was a little bit stunned, a little bit surprised. I didn’t know what that meant. So of course I didn’t go to his office right away because I had to figure out what was happening here.
So the next day I went to his office and asked him. I said, “Hey, you wanted to talk to me,” and he said, “Yeah, have a seat.” He said, “I have a guess about your paper,” and I was like, okay. Still unsure of what was happening, and he said, “My guess is that you started your paper a little late last night and finished it shortly after midnight.” Again, I’m thinking to myself, “Is that not acceptable? Can’t people do that? I know college students do this.” And so I sheepishly maybe a little bit said, “Yeah.” And he said “It’s a decent paper. I just want to know how it would look if you actually spent some time and effort writing it.”
I’m thinking to myself, why does this matter? Can you do this to me? And I knew nobody else had to re-do this paper, but I think I picked up on his energy, so I wasn’t really angry about it or feeling necessarily picked on, and as we talked, he pointed out several things that I had put in the paper that he liked ,and he just said, “I like what you’re bringing up. I like what you’re saying. I just want to see what it looks like when you put more thought and effort into it. If you don’t want to, I’ll grade this paper, but I would like you to take this paper and re-do it.” So I did, and I put some time and I put some effort into it, and I turned it in to him, and I got an A on it, which I was really grateful for, because again I called myself the comma queen.
Over that term, there were times if maybe I was writing something for a different class and I would come to him. I would meet with him in his office during office hours and I would ask him questions, and there were a lot of things that we would discuss, like maybe different theories or different concepts or different ideas, and he just became somebody that I really enjoyed talking with. So I had English from him that fourth term, and the fourth term, I actually got a 4.0, so the last term of my first year of college, I got a 4.0, and I credit a lot of that to Mr. Natzke. That initial conversation when he did not grade my paper and instead sat down and said, “I want to know what this looks like when you actually put effort into this and you actually have time to think about it.”
And I didn’t realize before that that maybe Miss Christensen, my high school counselor, maybe those words that she had said to me, “You’re not college material,” had actually impacted how well I had performed my first three terms of my first year of college, and that as somebody else, another authority figure, a professor actually said, “I think you can do better than this. I think you can do more than this,” as he called that out, I started to improve not just in his English class, but in all of my classes, and my fourth term getting a 4.0 was not the last term of college at Dixie or college after I left Dixie and graduated from Dixie that I got a 4.0. I actually ended up graduating from my Master’s program with a 3.9. One of my professors had given me an A- because in her beliefs, nobody’s perfect, and an A meant that you’re perfect. I tried to argue with her. I the end, I accepted the A-.
So again, that professor sitting down with me, Mr. Natzke sitting down with me and talking with me about some of the beliefs on my window… if I’m not college material, let’s just kind of run that through there… if I’m not college material, that’s one of my esteem needs, maybe also love and belonging need, and that sits on my belief window, the rules, the if-then rules, if I’m not college material, then I’m not going to be surprised when I don’t get good grades. In fact, I don’t really even work that hard to get good grades because after all, I’m not college material, and the behavior or the action that I took was producing okay grades, but nothing spectacular, and the results reinforced that I’m not really college material. I get Bs and Cs in college, until a professor took the time, sat down with me, and said, wait a minute. You can do more than this.
Then that belief also came onto my window, this belief that said maybe I am college material. Maybe I can do more. Maybe she was wrong, my high school counselor. And if that’s the case, then what? Then let’s see. Who knows? I don’t know. Maybe Mr. Natzke’s wrong. Maybe Miss Christensen is right. But let’s see. The if-then all of a sudden became a question mark, and so as a result, my behavior was I took more time. I talked things through. I asked for some guidance. I asked for some direction. And the results were that yeah, actually I was college material.
So again, as we start to talk about this theory of motivation, these psychological needs and the categories of human needs that dictate a person’s behavior, we start to recognize that if we start to shift those beliefs around a little bit, if we start to maybe get these psychological needs interacting or challenging each other even, then we move up into self-actualization. Again, we’re not going to be challenging like safety in a way that isn’t safe. We don’t want to compromise the physiological needs and not have shelter and food and some of those basic needs, but again we need to give support to the people in our life and to ourselves to approach ourselves with more self-compassion so that we can start to move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into more self-actualization and start to see the rules shift in our favor and start to see our behavior improve because the beliefs have started to improve.