As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed recently, I noticed a graphic that caught my attention. It was the 5-level pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
You know, the motivational development theory we all learned about in high school psychology class. You probably even took a college-level course that covered it, too.
Well, this graphic was marked up to show that, during this season of uncertainty in 2020, we were squarely in the lowest levels of need: food, water, rest, security & safety.
The high-level takeaway of this post was that everyone needed to stop beating themselves up over not organizing their house from top to bottom or exercising every single day in pursuit of becoming your “best self.”
Now, let me be clear. I can get behind ANY takeaway that involves being kind to ourselves and ditching the guilt. This is SO important and necessary.
We’re all in different places in our life and that’s why I’m so adamant about fully understanding how to read our own bodies, mind, and energy to make decisions about what should come next.
But the post really got me thinking, because here I am … launching a podcast, building a side-hustle, and appearing to be motivated to pursue the highest levels, despite what’s happening around me in the world.
So in today’s episode, I’m digging into a little bit of psychology research mixed with redefining productivity in uncertain, or even just low-energy times.
As I’m NOT a psychiatrist with post-doctorate level training in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, cut me some slack and know that this is my own personal interpretation and assessment.
I’d love to know your thoughts too, so once you’ve listened to this episode, leave a comment at the end of this post.
So What Exactly is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
As you’ll recall from that high school class, it’s a classic pyramid split in 5 ways. Though I had no idea until I began researching this, Maslow never actually drew a pyramid to explain this theory.
It actually clarifies why I felt conflicted when I first saw that Facebook post.
You don’t actually need to master each level at 100% to be equipped to pursue the next one. You just need a level of “good enough” to be open and motivated to pursue more.
There’s a great depiction of this dynamic overlap capability of each level on the Wikipedia page for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
With that, let’s dig into each level for a refresher.
So at the bottom, you’ve got your basic physiological needs such as water, sleep, food, warmth & shelter.
Without these basic needs present in sufficient capacity, it’s next to impossible to be motivated enough to pursue needs at any higher level.
This sorta goes without saying, but you must drink enough water to stay alive before you can proceed to care about a predictable schedule in your day. Seems like a no-brainer.
So then there’s the second level – your safety and security needs. You know … the “protect your livelihood from lions, tigers, and bears” type-safety. This also covers order, predictability and control in your daily life and a big one … freedom from fear.
What rises to the top of my mind when I think about this level, especially as it relates to our current season, is financial and job security.
THIS level is exactly where I think the majority of us are hyper-focused on right now. The need for security and heightened uncertainty go hand in hand – and it’s enough to distract us in a major way from pursuing more with our lives.
But before I dig into that, I’ll continue with this refresher, because I’m hoping your wheels are already turning on where you’re at right now, and where you actually wanna be.
The third level is the need to belong and to be loved. This is everything associated with being part of a loving relationship, circle of friends, inclusive family, and community.
It’s around this point where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is very clearly NOT linear, despite what the pyramid may imply.
We all need to be part of a community and many of us ARE, whether our basic needs are met or not.
So in looking at this level, I see it more as a place of thriving in relationships. Where you’re showing up to give, help, and be an active participant in a circle beyond yourself.
Continuing forward is the fourth level of esteem. Mastering our goals, achieving the things, feeling a sense of true accomplishment and getting recognized for our success. These needs all fall under “esteem.”
It’s just prior to this level that I find most mamas and it’s through cleaning up all the roadblocks on the levels below that we’re able to create margin to pursue this one well and with high confidence and focus.
So then, at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization. Whether you’re climbing a mountain, writing a novel, or seeking to be the ideal leader, it’s in this phase where your true potential can be reached.
From what I’ve read, less than 2% of the population actually achieves self-actualization in its true form, which is actually quite interesting, and a little sad too.
I bet you know someone who’s achieved ALL the things, but never actually reaches self-actualization and experiences true fulfillment and purpose. They’re just … checking the boxes of achievement.
They’re on the wrong path towards fulfillment and must shift course.
Another important thing to note about self-actualization is that it’s not actually a destination. You can reach it and then bounce around within it.
Is this all an oversimplification? Of course it is. No one thing will EVER explain all things.
But I do think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a great tool to use in support of our own self-awareness and improved clarity for our next right thing.
So with that in mind, let’s continue.
Why does it feel like everything is confusing and uncertain right now?
When I saw that Facebook post, I realized that 2020 feels like a blender because many of us were on a path towards a major growth year. Do you remember “2020 Vision?” All the excitement over all the major holidays falling on Saturdays?! A brand new “roaring 20s” decade?
We hopped into January with very high expectations.
Yet, now we’re having trouble letting go of what we had planned for this year, while fearing for our own health, safety and overall security practically 24/7. And we’re experiencing deep unpredictability in our future plans.
We’re not able to freely see our family, friends and co-workers. Melancholy and depression is rising for many as we’re cooped up with all of these stressors piled on at once.
Maybe you even got sick with mono like me, right in the middle of March. 4 months later, I’m finally turning a corner, thank God, but it wasn’t ideal.
Summer has actually been a tiny reprieve, but fall and winter are right around the corner and I don’t think anyone knows quite what to expect right now.
So here we are, simultaneously concerned for everything going on across the globe alongside our own personal safety and basic needs while still wishing we were able to confidently move forward in pursuit of our dreams.
2020 is A LOT. But here’s why I think it could actually be your biggest opportunity.
Where does productivity fit into the Hierarchy?
2020 has the potential to teach you how to be exceptionally efficient & productive with your time going forward … as long as that’s what you feel you actually want and need … at least to a point.
I’ve always known that through self-awareness and acknowledging our energy cues and desires, we could raise our level of productivity over time.
But for this year, and in any season of uncertainty, we have an even greater potential to rise above the uncertainty by leaning into it.
What do I mean by that?
I mean linking your most dominant present level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a level beyond. So for me, my most dominant level, actually since spring 2019 when I returned from maternity leave with my son, has been Security & Safety.
I’ve been hyper-focused on creating routines, gaining control of our home, and working towards freedom from many fears (some irrational) such as getting laid off, experiencing burnout, or struggling with my health forever.
While I spent my fair share of ruminating in those fears, I got to a point where I knew the only way out was through. I’ve been able to stabilize enough to pursue action to work towards overcoming those fears.
My investment in Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy last year in September 2019 was a direct action to combat those fears. It wasn’t because I was perfectly content with all of my basic, security & belonging needs, ready for success & achievement.
No. It was because I knew it was exactly what I needed to pursue as I worked towards freedom from my fears. I needed to take action to pursue the business that had been on my heart for years.
So you might be looking at ME thinking I have it all together in my life. That my only need right now is to be successful. But that’s far from the truth.
That’s why Maslow’s pyramid is the wrong graphical illustration and why it’s not all black and white. These needs are all interconnected and fluid, and it’s why it’s critical to step away from the comparison trap.
We have no idea what’s occurring below the surface, even for the most visible and seemingly successful people out there. What might look like achievement might actually just be a coping mechanism.
So, that leaves me with these final recommendations
When you don’t know where to start, just start small. Check off all the boxes on the bottom rung. Sleep … Water … Nutrition.
Then work further into your rhythms and routines to create some minor predictability in your daily life. Even a little bit counts and will go a long way.
Maybe phone a friend to connect or pause for a long hug from your hubby!
Then, accomplish something happy that doesn’t reset such as printing a fresh new photo for a few frames or updating the letterboard quote.
You can swing through these 4 needs and fill your cup just enough that maybe you’ll even find time to learn something new.
But when you see that mama working hard on her business, showing up online appearing like everything is perfect and wonderful, just remember that she might have already done a lot of deep work to get there … or maybe reaching for the stars and paving her own way is her own method of building a safety net in her life.
The same can be said about any mama who’s killin’ the home organization game, or making gourmet meals every night. Whatever appears to be “the impossible” during this season of quarantine, it may involve more than meets the eye.
Whatever trap of comparison you land in, be kind to yourself, mama. These uncertain times, or even just any time when your energy is low and you have trouble keeping up, are hard when you just wanna be working towards all the things. There IS beauty in rest. But you don’t have to stay there long term.
Comparing yourself against others that seem to be doing everything better than you is the fastest way to get left behind. Put your blinders on and make what matters most TO YOU happen! It’s time to make a decision and figure out how to turn this corner. Okay?
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