Seven Sure Paths to Self-Actualization
Bill Cottringer
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ~Theodore Roosevelt.

There is common consensus that the goal of personal development is to learn, grow and improve into your best self—self-actualization as Abraham Maslow and earlier psychologists called it. This concept evolved as a reasonable explanation of human motivation. But there is growing disagreement on what we should think about, focus on, and do to become self-actualized into our best selves. Here are seven paths currently emerging in positive psychology, which seem to be the most reliable:

1. Accept the Constants in Life.

These constants are: Conflicts, problems, suffering, uncertainty, and change. All are potentially troublesome and painful, and it is easy to try to avoid these inevitables. But when we do that, they just seem to come back at us louder and become more difficult to deal with. And the other problem is that once you solve a problem, the solution seems to bring on another more difficult problem that requires a bigger solution. That is being constant.

The only thing that makes any sense, is to accept the perpetual recurring nature of these things and not wish for a life without them. Besides, you need the unhappiness, turmoil and discomfort from these constants, to know and appreciate the moments of peace, pleasure and familiar routine. Although this is all easier said than done, we eventually realize the futility of trying to swim upstream against the current and begin this path of acceptance as more natural than not and actually requiring more courage and strength than anticipated.

2. Find Your Purpose.

We were all born with unique skills to fulfill a special purpose in this life. It is in finding a purpose, that gives us the reason to endure the adversities that happen from the constants in life and go on living regardless of setbacks and obstacles. Finding your purpose can be a real struggle of trial and error. Sometimes you can get a clue by doing a self-assessment as to what you enjoy engaging in most and are best at doing. Other times you can ask others what they think you are best at. And sometimes you may be forced to adopt a purpose you may not enjoy that much, because it needs to be done and you are the best candidate for doing it.

There may be times in your life that you keep finding new purposes and meaning. I have gone through seven different careers with different purposes, but they have all allowed me to use two skills in making my own contribution in advancing my own and other’s well-being. These two common purposes have been: (a) Taking photographs that reveal nature’s never-ending supply of beauty and cooperation for us to enjoy and learn from, and (b) Finding and writing about useful principles related to being successful in pursuing the right end by using the right means.

3. Order Your Priorities.

We all actively pursue goals which we think will give us the things we want from life and others, in return for our efforts and investments or just following the rules of the game. Sometimes this is wealth, power, material possessions, professional status and influence, and other times it is health, happiness and peace of mind, or love, wisdom and compassion. Unfortunately, we are not given any guarantees, even if we follow a correct prescription to achieve what we want, that we will actually get it.

What we want and need are two different things and what we need most, is to prioritize the values we feel most allegiance to. We can determine this in two ways, First, we can embrace the values that we see around us from experiencing life. The other way is to value something because it feels inherently good and right all by itself. Somewhere along the line we find out that being other-directed in chasing more external carrots, doesn’t net us what we think it will. At that point we consider shifting to being inner-directed and focus on practicing virtuous behavior, which is using the right means to get the right end.

4. Adopt the Right Perspective.

This path is particularly hard to find because all we have is our perceptions as to what is real and true for us and this is a perspective that is as much a part of us as our skin. This is not something we question, until we almost fall off a cliff having a wrong perspective. The right perspective is no great mystery, for the early Greek Philosophers handed it to us on a silver platter. They called it the golden mean as temperance, moderation, and balance between extremes.

Why is this particular perspective the best to have? Because it lets you see in all directions—up and down, left and right, before and after, and inside and outside. That brings in more views and increases the odds for being able to see what you need to be looking at, at a particular time in your journey. A balanced perspective on life is to verify and trust, or to lean towards an hoped-for, optimistic outcome, but always having a Plan B in your back pocket just in case Murphy’s Law turns out to be truer than not.

5. Deal with Uncertainty.

Uncertainty is actually another constant in life that we often deny in our insatiable drive to find the absolute truth about something and be certain we have captured it. The trouble is that this is not at all a rational process but rather an emotional one, whereas the stronger we feel about something, the more impervious it becomes for us to let it go, even with compelling evidence of its uncertainty. This is actually a foolish belief process, because our thinking brain isn’t hard-wired for the truth or certainty, and that is why we need feelings to assure us our truths are certainly true. Almost funny if it didn’t usually have such dire consequences.

To get going on this path, all you really need to do is look at how we have changed what we were sure was certain in our history of progress. We originally thought the world was flat and that if we ventured to the edge we would fall off, at least until boats discovered there was no such edge. And of course, we thought the earth was the center of the solar system instead of the sun and that space and time were physics constants instead of the speed of light. For more certainties that became uncertain, just Google the topic for fun. By the way, this path becomes a highway, when you begin to realize that all you think you know is not necessarily so.

6. Be honest.

Becoming honest in today’s world of widespread relative dishonesty and low road ethics is a real challenge. First you must have a sound idea of what honesty really is and then you have to practice it consistently, because each failure or slip keeps breaking the plate you are serving it on until it becomes irreparable. The best venue to practice honesty is in personal relationships, where dishonesty if the major cause for unhappiness and break-ups.
Honesty in relationships is forged on your ability to trust life to give you most of what you need and a reasonable or acceptable amount of what you want. This is probably the only sensible guideline as to when to quit a relationship, but this condition has to be honestly negotiated with your partner. That is, at least until you get the hang of unconditional love, which is the only real honesty there is, because it is a virtue without any disqualification.

7. Become Humble.

Because of the self-consciousness we humans have, we have become certain that we exist as a separate self from life and everything in in. This illusion is so real it can’t be questioned. Fortunately, when we adopt the right perspective we work towards the ideal balance between our egos and something we know in our bones is greater than us. This sense of something greater beyond our self-mage and identity, is what breeds healthy humility.

In some earlier research I did with Psychology students, I had them find out from others what were some of the main qualities of people that prompted others to like them or not. This was important because a person’s likeability was an important contributor to success, especially in interpersonal relations. Honesty and humility were at the top of all the students’ lists. That falls in line with the success of using a supportive tone of communication by conveying qualities such as equality, acceptance, freedom, empathy, and tentativeness as opposed to their opposites, which produce defensiveness and shut down communication.

If you are not happy with where you are at, consider taking one of more of these paths to get there. The good thing is that it is not all that difficult because they all work together and lead to the same place. These paths will help you get to the finish line quicker by helping you run faster and bring the finish line closer, both at the same time as smart time management.

“The purpose of life is to know yourself, create yourself, experience yourself as who you really are. There is no other reason to do anything.” ~Neale Donald Walsch.


Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206) 914-1863 or