Maslow: How to Stay Motivated Once You’re Fulfilled

Written by Ian Day Monday 09 July 2018
Abraham Maslow – the psychologist behind the hierarchy of needs – said that a focus on purpose and values will help those who are fulfilled to stay motivated
Colourful pyramid with words on it


How to motivate people has always been a topic of great interest to leaders. The psychologist Abraham Maslow established a hierarchy of needs, and his five level model of motivation is a central feature of management programmes and academic courses. However, Maslow also identified a sixth level that is much less well known.

The five-level hierarchy of needs was first described in 1943. An individual will be driven to satisfy basic needs, and once satisfied will be motivated to achieve the next level. The five levels are:

How to Motivate People: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Motivational Needs

  1. Biological and physiological – food, drink, sleep. These are the most basic needs: a person is first motivated to do what is needed to get food and water for themselves and family.
  2. Safety – protection from elements, security, stability, freedom from fear. In western society satisfaction of the need for safety typically comes from having somewhere safe to live in a good area. But in other parts of the world, safety is not guaranteed, and we see refugees driven to seek freedom from fear and become immigrants to western countries.
  3. Love and belonging – friendship, intimacy, affection and love. Once our basic needs of food and safety are satisfied, we desire the sense of belonging with family and friends. Isolation and loneliness are known to be significant causes of mental illness.
  4. Esteem – achievement, mastery, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others. This is the recognition from others and the respect derived from being an expert.
  5. Self-actualisation – realisation of personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

Although money is not a motivator in its own right, money can be used to satisfy the lower level needs; to buy food, to pay for somewhere to live, to pay for holidays with family and evenings out with friends, and even act as a symbol of achievement. Maslow believed that when self-actualised a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. This cannot be paid for and is more about satisfying an internal desire.

But there is a big question, if someone has achieved self-actualisation, what is it that motivates them?

Maslow: Life After Self-actualisation and the Sixth Level of Motivation

Late in his life Maslow described the sixth level of motivation as being ‘intrinsic values’. For example, it consists of truth, goodness, perfection, excellence, fairness and justice. Unlike the other levels, the sixth level transcends self-interest, considering wider holistic matters for a greater good. This is the selfless service to others and a cause beyond an individual.

Originally, Maslow considered that the sixth level was spiritual in nature and so not everyone would be motivated in this way. As this was not universal, Maslow limited his original model to five levels. However, later in his life he came to believe that the sixth level was in fact a part of every human and so legitimately a part of his hierarchy. But his sixth level is not widely known as it was published in the little-known Journal of Humanistic Psychology shortly before he died.

So achievement of full potential is not through self-actualisation alone; it is a step along the way to intrinsic values and self-transcendence. This means the journey of personal development is ongoing beyond self and considers the connectivity of us all. The sixth level suggests that we move from independent individuals to an interdependent society to achieve complete fulfilment.

What Maslow’s Sixth Level of Motivation Means for Managers

In terms of management of people and understanding their drivers and motivation, leaders must seek to understand people as individuals. Where are they on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what are they seeking in terms of self-actualisation and their intrinsic values? This understanding will come through dialogue and listening, as each person is different. Organisations should make their employees aware of their company’s wider aims and values so they can feel connected to its purpose.

Ian Day

Ian Day

is a leadership development expert working at C-suite level, and co-author of the book Challenging Coaching