09/28/2011 11:48 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2011

12 Steps to Reaching Your Potential

Self actualization is the highest level of human's growth. It is where you become your fully functioning self. A self which is mostly centered and content with himself. A self actualized human has moved above being motivated to satisfy the basic needs of food, shelter, financial security, relationships and self esteem, and has learned how to not get stuck and how to move deeper.

This is not to say that there is an idealistic scenario to this. Even when one gets to become self actualized, there is the chance of revisiting the basic needs. But a person who has reached his self actualization, can bounce back easier and move forward. In addition, fulfilling the basic needs does not mean that the need for them is completely absent. What it means is that these needs will not be the primary motivating source of life for a self actualizing person.

Most everyone is capable of becoming self actualized, and becoming his noble character with dignity and a sense of what is right. Most people can become responsible beings who are modest, logical and insightful. You just have to find a way to move above your physical state of functioning to your rational and intuitive ones. It is just a matter of activating the tendencies and letting it grow. Here are some general tips on how to activate your self actualizing tendencies:

1. Start from the foundation: You can't build a long lasting house with a shaky foundation. The same is true with the self actualization process. You have to start balancing the imbalances within, both in your mind and body. Getting rid of all the toxins, viruses, irrational beliefs, outdated thinking pattern, baseless information and unproductive behaviors. Through exercise, eating healthy, cognitive and behavioral modification and self monitoring. You have to start being selective with what goes in your body and in your mind.

2. Know there is something more: If you have already satisfied your basic needs, but are just repeating the same behavior over and over again, you may be stuck in a cycle and need to move out of it to move upward. An example may be a person who spends his whole life wanting more money, a bigger house and more cars, despite the fact that he does not need them.

While having a reasonable, luxurious life can help with a sense of comfort, you have to ask yourself when is it enough? If you have all you need, why do you spend so much time getting more? And at what cost are you doing that? You have to check to see if this is based on a fear, an emptiness inside or a need to feel fulfilled. Check and re-check to see if your life and choices are based on an addiction, and if you are being a slave to life, rather than the owner of your life. Then re-claim your life and take charge.

3. Check and see where you are stuck? If you are stuck, what areas are you stuck in? What is your source of motivation, and how did you get there? If you've had a source of motivation in the past and have already accomplished that, isn't it time for a change? Self evaluation does magic. Try it and get excited.

4. Have a plan for how you want to get out and move up: Once you find out where it is that you're wedged, have a list of what to do to get out. Write the list, be reasonable with it and start implementing actions to find a way out. Be patient, and go one step at a time. Don't forget to give yourself credit for trying. Remember, the self affirmation that you need to use is that you don't want to be walking in circles, but moving upward. If that is your intention, then set that into motion.

5. Be specific with where you want to get and why: Be clear with what you mean by self actualization. What are the characteristics you hope to gain? And what is the outcome you're looking for? Once you clarify what it is that you want, reaching it becomes easier. For example, why do you want to become self actualized? Is it because you are looking for a more meaningful life? Is it because you want to find a balance between your logic and intuition? Is it because you want to learn to be more tolerant? What is it that you want from achieving self actualization?

6. Set your intention right: Many times we think we want something, but our intention is not quite there because many times we are unconscious of our own intentions. When this happens, we experience confusion, anxiety and internal conflict. These are just signals telling us something is not working in harmony. In order for us to achieve our goals, we need to check to make sure our intentions are in sync with our thought and our behavior.

When we learn to let all of these work together rather than against each other, we make things happen more naturally. As an example, if you think you want to become self actualized, but realize that when you evaluate your intention it seems like you want to learn about self actualization just to become a good public speaker on the subject. That may be more of a self esteem or even financial security need, rather than a self actualization one. Therefore, it is important to be clear with your intention so there is no disappointment.

7. Use behavioral and cognitive modifications to achieve your goal: These are big elements for achieving self actualization. If there is an outdated belief or thinking pattern that is not helping you in any way to grow, but is creating restrictions on your heart, you may want to modify them. If there is a behavior that is wasting too much of your energy on negativity rather than positivity, you may want to change it. In addition, try to function not intensely, from the lower mind where one is concerned with too much materialism, but from the higher mind focusing on transcending, truth, values and inspirations.

8. Learn to be unconditionally empathetic: Some people who identify themselves as being compassionate and empathetic may be so, but only conditionally. They only pick and chose whom they want to be compassionate toward according to how similar the "other" is to their comfort zone. This type of compassion creates a groupthink, which is characterized by a decrease in willingness to consider divergent points of view, resulting in inappropriate decisions and actions (and at times extreme actions).

As a person who wants to activate his self actualizing tendencies, you need to learn to move above this comfort zone and become unconditionally empathetic towards all by becoming objective, knowledgeable and aware. This state of being opens you up and activates your self actualizing tendencies.

9. Distinguish between your needs and your desires: It is important to know what your needs are, and how they are different from your desires. Many people confuse the two. Needs are coming more from your center place, are more long term and intense, and are coming from a logical/psychological/emotional foundation. Unmet needs may create inner conflict and anxiety, or another form of disorders or imbalances.

On the other hand, desires are more impulsive and short term. Having some moderate form of desire may be positive, but not at the cost of delaying one's or other people's needs. For example, if your need is to be loved and to love someone on a romantic level, but your desire is to have sex with different partners; you have to do a cost and benefit analysis to see what sacrifices you're making by chasing your desire for too long, and ignoring your need.

10. Respect other people's needs: There is no way for anyone to become self actualized at the expense of others. To activate your self actualizing tendencies, you have to be sensitive to the needs of others. You also need to be sensitive to the needs of the environment as a whole system.

11. Be truthful to yourself: There is a line between someone who is speaking the truth based on knowledge, and someone who is being opinionated. A truthful person uses the right words, does not attack others, shares his knowledge based on information and not based on a need to be heard.

Whereas an opinionated person has a need to be heard, or has an agenda that he needs to impose. They may use harsh words, may be closed to the full information, may only pick portions of it that matches their views and may attack others. Being truthful means knowing when to share, and when to be silent. When you speak from your truthful place, you don't get into arguments, but you share information.

12. Having clear boundaries: You have to start building clear boundaries for yourself where negativity and harm cannot damage you. At the same time, this boundary should not be so large that love and positivity cannot enter. Someone who has boundaries for himself knows how to respect other people's boundaries as well.

I have written about characteristics of self actualizing people in my previous articles which you can refer to. Make sure you read other books and articles by experts on the subject. Set some time every day to do self monitoring. A few minutes a day can take you a long way and can save you a lot of time in the long run. At the end, don't forget to quiet your body and mind, focus on what matters and be receptive and open. And, never forget to excite yourself about self growth. Don't take it too seriously, because once you do, you've moved one step away from it.

Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD
Self Knowledge Base & Foundation
A non-profit dedicated to public education.