What does it mean to be fully human?
Do you think you’ve experienced being fully human, and the broad spectrum of emotions and experiences that go with it?
Are you soaking in the moments, or trying to climb to the top? Are you chasing after a version of success that doesn’t exist? Are you loving well and living up to your potential?
All of these questions and more are what we explore in today’s conversation with renowned psychologist, Scott Barry Kaufman. Scott is changing the way we understand self-actualization and our hierarchy of needs. He believes that to achieve true greatness in life, we need to bring our full selves to the table, holding nothing back.
“Greatness is realizing your full powers of your entire being.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott has been making waves in the world of psychology with his books, talks, classes, and his sometimes unconventional approach to fundamental ideas. He leads with compassion and understanding and is always exploring.
Today’s guest is cognitive scientist and humanist psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. He received a P.h.D in cognitive science from Yale University and has taught at Columbia, NYU and the University of Pennsylvania. He is an author of nine books including his new book, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, which reimagines Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. In 2015, he was named one of Business Insider’s “50 groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world.”.
Dr. Kaufman is interested in using his research to help people live more creative, fulfilling, and self-actualized lives. He also hosts the #1 psychology podcast in the world— The Psychology Podcast— which has received over 17 million downloads and was included in Business Insider’s list of “9 podcasts that will change how you think about human behavior.”
Dr. Kaufman received a B.S. in psychology and human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon, an M. Phil in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge under a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University.
In this episode, we talk about Scott’s revision of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what it means to be fully human. We also discuss the best psychological practices to help you improve your life, how to discover your purpose and define your core belief system, why self-doubt destroys your ability to achieve greatness, and so much more! Let’s get started.
The original hierarchy of needs by Abraham Harold Maslow, published in 1943, is a fundamental part of psychology. It states that one need cannot be actualized until the need before it is fulfilled. Here are the five needs:
Scott explains that self-actualization is about feeling as though you’ve fulfilled your unique potential. However, he started to think about the concept more broadly, asking how we can bring our whole selves to the table and enjoy something greater than basic self-actualization.
“You can become self-actualized and not be very transcendent — meaning, not wanting to give back to others, or giving outside of yourself. Toward the end of his life, he [Maslow], started to distinguish between self-actualizing non-transcenders and self-actualizing transcenders to different classes of self-actualized others.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
There is a difference between healthy and unhealthy transcendence. Maslow called it “pseudo growth”, meaning growth built on a faulty foundation. Scott calls it pseudo transcendence, which is transcendence built on self-esteem needs. It’s when people don’t practice what they preach.
But the alternate is healthy transcendence, which Scott describes as:
“An emergent phenomenon resulting from the harmonious integration of one’s whole self in the service of cultivating the good in society.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
I had a lightbulb moment when Scott defined healthy transcendence because it is very similar to my definition of greatness. I view greatness as discovering the unique gifts and talents that are inside of you, pursuing your dreams, and using those gifts to make an impact on as many people as you can.
Growing up, one of the needs on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I felt stuck at, was connection: without healthy connections and relationships, you can’t fulfill needs four and five, which are esteem and self-actualization.
Shame made me feel disconnected from people. I felt shame about things that had happened to me, or things I’d done, and I hid that shame. It lead to a lot of suffering. I had to forgive people in my past, which took a long time, but was necessary to be able to heal, move forward, and fully connect with people again.
Scott believed that it was time to reimagine Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs and update it for the 21st century. Instead of a pyramid, he uses a sailboat metaphor.
Scott’s sailboat metaphor brings a new perspective to self-actualization — one that is arguably more functional.
“Life isn’t a trek up a summit. It’s more like a vast ocean, full of new opportunities for meaning and discovery but also danger and uncertainty. In this choppy surf, a pyramid is of little use. What we really need is something more flexible and functional: a sailboat.” – Scott Barry Kaufman.
This sailboat metaphor has purpose, with love and exploration as the sail, and the boat itself representing self-esteem, connection, and safety. Scott explains that in order to grow, we need to open up our sail and be vulnerable against the inevitable winds and waves of life. We can still move in the direction we value the most, even among the unknown of the sea. Growth is a journey, not a destination.
Maslow always said, “Some people have fear and they don’t grow — and some people have fear, and they do.”
There are two different realms we live in: the “B” and “D” realms. The B or “Being” realm are values that you don’t need for any other reason than to just be. These are things like truth, justice, beauty, excellence or meaningfulness. You strive for excellence for excellence’s sake, or you strive for beauty for beauty’s sake, and no other agenda.
In the “D” realm or “deficiency” realm, you are motivated by a deficiency or lack rather than growth.
“When we are in the realm of deficiency motivation, we’re motivated by what we’re lacking. Like if we’re hungry, we scream, ‘Feed me!’ or if you are lonely, you scream, ‘Be my friend!’ which paradoxically makes people not want to be friends with you.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott explains that the boat itself is the “D” realm. The boat is going to sink if you’re too deficient.
“In the ‘D’ realm, you have the need for connection, but in the ‘B’ realm, you have ‘B’ love, which is caring about the wellbeing of others, not for what they offer to you. So you, once you can open the sail and move with a vulnerability against the inevitable winds and waves of the sea, you move in a purposeful direction with a spirit of exploration, with ‘B’ love and purpose. You have to open the sail, or you’re not going to grow. You have to get outside your comfort zone.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
There is so much more to the sailboat metaphor that Scott has constructed so I encourage you to go back and listen to this podcast episode to learn more about how his metaphor is changing the way people are looking at psychology and self-actualization.
Scott and I discussed many ways you can discover your purpose in life. One of those ways is understanding your worthiness. Feeling unworthy can be an obstacle.
“If you just go out and smile at a stranger on the street and make their day, they will see you as worthy.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
We are already worthy of so much, but we forget it because we have so many things telling us that we’re not.
Here is a list of things that Scott proposes as daily psychological practices you can do to combat the feeling of unworthiness:
One of the keys to discovering our purpose is to listen outside of ourselves. We can’t be so self-focused that we don’t hear our calling. There may be multiple callings trying to get our attention.
I love the idea of just listening. I think we’re too caught up in reacting to things versus just being still and listening. I remember from a young age that, when I was still and calm — not stressed out or anxious — I could hear something inside me telling me to try new things or stick with the things I was working on.
I had a contract I made with myself: Every day, I would call myself a loving, passionate, and wise man. You don’t discover your purpose, you create it!
Scott says, “Exposure therapy is the only way forward.” We have to learn how to try and fail and try again.
I asked Scott to share three important life lessons with me. He said:
Like I do with all of my guests, I also asked Scott what his definition of greatness is. He said,
“My definition of greatness is realizing your full powers of your entire being and bringing your entire being to the table so you can have the maximum, positive impact on the world.” – Scott Barry Kaufman
I love this definition as it’s so aligned with my beliefs and the core mission for the podcast. I hope you get as much out of this episode as I did and that you are inspired to discover more about yourself and your purpose on this planet.
This interview was so much fun. I learned more about vulnerability, self-confidence, and purpose as we explored psychology topics together. If someone in your world is struggling with their purpose and self-worth, have them take a listen to the full episode for more insight and revelation.
I wanted to acknowledge Scott for a moment and thank him for his constant pursuit of finding these answers in science and research. He does the work that most people don’t have the patience and time to do. He studies things deeper than people are willing to study them. But he also communicates what he learns in a way that makes it so we can all understand it and benefit from his learnings.
Friends, join me on Episode 1116 to learn about finding your life purpose, discovering how to be fully human, and attracting greatness into your life. Until next time!