How to Make Life Changing Decisions: Self-Awareness (Part 2 Your Needs)


If you’re contemplating a major change in your life, becoming self-aware and having a clear understanding of your: Values; Needs; Interests; Transferable skills and Goals can help you to have increased confidence when it comes to  making important decisions in your life.  Also, it will give you the opportunity to reassess your values and skills or to redefine your objectives in order to successfully make that change or important decision. In part 1 ‘How to Make Life Changing Decisions: Self-Awareness (Part 1 Your Values)’, I wrote about the importance of your values, and how they are the driving force behind everything that we do. In this post we will be looking at another very important factor to self-awareness your needs.


Be Self-Aware Of Your Needs

Your values can often be thought of as an expression of your needs. For example, if you have a large mortgage and a family to look after then you might find that you value ‘money’ quite highly, conversely, if you have no financial or family commitments then you might feel you value time freedom more than money. As human beings we are very much motivated by needs.

Needs change as a result of how successful we are in satisfying them, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains this concept very clearly. For Abraham Maslow (an American psychologist) human needs were best understood if they could be arranged in order or in a hierarchical way. The needs at the bottom of the hierarchy need to be satisfied in order to move up the pyramid to a higher level, see the diagram above.

So, for example, if your main concern is to earn enough money to feed your family (physiological need) then you are probably not going to be spending too much time thinking about the higher order needs of ‘meaning and inner potential’ (self-actualization). Conversely, if the ‘physiological’, ‘Safety’ and ‘Love/belonging’ levels have all been satisfied, i.e. you have a comfortable home, financial security and a loving and supportive family, then you might find yourself preoccupied with such things as recognition, status or respect at work (Esteem/Self-actualisation).

As with values, when considering your needs (and where you are on Maslow’s pyramid), you can only ever look at the ‘present’; it’s a snapshot of your life now and, your needs might change next week, next month or next year depending upon the decisions you make and what life throws at you.

You may often find yourself moving between the different levels, so for example, you might move from level 4 ‘Esteem’ to level 2 ‘Safety’ if you lose your job. This doesn’t mean that you have regressed, only that you are responding to events and re-adjusting your needs accordingly. Hopefully, not before too long, you will make the necessary adjustments to your situation and start moving to a higher level again.

You may also discover that you never live totally at one level of need having a foot on two different levels. So, for example, you may have lost your job and be at level 2 ‘Safety’, i.e. you have to make sure that you continue to provide a roof over your head, but also be at level 3 ‘Love/belonging’, having the love and support of your family behind you.

Using the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model to make important decisions

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a very useful model to use to assess your needs before making any important life changing decision. For example, imagine that you’re in your mid 30s with a young family, and that you’ve decided that you would like a more fulfilling job with a certain amount of status and respect and to earn more money (values that you feel are important to you). After much thought and a great deal of research, you decide that becoming a doctor would tick all the boxes in terms of what interests you and what skills you enjoying using, and will also satisfy your values.

In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you would probably be approaching ‘Esteem’ (around half way up the pyramid); having satisfied the lower levels of the pyramid you are now striving for ‘status’ ‘fulfilment’ and ultimately ‘Self-actualisation’ and have the time and energy to devote yourself to intensive full time study and the necessary training involved with becoming a doctor.

If, however, the lower needs on Maslow’s pyramid are not satisfied, or at least not partly satisfied, i.e. if you find yourself encumbered by material and social needs, then you might find it incredibly difficult to achieve your goal to become a doctor. In this situation, it might be wise to look at the lower level needs first and try to satisfy them as much as possible before committing yourself to the expensive business of retraining. This might entail, e.g. saving some money to pay for your study, finding inexpensive accommodation close to the university campus to house your family while you are studying, and asking family and friends for their support. Once, these lower needs have been satisfied (or partly satisfied) you will then find that you are able to move to a higher position on the pyramid, a position where you will have both the time and energy to concentrate on higher order needs such as building your confidence, inner potential and achievement important considerations when entering the competitive field of medicine.

I hope you have found this article interesting and even thought provoking, and that you agree that having a good understanding of your needs can help you to make the right decisions in life, and at the right time.

In my next post in this series I’ll be looking at another important area which you will need to consider in order to become more Self Aware ‘Your Interests’.

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