Why Other People Matter and How Building Social Networks Supports Personal Growth, Confidence and Self-Esteem

The hierarchy of needs proposed by Abraham Maslow has transformed our understanding of motivation. It is so ubiquitous in training courses that I, jokingly apologize for including it in my confidence and esteem building workshops. When my book Unlock Your Confidence was going through the editing process, the editor even questioned whether I needed to include a diagram at all!

Maslow Hierarchy of NeedsHowever I felt I was adding something to the use of Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s a simple observation but a crucial one that the various needs are organized on a scale from ‘survival to growth’. This allowed me to link Maslow’s work with other psychological theories that inform confidence building. It also helps to answer the criticism that self actualization (the need for each of us to reach our own true potential) is an inherently self-centred concept. In this post I show how the hierarchy of needs fits in with the concept of psychological hardiness and the broaden and build approach to personal development. All of this psychological concepts inform my confidence-karma approach to personal development. First, let’s look at the needs pyramid.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Esteem and Belongingness

The hierarchy is expressed as a pyramid with basic needs at the bottom and higher need of self-actualization at the top. The emphasis of the basic needs is survival such as food drink, rest, sex and so on. At the next level we have safety and security needs. Further up we have love and belonginess needs, then esteem needs, then cognitive needs (finding meaning), then aestetic needs (appreciation of beauty) and finally at the top we have the need to reach our potential. Maslow’s theory emphasizes that the lower needs must be satisfied before we can attend fully to the next level up.

Esteem needs are half-way up the hierarchy and if we are not meeting our needs at the lower levels, self-esteem is harder to achieve. At this level is also self-efficacy, the sense that we are effective agents in the world. This is closely allied to self-confidence. What we learn from the needs pyramid is the importance of the idea of taking care of physical needs (that is, self-care) as stepping-stones (or building blocks) to confidence and esteem. It’s difficult to feel good about ourselves if we do not feel healthy. It’s difficult to be effective, active agents in the world if we are hungry, thirsty and tired.

What is also notable about the need’s hierarchy is that love and belonginess precede esteem needs. So connecting with other people is also a building block for esteem and confidence. It is important to recognise that many emotions and character traits are only meaningful in the context of other people. When you are on a desert island it’s difficult to feel shy or outgoing when it’s just you, the sea, the sand and the coconuts! Other people give meaning to what we think of as our personalities. The importance of connecting with people is also a key part of coping with changes in your life as we consider next.

Psychological Hardiness and Social Interaction

The need to belong fits with the concept of psychological hardiness, similar to resilience – the ability to bounce back, psychologically from life’s challenges and change. Hardiness acts as a buffer for heath and well-being and involves adopting the three key attitudes of commitment, control and challenge. The main attitude relevant here is commitment, that is, attitude of taking a genuine interest in other people and having a curiosity about the world and getting involved with people and activities. The opposite of commitment is alienation, which involves cutting yourself off and distancing yourself from other people. Co-operation and sharing and encouraging positive emotions is also an important tenet of positive psychology.

Broaden and Build – Thriving Rather Than Just Surviving

By this theory of personal development we should focus on investing time in positive emotions to create a buffering effect for stress. It also helps us to accessa broader pool of possible responses in stressful situations rather than the typical fight or flight responses. It’s easy to see how aggression, anger and competition have immediate short-term gains in terms of survival. However, co-operation and altruism have a key role in building social networks. All off the greatest an most significant things in history have been acheived through co-operation. When we are stressed we have a very narrow view of the world. When commit to relax we are able to reach a broader range of human emotions and cognitive responses and connect with others. It’s the difference between thriving and merely surviving. Confident people put other people at ease. We learn more effectively when we relax. It brings out the best in people.

The Confidence-Karma Approach to Confidence and Esteem Building.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodMaslow’s hierarchy of needs, psychological hardiness and the broaden and build approach are the basis of confidence-karma. In short, we build confidence in ourselves as a by-product of turning our attention outwards and building confidence in others. As a social psychologist it is not surprising that I am going to emphasize the value of promoting the social sides of our psychological make-up over the ‘self-serving’.  However with this approach you get both! To find out more see: Unlock Your Confidence. Find the Keys to lasting Change with the Confidence-Karma Method.

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Future Me – Write Yourself a Letter From the You in Six Months Time

I was asked to comment on a lovely project by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio which they called ‘Future Me’. They asked five people to write a letter to themselves from their six-months-in-the-future self. The letter contains elements of how they see themselves in six months time and advice they would give to the present-day-me to get them to achieve these future goals.

Knowing yourself as you do. . .

By looking six months into the future you are thinking about medium term goals, so it’s important not to be too ambitious. Goals always need to be realistic and achievable. The nice thing about this letter approach is that it taps into our knowledge of ourselves. In my coaching practice, I often begin questions with ‘Knowing yourself as you do. . . ‘. This helps clients to tap into their own personal expertise in their own lives. It’s typical of the solution-focused coaching approach. It’s all about building on existing strengths and abilities.

Should we always be chasing goals?

If we don’t set our own goals then life will dictate them for us. So it’s good to set your own agenda. However, goal-setting shouldn’t be at the expense of enjoying the present moment. It has become something of a cliché but nevertheless true that the journey is just as important as the destination. So take time to enjoy each step of the process not just the end result. In my life I have studied for quite a few exams but I also approach it from a point of gaining understanding rather than just cramming my head full of facts for the end result. I learn a lot about myself in the process. Sometimes that can be even more valuable than the piece of paper at the end. So with goal-setting it’s important to strike a balance.

Write your own future me letter

Begin by just sketching out some idea of how you want things to be in six months. It should involve thing over which you have some control over in life. Winning the lottery would obviously be great but how do you actually plan to do this short of breaking into Lottery HQ and fiddling with the balls using a complex series of magnets, not that I have actually thought about this!

Once you have an idea of where you want to be, realistically, write a letter to yourself, giving yourself the good advice and encouragement that you might give to someone else. It might be something more tangible like getting a new job or saving money or getting to your ideal weight. It could also be something not quite so measurable such as gaining confidence. Once you have written the letter, read it though then put it in a safe place ready to read it again in six months time.

Now take action on your own advice

As a psychologist and a coach I don’t subscribe to this passive approach of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. My job is to help people to make things happen. This means taking action. The letter is a signal of intention and is a tool to help you to tap into your resources. It’s not an excuse to opt and let the ‘universe’ take care of your wishes. The universe may be very busy! The universe doesn’t offer a life-back guarantee, in that you can’t get the life back that you wasted waiting. A better approach is to begin acting as if the ‘future-me’ is happening and actively help it along. Make the future-me letter a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try it out for yourself.

[Based on a conversation on air with Annie Othen BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio, 09 August 2013]

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodLinks: