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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The Bare Necessities of Life (and Research) – What Can’t You Live Without?

I was asked (by a local radio station) to comment on the media ‘research’ story of the week: What are the things in life we can’t do with out?

(Obviously a slow week in research).

The results were:

Top 20 Bare Necessities of Life

  1. Internet connection
  2. Television
  3. A cuddle
  4. A trustworthy best friend
  5. Daily shower
  6. Central heating
  7. Cup of tea
  8. An “I love you” every now and then
  9. A solid marriage
  10. Car
  11. Spectacles
  12. Coffee
  13. Chocolate
  14. Night in on the sofa
  15. Glass of wine
  16. A good cry every now and then
  17. A full English breakfast
  18. A foreign holiday once a year
  19. iPhone
  20. A pint

Looking down the list I noticed two glaring omissions. I’d put oxygen and water pretty high on my own personal list followed closely by food. So it’s clear that questions were asked in a particular way to elicit more than just the bare necessities of life!

Gender Differences and People Studying People

A lot of press coverage has made a lot of the gender differences in responses rather than gender similarities. It’s clear for items to have appeared in the top places in the list then both men and women need to be in agreement. It’s not possible to determine if there was any interview bias in how questions were asked. Were the prompts or examples the same or was there a subtle nudge in the desired direction. This happens more than we think in any research involving human attitudes. Whole books have been written about the effects of people studying people. Prior expectation on part of the researcher influences results. Notice that ‘a solid marriage’ figures highly in the results despite traditional marriage being on the decline. It suggests that the sample is weighted towards married people or else the marriage equality (gay marriage) debate has influenced the results. Would people really mention central heating if we were having a glorious summer?

So we really need to take this ‘research’ with a pinch of salt. The warning signs should be an over emphasis on gender differences. It’s standard in most universities for undergraduates to factor in a bit of gender mainly because it’s the first thing that springs to mind and it’s easy to collect the data. Careful analysis of most of the gender differences in psychological research reveals that the crossover, that is what we have in common is greater than that on which we differ. It’s clear from the present survey that relationships and human contact figure highly for both men and women. Many items listed are about the simple pleasures in life such as a cup of tea. Yes I know that cynics might argue that people only listed cuddles (at 3) when the internet (1) and the TV (2) broke down!

An Opportunity to Reflect on Your Life and Values

So rather than considering this as ground-breaking research illuminating the modern-day human psyche, just think of it as than just a bit of fun to launch a DVD (which it is). Use it as a moment for reflection.  What is really important to you? Are there some bare necessities in your life that are getting crowded out by other pressures and pleasures. I’m always amazed when holidaying that around 8pm every evening almost everyone stops to view the sunset. It’s something we rarely seem to do when back home. It’s easy to take things for granted in our lives so that we only miss them when they are gone. Back to oxygen and water again!

So grab a nice cup of tea (or a beverage of choice) and make your own list of the top 20 things that you can easily do to improve the quality of your life. What distractions do you need to switch off to enjoy these moments of pleasure?

(In conversation with Trish Adudu, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 15/6/13)

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