By Claire West

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can do, he must do.

One model of motivation that has gained a lot of attention, but not complete acceptance, has been put forward by Abraham Maslow.

Maslow’s theory argues that individuals are motivated to satisfy a number of different kinds of needs, some of which are more powerful than others (or to use the psychological jargon, are more prepotent than others). The term prepotency refers to the idea that some needs are felt as being more pressing than others. Maslow argues that until these most pressing needs are satisfied, other needs have little effect on an individual’s behaviour. In other words, we satisfy the most prepotent needs first and then progress to the less pressing ones. As one need becomes satisfied, and therefore less important to us, other needs loom up and become motivators of our behaviour.

Maslow represents this prepotency of needs as a hierarchy. The most prepotent needs are shown at the bottom of the ladder, with prepotency decreasing as one progresses upwards.

• Self-actualisation- reaching your maximum potential, doing you own best thing

• Esteem – respect from others, self-respect, recognition

• Belonging – affiliation, acceptance, being part of something

• Safety – physical safety, psychological security

• Physiological – hunger, thirst, sex, rest

The first needs that anyone must satisfy are physiological. As Maslow says:

“Undoubtedly these physiological needs are the most prepotent of all needs. What this means specifically is that in the human being who is missing everything in life in an extreme fashion, it is most likely that the major motivation would be the physiological needs rather than any others. A person who is lacking food, safety, love and esteem would probably hunger for food more strongly than anything else.”

Once the first level needs are largely satisfied, Maslow maintains, the next level of needs emerges. Individuals become concerned with the need for safety and security – protection from physical harm, disaster, illness and security of income, life-style and relationships.

Similarly, once these safety needs have become largely satisfied, individuals become concerned with belonging – a sense of membership in some group or groups, a need for affiliation and a feeling of acceptance by others.

When there is a feeling that the individual belongs somewhere, he or she is next motivated by a desire to be held in esteem. People need to be thought of as worthwhile by others, to be recognised as people with some value. They also have a strong need to see themselves as worthwhile people. Without this type of self-concept, one sees oneself as drifting, cut off, pointless. Much of this dissatisfaction with certain types of job centres around the fact that they are perceived, by the people performing them, as demeaning and therefore damaging to their self-concept.

Finally, Maslow says, when all these needs have been satisfied at least to some extent, people are motivated by a desire to self-actualise, to achieve whatever they define as their maximum potential, to do their thing to the best of their ability. Maslow describes self-actualisation as follows:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can do, he must do. This need we may call self-actualisation… It refers to the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for one to become actualised in what one is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

The specific form these needs take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may be expressed maternally, as the desire to be an ideal mother, in another athletically, in still another aesthetically, the painting of pictures, and in another inventively in the creation of new contrivances. It is not necessarily a creative urge although in people who have any capabilities for creation it will take this form.”

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