Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Motivation

Hierarchy of Needs and Motivation

As we continue to understand motivation on a deeper, more granular level, we must discuss our buddy Maslow. We’d be a truly terrible psychology-based resource if we never discussed this foundational concept of motivation: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You’ve probably heard of this concept, but do you know what it entails?


The father of this theory, Abraham Maslow, pioneered the concept of a “hierarchy of needs” in his 1943 paper titled "A theory of Human Motivation." In this theory, he describes a pyramid of needs that flow in ascending order—you must have the base needs met before you can begin working on meeting the needs that come after it.


Maslow’s hierarchy begins with the most basic human needs: physiological needs of food, water, shelter, and sleep. If these conditions are not being met, one cannot realistically begin working towards more complex concepts like “self actualization” or nailing the dream career. Consider a time when any of these conditions were threatened—perhaps you went 3 nights without sleeping because of your newborn, or you experienced food scarcity, or you found yourself without a roof over your head. In these situations, were you able to think of much else other than obtaining sleep, food, or shelter? Likely not.


Next in the pyramid of needs is safety and security, still considered basic needs. People in war-torn countries often have difficulty moving past this level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Or maybe you experienced a natural disaster and your feelings of safety were threatened, or you actively experience a heightened sense of danger because of the color of your skin. Lacking a sense of safety and security, basic human needs, compromises our ability to reach higher self-actualization.


When these conditions are met, we’re able to work our way up Maslow’s pyramid of needs towards psychological needs: connection and a sense of belonging, then self esteem and accomplishment. It’s not difficult to understand why these conditions may be hard to attain if you are lacking physical safety and basic human needs like water—though certainly not impossible.