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Maslow reimagined

Updated: Mar 29

Extraordinary circumstances have hit us, and, once again we recognise that adversity is a trigger that unravels many layers of human resilience. As we walk the edge between self-preservation and self-realisation, we are reminded of a framework that draws light to what we are experiencing today: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What insights can we draw from it for the weeks ahead and as we plan for re-entry in the months to come?


A perspective and framework to make sense of chaos


Proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" for Psychological Review, this offers a framework to put things in perspective. The key aspect for us to remember is that ALL of us are experiencing almost ALL levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, but, at any one moment we will be responding to the needs of any one of these needs.


Additionally, there is a powerful reframe that could come in handy focus, and one that can help you to raise your game as a business leader in the days ahead. Before we get there, let’s make sense of what people might be experiencing in these dark days with Maslow.


Physiological: Health, water, food, clothes, shelter. It is unsurprising that the Covid-19 pandemic has ignited the primary needs for all of us, irrespective of our class, financial, social status of otherwise. It is no wonder we saw people move into panic buying as they scrambled around to safeguard this primary need. Shopping went uphill, not downhill. Medicines were stocked up at home, and people bought items more than their requirement.


Safety: Personal security, emotional & financial stability, and wellbeing. Again, one can see how all of these have been threatened with the Coronavirus outbreak recently. We are ALL experiencing a deluge of catabolic emotions; fear, anger, insecurity, worry, stress... We will experience much more of this and some will slip into depression and anger as we try hard to predict the future with jobs lost, finances impacted, family members under threat, and the rising number of deaths.


Love / Belonging: Human beings are social animals. Being with family and friends is the very norm of how we operate. So, what do we do when we experience a signal to maintain social distancing? Some adhere, others go into denial, and some simply ignore it. This is until governments had to signal mass lockdown. On the other hand, we are also experiencing amazing examples of community support, with help groups, volunteers and family care systems cropping up to bridge this need. Platforms like Zoom, Skype and others are experiencing massive traffic, and social app House Party is now trending. We are social beings trying our best to stay connected with family, friends, and the world at large.


Esteem: Most people have the need (some call this "ego need") to be respected. With this, there is also an element of self-respect, or what we call self-esteem. This is an interesting one. Whilst a pandemic does not typically affect our self-esteem in the first instance, when human beings experiences isolation, lack of freedom of movement (whether suggested or mandated), loss of employment, and the challenges of an economic downturn, some could begin to experience self-doubt and loss of esteem as what they took for granted is no longer available. Notice the various comments and you will see how many are interpreting lack of government actions as "disrespectful".


Self-actualisation: Maslow describes this as the desire to accomplish everything that one can do, to become the most that one can be. It is about meetings one’s true potential. It is one step before Maslow went ahead and defined a need beyond; transcendence. Is self-actualisation an area of focus for people right now? Our talent, compassion, creativity, mental agility, and natural strengths will be tested to its maximum and grow extraordinarily, as it does in moments of adversity. It could be the silver lining at such times.


Maslow Reframed


It is no wonder our reactions today are intense, reflex, and very limbic as our minds and bodies experience a deficiency of primary needs, and simultaneously respond to needs at higher levels. How can you train in these moments of adversity? What is the unique opportunity available to us to strengthen our leadership quotient? How can we raise our game?


The answer: choose to focus on self-actualisation, first.

The art of reframing is the most powerful skill in a digital and VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. I invite you to turn the Maslow Hierarchy upside down. The power to focus on esteem and self-actualisation at moments of adversity is what helps a person experience less stress, be more creative, and the best version of themselves.


So, whilst you might still experience moments of responding to physiological needs (which is natural), discipline yourself and choose to higher-level needs. Invest in self-development, learn new skills, and sharpen your strengths. Take care of your development in this downtime, and you will become a stronger you.


Second: raise your self-awareness.

Take a moment to pause and acknowledge how your Maslow’s hierarchy needs are being impacted. Acknowledge. Validate your feelings. List out which needs are taking up most of your time? What are you feeling the most today, tomorrow, or the day after? What fears are being triggered? What stereotypes are your falling a trap to?


Conscious awareness is a game changer in any executive coaching process. These are strange times. We need to recognise and be supremely aware. Similarly, once you become consciously aware of the landscape "inside" your brain, you engage your prefrontal cortex. You learn how to feel the emotion; not be the emotion. Your reactions are less limbic, your stress levels diminish, and you make more powerful choices.


Third: brain science matters.

'Brain science matters' is the first chapter of my book (The Brilliance Quotient - limited edition only for launch) The benefit of understanding how the brain works should not be underestimated. What do "limbic system" and "engaging the pre frontal cortex" mean? How does that knowledge help you build resilience in short notice?


Get to know how your brain works - it will help you not just in the days ahead, but in life. As they say, once you know the code, you can break the deadlock. Once you know how the brain works, you know how to train your brain. We know ‘winning’ is as much a mental game as it is a skill game. You know being an entrepreneur is as much about having business skills as it is about resilience. Brain science matters - more now than before.


Define your adversity brand

Leaders stand out at times of adversity. What is your brand at this moment of time? What messages are you giving out to the public via social media? Are you being an ‘ambulance service’ through your business offerings or are you offering ‘sustainable advantage’? Spend time to clarify, align and strengthen your brand story and strategy - it will keep your focus on the higher need of self actualisation because the most powerful individual brand stories begins with clarity on raison d’être - your purpose and who you truly want to be.




By Reena Dayal, author of The Brilliance Quotient, executive coach to C-suite professionals, Vice Chair of The Institute of Directors, and owner of The Collaborators.

Amplenary is a unique, 5-week online programme for ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs. Blending together areas of neuroscience, executive coaching, and personal branding for the very first time, this is a turbo-charged self-development programme unlike any other. Good news we are launching our Virtual Academy this summer. Sign up for our free webinars to see if this might be for you!


Register your interest here or directly contact Maria, Reena, or Stephanie.

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