What Does Self Help Mean?

A student of mine who is also studying positive psychology asked me what the terms personal development and human potential referred to in relation to self help books, self help CDs and such?

I explained it in this way. There is a specific, ever-evolving definition of what it is to be a human being (a homo – sapien). There is also a peak level, a maximum level of potential as well as the actualization of that potential that can be achieved (“realized” [see glossary for definition] and “actualized.”). Part of what it means to live a full life, one’s best life, is to have an intention to experience self-actualization and sustain that realization moment to moment.

Definition: Self-Actualization: Full self -knowledge and the total experience of who an individual “Is” spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.

STUDENT: Please go into greater depth concerning your definition of self-actualization?

LEWIS: Self-Actualization means different things to different people. To Socrates one of our greatest philosophers, a self-actualized individual is one who is aware of every aspect relevant to his/her existence. To understand self-actualization one must have a passion for knowledge, hunger for wisdom and a willingness to be accountable for his/her personal actions.

STUDENT: Why is it important to be or become self-actualized?

LEWIS: Life is filled with all forms of unnecessary struggle. Much of this struggle is a direct result of ordinary thinking. To be ordinary is not enough. To think in ordinary ways is just not acceptable if we wish to live a life filled with freedom, love, and wealth.  Each of us has the potential to be extraordinary. Until we are committed to that intent we are incomplete. Without that intention we are only human in the biological sense. I do not say this with any moral judgment or through any sense of self-righteousness. Without that intention we are not truly being a “human being.” A human “being” is a human who is intent on realizing his/her inherent potential or has already done so.

To explore these ideas in greater depth see: the Glossary entries for an “Ordinary Person” and an “Extraordinary Person”.

STUDENT: Is it possible for an unhappy person to also be self-actualized?

LEWIS: Again it all depends on how you define self-actualization and how you define “happy”. When an individual experiences frustration, unhappiness and general discontent, what they are usually experiencing is the result of living inside their own being with unrealized potential. The result is more than just unrealized goals and an unfulfilled life. The person who wishes to have emotional balance in their lives (See the Conversation “Emotional Balance”) will experience what I like to call a “psychological itch” – a pain of longing that constantly tugs at them to think, speak and act differently than they are presently doing.

STUDENT: How do you define happiness?

LEWIS: On the purist level it is a state of contentment in spite of circumstances.

STUDENT: How does a person achieve happiness?

LEWIS: If we wish to have joy, contentment, freedom, and happiness it is imperative that we act in alignment with our essential nature. One way of doing this is to become conscious of our latent gifts and hidden talents. According to the great Taoist Sages Lao Tsu and Chuang Tsu; all other things, such as wealth, power, and influence, are no more than a means to the end.  It is self-actualization: the awareness and experience of one’s authentic nature, and the development of one’s given talents that is the most desirable path to peace and happiness.

STUDENT: How can a person become aware of their authentic nature and develop their natural talents?

LEWIS: Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher said “Nature does nothing in vain.”  The easiest way to become aware of one’s authentic nature is through self-assessment (See the Conversation on “Self Assessment”). Through proactive self –assessment a person may come to live a self-actualized life, fully in spirit and with passion. This is called “Living Your Bliss”, by the great anthropologist, Joseph Campbell (See the entry on Joseph Campbell in the Level: “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants”).

STUDENT:  Where does Lewis Harrison’s Applied Game Theorycome into play concerning self assessment?

LEWIS: Through the exploration of the Nineteen Strategic Resources (See the Level  on ‘The Nineteen Strategic Resources)

STUDENT: If one engages in self-assessment what comes next?

LEWIS: It is a multi-layered process. Self-Assessment for the most part is an intellectual, left-brain process. To achieve self-actualization one must engage in intuitive right-brain processes as well such as contemplation, introspection and meditation. This, in my experience, is the most desirable path to peace and happiness and self-actualization. To explore the ideas presented here please see the Conversation “Right Brain/Left Brain Thinking” and the Conversation “Transcending the Non-Linear Factor Through Contemplation, Introspection and Meditation”.

STUDENT: What is the best technique to employ to find one’s “bliss”?

LEWIS: You can cannot “find your bliss” by doing any one specific technique. It requires a consistent intention and daily self-assessment. As we learn more about ourselves and achieve greater awareness we continue to redefine ourselves (See the Conversation on “Wants and Needs”).

STUDENT: What changes take place as you redefine yourself?

LEWIS: As your awareness of who you are expands, there is a natural decrease in your interest in status symbols and those things that will impress others like a large house, expensive clothes, cars and jewelry. Instead you will begin to focus your energy on a personal level.

STUDENT: Are there specific levels or standards of awareness that one passes through on the way to self-actualization?

LEWIS: No. Each person is on his or her own individual path. In fact many of the individuals listed in the Level: “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”, would probably disagree with each other on certain key ideas and points concerning what made them extraordinary. No one has all the answers.

STUDENT: There must be some way to give more form to these concepts. Is there a particular theory on the process of self-awareness and actualization that you personally connect with?

LEWIS: One of my favorites is the “Three Planes of Thought”, articulated by E.F. Schumacher; considered by many to be one of the most visionary and influential economists of the last half of the twentieth century. (See the entry on E.F. Schumacher in the Level: “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants”).

In May 1957 Schumacher gave a talk entitled ‘The Insufficiency of Liberalism’. In this talk, unrelated to 21St century definitions of liberalism or conservatism, he described what he termed the “three stages of development”. The first great leap, he said, was made when man moved from stage one of primitive religion to stage two of scientific realism. This was the stage modern man tended to be at. A few move to the third stage in which one can find the lapses and deficiencies in science and realism, and that there is something beyond fact and science. He called this stage three. The problem, he explained, was that stage one and stage three appear to be exactly the same to people stuck in stage two. Consequently, those in stage three are seen as having had some sort of a relapse into childish nonsense. Only those in stage three, can understand the differences between stage one and stage three.

STUDENT:  What are your thoughts on Freud, Marx and Einstein and their ideas on self-actualization?

LEWIS: These three are among the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth century. I am not a psychiatrist, an economist or a physicist, so my opinion would not be authoritative in any sense. However; Schumacher who strongly supported the idea that we need to be personally responsible and accountable for our actions, felt that Freud, Marx and Einstein were negative agents to certain aspects of human potential. Mainly because, he felt; their ideas reinforced the increasingly common pattern where people felt less and less responsible for their actions.

STUDENT: Was Schumacher specific in his thoughts on this?

LEWIS: Yes. Schumacher saw Einstein as overly influenced by boundaries established by realism and science. Schumacher believed that there were some unchangeable and fundamental “truths” in life, and that Einstein, by undermining belief in absolutes through his concepts on relativity, also undermined personal morality, absolute moral codes, and personal responsibility for immoral actions.

STUDENT: What did Schumacher have to say about Freud?

LEWIS: Schumacher disagreed with Freud’s beliefs that perception was subjective and saw these ideas as overly self-centered. For Schumacher a self-centered reality inevitably led to a shift in attitude in human relations; from creating community and serving the needs of others to a reality where self-fulfillment was all that seemed to matter.

STUDENT: Being an economist Schumacher must have had strong opinions concerning Marx and Marxism?

LEWIS: As for Marx, Schumacher saw Marx as someone who sought scapegoats and created a philosophy that replaced personal responsibility with a victim mentality, built on a foundation of hatred and blame, accusing others for problems with society.

STUDENT: Why do you focus on Schumacher’s ideas? Certainly there are many thinkers, including Freud, Marx and Einstein who are better known and more influential than he was?

LEWIS: Schumacher’s ideas are more important today (2010) than ever before. This is particularly so due to the radical changes in the world economy, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China as an economic power in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Schumacher does not diminish the importance of Freud, Marx and Einstein. He recognizes that each of these individuals offered the world something of great value. All he is saying is that each of what they had to offer us has flaws. It is these flaws that fuel the question for human potential and self-actualization. This is why the best of who we are will become apparent only through our willingness to question and explore important ideas, as we also stand on the shoulders of the giants who have preceded us.

STUDENT:  Where does the concept of self-actualization connect to our own mortality?

LEWIS: Human life is limited, but wisdom expressed through the actualization of our full physical, emotional, and spiritual potential is virtually limitless.  To be attached and focused on the pursuit of the limited when presented with the limitless is foolish.

STUDENT: Are there certain things an individual needs to be aware of as they walk the path to self-actualization?

LEWIS: Yes. Learn to balance your wants and your needs and beware of ideologues and purists who will kill off the new just to maintain the old.

STUDENT: Is there a place for tradition and old wisdom in the process of self-actualization?

LEWIS: Yes, but not tradition just for tradition’s sake. This requires a balancing act as well. The self-actualized person is a reflection of the best in any tradition while transcending the worst in the same.  Such an individual is wary of those who will discard tradition and ignore “the Elders” who hold the truths hidden in these traditions, just so they can appear radical in behavior or visionary in thought.

STUDENT: Do you have any final thoughts on self-actualization?

LEWIS: Nothing definitive. Meditate daily, practice self-assessment, remember that there is a large distinction between what you want and what you need. Be kind, serve others, and live in Love.

Create love and freedom in your life. What else is there to say?


Lewis Harrison is the Director of the Harrison Center for Personal Development www.TheHarrisonCenter.com and is the owner of a Corporate Stress Management Company www.EventsChairMassage.com

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