Retired MTSU professor debunks New Year’s resolution myths

Photo courtesy of Rakicevic Nenad / Pexel

Story by Alaina Staggs / Contributing writer

As people prepare to ring in the new year, the desire to declare another year’s worth of resolutions in order to improve one’s life hangs in the air.

Some might even be tempted to take the advice of 20th century American psychologist Abraham Maslow. With work cited in a variety of academic journals, Maslow’s work regarding the notion “self-actualization,” or reaching one’s fullest potential, is well known in academic circles across the globe. Still, there seem to be a plethora of incorrect ideas regarding Maslow’s theories that are often confused with his real work.

These misguided inklings were debunked by William Compton, a professor emeritus and adjunct professor of psychology, in a scholarly article regarding Maslow’s “self-actualization” concept, according to an MTSU press release.

Compton, an adjunct professor in the College of Graduate Studies, has a combined experience of 50 years examining the pursuit of well-being in individual’s lives. He also wrote the world’s first comprehensive textbook on positive psychology in 2004. The third edition, co-authored with Edward Hoffman, will be available in 2019, per MTSU’s statement.

Compton cites Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” a ranking of human development covering basic needs like food, shelter, mental and emotional needs, as his most well-known idea. Compton also notes that the common “pyramid” depiction of this hierarchy conflicted with Maslow’s own thoughts. The pyramid, according the press release, “often misleads people to think they have to meet the lower needs fully to progress to the higher ones, as though life were a ladder-like existence.”

“He said that you move back and forth between the needs, depending on the situation, depending on where you are in your life at a certain point in time, and it’s a very dynamic and fluid process,” Compton said in the statement.

Compton goes on to explain that another assumption regarding Maslow’s hierarchy is that it neglects intellectual and creative needs. While many might think these are necessary, Compton believes that Maslow did not necessarily think that everyone needed to be artists or geniuses to reach the best possible version of themselves.

Compton even insists that, contrary to the “self” part of the phrase, Maslow’s theory of self-actualization actually leads to a higher devotion to the well-being of others. Maslow contested that self-actualized individuals have surpassed their basic needs and can better attend to the emotional and creative needs of others.

According to the statement, Maslow also thought that “many self-actualized people had a strong spiritual orientation.” Compton believes that in helping and being of service to others, people gain a “sense of connection with the rest of the world, with a larger reality than just their own lives.”

This idea is particularly popular during the holiday months.

For a refreshing dose of reality as people ring in 2018, Compton reminds readers that self-actualization does not guarantee happiness. But on the bright side, Maslow did say that self-actualization was available to anyone at any time, regardless of their circumstances.

Compton’s article regarding Maslow, titled “Self-Actualization Myths: What Did Maslow Really Say?,” was published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in March 2018. Compton retired from MTSU in 2016.

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