Applying the Hierarchy of Needs to Your Studies

Have you noticed that when you feel tired or stressed, it is harder to focus on your studies? There is a theory which explains that when our base needs are met, we can function better in life. This theory forms the hierarchy of needs and was developed by a famous psychologist called Abraham Maslow in the 1950s. It has changed the way we think about psychological health and is used in educational and therapeutic settings as well as workplaces to help people perform at their best. Abraham Maslow was one of the founding fathers of positive psychology and dedicated his life to studies in the field.

Imagine the following scenario: You have had stressful day at work which causes you to not sleep properly that night. The next morning you feel exhausted. You perform your usual duties such as making breakfast for the family and taking the children to school, but all you want to do when you get home is sit on the sofa to rest. You suddenly remember that you had planned to do some studying that morning. Reluctantly, you turn on your computer and open up your course material. You read through one of the sections several times but none of it is sinking in – your brain is unable to focus because you are tired. After half an hour of struggling to retain the information, you feel defeated. A voice in your head then says, ‘What’s the point, no-one cares’. Your partner has not been very supportive recently and it is starting to affect you. You proceed to give up for the day.

We can see from this scenario that a lack of both sleep and support can affect our learning capabilities. It is recognised that the most basic needs are physiological and include sleep, food, shelter, and warmth. When you are able to meet those needs, you can function better. But it doesn’t stop there – there are several levels in the hierarchy of needs. The next levels include feeling safe and secure, and that we are loved and belong. It makes sense that when we can trust and feel connected to others, we are far better able to perform well in life. The next level is self-esteem. This is developed when we feel recognised and respected for our unique talents. Self-confidence grows from this and enables us to achieve our goals, such as gaining a qualification to advance our career.

Self-actualisation is viewed to be one of the highest levels a human being can attain. Abraham Maslow believed that people must focus on personal growth throughout their lives to achieve happiness and self-fulfilment. When people reach their full potential and find meaning, they are self-actualised. However, it is recognised that self-actualisation is different for everyone. If you are studying a course to become a Legal Secretary or to enhance your existing skills, you are developing yourself professionally. This will ultimately lead to a rewarding career in law, especially if your heart is in it and if it is your passion.

Let’s reframe the scenario described earlier. Imagine you get up in the morning and you have slept well. Whatever the previous day brought, you managed let it go and had a relaxing bath before you went to bed. You feel refreshed and alert, ready for the day ahead. Before you leave the house to drop the children at school, your partner says ‘Good luck with your studies this morning, you’re doing really well!’. When you return to the house you feel positive and are looking forward to your study session. You go to your computer, start reading your course material and it flows. After your session, you feel proud of yourself for completing some of your coursework and you feel excited that you are one step closer to achieving your goal.

What needs must be met for you to have a fulfilling and successful life? More sleep? A better support network? Higher self-esteem? Or making a commitment to your personal growth? Write them down and work towards having the career of your dreams.