One of my majors in college was Neuroscience. While I don’t really use the knowledge of my major in my daily career, there are still some things I learned that stuck with me. As it turns out, when you study something for four years, some of it stays with you. Who knew?
One of the psychological theories that has stayed with me and that I continue to apply to pretty much everything in life is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basically, Maslow theorized that there’s a hierarchy of human need and that basic physiological needs have to be met before more complex psychological needs even make themselves known. At the bottom, you have food, shelter, physical wellness, etc, while higher up, you have things like community and happiness.
Time and time again, I’ve seen Maslow’s hierarchy at work. Most recently, I saw it come into play when I had all of those problems with my teeth back in June. I function regularly with anxiety and depression, but wow, did I just stop functioning totally when my teeth were in pain! I am so blessed to have my physical wellness, that it often doesn’t dawn on me how life can come to a complete standstill when something is wrong physically. There wasn’t even room in my brain to suffer from emotional turmoil — all I could feel was tooth pain!
With this second root canal experience and everything going on in the world, I had a period where I legitimately just wasn’t functional. I could hardly do the things that I do weekly, I couldn’t even imagine taking on new things. My life coach suggested that I attend a leadership training during that time, and, mustering up all of the courage I had and knowledge I’d learned about saying “no” to things that I don’t want to do, I explained that I couldn’t even consider doing that right now.
In order to explain to her how I was feeling (and to get her off my back about the damn leadership training), I dug deep and created Renata’s Hierarchy of Needs. I took my good buddy Maslow’s model and made it more individualized. I thought long and hard about how I function best and how I can tell when I’m well and when I’m not.
And what does Renata’s Hierarchy of Needs look like? Thanks to Canva, I can show you!
Lowest Rung: Basic Needs
Here’s where all of the things I need to survive come in. Physical wellness, food, shelter, etc — everything that I need to actually live. When these things are disrupted (pain, no sleep, starving, dehydrated), it’s hard to focus on anything else. Sorry depression, you’ll have to wait. I need a root canal and a donut, ASAP.
Second Rung to the Bottom: Psychological Health
This is where my emotional and mental health start to come into play. While I am physically able to function, I’m in such emotional distress that I’m not able to actually do many human activities. Back when I was in therapy, on days when this rung wasn’t being met, I would go to an emergency therapy session. I may be taking breaks in my day to have an emotional outburst or just to breathe so that I can function. Any sort of interaction fills me with anxiety. Even reaching out to friends is tough because I feel like I’m just a boring burden.
Next Rung: Support/Community
As an extrovert who really relies on her support system and loves making connections, having support is important for me. Once I pass the previous rung and don’t feel that I’m a drain on those around me, I start craving interaction. At the same time, on this lower rung, I’m still only able to interact successfully with those in my inner circle. I’m going to need more energy to build foundations for new relationships or exchange pleasantries with acquaintances. When I’m mentally well enough to rely on others and have them rely on me, I feel most fulfilled when I’m engaging and relying on those support systems. Nothing is as energizing as a chat with a good friend, given that I’m up for chatting!
Back-to-Renata-Basics Rung: Single Current Project
Originally, I had only one “current projects” rung instead of two, but I think the distinction is important (see: Bridled Passion). As a “multi-passionate” person (I use quotes because I think this is just a life-coach word for “has a tendency to overload on too many things due to a self-destructive need to be overly productive”), I often have a bunch of projects happening concurrently. Obviously, when my needs aren’t being met and I’m struggling to function, those projects are put on hold in favor of taking care of myself as best I can.
When I’m finally functioning like a human, I’m able to start at least one project back up. Usually, that project is this blog, but sometimes, I have other projects that take priority. This can be particularly unsettling because I often gauge my wellbeing on how interested I am in writing and working on my blog (seriously, if you haven’t checked out Bridled Passion yet, this is where you’re gonna want to). As long as I’m blogging, I can assume that I’m at least on this rung of my hierarchy. But what if another project comes up, and I need to focus on that, neglecting my blog? I don’t feel like blogging, so I can’t be emotionally well, right? How could that be possible? This blog isn’t just a project, it’s the project…I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to put it on the back burner when other things are more pressing.
Okay, so I haven’t fully learned it, and it still freaks me out when I don’t feel like blogging, but I’m working on it!
Multi-Passionate Rung: Multiple Current Projects
This is the rung where I’m doing well enough mentally, physically, and with my main project at the moment to consider jumping back into other projects. I have a few blogs that I write for as well as some other ongoing projects that can fall by the wayside when I need to take a step back for my mental health. Once I’m comfortable enough with those previous rungs, I can take all of those passion projects back on without feeling (too) overwhelmed.
New Things Rung: New Non-Anxiety-Inducing Projects
On this rung, I am comfortable enough with my mental health and all of my current projects that I can start taking on new ones! The caveat here is that I’m still not confident and well enough to take on unpredictable projects. If I know that I can complete this new project well, that I will be comfortable with every stage of the new project, and/or that I’ve done something similar before, I can start a new project at this stage. As always, I’m most comfortable with repeatable patterns, so as long as this project looks like it follows a pattern I’ve seen before, I’m okay.
Hell, this is the stage where I can start absorbing new media, too. New shows, music, and podcasts can all happen at this stage because I’m okay with a bit of uncertainty, just not a lot of it.
Full Steam Ahead Rung (Top Rung): New Potentially-Anxiety-Inducing Projects
At this stage, it’s really anything goes. I have the confidence to try new things, even if they seem scary. I am able to take leaps of faith and believe in myself in ways that I haven’t before. I’m comfortable enough in my abilities to think: “well, I know I can handle 30% of this, I’ll just figure out the rest later!” Doesn’t this rung sound great? Good mental health, energy to start new things, and stellar confidence? Sounds like living the dream to me!
And that’s pretty much it. I use this hierarchy to gauge where I’m at during any particular moment in time. As I write this, I’m actually pretty close to those top rungs! I’m open to new things and feeling pretty confident in my skills, even those I haven’t really tested. As you can see, these don’t only apply to projects, either. It applies to the media I’m consuming, whether or not I’m able to talk to my support system (and which level of separation I can interact with), and whether or not I’m comfortable interacting with new people.
Does this phenomenon resonate with you in your life? What would your hierarchy look like?