The final, and most valuable, way that the heart-brain connection can influence our development towards the full life we desire to have is through the process of self-actualization. Dunlop noted that humans are programmed to stay with a familiar reality, even if that reality is one of pain and suffering. But by utilizing the principles of self-actualization, energized by a working heart-brain connection, we can completely change our lives for the better.
Abraham Maslow coined the phrase self-actualization “to describe the ongoing process of fully developing your personal potential.” His hierarchy of needs described the fundamental conditions that must be met at each stage in order for us to achieve the highest levels of existence and meaning. Simply put,
Our basic needs are physiological: food, water, sleep, sex etc. Once these needs have been satisfied, we seek safety and security. Once we feel safe, we are free to pursue love and a sense of belonging. Our next goal is for esteem and self-esteem. It is when you meet these goals that you can more fully focus on growth needs that lead to self-actualization.”
Self-actualization is a key step in our ability to create a life of meaning and purpose for ourselves. A self-actualizing person has not reached a goal, she has discovered a way to live her life so that it has meaning and purpose. It’s “not something you aim for; it is something that you do.”
The benefit to achieving a life of self-actualization is powerful. People who have developed this life-skill experience what Maslow called “peak experiences.” They are highly creative, critical thinkers, and “psychologically robust.” They enjoy life, are comfortable alone and with groups, and appreciate and value life, relationships, and experiences. Rather than being stagnant emotionally or mentally, self-actualizers are self-directed, mission-minded, and open to mistakes and experimentation as well. Clearly, they are brilliant examples of what life can be like when the heart and brain are working in tandem.
The brain-heart connection, then, is the key. Its influence is essential to a life well-lived. When the connection is broken or when either side is dysfunctional, the life experiences we will have will be negative. We will be frozen by our emotions or our minds. But when the heart-brain connection is working smoothly and effectively, we have the potential to overcome those negative, self-defeating habits and accomplish for ourselves the lives we’ve always imagined. “The integration of consciousness, thought and emotion can be a powerful means of affecting ourselves, and our environment in a purposeful way.” We can live a life filled with the positive influence of intention and self-actualization. We can live a full and fulfilled life, through the power of the heart-brain connection.
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