The past 15 years of conceptual and empirical work have shown that a central feature of adaptive capacity is the regulation of motivation. An individual’s developmental potential is won or lost by mastering the challenges of regulating motivational processes. This is accomplished by selecting, pursuing, and adapting developmental and personal goals to reflect changes in life-course opportunities, staying ahead of the game by anticipating emergent opportunities for goal pursuits, activating behavioral and motivational strategies of goal engagement, disengaging from goals that have become futile and too costly, and replacing them with more appropriate goals. In the early 1990s, we set out to capture these phenomena of adaptive regulation of development by proposing a life-span theory of control.
This theory focused on the role of the individual as an active agent in life-span development, the distinction between primary and secondary control strategies, and the proposition that primary control striving holds functional primacy in the motivational system, and the idea of selectivity and compensation as fundamental requirements of optimizing life course development.
In societies with a highly specialized labor force and substantial social mobility, chronological age itself does not automatically propel progression through this timetable of developmental tasks. It is up to the individual to take up the challenge and adopt specific developmental tasks as personal goals. Only if the individual commits to a specific personal goal for development can developmental tasks be mastered. This also implies that the individual has to determine when the time is right for committing to a certain goal, such as finding one’s romantic partner, having a child, or choosing a career.
Maslow created a theory of self-actualization, and it is the topic of this discussion. According to Maslow, self-actualization is a process by which individuals may ascend a hierarchy of needs that is linear as opposed to dialectical. The higher levels of this hierarchy are reached by psychologically robust and healthy self-actualizing individuals. In addition, Maslow contends that these self-actualizing individuals are highly creative and demonstrate a capacity to resolve dichotomies inherent in ultimate contraries, such as life versus death and freedom versus determinism, as examples. This discussion does not challenge Maslow’s theory as much as it extends the ideas postulated by him. Essentially, this argument stresses the synergism of dialectical transcendence implicit in the type of personal growth that Maslow contends is self-actualizing. Further, it is argued that one need not transcend these levels of self-actualization in directly linear and subsequent stages. Lastly, it is postulated that all creative individuals might be capable of self-actualization, independent of their mental health or lack of it.
Self-actualization has been described by Maslow as the ability to transcend levels of physiological, psychological and social needs, to obtain fulfillment of personal needs in terms of life’s meaning. He stated this type of growth to be a linear escalation of fulfillment that is represented by a pyramidal hierarchy. The levels that he describes express these needs and their order of hierarchical transcendence. These needs in