• Getting fit, losing weight, eating better – these are typical examples of New Year resolutions

  • One month into the year, psychotherapist Claudia Behnke asks whether your resolutions were really what you needed?

We are a month into our New Year's resolutions and it might be worth doing a check-in with ourselves: did they challenge us appropriately and address our growth holistically? Did we set them to develop unexplored parts of ourselves?

Humanity's need for meaning is not fulfilled by modern life. The prevailing feeling of meaninglessness, along with a lack of values and direction, has become the epidemic of our times. Our fundamental needs persist, alongside the pressing questions: What is truly meaningful in life? What is it that I need to accomplish?

Personal dimension (Self actualisers)

At times of growth, the quest for personal meaning becomes our primary concern. This is true whether we are a toddler learning to walk, a student struggling with a physics exam, or an entrepreneur closing a crucial deal.

When we accomplish a goal, we feel better about ourselves and our lives. As a result, we aim to achieve bigger and more significant goals and do so by expanding our potential, abilities, and knowledge (Evans, 2010).

This process occurs along what might be referred to as the personal dimension of growth. Maslow (1994) coined the term “self actualisers” – the “doers” who tend to be pragmatic, cognitive and realistic.

But as the extent of our participation in the world broadens, we discover that so must our understanding of meaning. We leave the safety of home to attend university or leave school to work, we might get married and start families, and we look for ways to make a positive difference.


Transpersonal dimension

Experience forces us to reevaluate our beliefs and deepen our understanding of our values at every stage. If we are responsive to this self-enquiry we will eventually be concerned with self-transcendent reflections such as: What constitutes time, space, consciousness, good, and evil?

We can approach such questions with our intellect, seeking knowledge of the truth, or we can seek a direct experience, an expanded awareness that will shed light on the significance and function of a greater reality. This will lead to the transpersonal or spiritual aspect of growth.

The transpersonal and personal dimensions are separate but concurrent, and both can occur naturally as we develop as humans. The two general orientations have also been referred to as "Eastern" and "Western". 

According to the "Western" perspective, a strong individual is someone who can fully devote themselves to their activities, functions effectively in business, completes tasks, and, in general, shows skill and success in dealing with the practicalities of everyday life.

In contrast, what is commonly referred to as the "Eastern" perspective, places the highest value on pursuing a rich inner, spiritual life. Achieving clarity, tranquillity, love and empathy, pleasure and peace, and ultimately oneness with all life are prioritised. 

Maslow referred to those people who were more in touch with their spiritual realm as “transcenders”. Frequently meditators, and philosophers, keen on aesthetics and with a tendency to be emotionally attuned (Evans, 2010).

People typically have a stronger connection to one dimension and perceive it as more significant and real. At the same time, we might then tend to underestimate the other and even criticise people who are inclined toward it.

Synthesising both dimensions (Transcending Self-actualisers)

We must take into account both the personal and transpersonal dimensions if we are to increasingly recognise our fundamental humanity.

We discover that we progress toward a lived unification with our higher human nature, toward realising our true Self, as personal meaning and world meaning grow and eventually fuse, as both the scope of our vision and our capacity to express it broaden. Thus, self-realisation entails the gradual fusion of the two dimensions of growth at ever-higher levels. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that self-realisation is not something we can control. Rather it is an organic process that happens in its own time.

We must first cultivate the two dimensions within ourselves before we can unite them. Several variables, such as our awareness and our environment will determine whether we grow both at once or first develop one before the other. In reality, people frequently tend to advance significantly on either the transpersonal or the personal dimension before even realising the other exists.

If one of the two dimensions feels more natural and enriching to us, then it is obvious that this is the direction we ought to pursue. However, we might also find it useful to cultivate and maintain our awareness of the other dimension throughout.

Experience has consistently taught us that if we move too far in one direction, we will eventually need to broaden our perspective and include the other. When that time comes, if we have the awareness and comprehension necessary to recognise what is lacking, we can do so through a conscious, deliberate choice.

In addition to being well-integrated, healthy, and productive, transcending self-actualisers also have a variety of other traits—Maslow (1993) lists 35 of them in his essay 'Various Meanings of Transcendence' (pp. 259–269). They are pioneers and mavericks; they have a strong sense of self while also being able to transcend the boundaries of personal identity; they have a sense of infinity, or "the sacred"; and they value and are more readily aware of truth, grace and oneness.

Perhaps we could ask ourselves if our resolutions are pushing us outside of our comfort zones, outside of that well-trodden path we follow, are they are striving to make us more integrated human beings?

Claudia Behnke is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist in North London

Further reading

Why laughter is the best medicine for lowering stress

Stuart Sandeman: How breathwork changed my life

5 signs you need to start listening to your intuition

5 self-care tips for highly sensitive people

What is transpersonal psychotherapy?


Evans J. (2010). Fundamentals in Psychosynthesis. Volume 1, London: Anamcãra Press.

Maslow A. (1993). Various meanings of transcendence. In A. H. Maslow, The farther reaches of human nature (pp. 259–269). New York: Penguin/Arkana. Reprinted from Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1969, 1(1), 56–66).

Maslow A. (1994), The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Viking Press, 1971, pp 280.