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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno


I remember, as a young lad attending school at St John’s College in Johannesburg, being introduced to a psychological system designed to list the needs and wants that motivate human behaviour. I had already started training with weights, and although it was still very early on in my bodybuilding “career”, I had begun to feel that bodybuilding and all that it entailed was my destiny. I was interested, therefore, in what motivated people to be successful, beyond the normal levels of a “successful” life.  

Thirteen-year-old Julian, with my fifteen-year-old brother David on the left.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation”. He decided to create a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base, then proceeding upwards to more acquired emotions. 

Abraham Maslow — what a lovely-looking man! — who has helped us to be happier, and to have a better understanding of what inspires and motivates mankind.  Maslow’s ideas struck a chord with me, as did many other motivational books and slogans of the time. I looked at, and then discarded, Mills’s Concept of Utilitarianism — being a white South African, during the Apartheid era, “the greatest good for the greatest number” did not seem a workable proposition to me! I have mentioned Joseph Campbell’s “Follow Your Bliss” philosophy in a previous post — and one of the most famous “self-help” books of all time, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, was of interest to me too.  

First published in 1936 — and still going strong.  Recently, one of my PT colleagues at Fitness First TCR was re-reading Mr Carnegie’s tome (his dad had introduced him to the book when he was younger, and from time to time they reread it together), and I was inspired to have a look at it myself. I must confess that until then I had not actually read the book myself, but my father had attended a series of lectures on it and how to implement its teachings. I had listened vaguely to what my Dad had to say about the lectures, but the only thing I really remember was that he had refused to pay for the course — because he felt that it had not taught him anything he did not already know!  

My parents ( Wallace and Josephine) on Table Mountain in’63, and Dad on his 60th birthday.  My father was a very well-educated (Cambridge) man who, as they say, “did not suffer fools gladly”, a polite way of saying he was not terribly polite himself. Naturally, being a teenager, and generally thinking my parents were out-of-touch losers, I took Mr Carnegie’s side in this matter. That I am now a parent of teenagers myself and know what it’s like for the boot to be on the other foot, I thought I would finally read this famous book and see if Pops did actually have a point. And, much to my astonishment, he did! Last year, for my fiftieth birthday, my wife Suzy and I went on holiday to America. We spent a few days in San Francisco and a few days in Las Vegas. We had a very nice time, enjoying our first “solo” holiday without the children for 18-odd years. We did all the tourist things, including visiting Alcatraz (which was awe-inspiring and amazing!) and the Golden Gate Bridge, which was a big, long, red disappointment!  

Looking pretty ordinary — the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  What, you may ask, have the Golden Gate Bridge and Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” got to do with each another? The answer is, they were the first! They were the ground-breakers. When the Golden Gate Bridge was finished in 1937 it was a remarkable feat of engineering and design — the world had never seen anything like it. Now, of course, it is small-fry, there are dozens of bridges all over the globe which are bigger and better. The same applies to Mr Carnegie’s book — it was a revelation! No one had thought about this new way of relating to others before, so in 1936, when it was first published, the whole world sat up and took notice. Now, there are literally thousands of similar books and Carnegie’s is lost in the crowd. So when I read the book it seemed to just be old-hat, home-spun wisdom, which it basically was, and that was why my father (and at first, I) felt it had nothing new to offer. However, with deeper reflection, it becomes clear that Carnegie’s system, though basic and not particularly modern, is actually quite brilliant in its simplicity. It is clearly and coherently set out,and if followed, will change the way you treat others and change the way others respond to you. Carnegie believed that criticism should never be used — instead, he recommended the practice of self-control, understanding, and forgiveness. Most importantly, he advised that we should always try to see the other person's point of view. (Not sure this approach would have appealed to Dad!) In “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, there are “In a Nutshell”, conclusions at the end of each part of the book, where Carnegie summarises the main messages each section offers in terms of behaviour. Some of these are paraphrased below: 1. Show a genuine interest in other people. 2. Be happy and positive. 3. Remember that people love hearing the sound of their own name. 4. Listen to other people and develop good listening skills. 5. Talk about others' interests rather than your own. 6. Give others a sincere sense of their importance. When I read these “rules”, I wondered if I actually followed any of them, and the answer is: not really. Then I thought if anyone close to me followed these rules, and I realised that, without having read the book, and without making a conscious decision to do so, my wife does just about all of them! I was delighted! It seemed I had married a truly nice person!! Of course I had always known that, it was just very interesting to have that fact confirmed by the world’s expert in these matters!  

Its Official!! I married a nice person! Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualisation the peak. Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep, and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security. As people progress up the pyramid, needs become increasingly psychological and social. Soon, the need for love, friendship, and intimacy become important. Further up the pyramid, the need for personal esteem and feelings of accomplishment take priority. 

It is interesting to note the differentiation between Growth Needs and Deficiency Needs. He placed an importance on identifying between deficiency needs and growth needs. Maslow believed that these needs are similar to instincts and play a major role in motivating behaviour. Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs, which arise due to deprivation. Satisfying these lower-level needs is important in order to avoid unpleasant feelings or consequences. Maslow termed the highest level of the pyramid as growth needs. These needs don't stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person. While the theory is generally portrayed as a fairly rigid hierarchy, Maslow noted that the order in which these needs are fulfilled does not always follow this standard progression. For example, he observed  that for some individuals, the need for self-esteem is more important than the need for love. For others, the need for creative fulfilment may supersede even the most basic needs. 

The original rigid pyramid system has been updated with a more flexible chart showing a flow of needs.  Thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy with regard to bodybuilding, or sport generally, it is interesting to note how the “deficiency needs” are largely ignored in favour of the “growth needs”. All through my twenties, all I focused on was bodybuilding — my desire to grow bigger muscles — and to be a successful competitive bodybuilder was paramount over all else. The sacrifices I had to make to achieve that was all part of the deal. In fact, I did not see the fact that I never went on holiday, very seldom went out to eat, worked just enough to have the minimum amount of money to get by, as a sacrifice — it was a pleasure! My basic deficiency needs, which should have been my priority, as I certainly had not attained those, were largely ignored to achieve my growth needs — essentially, turning Maslow’s Hierarchy pyramid upside-down. Once I had “retired” from competitive bodybuilding, the need to then provide for my pregnant wife and incoming family quickly restored the needs vs wants balance. Finally, to amuse myself, I have quickly and with tongue in cheek, added some of my own needs and wants, and have come up with Molteno’s Hierarchy of (bodybuilding) Needs.  

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