Imagine yourself open to all experiences; having a positive attitude, not denying negative feelings, but working through them. Imagine living in the moment without prejudging or having preconceptions, fully appreciating the present as a new and exciting experience. Imagine living with confidence, trusting your gut-feelings and honoring your ability to make the right choices. Imagine how creative thinking and risk taking could change your life. Imagine yourself happy and satisfied, always looking for new challenges and experiences. Imagine yourself... as a fully functioning person. That is, self-actualized.
Self-actualization is one of the key concepts in person-centered therapy and can be summed up as the achievement of one's full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. So how does one achieve this? According to Carl Rogers, American theorist and psychologist, the answer is congruent concepts of self. Within Rogers' theory, a person's self-image includes how a person sees themselves and how they believe the world sees them. This is also sometimes referred to as the actual self. An ideal self is the person we want to become. Our hopes, dreams, expectations, social pressures, stereotypes, etc., all comprise the ideal-self.
When a person's self-image and ideal self are not aligned, they are considered incongruent. A person's development, and ultimately their contentment, are halted by incongruence. The person will begin to experience what is, essentially, an existential crisis; meaning they feel uncertain of who they are and what they're doing in life. When an individual is in a state of incongruence, their self-image, ideal self, or both, must be altered before progress can be made. This concept brings to mind a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
What does your self-image look like? Who is your actual-self? Who would you like to be? Is your ideal-self realistic? And is it really what you want, or just want you think you should want? When a person can evaluate these things with accurate insight, adjusting as necessary, they're likely to self-actualize, meeting their full potential. And then what? Goals change. People change. Our ideals change. All providing an opportunity to start all over again...
And I'd like to build on Roger's theory, adding another concept of self. I call it the ultimate-self; the person God created us to be. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." God's Word paints a vivd picture of who He wants us to be: our ultimate self. When this becomes our ideal-self, and our self-image falls in line with it, we not only actualize, we eternalize.