Skip to content

John White: Exploring the psychological pyramid scheme

If you’re like me, you have a hard time thinking about anything when your comfort is challenged.

If you’re like me, you have a hard time thinking about anything else when your personal comfort is challenged.

When you move to a new city without your family, belongings, or sense of routine, you are thrust into a psychological grey zone. To borrow from a telecommunications term, you have “limited bandwidth” for anything outside of basic existence.

I’ve been in this mode for a few months now, to varying degrees.

Without a permanent address to call my own, I’ve been surviving thanks to the kindness of coworkers. This has been an incredibly fortunate outcome, since my first attempt at securing an apartment turned into a raging dumpster fire.

Once I was able to find a place to stay — and relax and unwind — I could start thinking about recreational pursuits. So, only when I was able to formally secure “shelter” was I able to look into things like building friendships and exploring entertainment options in and around Castlegar.

The concept of a pyramid of attention based on what human needs are being met dates back to Abraham Maslow back in 1943.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation in Psychological Review. He talks about human developmental stages, and how basic motivations must be satisfied before you can move forward to higher levels of satisfaction

While many point to his theory when describing this phenomenon, it has its critics. They say his study was ethnocentric and did not explore individualistic versus collectivist societies (focus on self-improvement versus improvement of the community). But I’d say based on what I have experienced, there are elements of undisputed truth.

One key factor that causes the basic shelter barrier to drop for me is intense pain. I’ve had back and neck problems since the early ’90s. When that’s flaring, my ability to spend attention and energy on anything else drops in tandem. It’s like when you have the flu — when those aches kick in, that’s all you care about and can focus on.

If you look at the pyramid, you’ll notice that self-actualization is at the top. If all of the other needs are being met below that one, you have a chance for fulfillment. Maybe this is why so many people feel they are never truly happy — they are spending time tending to the garden of pain or illness, homelessness or home insecurity, indifference from friends and or family, or many other possible barriers.

I point this out to maybe guide you to a better understanding of motivation, but to also point out that the average person you bump into in your travels may be suffering at the bottom of the pyramid, so give them a break if they are a little crusty.