I first encountered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in Psychology 101, a mandatory class you sit through in college. It was a simple pyramid: basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing in the first layer; safety in the second; belonging and self-esteem in the third; prestige and accomplishment in the fourth; and self-actualization at the top.
I won’t go technical on this because my background is in exercise physiology, science and sports management, and not in psychology. But I’ve always remembered it because it was very easy to remember and it was actually useful in my day-to-day life.
Bottom line, the pyramid is about motivation, and as we meet each one, we go up to the next level until we hopefully achieve our potential.
I used them unconsciously even when I was first starting out as a personal trainer in a gym. Physical needs? Reinforce with exercise. Safety needs? Add skills with a PT program. Belonging and esteem needs? Enroll in group classes and community programs. Self-fulfillment needs? Set higher health and physical goals.
Now what does this have to do with a pandemic? It spread so swiftly and affected so many people indiscriminately that it immediately endangered our basic needs—food, shelter and clothing—and whether we had the capacity to provide for and sustain ourselves.
As we all settled down and addressed these, the new coronavirus disease then threatened next our motivation, safety, in a way that not even natural disasters, economic crises, or even terrorism ever did. It was personal and impersonal at the same time. As time went on, it kept eroding our safety nets, not allowing us to progress and meet our higher needs.
When restaurants, malls, gyms, everything really, first closed, it was understandable. We needed to make sure our health system had the capacity to withstand the outbreak. During this phase, we were satisfied with meeting the most basic of our needs. Many of us were fortunate to have food to eat, comfortable clothing to wear, a roof over our heads.
Then we began to worry. Am I safe? Are my loved ones safe? These were probably the two most-asked questions. So we began answering them.
We washed our hands. We stayed home. We kept our distance. We wore masks. And with some trepidation, we began to explore the old normal—our favorite hangouts, our daily errands, our comforting routines—but this time in full body armor.
Sense of community
Some places, for some reason, made us feel safer than others. People were OK going into groceries, banks, pharmacies which provide essential services. Then restaurants reopened, and we shored up our threshold for safety again. We started going out, partially because we wanted to and also because we knew that if we didn’t, the places we knew and loved might not reopen.
Now, I also waited for the gyms to finally be allowed to open their doors, not because I was feeling invincible, or that I had a business to run, or that the worst was behind us. The truth is, I needed the gym to open to also help myself feel safe. With all my knowledge in exercise and physiology, there is nothing quite like having the proper equipment and the right trainer or group class to motivate me. And I know I’m not alone.
The gym is a unique space; it does not provide food or clothing or shelter (although it can, and has provided the latter), so it is understandable that it is not considered essential. It does, however, provide a safe haven to pursue your goals, whether it’s to be healthy or to look good.
It gives a sense of community, whether it’s the rowdy Tuesday, 8 a.m. Zumba group that keeps in touch with each other after hours or the quiet Thursday, 2 p.m. powerlifters who only know each other by face. It satisfies the need to accomplish something. That’s why programs such as “Couch to 5k” exist, why we add more weights to the machine, why we get a thrill when we earn the next fitness badge.
Finally, it gives a sense of getting close to achieving our potential—of becoming the healthier, fitter version of ourselves, able to do more without having to catch our breath.
As we continue to navigate our own safety thresholds, I’d like to encourage everyone to go beyond meeting the basic needs once you have secured them, and to reach for the next and the next until we are able to adapt to the “new normal” and support each other during this trying time.
This means trusting that our favorite places—restaurants, malls, gyms—are all working hard to meet our needs, and keep us all safe. —CONTRIBUTED INQ