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The benefits of self-transcendence

self-transcendence is the ability to go beyond one’s own self-interest and ego, and to connect with something greater, such as a higher purpose, a collective good, or a spiritual reality. It can be seen as a positive psychological trait that enhances wellbeing, meaning, and creativity. self-transcendence can also be fostered in organizations, where leaders and followers share a common vision and values, and work together for the benefit of all stakeholders. Within this article, we will explore the benefits of transcendence both for individuals and also organizations, look at how it’s done, and provide some examples.

One of the key features of self-transcendence is the expansion of awareness and perspective, which allows individuals and organizations to transcend their narrow and limited views of themselves and the world. Another feature is the integration of opposites and paradoxes, which enables individuals and organizations to embrace complexity and diversity, and to balance competing demands and interests. A third feature is the transcendence of boundaries and limitations, which empowers individuals and organizations to overcome challenges and obstacles, and to achieve higher levels of performance and innovation.

According to Maslow (1971), self-transcendence is the highest level of human development, where individuals seek to contribute to the greater good of humanity and the world. self-transcendence has many benefits for individuals and organisations, such as:

Happiness: Self-transcendent individuals experience a deep sense of joy and fulfilment that comes from serving a cause larger than themselves. They are not attached to material possessions or external rewards, but find happiness in the intrinsic value of their actions. As Frankl (2006) wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.'”

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Motivation: Self-transcendent individuals are driven by an inner passion and commitment that fuels their creativity and productivity. They are not motivated by extrinsic factors such as money, fame, or power, but by intrinsic factors such as meaning, purpose, and growth. As Csikszentmihalyi (1990) argued, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Collaboration: Self-transcendent individuals can work effectively with others who share their vision and values. They are not competitive or selfish, but cooperative and generous. They can empathize with others, respect their differences, and appreciate their contributions. As Covey (1989) stated, “Synergy is the highest activity of life; it creates new untapped alternatives; it values and exploits the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people.”

satisfaction: Self-transcendent individuals and organisations enjoy high levels of satisfaction from their customers and stakeholders. They can deliver innovative solutions that meet the needs and expectations of their clients, while also creating positive social and environmental impacts. They are not focused on short-term profits or outcomes, but on long-term relationships and sustainability. As Collins and Porras (1994) observed, “Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one.”

self-transcendence is a powerful quality that can transform individuals and organisations into happier, more motivated, more collaborative, and more satisfying entities. Self-transcendent individuals are excellent to know, and transcendence organisations are great to work with, and within. As Gandhi (1948) famously said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

self-transcendence is not only a desirable goal for individuals and organizations, but also a necessary one for the survival and flourishing of humanity in the face of global challenges. As Maslow (1971) wrote: “The fully human person transcends himself; he transcends his society; he transcends his species” (p. 269).

self-transcendence for individuals

One of the key benefits of applying a self-transcendence approach to the individual is that it can enhance one’s well-being, meaning and purpose in life. According to Maslow (1971), self-transcendence is the highest level of human consciousness, which involves “behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (p. 269).

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By transcending one’s self-interests and ego-boundaries, one can achieve a higher level of happiness, calmness, self-esteem, self-confidence, creativity and altruism (, n.d.).

Research has demonstrated that self-transcendence is associated with positive outcomes such as greater wellbeing, positive emotions, optimism, higher self-esteem, greater self-integration, and enhanced life purpose, and with lower depression and neuroticism (Psychology Today, 2021). For example, Liu et al. (2021) found that adolescents who had higher self-transcendence and openness to change values reported lower levels of depression and loneliness than those who had higher self-enhancement and conservation values. Furthermore, Wong (2016) argued that self-transcendence provides a spiritual vision for the future of humanity based on awakening and harnessing of our spiritual values of sacrificial love and serving others.

For example, a person who practices meditation may experience a state of self-transcendence, in which they feel a sense of oneness with the universe and a detachment from their personal worries and desires. This can lead to a state of flow, which is a peak experience of optimal engagement and enjoyment in an activity (, 2018).

Another example is a person who engages in humanitarian work or social activism, who may feel a sense of purpose and meaning in contributing to a greater cause that transcends their individual needs and goals. This can lead to a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in life (, 2021).

self-transcendence can also help individuals cope with the challenges of ageing and mortality, by providing them with a sense of symbolic immortality and ego integrity. Symbolic immortality refers to the belief that one’s life will have a lasting impact beyond one’s lifespan, through one’s achievements, relationships, values or legacy (Lifshin et al., 2021). ego integrity refers to the acceptance of one’s life as it is, without regrets or despair, and with a sense of wisdom and gratitude (Reischer et al., 2020). These aspects of self-transcendence can help individuals face death with dignity and peace.

Some examples of self-transcendence in individuals are:

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, who found meaning and purpose in his suffering, and developed a theory of logotherapy based on the human quest for self-transcendence (Frankl, 2006).

Mahatma Gandhi, a political and spiritual leader, who practised non-violence and civil disobedience, and inspired millions of people to fight for freedom and justice (Gandhi & Desai, 1993).

Albert Einstein, a physicist and humanitarian, who revolutionized science with his theory of relativity, and advocated for peace and social responsibility (Einstein & Calaprice, 2005).

In conclusion, an individual who chooses to work towards self-transcendence can expect many benefits, including improvements to their psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. By expanding their sense of self beyond the ego and relating to something greater than oneself, one can experience happiness, calmness, self-esteem, self-confidence, meaning, purpose, peak experience, flow state, creativity, altruism, symbolic immortality and ego integrity.

Applying self-transcendence to the individual

A self-transcendent approach for the individual is based on the idea that human beings have a natural tendency to go beyond their current limitations and seek higher levels of meaning, purpose and fulfilment. According to this perspective, self-transcendence is not a fixed state, but a dynamic process that involves expanding one’s awareness, values and actions to include the wellbeing of others, the environment and the transcendent reality (Frankl, 1969; Maslow, 1971; Wilber, 2000).

One of the most influential humanistic psychologists, Carl Rogers, observed this innate drive to grow and fulfil individual potential. He called this the “actualising tendency”, and he believed that it was the source of creativity, happiness and wellbeing. He also argued that for this tendency to flourish, humans need a supportive environment that provides them with acceptance, unconditional positive regard, empathy and curious understanding. In other words, humans need to feel valued and respected for who they are, not for what they do or achieve. Rogers wrote: “The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism” (Rogers, 1951, p. 487).

Another prominent humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, also proposed a theory of human motivation based on the concept of Self-actualization. He suggested that humans have a hierarchy of needs, ranging from basic physiological and safety needs to higher psychological and spiritual needs. He defined Self-actualization as “the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially” (Maslow, 1943, p. 382). He identified some characteristics of self-actualized people, such as being realistic, autonomous, creative, problem-solving and accepting of themselves and others. He also noted that some self-actualized people may experience moments of transcendence, in which they feel a connection with something greater than themselves, such as nature, art, humanity or God. He initially considered these moments to be part of Self-actualization, but later he revised his theory and added a new level of need above Self-actualization: self-transcendence. He explained: “Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” (Maslow, 1971, p. 269).

Both Rogers and Maslow contributed to the understanding of human potential and motivation from a humanistic perspective. They emphasized the importance of providing a nurturing and conducive environment for humans to grow and develop their unique abilities and values. They also recognized the possibility of transcending one’s self-interest and ego-boundaries and reaching a higher level of awareness and integration.

The required mindset, therefore, for the individual applying a self-transcendent approach is one that is open, curious and compassionate. It is a mindset that recognizes the interdependence of all life forms and the potential for growth and transformation in every situation. It is also a mindset that embraces uncertainty, paradox and mystery as sources of learning and creativity (Koltko-Rivera, 2006; Wong, 2016).

The individual’s transcendence progress can be understood as a spiral movement that involves alternating phases of integration and differentiation. integration refers to the process of assimilating new experiences and perspectives into one’s existing world-view and identity. differentiation refers to the process of distinguishing oneself from one’s previous assumptions and attachments and exploring new possibilities and horizons. These phases are not linear or sequential, but rather cyclical and recursive, as each new level of integration creates the conditions for further differentiation, and vice versa (Cook-Greuter, 2000; O’Fallon, 2011).

Some examples of how individuals can apply a self-transcendent approach are:

Practising mindfulness meditation, which helps cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations, as well as a sense of connection with the present moment and the larger context (Kabat-Zinn, 1990).

Engaging in service learning, which involves applying one’s skills and knowledge to address real-world problems in collaboration with community partners, while reflecting on the personal and social implications of one’s actions (Eyler & Giles, 1999).

Exploring one’s spirituality, which can involve seeking a more profound understanding of one’s ultimate values, beliefs and experiences, as well as expressing them through various forms of art, ritual and dialogue (Tisdell, 2003).

Explore other transcendence tools and techniques, with a view to better knowing and integrating themselves.

These examples illustrate how individuals can apply a self-transcendent approach to enhance their personal growth, social responsibility and spiritual awareness.

Organisational transcendence

One of the key values of applying a transcendence approach to an organisation is that it can foster a culture of learning, innovation and service that enhances employee happiness, creativity, focus, flow state, efficiency and overall performance. self-transcendence refers to the ability to go beyond one’s existing knowledge, assumptions, preferences and self-interests, and to connect with a larger reality that transcends the self. Self-transcendent knowledge is future-oriented knowledge that is “not yet”, that challenges the status quo and opens up new possibilities for growth and transformation (Kaiser & Peschl, 2020).

According to Senge (1990), one of the pioneers of the learning organisation concept, transcendence is one of the common themes that underpin his five disciplines of personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning and systems thinking. He argues that these disciplines require a shift from ego-system to eco-system awareness, from seeing oneself as separate from others to seeing oneself as part of a larger whole. He also suggests that self-transcendence is closely related to having a vision and a purpose that aligns with one’s core values and aspirations, and that motivates one to serve a greater good.

For organisations, applying a transcendent approach can foster a culture of meaning-seeking, altruism, and social responsibility, which can in turn improve employee engagement, performance, and satisfaction. As Medical News Today (2020) reported, having a sense of purpose can influence our wellbeing by increasing our personal power in stressful situations and reducing our harsh judgments. Therefore, organisations that promote self-transcendence can help their employees cope with challenges and conflicts more effectively and constructively. Additionally, organisations that adopt a self-transcendence approach can also enhance their reputation and social impact by demonstrating their commitment to ethical and sustainable practices.

Some examples of how self-transcendence can benefit an organisation are:

By embracing transcendence, leaders can inspire collaboration and inclusivity, enhancing employee engagement and productivity. They can navigate challenges with resilience, transforming setbacks into growth opportunities. As Wong et al. (2021) state, “servant leadership represents the highest ideal for moral and selfless leadership for the greater good; therefore, even though it is difficult to implement, society is still better served when we aim at this ideal for leadership and good work” (p. 23).

By cultivating transcendence, employees can develop a sense of curiosity, openness and flexibility, improving their creativity and innovation. They can also experience a flow state, which is a state of optimal performance and wellbeing, where one is fully immersed and absorbed in an activity that is challenging but enjoyable (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). As Reed (2003) explains, “self-transcendence involves self-boundary management as a self-organizing process that fosters wellbeing during significant health and life events” (p. 9).

By applying transcendence, organisations can create value for their stakeholders and society at large, enhancing their reputation and sustainability. They can also adapt to changing environments and anticipate future needs and opportunities, gaining a competitive edge. As Forbes (2020) notes, “self-transcendence can help business leaders harness the power of collective intelligence, empathy and creativity to solve complex problems and generate positive impact”.

Some examples of self-transcendence in organizations are:

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, that pursues environmental sustainability and social justice as its core values, and encourages its customers to buy less and repair more (Chouinard & Stanley, 2012).

Google, a technology company, that fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration, and provides its employees with autonomy, flexibility, and opportunities to work on meaningful projects (Bock, 2015).

Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization, that provides medical aid to people in crisis situations, regardless of their nationality, religion, or politics (Doctors Without Borders, 2020).

self-transcendence is, therefore, a salutogenic process that can promote wellbeing and performance in organisations. It involves going beyond the self and connecting with a larger reality that offers new possibilities for learning and innovation. It also involves having a vision and a purpose that serves a greater good and motivates one to act with integrity and service.

Which types of organisations can benefit from transcendence?

Transcendent principles are those that go beyond the conventional or ordinary and seek to achieve higher levels of excellence, harmony, and meaning. Some examples of transcendent principles are integrity, compassion, creativity, and wisdom. These principles can benefit various types of organisations that aim to create positive impacts in the world, such as:

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work for social justice, human rights, environmental protection, or humanitarian causes. These organisations can use transcendent principles to guide their vision, mission, values, and strategies, as well as to inspire and motivate their staff, volunteers, donors, and beneficiaries. For instance, Amnesty International states that its core values are “integrity, justice, solidarity, courage, equality and mutual respect” (Amnesty International, 2021).

Educational institutions that foster lifelong learning, critical thinking, and global citizenship. These institutions can use transcendent principles to shape their curricula, pedagogy, assessment, and culture, as well as to engage and empower their students, teachers, parents, and communities. For example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme aims to develop “inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect” (IBO, 2021).

Innovative businesses that offer solutions to complex problems, create value for customers and stakeholders, and contribute to social and environmental sustainability. These businesses can use transcendent principles to drive their innovation processes, products, services, and business models, as well as to attract and retain talent, customers, partners, and investors. For instance, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google, 2021), while its core values include “focus on the user”, “democracy”, “freedom”, and “do the right thing” (Google Code of Conduct).

Transcendent principles can benefit any organisation that aspires to transcend the status quo and make a difference in the world. By applying these principles, organisations can enhance their performance, reputation, impact, and resilience.

Suggested organisational approach to transcendence

To apply a self-transcendence approach to an organisation means to adopt a vision and a purpose that go beyond the self-interest of the organisation and its members, and that aim at serving a greater good for society, humanity or the environment. self-transcendence is closely related to the concept of servant leadership, which is defined as “a visionary, competent leader who serves others with the twin power of faith and sacrificial love” (Wong et al., 2023, p. 1). Servant leaders can inspire collaboration and inclusivity among their followers, enhancing employee engagement and productivity. They can also navigate challenges with resilience, transforming setbacks into growth opportunities (Forbes Business Council, 2023).

Management should proceed in its implementation of self-transcendence by first developing a clear and compelling vision that reflects the core values and mission of the organisation, and that aligns with the needs and aspirations of its stakeholders. Management should then communicate this vision effectively to all levels of the organisation, and empower employees to participate in its co-creation and execution. Management should also model self-transcendent behaviours such as humility, empathy, compassion, generosity and service, and foster a culture of trust, respect, learning and innovation. Management should also provide feedback and recognition to employees who demonstrate self-transcendence, and encourage them to pursue personal and professional growth.

The organisation’s transcendence progress can be measured by using various indicators such as customer satisfaction, social impact, environmental sustainability, employee wellbeing, organisational performance and innovation. These indicators can be tracked over time using quantitative and qualitative methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, case studies, audits, reports and reviews.

The organisation can also benchmark its transcendence progress against other organisations that have adopted a similar approach or have achieved excellence in their respective fields. The organisation can then use the results of these measurements to identify its strengths and weaknesses, celebrate its achievements and address its challenges.

In conclusion, applying a transcendent approach for the individual and the organisation can have multiple benefits for wellbeing and meaning in life. By transcending the self and relating to something greater than the self, individuals and organisations can achieve higher levels of human development and positive social change.


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