The “Surprise Birthday Party” Principle

Look at this picture:


Does it remind you of something?


Yeap, you guessed correctly. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


Maslow was a really smart guy.


He believed that despite their flaws, individuals have an inherent drive towards self-actualization; the process of realizing and expressing one’s own capabilities and creativity.


The pyramid somehow depicts that drive and how it pushes us towards self-actualization through its various stages.


As you can imagine, though, there is a small caveat. The ascend from the bottom to the top is no bed of roses.


Each stage represents human needs. Needs that need to be satisfied.


Apparently you can’t really progress from one stage of the pyramid to the next if you haven’t satisfied the needs associated with that stage.


That’s quite a reasonable claim.


Why would you ever get interested in self-actualization if you haven’t really satisfied your previous needs first? You have more important things to care about. Like  how to pay your rent, how to find a job you like, how to have more fun, how to get over your approach anxiety and more of what we refer to as first world problems.


That’s not necessarily a bad thing for everyone, though. Especially for us bloggers.


Most of us usually operate in the Love/Self-Esteem domain.


That is the domain that sells the most because most people find themselves struggling to satisfy the needs relevant to those stages.


Most of the topics that we scrutinize, revolve around suggesting creative solutions to those first world problems and that’s why you like us and follow us.


So, today I will suggest one more creative solution to one of those first world problems.


I will do that, by trying to square the circle.


Or better yet, I will try to create a new shape. It looks something like this:


As you can see I kind of hacked Maslow’s pyramid.


After careful consideration of what Maslow considers a self-actualized person, I realized that some of the traits suggested could be attained without having to go through the love/esteem stages.


Some of the traits I am referring to include:


  • Presence
  • Acceptance and Realism
  • Hustle
  • Self-reliance
  • Freshness
  • Gratefulness

There are so many people out there, some of them even my clients that although they possess most of the above-mentioned traits, they still struggle to satisfy some lower tier needs and their emotional state suffers in return.


And I am constantly asking myself: Why don’t you capitalize on those traits? Why don’t you restructure the damn pyramid?


That is a very challenging claim, but as Einstein famously said:


We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

Which brings us to the surprise birthday party principle.


The Surprise Birthday Party Principle


Most people I mentor 1 suffer more or less from the same condition. It is called constant validation seeking.


This condition is quite a daunting one.


It consumes their thoughts. It affects their mindset. It controls their habits.


Some of them are so profoundly affected by it that they start evaluating whatever they do based on that condition and their whole life feels like an algorithm designed to satisfy that constant need for validation.


I totally get it. Validation seeking is quite a reasonable need.


I mean it’s not much to ask since we can be validated in very simple ways on a daily basis. You don’t need to make $1m in sales to experience validation.


A smile from a stranger, a nice conversation, a great response to your tweets, are all simple forms of validation that can satisfy your required daily dose.


The thing is that even that might be very difficult to achieve.


I am not sure if you have noticed, but we live in a time where we are in a constant struggle to balance individualism with togetherness.


Questions like “am I good enough?” and “are my relationships good enough?” intermingle in a crazy abstraction that overwhelms our every move, decision and assertion.


Eventually, that abstraction affects our validation seeking and giving habits on a societal level.


You smile, you don’t get a smile back and you get grumpy. Someone else smiles at you, you don’t smile back because you are grumpy and then she gets grumpy, and so on and so forth.


It’s a madhouse out there, I am telling you.


So, since we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them, why don’t we just divert from our original approach and adopt a different mindset?


Here is the deal.


The main reason you struggle with validation is because you expect it.


Let me repeat that sentence one more time so it can sink in.


The main reason you struggle with validation is because you expect it.


You say hi to a person and expect a hi back.


You smile to a person and expect a smile back.


You start a discussion with a person and expect it to take a give and take trajectory.


You compliment a girl and you expect a thank you.


Most of our relationships are reciprocal and that’s probably for the best.


However, this reciprocity (or the lack of it) is kind of creating an emotional imbalance in your life.


When you don’t get what you expect, you react emotionally and your state is affected as a result.


So, what is there to do about that?


Is there maybe a better way to go about bringing more balance to the way you experience your encounters?


Is there maybe a way to use the restructured pyramid to get what you want?


Here is where the surprise birthday party principle comes in.


Let’s say it’s your birthday, ok?


Usually, when it is your birthday you organize a party and your friends are invited and you expect to have fun, which is usually the case.


Now, let’s assume that this year you are not in the mood to organize something, so you don’t expect anything special.


What happens, however, is that your friends decided to surprise you and throw a surprise birthday party for you.


How do you feel about that?


Isn’t that feeling way more fulfilling and enjoyable than the one you would originally feel if you had decided to throw a party on your own?


Of course, it is.


What does this actually tell you?


It tells you that whenever the element of surprise is included in a life experience, this experience is bolstered.


Surprise is one of the most crucial ingredients in enjoying a sublime life.


And the best way to instill effective doses of surprise in your life and encounters is to use the restructured pyramid.


Become aware of your ability to stay present in the moment, become self-reliant, erode all neediness and bash the fear of rejection.

Approach every interaction without expecting anything in return.


Imagine how ecstatic you will feel when to your surprise you will get what you truly desired.


Just imagine.


Have a great day.


One of my readers and a good friend, Christian, redirected me to this wonderful quote by Marcus Aurelius that is very relevant to the principle I just discussed.


Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.

If you enjoyed this principle, you will definitely enjoy my 30-day challenge which will help you become more socially adept and competent.

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Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos