Understanding the Seven Levels

Understanding the Seven Levels

The seven levels model, originally created by Richard Barrett is an extension of the Hierarchy of Human Needs by Abraham Maslow. American psychologist Maslow hypothesized in the 1940s that all human beings pass through different stages of personal growth. The five levels in Maslow's hierarchy represent different needs we have at each level and we start to desire the needs at the next level once the preceding level's needs have been met.

Maslow posited that we progress through the levels of the pyramid as we get older, at the very basic level, as babies our whole world is about meeting our physiological needs. Following this, children have a need to feel safe in the comfort and security of their family. Maslow acknowledged that we can be seeking to meet needs at different levels at the same time, but that one level usually dominates.

As adults we can move up the hierarchy and be seeking self actualization whilst holding onto self-limiting beliefs and fears that arise as a result of an unmet need that was present during childhood. Children that did not feel loved for example may have issues giving and receiving love as an adult. These fears can hold us back from achieving at the self actualization stage.

So onto Barrett. In the 90s Richard Barrett, on a journey of exploring values and the role they play in our lives, recognised that his work connected to the Maslow Model. Barrett though the top level of the Maslow hierarchy was too narrow and did not represent the different levels of seeking and meaning that we attain to in advanced societies. Barrett expanded the top level into two additional levels, making the 7-level model. Barrett realised that each level different values are important to us and mapped values to each level of the seven levels model. So through a simple values assessment we can gain rich insights into our stage of development and consciousness.

Understanding the Seven Levels

Level one - SURVIVAL

Level one is connected to Maslows first and second levels of the pyramid - physiological needs and safety needs. Survival refers to the fundamental needs of our body to stay alive, food, water, shelter and safety. These are. The primary needs that we have in the first 2 years of our life. Any problems we have with meeting these needs early in life will show up later in life through our fears and anxieties.


Level two is connected to level three of the Maslow pyramid - love and belonging. This level is all about relationships and our need to feel love and connection with others. At this level values of family and friendship are pivotal. We place particular emphasis on the value of relationships between the ages of 2-8 when our development is directly influenced by the amount of love and acceptance we feel from those around us. A failure to get the relationship needs met as a child can result in challenges with relationships later in life such as commitment or trust issues.

Level three - SELF-ESTEEM

Self-esteem relates to Maslow's level four of the same name. This level is all about how good we feel about our own strengths, abilities and performance. At this level, we want to be recognised for being good at something. This is particularly prevalent between the ages of 8-24. At this age it is important that we are recognised as an individual with qualities that make us worthy. A failure to feel good enough at this level can result in insecurities later in life.


Richard Barrett added the fourth level of transformation to his model. This is the bridge between the first three levels which represent our ego-driven needs and the top three levels that represent our self-fulfilment or soul needs. Transformation is about a discovery and acceptance of who you are. At this stage of your life (age 24-36) you seek to move away from the expectations of your family, culture and society and fulfill your own desires. Many people who live in controlling, autocratic or communist societies may not reach this level because doing so would be unsafe or threaten the first three levels of needs. In order to successfully pass through the transformation stage you will need to release the self-limiting beliefs and fears that were formed during the first three stages. This is a journey of self-acceptance, personal mastery and growth. You come out of the other side ready to fulfil your self-actualizing needs.


The top three levels of the Barrett model represent an extended version of the top level of Maslow's hierarchy - self-actualization needs. First, is self-expression. This is when you start to express your authentic self through creativity, purpose and openness. At this stage of life (36-46) you worry less about what others think of you and worry more about living a life in alignment with who you really are. You may follow your passions, express your true personality without concerns and want to experience more joy in life.

Level six - CONNECTION

Level six is about connection and represents the phase of our life when desire connection with others to make a bigger difference in the world. We prioritize leadership and coaching to have a positive impact and recognise that we achieve more when we do things in collaboration with others. This roughly translates to the stage of our life from age 46 - 57.

Level seven - CONTRIBUTION

Level seven is about contribution and we usually start to think about this level in our late 50s/early 60s. Here we start to prioritize giving back and making a difference. This can be on the planet, society or within our family or community. The size of the contribution doesn't matter, as long as there is a sense of doing something positive and supporting others.

The Barrett Model is adaptive to many different applications. It can be used to understand personal consciousness, leadership focus, organisation culture and different lenses of whole societies. You can see all versions of the seven levels model here

I have outlined ages alongside the levels here and have taken these from Richard Barretts work. He acknowledges that the ages are not fixed to the levels and only represent the rough ages at which those levels will be a priority. He recognises that many younger people have level 5-7 goals at increasingly younger ages as they become more aware of their impact on the world. The goal is not to transition up the seven levels model and leave the lower levels behind. Barrett suggests that we should instead, be aiming for full-spectrum consciousness. (read our blog on this topic)