• Karen Salita

Your Hierarchy of Wiggles

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Recently, I was having one of those days. You know the kind of day where something just feels off? It felt a bit like driving a car with a tire that’s losing air. No matter what I did to stay on track, everything just seemed to be veering to the right.


For months I had been honing my welding and woodworking skills and I was excited to finish a project that involved building custom end tables and a bench for our home. I had spent countless hours designing, cutting, assembling, tig welding, grinding, priming, painting, planing, gluing, and varnishing the various pieces and the endeavor was nearly complete. Despite this being an activity that I was excited about, I was surprised to find that I felt heavy, depleted, and lackluster. I couldn’t hide my cranky attitude, though I tried. I wanted to feel better, so I started looking to my Wiggles for answers.


“Wiggle” is a term I coined to describe my quiet, inner voice when it becomes giddy and tries to get my attention. Wiggles are my body’s way of sending me messages about what I want and need more of in my life. My Wiggles are like an inner guidance counselor, providing me with direction when I’m feeling a little lost. Knowing and understanding my Wiggles helps me identify where in my life I feel complete, as well as where in my life it feels like something is missing. On this particular project day, I wanted to find out what was missing, so I looked to what I call my Hierarchy of Wiggles to figure it out.


The idea of a hierarchy of wellbeing isn’t a new idea. Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow rose to fame after introducing his Hierarchy of Human Needs theory in 1943. Maslow’s Hierarchy, as it’s commonly known, is a way of describing five basic human needs for wellbeing, using the visual shorthand of a pyramid. The idea behind the Hierarchy is that the needs for each level, from the bottom up, must be met before a person can focus on the next, higher level, which ultimately leads toward achieving wellbeing in life.


The five levels of needs within Maslow’s pyramid, starting at the base, are:


Physiological (food, water, oxygen, sleep, and shelter)

Safety (housing, jobs, healthcare, and family stability)

Belonging (being part of a group or a community)

Esteem (desire to feel good about ourselves)

Self-actualization (desire to reach our fullest potential)


Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs Pyramid
Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs Pyramid

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is informative and valuable, I believe there exists a Hierarchy of Wiggles that is equally valuable toward achieving a sense of wellbeing. The Hierarchy of Wiggles also has five categories of wellbeing in the form of a pyramid, ranging from the most common and accessible experiences at the base of the pyramid, to the less common and more consuming experiences at the top. No matter where you are in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is important to make sure your Hierarchy of Wiggles is satisfied to experience a sense of fulfillment and wellbeing in life.


The Hierarchy of Wiggles Pyramid
The Hierarchy of Wiggles Pyramid

On my disgruntled project day, I looked at each of the various levels of Wiggles in my life to see which level needed attention:


Level One: Physical Wiggles

The first Wiggle-level is the most basic and most physical, where Wiggles are easiest to feel in the body. This may be because they were part of our early childhood experiences and feel familiar and comforting. Seeking physical touch from a parent, choosing yummy carrots over yucky peas, getting tickled, learning to crawl and later to walk, preferring the feeling of your favorite blankie; these are all examples of Physical Wiggles in a child’s world. Connecting to these types of experiences as adults is just as important to our wellbeing now as it was in our youth, and the joy produced from them can help fuel our other daily aspirations.


As adults, our Physical Wiggle experiences might take the form of delicious food or drinks, welcomed physical touch and hugs, athletic and outdoor activities, the sensation of playing or listening to music, or admiring a stunning sunrise or sunset. Each of these experiences involves sensory contact with the world around us in a way that produces a sense of delight and joy.


Girl listening to music and looking tranquil.

Level Two: Material Wiggles

Level two on the Hierarchy of Wiggles is comprised of Material Wiggles. These Wiggles are created by objects or possessions that help give your life a sense of meaning, comfort, or excitement. These might include that dream house with the white picket fence, the new car with leather seats and special driving features, or a Les Paul guitar you’ve admired since you were a kid. It might be a classic car you’re planning to restore, Manolo Blahnik heels you’ve been saving up for all year, or your cherished collection of (fill in the blank). Even the giddiness a train aficionado feels when looking upon a steam engine falls into this bucket of wiggles.


There’s nothing superficial about Material Wiggles. They are precious and unique to each of us. These Wiggles have less to do with status and more to do with the sensation of feeling energized in the presence of something that holds meaning for you. From your favorite childhood stuffed animal, to your late father’s gold watch, to the painting in a favorite museum that captivates you every time you gaze at it. When a material object or possession produces a felt sense of optimism, inspiration, or gladness, you experience a true Wiggle.


A pocket watch representing a family heirloom.

Level Three: Social Wiggles

Next on on the Hierarchy of Wiggles are Social Wiggles, which are generated from a desire to be part of something bigger than yourself. This Wiggle is present when you feel drawn to “kindred spirits” or like-minded people who find themselves excited and inspired by the same ideas that excite and inspire you. When you find these people you feel an instant sense of familiarity, trust, confidence, and hope for the future.


When you follow your Social Wiggles to find these groups of people, you begin to feel like you’re part of a pack, a team, or a tribe. It’s as if the elements of life that produce a sense of struggle and friction melt away in the presence of these other individuals who “get” you, view the world from your perspective, and are out there living their lives from a place of empowerment, the same empowerment you seek. Fulfilling your Social Wiggles often leads to the feeling that you’ve been given permission to live your life in ways that feel most meaningful to you.


A team of volunteers poses for a group photo.

Level Four: Achievement Wiggles

The fourth level of Wiggles is Achievement. Your Achievement Wiggles are satiated when you overcome a challenge to accomplish something, enabling you to feel a deep sense of satisfaction. For the most meaningful experiences at this level, an activity should meet three criteria: it should take you out of your comfort zone, it should pose some kind of physical or emotional risk (even the idea of consuming excess amounts of time can feel like a risk), and it should push you to take action. Keep in mind, Achievement Wiggles don’t require any grand endeavors. In fact, they don’t have to mean anything to anyone but you.


Children are masters of Achievement Wiggles. Every parent knows the sound of, “I can do it!” Whether a child is learning to walk or run, open a jar, get something that’s out of their reach, or get themselves dressed, they are fueled with an eager desire to do the things they couldn’t do in the past. And while most of these achievements aren’t award winning on the larger scale, to that child, the accomplishment is precious.


Something happens to us between childhood and adulthood that causes us to view the actions necessary for achievement as inherently risky and threatening. Many of us find ourselves clinging to predictability and security. Yet there’s still a childlike stirring in our hearts and souls, a yearning to be engaged in the kinds of risk that will lift us out of the more mundane aspects of our daily existence. This stirring is your Achievement Wiggle. As you move up in the Hierarchy of Wiggles, you’ll find this particular Wiggle more challenging to address-- and far more rewarding to engage with.


A climber poses triumphantly atop a mountain.

Level Five: Calling Wiggles

The final level on the Hierarchy of Wiggles is your Calling Wiggle. This is the most consuming Wiggle a person can experience. This Wiggle isn’t just a stirring or a nudge, rather it’s a fire that lights you up and fuels nearly all that you do. Every person has a calling, and most people will have several callings throughout their lifetime.


Your calling is your quest to apply your strengths and gifts toward making the world a better place. Writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner, describes a calling as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” The ultimate journey on this level of the Hierarchy of Wiggles is finding the clues that lead to your current calling and learning to live your life in alignment with it.


An environmental scientist is testing water.

Finding Meaning in Your Hierarchy of Wiggles

Going back to my disgruntled project day, I realized I was suffering from unfulfilled Wiggles. I allowed myself some quiet time to take a Wiggle Inventory:


My Calling Wiggle was alive and well in my Follow Your Wiggle writing project. The time and energy I was putting toward the project gave me a sense of purpose and meaning. And while it may not be my “forever calling,” I realized it’s definitely my calling right now.


My welding and woodworking project was certainly meeting my Achievement Wiggle needs. This endeavor was my opportunity to learn and apply new skills in a way that challenged me. Each step of the project provided me with a great sense of accomplishment and achievement.


I had recently become active in a social group with like-minded women. I was putting myself out there by scheduling coffee dates and dinners with them. My Social Wiggle felt nourished by being part of a sisterhood.


My Material Wiggle was wiggling in anticipation of the addition of the new furniture that would be the result of my welding and woodworking project. And while the furniture didn’t exist yet, I was already able to experience the joy of knowing that I’d be able to admire it soon.


As for my Physical Wiggle… well… hmmm… Something inside me felt unsettled and antsy, like a child who had been cooped up inside on a rainy day. I caught myself staring out the window that morning, gazing at the local mountains where I yearned to be. But travel, projects, and an injury had prevented me from being in nature lately, and I felt the absence. I also hadn’t been playing music or attending concerts. And busy schedules hadn’t allowed for much quiet time with my sweetheart. I was in busy mode and I realized I wasn’t taking the time to connect with my senses.


Perhaps my discomfort that day was actually my Physical Wiggle trying to get my attention. I was thirsty for physical experiences, and just as your mouth gets dry to encourage you to drink water, my Physical Wiggle was sending me a message encouraging me to address what was missing in my life at that moment.


In this particular case, our plans for the day prevented me from running to the mountains, but I knew what to do. Since Wiggles are a common topic of conversation in our house, I explained to my sweetheart that my Physical Wiggle needed some nourishment and I asked for some cuddle time with him. He obliged. We cuddled for a while and I felt my body relax. I began to feel lighter and more present. I felt like a thirst was being quenched. I no longer felt constricted or agitated. We then went on to our projects for the day. I found I had an easier time focusing on what I needed to do. The tension in my body was gone. I had performed a successful Wiggle Intervention.


You can create Wiggle Interventions in your life too when you feel something important is missing. If you find yourself depleted of energy and enthusiasm, conducting a mindful check-in with the five principle Wiggles can help identify where you feel deflated. And remember, sleep fulfills a Physical Wiggle too! Once you identify which "level" is off-balance, you can choose a creative action that will meet your Wiggle needs. When you put air back into that deflated Wiggle, you'll find that your journey becomes a much smoother ride!


A woman's thought bubble with the Hierarchy of Wiggles pyramid in it.

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#FollowYourWiggle #UnmetWiggles #HierarchyOfWiggles #WiggleInventory #WiggleIntervention



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