We can use the imperfect analogy of a poker game to see why people don’t give everything they have to their self-actualization. When you go all in you have the chance to win big but you also face the danger of losing everything and getting booted from the game.
This is the underlying threat of trying your hardest, a threat that might not be in your conscious awareness but still exerts a profound influence on your behavior. If you give everything you have and fail it seems more catastrophic, there aren’t any excuses or justifications to fall back on, no psychological escape hatch to protect your fragile ego from the reality of the situation.
Everyone knows theoretically that so-so effort gets so-so results but in practice the so-so effort is a powerful protective mechanism. In our poker analogy it’s betting conservatively even when you have a great hand.
But you’re never going to win big unless you bet big. In terms of self-actualization this means bringing all of your skill and effort to bear, accepting the inherent risk that when you put everything you have out there things still might not work out the way you want them to. But at least you won’t have to resort to rationalizations afterwards, you can walk with your head held high knowing you did everything within your power to achieve the result you wanted.