Why do we do what we do?
Every day we make decisions and take actions in our life based on what we think, feel and believe is most important. While we may not always be consciously aware of why we make the decisions that we do, the truth is that each of us have our own unique filters of perception that naturally rank certain decisions and actions higher than others.
It’s fascinating to consider that while we currently have over 7 billion versions of reality unfolding each day on the planet, each of us share a core set of Human Needs which guide and motivate our decisions and actions.
All human behaviour is driven by the pursuit to fulfil one or more of the Six Human Needs.
1. Certainty – the need for safety, stability, security, comfort, order, predictability, control and consistency
2. Uncertainty or Variety – the need for variety, surprise, challenges, excitement, difference, chaos, adventure, change and novelty
3. Significance – the need to have meaning, pride, to feel special, needed, wanted, sense of importance and worthy of love
4. Love and connection – the need for communication, unity, approval and attachment – to feel connected with, intimate and loved by others
5. Growth – the need for constant emotional, intellectual and spiritual development
6. Contribution – the need to give beyond ourselves, care, protect and serve other.
Let's explore each in turn:
As the name suggests, Certainty, is our most basic primary need. It is the need for a sense of stability which helps guarantee our survival and the continuation of our DNA. We satisfy it by covering the basics, securing a roof above our head, staying safe and certain in our endeavours and relationships.
The challenge with this need is the constantly changing World around us and the need for certainty can make us build a fence of controls to resist change and remain in our comfort zone. When satisfied, it creates a sense of centeredness and stability.
If we knew with certainty what will happen at every moment of our life, we would be bored to death, wouldn't we? The need for uncertainty, diversity and movement interrupts patterns of predictability and stagnation, allowing us to expand who we are and experience ourselves in motion. When we seek variety or uncertainty we depart from the world of security and comfort to enter the realm of possibility not bound by past experience.
Satisfying the need for variety can be taken to extremes when our primary driver is constant change (location, relationships, job, etc.) and while there may be times when feasting on diversity is exactly what we need, over time, satisfying the need for Variety by changing our environment and conditions can prevent us from fully engaging with life in the present moment.
As we balance the forces of Certainty and Variety in our life and step out into the world, the next Human Need is to be seen and validated for who we are and what we do. The need for Significance tells us that we do not exist in isolation but as part of a greater whole, and to be an effective part of that whole we need to know that we are playing our part – and being honoured for that expression - this is known as the experience of the Self.
The challenge with fulfilling this need is when we become solely dependent on the input and approval from others in order to feel complete within ourselves. Moreover, if we have a single source of Significance that is far more powerful than other aspects of our life (i.e. a job or career), this source can become an addiction causing us to lose perspective and limit the depth of our relationships in other areas. To positively fulfil our need for Significance we need a humble sense of internal acknowledgement for following our own path of integrity and expression in the world in ways that are life-force giving to ourselves and those around us.
Love and Connection
Each of us needs to love and feel loved by others, in addition to the feeling that we belong. Central to our experience of fulfilment in life is to authentically love and make deep connections with other living beings. Most people are afraid of love and they tend settle for connection. While satisfying our need for significance can temporarily fill our own cup, exchanging genuine Love and Connection with others allows that cup to overflow and pour into the hearts and lives of those we are with. The shift to this Human Need takes our energy and focus beyond self concern into the discovery of power in our depth of communion with others.
As with the previous Human Needs, there are different ways to experience and express our Love and Connection with others – some more healthy and balanced than others. In most cases the most balanced place to ignite the fulfilment of this need is by taking time to genuinely connect with and love the many aspects of our own being. When we are connected to our Self in the truest sense, this connection naturally aligns with and permeates out to genuine Connection and Love for others.
The first four Human Needs are often referred to as “personality needs” as they are centred around our individual quest for self-fulfilment and achievement in a worldly sense. Everyone must feel they have met these on some level, even if that means being dishonest with oneself in order to do satisfy the need.
In Human Needs Psychology, the final two needs are defined as the needs of the Spirit as they provide pathways to our deeper sense of true happiness and fulfilment in life. Not everyone finds a way to satisfy them even though they are necessary for lasting fulfilment. When our needs for contribution, growth and love are satisfied, they tend to encompass all our other needs.
One thing that is true of every living thing on Earth is that in order to survive, in order to thrive, we must grow. Whether we are talking about a micro-organism, a relationship or a creative endeavour, that which ceases to grow, ultimately stagnates and dies. The need for Growth both relies on and feeds the first four Human Needs, breathing life into all areas of our existence.
As with all Human Needs, it can also be taken to out-of-balance extremes. Growing and expanding can be so fulfilling in its own right that sometimes our quest to fulfil this need causes us to limit ourselves from being fully present in life as it is, or postpone applying our growth and knowledge in the world for fear of not being “ready” or “enough”.
In the positive, fulfilling our need for Growth comes with an acceptance that Growth is a journey, not a destination, and that continual Growth also means allowing ourselves to be real, to be imperfect and to find authentic ways to share what we discover and learn with others.
“You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety”
- Abraham Maslow
As we ascend to the sixth Human Need we move into the power of living our life’s purpose and bringing real value to the lives of others. Our need for Contribution rises naturally from the positive fulfilment of the other five needs, being expressed in such a way that brings a genuine sense of value to the world.
Contribution comes from a fundamental yearning to have our lives mean something, to make a difference, to give or bring something to the world that continues to benefit others when we are gone. Our need for Contribution can be fulfilled in a massive variety of ways – from launching a foundation or volunteering to support a cause we believe in, to simply pausing from our busy day to smile, hug or help someone in need. The challenge with this Human Need is that once we connect the power of being in genuine service in the world, we can quite quickly become overwhelmed with all of the places, people and animals that are in need of support.
Many people who have reached the point to value the need for Contribution above all others, find it difficult to also contribute and give to themselves. One of the greatest expressions of this need comes when we allow ourselves to realise that Contribution comes not only from what we “do”, but also from who we are on a daily basis. When we are empowered to be our Contribution in the simplest of ways, actions that arise from this place are aligned with who we are and carry great power.
“Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfilment”
- Tony Robbins
About the needs
Everyone experiences the same six human needs, however we all find different ways of satisfying these needs. They can be met in ways that are positive and constructive or negative and destructive.
It is important to understand that they are not goals nor merely desires, but profound needs that underlie and motivate every choice, every belief and every decision we make. Because they are the driving force behind any person’s behaviour, understanding the needs and the vehicles used to meet them, we will have a better understanding of why life is the way it is currently and more importantly, how to facilitate change.
Why should you care?
A thorough understanding of the 6 Human Needs will provide a pathway of understanding how your highest needs have impacted your life with tips to positively fulfil your highest needs creating a strong sense of balance, fulfilment and a roadmap towards meeting your goals.
By understanding your highest need, your driving force, you will understand WHY you make the decisions that you do. Knowing why you made the decision you did, or why you have been in a repeat pattern, is the key to shifting your core foundation to help create healthier decisions from a place of clarity and purpose.
Think about something you love doing and can do for hours - how many of your needs does it meet for you? Now think of something you dislike doing and would avoid at all costs - how many of the 6 human needs does it satisfy for you? Every action and method you perform which satisfies 3 or more of your needs becomes an addiction and that's why 'bad habits' are difficult to let go.
Consider the following example: While smoking is considered unhealthy, many individuals still do it as they see a way to relax and feel comfortable (Certainty), a way to meet new people or change their immediate physical state (Variety) and a way to connect with themselves while thinking and reflecting on the past (Connection). Removing this bad habit will require a new method or methods to satisfy all 3 at the same or higher level.
Focus, meaning and physiology are essential to understanding individual motivation or lack of thereof. What we choose to focus on at any moment determines how we interpret and experience the event. Nothing in itself has a meaning but the meaning we attribute to it. This determines if we would want more or less of the experience. And last but not least is our physiology which directly impacts the meaning and focus we attribute.
At different phases of life and personal development we naturally value different needs for different reasons. In the end, creating a fulfilling, successful and happy life will likely come as a result of a positive balance between all six needs.
Where to start?
Here are a few questions to help you gain a sense for how these needs are currently being met (or not) in your life:
• How do the Six Human Needs show up currently in your life?
• If you ranked the Human Needs in order of which gets most of your focus what would be at the top of the list?
• Which of the Human Needs are you meeting in positive/life-giving ways and which ones feel out of balance, over-indulged or lacking in your life?
• What’s one need that you could focus on fulfilling in a new way that would me more aligned with who you came here to be and how you want to live your life?
You can take the Six Human Needs Quiz now and reveal your exact needs structure here.