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Human behavior

Knowing that we can control our own behaviour makes it more likely that we will. ~Peter Singer

As some of you know, back in 2009, I quit my stable, well-paying IT job. After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I had worked at this job for five straight years. One day, after spending the morning staring at my computer screen, I went into my manager’s cabin and said “I quit”.

It might sound that my decision was out of the blue, but upon a closer look, it wasn’t that sudden. The frustration of having to exchange my time for money, the lack of passion in what I was doing back then, the tiredness of having to drag myself out of the bed each morning to commute to work had become unbearable.

What’s interesting is I had no clue of what I was going to do next. That night, I sat down to write what I was good at. From that stream-of-consciousness session, grew my freelance writing business.

I’ve wondered since then: Why did I take such a risky step when the economy was shaky? What drove me, an otherwise careful person, to take that drastic step without a backup plan?

It is fascinating how humans make decisions. In my case, I almost took a “rash” decision, although it was one of my best ones. To an outsider, I may be a complete nincompoop, but in reality, I was being driven by core innate needs.

Related: Beliefs and Your Map of Reality

The 6 Core Needs of Humans

Tony Robbins came up with 6 core needs of human beings. The model states that everyone is driven by specific internal needs that make you do what you do.

These needs are innate and are deep-seated in your subconscious mind. They are the driving force behind human behaviour.

Have you ever wondered why you do certain things that leave you clueless? Things that you know you should not be doing, but still you can’t stop yourself?

For example, you know exercise is good for your health, yet you ditch the regularly.

You know that eating healthy will keep you going for long, but still opt for pizzas and burgers and crush the little voice of guilt that asks you to stop.

Or, let’s flip the sides. Have you wondered why others do what they do? What ticks them and what motivates them to act?

Understanding other’s inner-most drive becomes all the more interesting when that other person is your boss, your employee, your spouse or even your kid!

The core human needs have a lot to do with how people behave, take decisions and in essence, shape their lives.

The 6 Core Human Needs in a Nutshell:

  1. Certainty
  2. Variety
  3. Significance
  4. Love and connection
  5. Growth
  6. Contribution

Tony Robbins classified the human needs into six different types. The first four needs are personality based whereas the last two are spirit based.

In other words, you realize the first four needs on the physical plane. They bring success. To fulfill your needs of growth and contribution, you tap into the spiritual planes. The last two needs bring fulfillment.

Out of the six needs, most people have top two that determine how they lead their lives. According to Robbins, we are all driven by some combination of these needs.

The Needs at a Glance

#1 Certainty:

Some people value certainty more than anything else. They are uncomfortable with change and avoid the unexpected at all costs. Your colleague who wants to eat at the same place every day is perhaps driven by certainty.

This need is about achieving order, security and control in life. On an extreme level, you’re driven by certainty you prefer staying in your comfort zone, doing things as you’ve been doing them for life.

People who want certainty in their lives can either achieve it resourcefully or un-resourcefully. Trust in yourself and creating rituals (routines) around positive habits are healthy ways to achieve certainty.

Un-resourceful ways of achieving certainty could be watching hours of TV or staying in an abusive relationship when it’s clear you should leave.

#2 Variety:

Core need two is the polar opposite of certainty. Variety or adventure makes you crave the unexpected, newness, challenge and disorderly chaos in life. The need for surprise excites and stimulates the mind.

Let me share an example here. A couple is married for five years. The husband works at a bank – his first ever job since Uni. He leaves home at 7:30 pm every day, tunes into the same radio frequency during the commute, gets take-away coffee from a café two buildings away from his office, takes lunch break at 12 pm with a colleague from his team, and leaves work at 5 pm. He dislikes last minute changes to set plans and likes to keep his desk organized.

The wife on the other hand wakes up at 8 pm. She checks her email the first thing in the morning, replies to important messages, bathes, has breakfast and spends the next few hours at her copywriting business.

Some days, she goes out running or babysits her sister’s son for a few hours. As a travel writer, she dislikes sameness, and likes to look at life from different perspective every day.

The later part of her day is typically spent at networking lunches or in meetings with her clients. As a solo entrepreneur, she wears many hats in her business.

Both love their respective lifestyles because it satisfies their core needs. By now, you already know that the husband is driven by certainty and the wife loves to have variety in life.

Resourceful ways of fulfilling variety could be adventure, embracing new challenges, learning and creativity.

Un-resourceful ways are drugs, intoxication, indulging in drama, gossiping etc.

#3 Significance:

It’s the need to feel important or needed by others. If significance is your top need, you will find ways to fulfil it through your ego.

I once had a client who was leading a huge team in his office. He came to me with a unique issue: “I want my team to listen to me. I want improve my communication with them.”

During the second session, he realized in order to build better communication channels, he had to first stop being the centre of attention.

In order to get significance resourcefully, you must first understand how to give it. Once you give significance to others, you automatically get it without even trying to do so.

Un-resourceful ways include acting as a victim or drama queen, or putting others down.

#4 Love and Connection:

Some people are driven by love and connection with others. They love meeting people and building relationships. It is only natural for humans to feel the need to love and to be loved, and when love is absent, people seek connection.

Jane was concerned about her weight and wanted to exercise and shed the extra fat. A year ago, she had even signed up for a gym membership with her partner. But unlike her partner, she only went to the gym 3 times.

She wanted to be motivated to exercise, so I asked her, “Tell me how you feel when you think about going to the gym”.

Jane said that she simply disliked the gym. And it was not this particular gym – she had enrolled in several others before that but failed to keep up with exercising regularly.

“I feel so disconnected! You jump onto a machine and look around people doing the same thing. There’s a TV in front of you, and almost everyone has earphones on playing music on their phones. You don’t even have a chance to talk to anyone. It’s a dull place!”

There it was. Jane wasn’t avoiding exercise. She had enough motivation to lose weight. What she really was avoiding was the environment.

I suggested if she’d like to replace the gym routine with running in day light. She perked up. The next week, she was back with a new story – how she loved running in nature and saying hello to passers-by. In Jane’s case, she was driven by love and connection that kept her motivated to run every day.

Resourceful ways of finding love and connection are creative friendships based on trust and being supportive to others.

Un-resourceful ways include being needy, or threatening to harm yourself if others don’t love you.

#5 Growth:

If you’re not learning and growing, you’re dying and rotting. Growth is one of the innate human needs – we want to learn new things, acquire knowledge, gain maturity and wisdom.

Conscious people invest time and energy in growing every day. The follow the motto “Do at least one thing you’re afraid of every day”. The need is about emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth and personal evolution.

#6 Contribution:

Finally, we all want to contribute and serve others around us. Think about the last time you helped someone without asking anything in return – how did you feel? You felt happier and good about yourself.

The need for contribution makes you give, beyond yourself, to others.

So, What Drove Me to Quit My Job?

Let’s come back to my story for a minute here. Why did I quit my job in 2009? Simple answer could be I wasn’t fulfilled. But in what way?

The job offered me certainty – in fact a lot of it. But personally, I am driven by variety. I like to have several assignments on my plate so I can choose one when I like. My IT job did not offer me any adventure, challenge or uncertainty.

I had become pretty good at doing what was asked of me. There was no newness – I had been working on the same ongoing project for a while now, so my need for variety was at an all-time low.

You can fulfil your core needs through different channels such as relationships, work or leisure.

In my case, I chose the entrepreneurial lifestyle to fulfill my need for variety through the channel of work.

Polar Opposite Needs

The first four needs (certainty and variety; significance and love and connection) are in constant tension with each other. Certainty is the polar opposite of variety and significance is the polar opposite of love and connection.

The more certainty you have in life, the less variety and vice versa. The more significance-driven you are, the less you focus on others and therefore the less love and connection you experience.

You can never fully satisfy all the four needs on a physical level. So, you cannot have 100% certainty – always knowing what is going to happen next – and have 0% variety. Humans simply cannot function that way.

For some, certainty matters more whereas others prefer variety. It’s all a balancing and prioritizing act. Because different people have different top needs, this leads to a conflict of opinion many times.

Lasting Fulfillment

The last two needs, growth and contribution, are needs of the spirit and provide lasting fulfillment. As we mature, we must shift our focus from the first four needs to the last two.

The less you grow and contribute, the less happy you are.

While no one need is better than another, it is just about the choices we make in life. It is natural to want to satisfy all the needs you have.

I agree – it is not easy. Conflicts arise and people misunderstand each other’s motives coming from different needs. But imagine if we all had the same needs, wouldn’t that steal the spice from life and relationships? And how would we grow without any challenge?

Needs Vs Values

It’s important to touch the difference between needs and values. Value is an emotional state you want to experience on a consistent basis. A need is something more deliberate and overrides values.

Values could be integrity, achievement, compassion, learning, love, resilience etc. For a full list of values, go here.

For example, think of someone in a third-world country – honesty is one of his values, but if he has no job and cannot feed his kids, do you think he’ll value his honesty over his need to bring food to the table (certainty)?

He keeps his head high as long as possible, but eventually he succumbs to stealing food and money to satisfy his basic needs and keep his family alive. Stealing could also help him fulfill his need for love and connection toward his family. It’s an extreme example, but you get the idea.

Parting Words

Your innate need will shape your life in amazing ways. Think about someone who is driven by significance. The type of decisions they make will be vastly different than someone who is driven by love and connection.

Imagine what type of job a certainty-driven person enjoys. What is attractive to him may be boring to someone with variety as their core need.

No one can tell which one is better, because we are all doing the best we can with the resources we have right now.

In conclusion, your needs are most important to understand yourself and others better. Instead of banging your head against the wall, why not step into someone else’s shoes and really try to understand where they are coming from in terms of their core needs? Imagine what this could do to teams and marriages alike.

Imagine how you can positively influence others by first understanding their core needs and talking to them in their language.

Which of the 6 inner needs drive you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

And if you’re curious to find your top two needs, email me to claim your no-obligation one-on-one session!

Image by thejbird.

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