What drives people to do what they do? There are lot’s of reasons, too many and too complex to mention here. Even if we knew about all of them it still probably wouldn’t do us much good. Instead, we would be overwhelmed.
That’s why a heuristic can be helpful for dealing with complex matters. A heuristic is a model or “rule of thumb” for to help explain things. Though not perfect, a heuristic can be “good enough” to allow you take effective action, which is why I love them.
Needless to say then, when I first heard of Tony Robbins’ “6 Basic Human Needs” it caught my attention. So did his story of how he put this “rule of thumb” together. And like many good ideas, it came to him while he was thinking in the shower.
6 Basic Human Needs
The premise is that we all have the following 6 basic human needs:
- Certainty and Variety
- Significance and Love/Connection
- Growth and Contribution
I listed these in pairs because there is tension between them; they are opposites to a certain extent.
The 6 Needs In Tension
With regard to tension, take the first pair for example. We need feel certain and secure about some things in our lives and at the same time, we have a need to mix things up a bit (Variety). Which fuels you the most? At the extremes would be the person who won’t venture out of the house for fear of bodily harm and the person who has to jump of a building in a flying suit in order to get an adrenaline rush that satisfies.
With regard to the second pair, we all feel a need to “be somebody”(Significance) as well as experience caring and loving relationships. The extremes here would be the person who at all costs makes themselves the center of attention or a cause at all times, while the other bends anyway they have to in order to be accepted.
While the first two pairs are said to be personality needs, the final contrast is said be spiritual in nature and essential for flourishing. At the extreme of Growth would be someone who is always taking in information and content and never sharing or doing anything with it to contribute to the common good. Contribution is the opposite. At the extreme would be someone who is giving, giving, giving, unable to accept the fact that they might need so much as an oxygen mask on occasion.
Although a select few folks may get close to the examples I described (know any in your life?), for most they occur along a continuum. While we need all six, one or two usually fuels us the most and we prioritize our energy and activity toward getting more of it.….and that’s where contradictions of behavior can arise.
Needs Don’t Dictate Behaviors
Regardless of your dominant need, it doesn’t dictate the behaviors or vehicles you’ll use in order to fulfill it. In fact, the variety of behaviors or vehicles that can satisfy a need are almost infinite and seemingly contradictory at times. Continuing with the use of extreme examples to make a point, take someone with a dominate need for Significance. Osama Bin Laden used the vehicle of terror to meet that need while Steve Jobs chose to give us the iPhone; same common need for both and contradictory ways of fulfilling it.
Einstein once said that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I think the fact that this heuristic incorporates both tension and contradiction helps it meets that criteria and gives me something I can use.
Be Aware Of Your Own Needs To Get You Where You Want To Go
Using the heuristic with others to know what’s driving them can be a challenge because you often don’t know their context and their motives. However, using it with yourself can be more straightforward because its easier to take those two elements into consideration. And once you’re aware of what’s driving you, you can do something about it. You can either cultivate a different need by shifting toward the other end of the spectrum, focus on another pair altogether, or choose a better behavior or vehicle to meet a given need.
It’s a great time of year to start thinking about what you want to get, what you want to hold on to, what you need to let go of and who you want to become more of in 2017. And reflecting on which of the 6 basic needs is driving you is a great place to start.
So, which basic need or two is driving you?
Please leave comment, I’d love to hear your perspective on this.