Why do people overeat, or overspend?
Why do people resort to conflict, or violence?
Why do people take drugs, or even take their own life?
Why do people crave attention, or yearn for love?
Whatever people do, they have a reason. They may not know what that reason is – at least not consciously. In fact, quite often people act and behave in ways that may seem irrational and inexplicable. And there are a million stories of why people do what they do. But all these stories revolve around just six primary driving forces, what I call the 6 human needs.
The first need that we all have is certainty.
Certainty is the need to avoid pain and ideally, have some comfort. That is why this is the most basic need we all have – a survival mechanism. We have to have a certainty to even function in our daily lives. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt uncertain about something that was really important, like your health or the health of a loved one? How about uncertainty about your job or whether you’re going to make enough money to make ends meet? When our certainty is threatened, it is difficult to think clearly. When we are uncertain about something that matters, nothing else functions.
Now, we all try to find certainty, but we all go about it differently. Some people get certainty by establishing a routine. Some get it by lowering their expectations and saying, “I will never get what I want.” Others get it by trying to control everything and everyone. And still others get their certainty through faith and prayer. Every single person has their own way of meeting that basic need. The question is, “Are you meeting your need for certainty in a way that is empowering or disempowering you?”
The problem with certainty is that once we have it in every respect, we get bored. Our passion is found in the realm of uncertainty, or variety.
Variety creates excitement for us. That’s what adventure is. It makes us feel alive. And we need surprises in our life, because that’s what helps us grow. But just like with our need for certainty, we all strive to meet our need for variety in ways that are good, neutral and bad.
Some people find variety by doing drugs. Others will do it by over-eating. Some may try extreme sports. Others may get variety from a conversation, or by setting a new goal. And still others get variety by having a big problem. There are a million ways to get variety. The only question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?
The third need is significance.
We all have the need to feel that our lives are significant – that our lives are important, unique, and in some way special.
In an intimate relationship, if your partner ever starts thinking something or someone is more important than you, that will initiate serious pain. That “someone” could be your child, a mother, a father, your co-worker, or even an outside party. And the instant that happens – as soon as someone feels like something else is more significant than them – that is when the relationship starts to break down.
Outside of an intimate relationship, there are unlimited ways that people find significance. And those ways can be productive, neutral, or destructive.
For example, if you meet your need for significance by giving more than anyone else – by finding your uniqueness by making a difference in the world – there is no downside to that, only upside. The power of generosity and compassion can change the world.
But what about those who resort to violence? When someone points a gun at you, how significant are they in your life right now? They are life-and-death significant. Violence is the fastest and cheapest way to get a feeling of significance from others. Unfortunately, it destroys the person using it and the victims involved. But violence has been around the entirety of humanity’s history, and it will be around forever unless we realize this and make a conscious change.
So how do you meet your need for significance? Do you work harder than anyone else? Do you know more about sports than anyone else? Do you dress uniquely, or have more earrings or tattoos than anyone else? Do you buy certain brands? Do you own a luxury car? Do you have more education and more diplomas than anyone else?
There are a million ways to be significant. What is yours?
LOVE AND CONNECTION
The problem with the need for significance is that it means you have to be different than everyone else. And just in the way that the need for certainty reveals the need for variety, the need for significance reveals the need for love and connection.
People find connection through friendship, through sports or community. Other people get it through pets, or through art. Some may get it through meditation or by being in nature. Some can get it through their faith and through prayer.
People find connection through sex, even when it’s meaningless. Some get it by being sick, because others will attend to them. Some get it by creating problems. For example, if you don’t give a child attention for anything good, he will do something bad to get that attention and see that you care. And adults do the same thing, but often in a more dramatic and more painful way. Or what about when you are doing well in your life, but you tell people a different story? You put a negative spin on something in order to make them feel better. That is just another example of how we meet our need for connection.
Now what about love? Here’s the thing: Most people settle. They settle for connection because love has scarred them. But connection is like crumbs when compared to true love. True love is absolute joy, comfort and passion. And on the scale from 0 to 10, it is a 10. Where are you? Most people are around a 4 or 6. They aren’t happy, but they aren’t unhappy enough to change and make it better.
GROWTH | CONTRIBUTION
The first four needs are critical. They are essential. You will always find a way to meet each of these needs, but these alone will not fulfill you. If you truly want to be fulfilled, then you must meet these final two needs. These are the needs of your spirit. That is not meant in a religious sense, but in the sense of who you are at your core.
If you’re not growing, you’re dying. There is no such thing as a plateau, or a comfortable, even place. If your relationship is not growing, it is dying. If your business is not growing, it’s dying. Where do you stand? Take an honest assessment of your life and ask yourself where you are growing and how that makes you feel? What area in your life is dying? And how does that make you suffer?
Contribution will give your life meaning. When we give beyond ourselves, we live in a world of abundance and compassion. That is why Tony always says, “The secret to living is giving.” When is the last time you have contributed freely to another person or a cause outside of yourself? How did that make you feel?
WHY YOU DO WHAT YOU DO
So if we all have the same six needs, why do we behave differently?
First, we don’t value all six of the needs equally. Some have certainty as their top need. Some will have love and connection. Others may have significance. But whichever is number one is going to change the way you live your life.
Second, even if two people are both driven by the need for certainty, one person’s way of getting certainty will be different than the other’s. Perhaps one person’s rules for finding certainty is they have to work 20 hours a day. Whereas another may get certainty by making everything wrong. “It will never work, and it’s all a waste of time. Why would I even get my hopes up?”
Why would somebody take this route? It seems counterintuitive, but people really will destroy their dreams and even break their own values to meet their needs. This is the reason an honest person will lie – because they value their needs more than their morals. Understanding this is a key part of learning how to have more compassion for yourself and for others.
Now that you understand the 6 human needs and how they drive your behaviour, question yourself! in order to discover what your top two needs are. What’s at the top of your list, and how are you meeting that need? The human need at the top of your list determines your direction, and your direction determines the ultimate destination. If you can make empowering, positive shifts at this moment, then you can shift the entire direction of your life.
So what are you waiting for?