Why do I do what I do?
Do you know what drives people to do what they do? No matter where you are in the world, who you are or what you do, human need is the common force that drives us all. You’ve probably heard of the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and safety; maybe you know something about spiritual needs or primal needs. But what about the forces that cause some people to sacrifice their lives for others while others murder strangers just for fun? What creates a Martin Luther King, Jr. – or a Pol Pot? A Mother Teresa, or a self-centered narcissist?
The answer lies in the the following six human needs. Here we’ll cover the fundamental needs — both primal needs and spiritual needs — that make people do what they do. Think of them as what drives you to make a life that has meaning. You’ll also understand what two human needs are driving you now, and how you can use human needs to transform your life.
The four primal needs
These human needs are the most basic. Primal needs keep us alive. We all find ways to meet these needs in positive, negative, or neutral ways. No matter the method, they always get met.
Need #1: Certainty
We all want certainty and stability for necessities like shelter and food. After all, these primal needs allow us to live. Certainty is about feeling secure and in control. It’s the assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure. When we can’t control physical circumstances, we might seek certainty through a state of mind such as religious faith or positive outlook.
People who have certainty as a driving need are consistent, they complete tasks, and they are excellent at making plans. They also tend to be risk averse. Seeking certainty can also make people easily fall into the trap of thinking they have no control over situations and give up; they can also engage with addictive and/or destructive behaviors as a way of creating comfort.
Need #2: Uncertainty/Variety6>
We all need change, to experience a range of emotions and states. Uncertainty and variety is about feeling stimulated and embracing the unknown. It’s the primal need for newness. Diversity and challenge can come from everything from a change of scene to physical activities, entertainment to food, hobbies to jobs.
People who have uncertainty as a driving need are adaptable, energetic, and have a keen sense of adventure. They’re people who have countless interests and are always curious to learn something new. They tend to be plan averse, making long-term jobs, relationships or investments challenging. Variety seekers can also be unfocused and thus seen as careless or unreliable. They also can develop destructive patterns with relationships, food, drinking or drugs to ensure constant variety.
Need #3: Significance
Significance makes us feel unique and special. Who doesn’t want to be needed? Significance drives us to seek recognition from others (or even ourselves) that we are important. It’s what pushes us to make a difference and create strong personal identities. Anger is another way we can create significance, particularly when we feel overlooked or unheard.
Those with significance as a top need have a clear sense of purpose, plenty of accomplishments, and often stand out from the rest of the pack. They tend to be individualistic and perfectionists. Seeking significance can also lead to people becoming overly status-focused, relying on markers like material possessions, money, or even degrees to show the world how good they are. For many of those that are significance driven, connecting with others can be incredibly challenging.
Need #4: Connection/Love
As humans, we need to connected with someone or something. Connection often comes from love and affection. We seek connection with our family, friends or significant others; connection can also come from ideals and values. Generosity and kindness are cornerstones of this human need. It’s also what creates community and social ties.
People with connection as a driving need love, share and bond easily. They’re great at building connections. Seeking love and connection can also lead to patterns of self-sacrifice, where people put others’ needs above their own. People can also settle for less love from their partners than they could get through another, deeper, connection elsewhere because they’re scared to risk being alone. Intense interactions, including aggression, can also create a feeling of connection.
The two spiritual needs
These spiritual needs are what cause us to experience sustainable joy instead of just momentary pleasure. The root of what makes us great, spiritual needs also drive us to make a real impact in the world.
Need #5: Growth
As Tony says, everything in the universe is either growing or dying. Growth is all about expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. We seek to expand ourselves to feel deeply satisfied. Growth can be physical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional.
For those with growth as a driving need, they constantly strive to learn new things. They push their boundaries and are fairly self-sufficient; they also understand the importance of detachment in regards to material things. Those seeking the spiritual need of growth can risk leaving others behind because of their devotion to their own improvement. They also run the risk of never feeling satisfied, particularly in periods of rest from active development.
Need #6: Contribution
Giving to others is the true secret to fulfillment. We know the importance of thinking beyond ourselves, of active kindness and consideration. Contribution is the basis for survival — no baby ever grew up alone, right? Contribution is what inspires us to share joy and excitement because sharing magnifies these feelings.
People with the driving need of connection have a deep sense of service. They focus on helping, giving to and supporting others. Their compassion and sense of self are deep. They’re dependable. Seeking contribution can sometimes lead to exhaustion, as people try to give more than they have, neglecting their own well-being in the process. This spiritual need can also make it difficult to say “no” to those needing help.
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