Needs That Drive Us
January 3, 2020
I love the science of behavioral economics.
Because it gives me a framework to understand why human beings work in a certain manner. A person who was happy smoking all his adult life suddenly changes tack to become a non smoker the day he has a heart attack and the doctor says he will die if he does not quit smoking.
We behave in a certain manner because the emotional cost benefit to us allows us to do so.
We all know getting up at 5 am and doing a work out is good. We don’t do it because the immediate cost(pain of discipline and discomfort) is more than the immediate benefit- in fact there is no immediate benefit . It’s all longer term only. When my spouse tells me to do something important, I forget, I slack out. The perceived effort of remembering and doing the chore is more than the benefit – maybe a small thank you at best!! In contrast if my boss at work tells me to do something innocuous, I will schedule it and do it with gusto and even report it back on completion 🙂 . The effort of doing the work is nothing compared to the benefit- downside effect of not doing the work, loss of trust and perceived impact on my career.
- Someone is naturally better organised while someone else is all over the place.
- Someone is very competitive while someone else is very docile.
- Some people enjoy relationships while others prefer being alone.
- Some people love the thrill of high adventure while others prefer to be safe.
Why is this so? At the core, as humans , we all have a set of 6 needs and our behavior is based on intensity of these needs and the emotional cost benefit associated with the actions we take.
What we do, why we do ,how we do is all a function of the relative leverage these needs have for us.
So what are the core needs all of us have ?
Tony Robbins describes them as the 4 basic and 2 higher order needs.
1. Need for certainty- we have an inherent need for predictability and balance in many important aspects of our life. A steady job , a family that is there for us, safety of our dear ones, the support of friends and colleagues, the comfort of a routine lifestyle etc.. So when there is talk of downsizing in the air, our mind perceives a threat to this basic need and we get stressed and we look for a new job, we do stuff to make ourselves indispensable.
2. Need for variety- There are some aspects where we seek out newness, adventure, uncertainty. After doing the same job for 2 years we get bored. We seek the variety of doing something new BUT also with the certainty. If the need for variety and adventure is more than the need for certainty , we will take the effort to change jobs , getting out of our comfort zone. If it’s the converse we will stay put and not risk it.
3. Need for significance- we are complicated. We have this notion of doing certain things that are worthy of attention and importance. We are not happy if there is no effort involved in achieving some goal. There is a compass inside all of us that is tracking the significance factor in whatever we do. That is why many Kids of the ultra rich are unhinged . They may have everything (certainty and variety) but their need for significance is challenged because everything is handed over to them on a platter.
4. Need for connectedness- just think – whenever we experience or achieve something significant what do we do- we share it with our loved ones. If significance is an internal compass , connectedness is an external compass we have. We seek out relationships , love , connection. A political workplace stresses us as the need for connectedness is under threat in such a setting.
5. Need for growth: This is a higher order need. As humans we are constantly trying to evolve and grow to become better versions of ourselves across 3 dimensions, Physical(Material), Emotional and spiritual. We invest in learning new skills and working with mentors. This is more subtle than the base needs. We are always looking to grow consistently across the dimension. Material growth not compensated or balanced with emotional growth and spiritual growth leads to dissonance.
6. Need to serve beyond ourselves- This is the highest plane when we are in harmony with the first 5 needs , we then seek out this need- philanthropy is a concept born out of this need. There is this innate desire to do good for others that wakes us typically when the other needs are in harmony.
Whatever we do in life can be explained through the framework of these needs and how our actions and behaviors are conditioned in the pursuit of these needs. As I sought to know myself better- who I am , what I want for myself, at work, at home , what my core purpose is , understanding these needs helped me discover the link between my needs and my actions.