The 6 Human Needs: Why Your Life Is The Way It Is (and what to do about it)

The following insight has literally changed the way I live my life on this planet, from the choices I make about what work to focus on every day, how I show up in my relationships, my professional and personal goals … and you deserve to know what I know.

Below are the Six Basic Human Needs – the basic needs of living that we each strive to meet in various ways: positive, negative, or neutral ways, directly or indirectly, sustainably or not so much. Successfully meeting all these needs is essential for living a fulfilling, pleasurable life, according to Tony “The Energizer Tank” Robbins:

  1. Certainty: Even though certainty is ultimately an illusion, for us to focus on higher order things we need to confidently believe that our homes will be waiting for us at the end of the day, our partners will be honest with us, the sun will rise in the morning, and that the bogeyman doesn’t actually live underneath our beds.
    Positive example: going to the gym to feel good.
    Negative example: overeating to feel good.
  2. Uncertainty: If everything in our lives is too certain, we get bored. We need variety, spice, surprise! We crave challenge and excitement, and these only come from diving into uncertainty. Can you already see a potential inner conflict brewing with our need for certainty.
    Positive example: traveling to a foreign country.
    Negative example: picking a fight with someone – never know what’s gonna happen next!
  3. Significance: We all want to feel like we make a difference on the planet, that our presence matters. We want to be seen and acknowledged, if not by everyone, at least by someone, even if that someone is only our own selves.
    Positive example: Stepping up and being a leader in the community.
    Negative example: Pulling a gun on someone (that makes you significant to them IMMEDIATELY)
  4. Love & Connection: Need I elaborate? Babies literally die when they’re not physically touched. Sadly, us adults can ache for years and even shut our bodies down when we don’t experience genuine emotional or physical touch with others.
    Positive example: Offering an authentic compliment to someone.
    Negative example: Cheating on your partner.
  5. Growth: Why do we go to school even as adults? Why do we climb distant barren mountains or visit foreign cultures? Why is Google so successful? Why do we read books and explore space and practice sports and the piano and chess and yoga and everything else we practice and learn? When we stop learning and growing, we stagnate and distract ourselves with all variety of addictions designed for instant gratification: TV, sex, shopping, gossip, complaining, working for money alone, etc. In fact, the 12-step addiction recovery program is an intense process of personal growth.
    Positive example: Learning yoga.
    Negative example: Ransacking a third-world country’s natural resources to increase your company’s profit.
  6. Contribution: When you’re feeling down about your life, go find someone and make a difference in theirs; it can make you smile faster than a good tickle. We’re just wired to feel good about contributing our gifts and talents back to the community. Nothing makes us long-term grumpier than greedily keeping all our talents and possessions to ourselves.
    Positive example: Showing up at work and kicking ass for your customers!
    Negative example: Giving advice to someone who hasn’t asked for it.

Ok, so these are the Six Basic Human needs.

So what?

We don’t focus on all of these needs equally. Generally, most of us only focus on 2 or 3 at most, while the others get addressed haphazardly and inadequately. What’s more, the ones we focus on are typically the ones likely to keep us dissatisfied with our lives. We’re completely unconscious about why we do what we do, and therefore completely ignorant about what it costs us.

Ignorance about which needs we most seek to fulfill can cost us everything we truly deeply desire: joy, happiness, fulfillment, and even authentic connection and love.

That’s so what.

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Most people in our modern world work incessantly to create CERTAINTY and SIGNIFICANCE in their lives.

If you’re working feverishly to control everything in your life so that CERTAINTY rules the day, then GROWING, CONTRIBUTING, and even genuine  LOVE & CONNECTION are not likely to be priorities for you because those needs are overflowing with UNCERTAINTY.

You might make contributions and grow, but that’s going to happen reluctantly and under a lot of stress, and you’re not going to get the full satisfaction that comes with genuinely spirited growth and contribution.

Some people focus more on SIGNIFICANCE, working to get recognition at every turn. If that’s you, you may find you’re making CONTRIBUTIONS, seeking LOVE & CONNECTION and to GROW, even embracing UNCERTAINTY only so far as any of these serve to reinforce an elusive sense of SIGNIFICANCE that fades as quick as validation turns its capricious eyes away from you.

When CONTRIBUTION, GROWTH, LOVE & CONNECTION are just reluctant servants to your ego’s insatiable appetite for SIGNIFICANCE, you’ll never be satisfied. 

(ok, I know, enough with the CAPITALIZING, let’s try bolding … I do hope it helps to really ground in this insight)

On the other hand, if Growth and Contribution are genuinely your primary focus, you set yourself up for an incredible feedback loop that brings Certainty – people want you around and may even pay you for your contributions, thus affording you a stable home environment if you want that; Significance – people routinely appreciate the gifts you bring to every moment; Love and Connection – again, people genuinely want you around; even Uncertainty – what’s more uncertain than growing which requires constantly going into the unknown?

Again, though, if you use GROWTH and CONTRIBUTION purely for the reward of SIGNIFICANCE or CERTAINTY, people will inevitably see through what are basically manipulative, inauthentic attempts to win their approval and admiration and make them behave they way you want them to. 

When I first got this insight, I quickly realized so much of my focus in life had been seeking Significance and Love & Connection. I even realized how together these two deep hungers conspired to keep me in an unhealthy relationship for years. The promise of genuine love and connection with this one wildly beautiful woman – whose attention on me made me feel proudly significant – tantalized me so much that I stayed in the relationship even though we made few overtly meaningful contributions to each other (or others) and our relationship seemed to resist growth like it was a tropical fungus.

Now, every morning, I wake up with the mantra, “How can I grow today? What can I contribute?” 

“Today, how can I GROW?”

“Today, what can I CONTRIBUTE?

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Naturally, I still want the certainty of a nice home to live in and deeply crave love and connection. But with Growth and Contribution as my daily mantra, I’m able to calm the always starving little manipulative lower-case bryan in my psyche who constantly frets that no one loves or even sees him …

… and JAZZED-UP SUPERHERO BRYAN gets to step up and radiate a brilliant, uniquely-inspired truth committed to the thrilling expansion of all life with no concern for whether he gets credit or reward. 

The irony is that I then do get recognition in various forms, love and connection, even certainty and uncertainty.

The real magic trick is being deeply honest with myself and not allowing my day to degrade into dogged pursuit of those egoic validations for their own sake.

I realize this is a simplistic discussion of all this- and I’m actually excited to really get out and start sharing and teaching this more. You can at least start to see how awareness around these 6 basic needs could make a profound difference in your life.

If you’re interested in coaching around this, email me at bryan@managingthemagic.com

Which of these need have you been mostly living for, and can you see what that’s been costing (or affording) you?

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A former US Air Force Captain, Bryan Reeves has survived multiple dark nights of the soul and done really stupid things with women that he deeply regrets and has learned a great deal from. Bryan is now a Life Coach & Relationship Coach for men, women, and couples, and is the author of the viral blog, "Choose Her Every Day (or Leave Her)," at www.bryanreeves.com.

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Posted in Authenticity, Self-Discovery
5 comments on “The 6 Human Needs: Why Your Life Is The Way It Is (and what to do about it)
  1. Angela Kelly says:

    Love this post. I’m studying guidance counseling and love Reality Theory that has quite similar statements about fulfilling basic needs. Love & Belonging being one, along w/ fun, power, etc. I also like how it is all related to the choices we make or do not make in our lives.

  2. SoundEagle says:

    Hello Bryan,

    Thank you for sharing your insights by referencing to the Six Basic Human Needs as proposed by Tony “The Energizer Tank” Robbins. The first two, Certainty and Uncertainty, is similar to what makes certain music perennially appealing, as it achieves a particular mix of repetition and non-repetition as well as tension and resolution, a mix that is satisfying (to) the listener.

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