Understanding the 6 human needs

The psychology behind working hard, staying in bad relationships and more.

I read a heap of books on productivity, psychology, success and performance. They all talk about various concepts and strategies to get stuff done and improve your life, but none are as powerful as the “6 human needs”, which Tony Robbins refers to as the reason we do anything.

Understanding the 6 human needs has had a profound impact on my life and has helped me understand why I “do what I do”, so I thought I’d share a quick primer in the hope that it’ll do the same for you.

So what are the 6 human needs? Good question. They are:

  1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
  2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
  3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
  4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
  5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
  6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

You can literally explain the behaviors, routines, successes/failures, relationships and everything else about a person by referring back to those 6 human needs. Most people have 1 or 2 needs that drive 80% of their behaviors, too. Mine are growth and connection. Yours might be different.

One of the examples Tony uses when explaining the 6 human needs is that a violent partner will continue their assaults because it fulfills their need for significance. Another example he explains is why people stay in loveless relationships — because having a partner provides certainty, especially if you’re married with kids.

These are very emotional subjects, but they can all be explained by very logical reasoning that ties back to fulfilling our needs. Some people will kill, steal and lie to meet their needs. But most people go about finding non-criminal ways to meet their needs. One thing to understand, though, is that every single person will always find a way to meet their needs. It is mandatory — not optional. That’s how we’re wired.

The idea that EVERYTHING you do helps you meet one of the 6 human needs is quite powerful. It can also help us understand why some people’s lives seem so out of balance, or different, to yours.

For example, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and the late Steve Jobs are (were) known to work non-stop, sacrificing their personal relationships and focusing on winning at all costs. That probably means significance and growth are (were) their #1 and #2 human needs.

On the flip side, you have people like Mother Teresa and Princess Diana who dedicated their entire lives to helping people. This allowed them to meet their needs of #1 contribution and #2 connection/love.

The next time someone asks why you “do what you do”, it may help to take a pause and think about the 6 human needs.

If you’re feeling happy and fulfilled then most likely you’re already meeting your needs. If not, you may be off track and either fulfilling the needs of someone else ahead of yours, or stuck in a rut.

I run a private mentoring group for founders called Inner Circle. If you want to learn proven growth strategies, make fewer mistakes and hang out with other smart founders, you should check it out.