What Drives Human Behaviour? The Powerful Relationship Benefits of The 6 Core Needs

human behaviour: 6 core needs pyramid model

Image © Tara Thomas 2017

This psychological framework of human behaviour is helpful AND harmful. It perpetuates capitalist & oppressive ideals for individuals & relationships. While there are some helpful perspectives and relational tools, it is also crucial to be mindful of the impacts of adopting models without considering the context.

    PART 1: THE 6 CORE NEEDS - DEFINITIONS & OVERVIEW

    Introduction to The 6 Core Needs

    a woman leaning toward a man their heads are becoming trees with birds flying towards each other.

    The 6 Core Needs is a psychological framework for human behaviour developed by personal development heavyweight Anthony Robbins (Watch: Why we do what we do | TED Talks) According to this model, we can attribute our motivation, decision making, prioritisation, personal satisfaction, and happiness to the fulfilment of these 6 Core Needs.

    It is a perspective on different types of human behaviour that I've found invaluable in my client sessions, and over the years I've gained a deeper understanding into how those elements influence individuals, as well as couples dynamics. I've also come to understand some of the ways that this framework, as well as the broader personal development machine, create and perpetuate approaches that perpetuate harm & oppression.

    The 6 Core Needs Model is not only a framework for understanding human behaviour, it is an informative lens to relational satisfaction.

    Those 6 needs are;

    1. Certainty
    2. Variety
    3. Significance
    4. Love & Connection
    5. Growth
    6. Contribution.

    The Needs of the Personality

    The first four core needs are the needs of the personality, and provide the foundation for wellness, happiness, and satisfaction in life. These are;

    1. Certainty
    2. Variety
    3. Significance
    4. Love & Connection.

    These four underlying drivers for human behaviour are met by everyone at all times. That means that if they're not being me in a healthy way, they'll be met in an unhealthy way. That means creating an environment or situation that meets the need, BUT results in negative outcomes. For example, meeting a need for certainty by staying in a job or relationship that is unhappy, unhealthy, and unsustainable.

    The Needs of the Spirit

    The final two needs, growth and contribution, are the needs of the spirit. These last two needs represent the human needs for a life that's fulfilling, and of actualising your personal potential.

    As I mentioned earlier, it's these two "needs" of human behaviour I see as most problematic, and will discuss in more detail later in this blog.

    Human Behaviour Psychology, Cultural Locations, and Privilege

    Anthony Robbins has worked with millions of people around the world, from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and intersectionalities.

    I do have reservations, however, about his style & approach toward coaching. It is very much oriented towards glorification of individualistic culture over collectivism, material wealth as a measure of success, and a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" ideology of change for individuals without the broader context of their lives and the contribution of systemic influences.

    I do NOT vibe with the 'massive change overnight' approach to personal development (see: everything I ever write about slow sustainable incremental change).

    There is a hugely harmful erasure of the impact of systemic oppressions and structural inequality  expressed by the belief that 'success' is the result of having the right mindset (optimistic), and 'doing the work' (perserverance).

    Much of the personal development industrial complex is informed by these ideas, though there are decades of work other intersectionalities that bring very different cultural models & approaches to human behaviour to the fore, I encourage you to read & learn about these (there's some links in the resources at the end).

    AND I still find Robbins and his work to be helpful & insightful. He has changed my life, from giving up smoking literally overnight after listening to an audiobook (after decades of trying all the things), to influencing my early ideas about coaching & personal development, to informing many of my teachers.

    I offer you this framework as one that I have found to be immensely valuable personally & professionally, and like all tools, one to be used with one eye on the broader context. I am still always working toward smashing the kyriarchy and continually reorienting myself toward my work from a more informed place.

    Resourceful vs Unresourceful Human Behaviour

    When I speak about a behaviour being ‘resourceful’ I mean that it supports the wellness of an individual.

    Resource-ful also contains the meaning within the word – the behaviour is fully resourced. That means the individual has access to resources that meets their;

    • Physiological needs (security of food, water, shelter, this includes job stability which dictates the stability of access to these needs)
    • Safety needs - Their body’s physical, mental, emotional, social, sexual, and spiritual safety
    • Social needs – support & engagement - familial, spousal, friends, community

    All behaviours were resourceful at one time, and allowed us to survive a specific environment or situation/s. What is helpful to reflect on is whether a behaviour is currently resourceful, and whether there are alternatives now.

    However this is a low bar to set for human behaviour - ideally being resourceful also supports the wellness of;

    • an individual
    • their household & the people living there
    • the people in their lives
    • the neighbourhood & broader community
    • the natural environment
    • the greater wellness of the world.

    AND, I totally get that this is an aspirational list… and that at times the wellness of some of those spaces may be contradictive or mutually exclusive… so for the purpose of this piece, let’s stick with "supports the wellness of an individual".

    PART 2: UNPACKING THE 6 CORE NEEDS IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS

    Human Behavioural Need #1: Certainty

    "All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.
    The only lasting truth is change."
    ~ Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower

    The first of the 6 core needs of human behaviour is certainty.

    It is the part of us that wants to know we are safe. This part of us is heavily influenced by our individual nervous systems, as well as by our lived experience of the world. It's governed by the reptilian part of our brain that's optimised for that safety.

    This may be expressed with a slightly different flavour from person-to-person; security, comfort, stability, safety, consistency, routine, control, reliability.

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    When we look at human behaviour in intimate relationships, there are a shit tonne of ways that people meet their need for certainty unresourcefully.

    This could look like one or both partners who; are conflict averse (prefers status quo to the uncertainty of navigating conflict), stay together unhappily, are stagnant and resistant to change, have overly porous or rigid boundaries, don’t process distressing events, engage in the toxic drama cycle, and more.

    You may also find unhealthy certainty in bad habits and numbing out to life, or addictions like smoking, drinking, eating sugar or watching loads of TV.

    The most resourceful form of certainty in human behaviour is certainty of self. When you have the ability to maintain your own internal certainty, you can thrive & survive in ANY environment.  It is through building your own internal certainty (otherwise known as ‘self-esteem’), that you will no longer need to play it small nor safe.

    Relationally, certainty comes from a shared framework of points of reference with the flavour of certainty. The specific types of moments will vary from couple to couple, but the approach to building that framework is the same; creating routines, habits, and rituals, that load up your personal preferred certainty flavours.

    Some examples of human behaviour that builds certainty;

    Human Behavioural Need #2: Variety

    "The very ingredients that nurture love - mutuality, reciprocity, protection, worry, responsibility for the other - are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire"
    ~Esther Perel

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    Human beings are wildly contradictory, and so is the next core need. The exact opposite to certainty, paradoxically we also have a need for uncertainty or variety. It’s the spice of life!

    As with our need for certainty, we all have different expectations of how variety looks in our lives- Some people crave travel & adventure, while others get excited by learning new things, or meeting new people. Perhaps technology floats your boat, maybe being a maker, or a dynamic job role.

    The paradox of human behaviour is that increased intimacy (which requires certainty) leads to decreased chemistry (which requires variety). And so both of these 6 core needs of certainty & variety require a considered & purposeful approach. That means you can be clear in any moment which are the actions that will lead to your desired experience.

    In a relationship context, the classic way that many couples unresourcefully meet their need for variety is by picking fights with each other (drama anyone?). Sure it relieves the tension of boredom, but it's a shitty side of human behaviour. This need could also be met through toxic relationships, partying hard, risky behaviours, infidelity, changing jobs, houses, cities… you may also find unhealthy variety in small rebellions like pushing back against schedule & structure, being unreliable or inconsistent, or even emotional meltdowns. Things getting a bit samey? What an easy way to spice up your life!

    Relationally the explorations, experiments, and practices to create variety are some of the great delights of life! While it might seem counterintuitive, it is still important here to build a framework of routines, habits, and rituals. The structure of that framework creates space to allow spontaneity, while also making sure that it happens.

    Some examples of human behaviour that builds variety;

    Human Behavioural Need #3: Significance

    "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
    ~Marcel Proust

    Significance is about knowing that you are seen & known, that you matter, and that you're a priority to your partner. And it's more than that, it's about FEELING that way too! You may describe it in a slightly different way, as being respected, recognised, appreciated, or valued.

    People experience significance in different ways. Some enjoy prestige and public accolades, while others are quiet achievers who shun the spotlight and prefer a quiet word or gesture  of appreciation.

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    In each moment of relational interaction, you are either a GETTER or a GIVER of significance.What that means is that the way you choose to listen, speak, respond, communicate, manage conflict, engage in reciprocity & mutuality, and your sense of self-esteem, will all influence whether you are building or destroying the need for significance in yourself & others.

    This is a deeply embedded human behavioural driver which has roots in our innate attachment sytem. The confidence we have as individuals in our own personal significance (how we see ourselves in the world) as well as our relational significance (how we think others see us) is closely mapped to our adult attachment styles. 

    In a relationship context, the classic way that many couples unresourcefully meet their need for significance is by undermining each other, making jokes at the others expense, wanting to be right, being passive aggressive, creating drama, toxic behaviours, bullying and more.

    As with all of the 6 core needs, meeting the need for significance requires both personal as well as relational approaches. Personal practices that build significance include working on self-esteem, self management, boundaries, and confidence.

    Some examples of human behaviour that builds relational significance;

    Human Behavioural Need #4: Love & Connection

    "True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. 

    True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are."
    ~Brené Brown

    A hydrangea in a jar with a sign that says "You are Loved"

    The key finding in a 75 year study on adult development by Harvard University is this: "Good relationships keep us happier & healthier." In his TED talk on the same topic, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger presents the 3 greatest learnings from this study of 700 men over 75 years. That social connection is good for us. That it is the QUALITY of our relationships that matter, not the quantity. That strong relationships protect not only our body, but also our brain.

    The fourth core need, Love & Connection, is the true path to a life of meaning.

    The quality of our lives is a reflection of the quality of our relationships. That means that, in relationship, fulfilling your own and your partners desire to be loved and connected, has a lot more riding on it than your relationship!

    It breaks my heart to hear that so many of you feel lonely, or like you don't belong. Some of you feel alone within your intimate relationships, and with your friends and family. It is natural in human behaviour to meet our needs, in whatever way we can get them met. In the pursuit of connection, many people turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, or they compromise themselves by staying in toxic or unhappy relationships.

    In contrast, healthy and happy connection means you have at least 3 - 5 meaningful, rewarding adult relationships. Those relationships grow through challenge & adversity, and are a source of support, laughter, and joy.

    Some examples of human behaviour that builds love & connection;

    • speaking your partner's love language
    • being best friends
    • developing the capacity to hold conflicting views with kindness
    • prioritising time for quality face-to-face connection
    • practicing skills in relational self-awareness
    • developing skills in emotional intelligence
    • holding space for vulnerability
    • create a culture of safety between you by building trust.

    Human Behavioural Need #5: Growth

     "So much of what we think is 'wrong' with us:

    1) Makes perfect sense based on what we've been through.
    2) Is literally just being a person."

    ~Seerut K. Chawla

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    'Growth' is one of the most problematic terms in the dictionary of personal development because it's often coupled with capitalist ideals such as; individualism,  extractive practices, transactional relationships, accummulation of wealth, competition, and endless growth.

    As well as damaging messages about productivity over health like; push, hustle, productivity, no-pain-no-gain, pushing your edge, if you're comfortable you're not growing... and more.

    "The personal development industry is a $9.9 billion industry predicated on two simple messages: 1. You are not good enough. 2. You should always strive to be better." ~ From the blog The Dark Side of Self Improvement atTheSpanofMyHips.

    There was a time where I fully endorsed the idea that you can "transform" your relationship (and life) by "doing the (personal) work". I now believe this to be reductive, magical thinking,  harmful, and the cause of much personal & relationship dissatisfaction. This individualistic approach attaches problems to people and completely overlooks the roles of systemic influences, social identities & intersectionality, people, transitional events, and personal factors, as well as the complexities and inconsistencies of human behaviour.

    The notion that a relationship is a "project" that can be "worked on" with the same tools we bring to business is profoundly dehumanising.

    So, I don't believe that 'growth' is necessary for a life well lived at all. While I am personally oriented toward introspection and cliched personal development, there are loads of equally happy folk who are very-fucking-fine-just-as-they-are-thank-you-very-much.

    Some examples of human behaviour that builds growth;

    • planting beans in the garden
    • eating pizza on the beach at sunset
    • wearing very high platform boots.

    There ARE sustainable, thoughtful, generous ways to grow together in relationship, AND these are definitely within the realms of spirituality, but that is a longer conversation, and this is not the place for that. For reals though,  I will prioritise working on a series of pieces to explore these ideas further.

    Human Behavioural Need #6: Contribution

    "Liberated relationships are one of the ways we actually create abundant justice; the understanding that there is enough attention, care, resource, and connection for us all to access belonging, to be in our dignity, and to be safe in community."

    ~ Adrienne Maree Brown

    The "need for contribution" is another idea that stands on pretty shaky ground. Again, it is aligned with harmful messaging that the worth of an individual is not inherent, but relies on how productive they are, how much they do, how much they 'contribute'.

    This idea is wildly ableist and pretty fucking unhelpful tbh. The idea that spiritual fulfilment comes from contribution only reinforces the feels that you're not enough, not doing enough, not being enough.

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    There was a time where I spoke about self-actualisation, and legacy, and contribution. I had an orientation towards community contribution, and social justice work being mandatory for all, and applied the same principles of push, hustle, and strive to my approach.

    I'm softer now. I see more shades of grey, and have more genuine compassion for others. I'm more curious about diversity in human behaviour.

    I believe that the pathway forwards is through contribution according to capacity, and reciprocity on a greater scale than 1-2-1. That we can build networks of relationships where we are all taken care of. What that means is that we are each inherently valuable no matter our level of contribution. What I'm really saying is that we need to completely rethink what we mean by contribution, in particular uncoupling it from measures like money, productivity, and the ability to 'work'.

    Some examples of human behaviour that builds contribution;

    • strength based contribution
    • reciprocity across communities
    • shared resources

    There ARE sustainable, thoughtful, generous ways to look at contribution in relationship/s, AND these are definitely within the realms of spirituality, but that is a longer conversation, and this is not the place for that. This is the direction of my current unlearning, learning, and repatterning.

    Where Do We Go From Here?

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    These are some books, modalities, and workshops that I have found insightful into human behaviour, as well as approaches toward building connection & community, without perpetuating the harmful paradigms that are dominating the field of 'personal development'.

    The removal of push, hustle, transactional interactions, extraction, infinite growth, moves us towards a place where we can be curious, purposeful and expansive.

    Did you enjoy this blog? I'd very much appreciate you sharing it with others!

    A moment of your time has deep & long lasting effects on my capacity to keep creating this kind of content.