What Drives Human Behaviour? The 6 Core Needs Unpacked.

The 6 Core Needs model was developed by Tony Robbins to explain Why We Do What We Do. It describes the fundamental needs that drive and motivate all human behaviour. Those 6 human needs are certainty, variety, love, significance, growth, and contribution.

The 6 Core Needs Model is not only a framework for understanding human behaviour, it is a powerful path to finding emotional & spiritual fulfilment.

When I first learned this model for understanding behaviour, it was like magic gum in my brain! Lot’s of fizzing & popping followed by bursts of sweetness as all the pieces came together. Holy Wow! That’s WHY!

For the next 12 months, it featured in every workshop, coaching session, and conversation that I had. And this frame still features in all of my programs because it is so vital to the understanding of relationships, I believe it should be part of every couple's frame of reference.


When it comes to The 6 Core Needs;

We need to consistently & sustainably fulfil the needs from the base of the triangle, before we can move up the levels.

What that means is that as you and your partner become fulfilled with each experience you are able to move to the next level.



The first four core needs are the needs of the personality, and provide the foundation for a happy and secure human.

These four needs will be always be met in your life, it is the nature of human behaviour. The question is then "How are you meeting those needs?"

For many people those needs are being met in an unconscious or unresourceful way. That means, they are doing things that create an environment that meets the need, BUT it results in negative outcomes in their lives.

This framework becomes transformational when we begin to consciously and resourcefully meet each of these needs of the personality.

1. The Need for Certainty

Our need for certainty is our need to feel in control and to think that we know what’s coming next. Spoiler alert: That is impossible!

The higher your need for external certainty, the lower your level of comfort with change.

Each person may desire certainty with a slightly different flavour - it could be security, comfort, stability, safety. All of these words describe a need for Certainty. Some people find certainty through things like having a steady job, owning a home, or being in a stable relationship.


How to Recognise Our Need for Certainty:

We all meet this need ALL THE TIME. The trick is if you are not meeting this need in a healthy way you will be meeting it somehow. You will be staying somewhere that is draining you, whether it is an environment, a behaviour, a relationship.

Here’s a killer example of unresourceful certainty - a toxic relationship. Turns out a lot of people stay in crappy relationships with their friends or intimate partner because it is familiar. When you are living in that cycle of codependency (remember the drama cycle?) you are living in Certainty City. You DO know what is coming next and you ARE in control. You are making the SAME decisions over and over.

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

The most resourceful form of certainty 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. We’ll work through this together, it’s a big one.

A simple way to bring more healthy certainty to your life is by creating routines, habits, and rituals, that are soothing and supportive in your life.

2. The Need for Variety


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, or maybe personal growth, or a diverse job role.

How to Recognise Our Need for Variety:

For many years I ticked my variety boxes in some really shitty ways - volatile partners, partying hard, changing degrees, jobs, and cities. Yeah, it made life interesting, also: it sucked.

The most powerful change occurred for me when I discovered the source of my angst. I discovered that when my life became rich in resourceful variety, my desire for the old life simply evaporated.

In a relationship context, the classic way that many couples meet their need for variety is by picking fights with each other (drama anyone?). It's just (bad) human behaviour! Other people might have a little personal meltdown to change the rhythms of their days. Things getting a bit samey? What an easy way to spice up your life! Also, a bad idea.

If you would like to be a dependable adult, then take responsibility for meeting this core need. Plan to go to new places, learn new things, take yourself outside of your comfort zone & most of all have fun!

3. The Need for Significance

When I hear someone say "it doesn't matter", then I know that they are crying out to be seen. What they are really saying is "I don't matter". When it comes to the third of The 6 Core Needs, your ability (or inability) to fulfil this need in your partner can elevate or devastate a relationship.

Significance is about knowing that you are important, and 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, appreciated, or valued.


How to Recognise Our Need for Significance

In each moment you share with others, you are either a GETTER or a GIVER of significance.

[Read more: Are you a Giver or a Getter of Significance?]

When you find yourself dropping down into the drama cycle, that's a big old red flag that you are on a mission to GET significance. To become a great GIVER of significance, discover from your partner the things you do that make them feel important, appreciated, respected. Do that more.

Some unresourceful ways that people GET significance from their partners is by only talking about themselves *yawn*, thinking about the ways in which they are hard done by, focusing on "the problems". None of these things are fulfilling, nor fulfil your desire for significance in any way. Stop it.

Your partner will follow your lead, start behaving as though you matter TO YOURSELF! Take care of yourself, because you matter. Love yourself, because you matter. Fill your own cup, because you truly matter.

4. The Need for Love & Connection

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 longevity.


How to Recognise Love & Connection

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 even feel alone in your marriages, 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.



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

As I mentioned earlier, it is the nature of human behaviour that the needs of the personality are always met whether it is resourcefully or unresourcefully.

That isn't the case for these final two needs. It is possible to live a life without investing time, energy, or attention into growth & contribution. It is, however, for sure a life of unfulfilled potential.

5. The Need for Growth


In this organic lush world we are at every moment either green & growing, or ripe & rotting.

What that means is that to expand the possibilities available in any context of our lives, we must invest time and energy into focused & purposeful growth. That means getting clear on what you want, what is working well, and in which areas you need more education and skill.

In your relationship, growing and learning together can be the deepest source of joy!


What Does it Mean to Have Growth?

It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over & over, and expecting different results.

It shocks me how often I see couples in a rut, repeating the same patterns. They tell me "we've tried everything". Um, nope, sorry! While they may have done many different things to resolve their problem, they for sure haven't tried everything.

There are three elements to any true growth and change; mindset, skillset, and toolbox. As each of these areas develop, you will embed the growth and change behaviourally and in the expanding contexts of your life.

6. The Need for Contribution

This need is about the meaning of your life, the legacy that you will leave.

The true purpose of a relationship is creation, and to contribute beyond the day-to-day story of your lives. What will be different in the world as a result of your relationship?

Ask "What do we want people to say about us as a couple, in 30 years, 50 years, 100 years?" Whether you want to contribute on a local or global scale, this is the most important measure for fulfilment in your relationship.


How Do We Meet the Need for Contribution?

Do you contribute beyond the day-to-day requirements for yourself and your family? Are there things that you DO, for the pure purpose of adding value to someone else? What would it mean for the world, if I contributed my time, money, and energy to creating change?

When you choose to become someone who values contribution, you are asking yourself a much higher quality of question. It is about stepping outside of a reactive life, and becoming not just dependable, or independent, but interdependent. Expanding your awareness to see the fundamental interconnectedness of us all, and how vital your contribution as a couple is to every other part of our world.

But it is much more than that. When you make the choice NOT to contribute, you are actively perpetuating patriarchy, white supremacy, and any other privilege that you hold through your proximity to power in the context of age, physical ability, sexual orientation, sexual identity, and class.

A decision not to contribute with action, says a lot about how you and your partner orient yourselves in this world.