The 7 Psychological Needs: The Key To Understanding Yourself And Others

The way we prioritize our psychological needs, and how we go about fulfilling them, dictates many of our life decisions and outcomes. Read on to learn more about what those needs are, and how we can use our awareness of them to help ourselves follow our desired paths in life.

If you “chunk” them up, we all wind up having the same psychological needs. For example:

  1. Certainty / Safety / Security / Comfort
  2. Variety / Uncertainty
  3. Significance
  4. Celebration & Fun
  5. Connection & Love
  6. Growth
  7. Contribution

 

Everyone prioritizes these psychological needs differently. In many cultures, Certainty and Significance tend to be the top two.

Arguably, EVERY action we take is done with the intention of meeting at least one of these needs. There are countless ways in which we attempt to either get our needs met or keep them met. Some of these behaviors or methods are more productive than others. Some of these strategies have short-term perceived benefits but are counterproductive or even destructive long term.

Understanding these psychological needs and how you tend to fulfill them will help you better understand not only yourself, but also everyone you meet. This framework will therefore help you make more empowered choices, walk your authentic path, and work better with others.

HOW ABOUT YOU? A SHORT GAME

Lets play a quick game. If everything we do is done with the intention of meeting one or more of our seven psychological needs, then identify which of your needs are met by making the following choices:

  • Reading a blog post on BeWell.com
  • Not reading a blog post that you think is interesting
  • Calling a close friend or relative
  • Not calling a close friend or relative
  • Eating healthily
  • Eating unhealthily
  • Spending extra time on a project at work
  • Submitting a work project that you know isn’t your best
  • Apologizing to someone
  • Not apologizing to someone

 

AN EXAMPLE: A SIMPLE FLICK OF THE EAR

I was coaching a youth leadership group as part of a massive belief-busting event. (Belief-busting is the concept of changing your life by busting through your negative thinking and limiting beliefs.)  On the first day, the group learned about these seven core psychological needs.

Later that afternoon, I saw one boy flick another boy’s ear with his finger during a crowd meditation. I felt this was a teachable moment, and I thought it would be beneficial to talk about it. We literally ran down the seven core psychological needs to see if we could figure out which he was attempting to meet by flicking that poor ear.  

The boy who flicked the other boy’s ear expressed that he felt a little uncomfortable during the meditation, meaning he had a lack of certainty / comfort / security / safety. He also said he felt a little bored, which spoke to a lack of variety, and alone, suggesting a lack of connection. He was also someone who tended to get a lot of attention, and he definitely held some power in the group, so I guessed that he also may have been feeling insignificant during this very individual meditation.  

We reached the conclusion that he flicked the other boy’s ear in hopes of several outcomes: He was trying to ease his discomfort and become more certain about his own control of the situation, create a little variety while bored, connect with someone, and regain some attention and influence (though he did not necessarily express this in these exact words).  

Finally, we talked about how he might have met all of those same needs in more productive ways that did not disturb anyone else. I pointed out that maybe (just maybe) other actions would have also given him a sense of ease to participate in the meditation himself. He took the activity to heart, and he went on to become the president of the United States…OK, no, but I like to believe that some part of his life will benefit from that little exercise.

DEEPER PRACTICAL EXERCISES

If you so dare…

Take a quick inventory of what you tend to focus on, what you think and talk about most, the things you say, and the words you tend to use. Which of the seven needs appear to rank highest in your own life?  

For those of us who are risk-averse, you likely value certainty very much.  

Do you tend to think a lot about how to get friends and family together often? Perhaps love and connection are your greatest priorities.

Are you constantly putting yourself in challenging and uncomfortable situations on purpose? I’m guessing growth or variety will rank highest on your list.  

What do your top two needs do to benefit your life? What challenges do they also introduce for you?

For each of the core psychological needs listed above, write down at least three productive ways you tend to get each of those needs met. Then write down three unproductive, counterproductive, or destructive behaviors you tend to use to try to fulfill those needs.

How can you shift some of the latter into healthier and more productive strategies?

PRACTICAL VALUE APPLICATION: KNOWING OTHERS

When engaging someone, look for clues that help you figure out which of the seven psychological needs are most important to them.  

Why?

You can then communicate with them in ways that will appeal to their needs and will increase the likelihood of you getting your desired outcome.  

For example:

  • Have a boss who holds feeling significant high on her list, and you want her to sign off on a new project?  Identify ways in which her support will be extremely important to the project.
  • Have a loved one who likes a lot of variety and fun? Stop taking him to the same restaurant over and over again just because you like the food or location.  
  • Working with a teenager who’s going off to her first year of college, and who freaks out about anything out of the norm? Be sure to ASK her about what she thinks she already knows about college life, and what she needs to learn how to do before going.  Also, remind her that the largest source of certainty in the world for each person is their own heart, and their ability to figure things out on their own.
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