Understanding our Six Core Needs

We have needs and they must be met in resourceful ways.

Meeting our Six Core Needs

Dr Rhonda Emonson PhD

Adapted from the work of Anthony Robbins

Why are you the way that you are?

Whatever it is that we do, there is a reason behind our actions.

We may not know the reason consciously. In fact, most often, we act and behave in ways that may seem out of character, irrational, and inexplicable even to ourselves.  

What we do is related to our Six Core Needs.

Regardless of where we live in the world, our socio economic status, our culture, our religion, our goals, our aspirations or values – we all share the same six core needs.  If you want to understand yourself on a deeper, more meaningful level, then it is important to understand these six core needs. The six core needs operate in a vacuum in our lives. That means, they will be filled one way or another. If we do not have an intentional plan to meet our needs resourcefully, we will inevitably draw on unresourceful behaviours to meet the need.

As a result of realizing the need to change an unresourceful behaviour, we understand that we can’t just stop it, we must replace it. Because the behaviour is actually meeting a need, if we simply stop it, we will end up doing something equally as unresourceful if not worse. Needs trump values. Because our needs will not go unmet, we can find ourselves doing things that violate what is most important to us.

Every negative behaviour has a positive intent. People are not their behaviour. We engage in undesirable behaviour not because we are bad people, but because we are needy people. The object is not to escape our humanity and overcome our needs, but to become fully human and find high quality means of meeting our needs in ways that are congruent with values.

With understanding of the six core needs, you will have a greater appreciation of why you act and react in certain ways and that awareness will enable a pivotal shift in your life so you can overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities. In turn, this will enable you to stop comparing yourself to others and lead to achievement of your own unique contribution and success.

Many of your behaviours are based on which of your core needs are, or are not being met. The core needs are a driving force behind any person’s behaviour and therefore understanding them and the vehicle we use to meet them, will give us a better understanding of why life is and more importantly, what we can do to facilitate change.

Unknowingly, you could be spending a lot of time consciously or unconsciously trying to meet one or two of the six core needs. If you don’t succeed, it could negatively impact your overall sense of wellbeing.

Understanding which of your six core needs is your primary motivator and how it is affecting your ability to connect with others and develop satisfying relationships is crucial to understanding what drives you. Let us now look at the six core needs so you can have better understanding and be more confident to manage triggers and have more control of your emotions.

There are two schools of thought about our core needs and the earlier writings are by Maslow.  Maslow’s model changed over the years however he is best known for his five stage model known as  ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’. 

The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:

Maslow (1943) initially stated that individuals must satisfy lower level needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. However, he later clarified that satisfaction of a need is not an “all-or-none” phenomenon, admitting that his earlier statements may have given “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges” (1987, p. 69).

Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. He suggested that our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on. The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:

  1. Physiological needs - These are biological requirements for human survival, e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep. If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.
  2. Safety needs - Once an individual’s physiological needs are satisfied, the needs for security and safety become salient. People want to experience order, predictability and control in their lives. These needs can be fulfilled by the family and society (e.g. police, schools, business and medical care). 
  3. Love and belonginness needs - After physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the third level of human need is social and involves feelings of belonginness. The need for interpersonal relationships motivates behavior. 
  4. Esteem needs are the fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy - which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige). 
  5. Self-actualization needs are the highest level in Maslow's hierarchy, and refer to the realization of a person's potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. Maslow (1943) describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.

On the other hand, Robbins (1993) suggests that  we have six core needs and each one of us ranks needs differently and the way they are ranked is why you are the way you are as a person. The first four needs in the list shape our personality while the growth and contribution shape our spiritual needs. The means by which people choose to meet the six core needs is limitless as we seek fulfillment through our relationships, careers, personal interest and much more.

Meeting needs in a balanced fashion

Saturating any of the six needs alone leads to boredom and maybe then onto a low mood. We need to take responsibility and ensure that the six needs are all met in a balanced fashion. We also need to ensure that we have multiple ways of meeting these needs resourcefully. If you only have one high quality vehicle to fulfill that need, when or if that vehicle disappears or changes it can impact your life significantly.

 So…why do we do what we do?

So, it seems that we all have the same six core needs and yet we think and behave differently. It is important to understand they are not goals nor merely desires, but profound needs that underlie and motivate every choice, every belief and every decision we make. We each value them differently, we do not value the needs equally and that is perfectly normal. As an example, some may have certainty as their top need and for others, the need for love and connection. First, what is important to understand is that whichever of the six core needs is our ‘number one’, is the one that influences how we live our life.

The second thing to understand is that although two people may be driven to say ‘certainty’, one person’s way of achieving certainty will be different to another’s. One may choose to work long hours and have X amount in savings. For the other person, they too achieve the same sense of certainty (that everything never goes their way) by never working and never saving and believing that moving forward and improving self is a waste of time. This in effect ensures their certainty that life is ‘a xx’, and that they will never succeed.  

Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend why somebody would take this pathway, it does seem counterintuitive. However, some people will destroy their future, sabotage their dreams and destroy their values to meet their needs.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it?

You may see this happen in a situation where a person that is honest, upright and honoured in their community suddenly lies which seems out of character and incongruent with their values. This happens because a person (at that time) is placing emphasis on their needs over their morals.

The 6 core needs 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

Need 1: Certainty/Comfort

The first human need is the need for Certainty. It is our need to feel in control and to know what’s coming next so we can feel secure and that our life is safe.  Included in this need is the need for basic comfort, the need to avoid pain and stress; it is a survival mechanism. The need for certainty affects how much risk we are willing to take in life, whether that be in our employment, our investments, our relationships and where and how we live. The higher the need for certainty, the less risk you will be willing to take or emotionally bear.  When our certainty is threatened, it is difficult to think clearly. When we are uncertain about something that matters, nothing else functions as it should.

We all try to find certainty, but we all go about it differently. For some, routine is important and for others, they may lower their expectations by saying things like, ‘I never get what I want’. Others may use control (others and their own situation). Each one of us has our own way of meeting that basic need. The question is are you meeting your need for certainty in a way that is empowering you and those you love? Everyone prioritises these human needs differently, but you have the power to choose what you focus on.

There are many ways to attain Certainty/Comfort

The question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?

 Need 2: Uncertainty/Variety

There is an attractiveness about uncertainty although those who experience this as one of their top basic human needs can take it to an extreme. This may be exhibited in frequent relationships and employment changes just for the sake of variety or they may take unnecessary risks to achieve the adrenaline jolt they crave.

The difficulty with certainty is that once we have certainty in most aspects of our life, we tend to get bored…our passion is then found in uncertainty or variety as variety creates excitement for us, just as adventure does. It makes us feel alive. However, just as we have a need for variety, we all strive to meet a need for variety in ways that are good, neutral or unresourceful.

There are many ways to get variety.

The question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?

NEED 3: Significance

The third on the list of Six Core needs is significance. Each one of us has the need to feel  our lives are significant, that we are unique and, in some ways, special. If Significance is among the top two of your core needs, then meeting part of that need is achieved by recognition. Perhaps you cherish being seen, being heard or being listened to-in other words, you like to be noticed.

You measure significance by what you believe makes you unique compared to those around you and recognition provides you with a sense of validation. Being seen, being made feel special and or needed is important to you and that is OK. Don’t forget that spending a lot of money can make you feel significant, and so can spending very little.

Those who don’t devise a positive way to feel significant may end up taking drastic measures to make themselves feel good, like turning to alcohol or engaging in frequent arguments. Others surround themselves with people that they view as less skilled or accomplished to provide contrast to their own achievements. Either scenario can result in increased significance – but neither behaviour is particularly healthy. Recognition is a driving force behind human behaviour as it provides us with a measurement system to interpret and track our sense of recognition.

There are many ways to get significance…

The question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?

NEED 4: Love and Connection

The fourth basic need is Love and Connection.  When we love completely, we feel alive, but when we lose love, the pain is so great that most people settle on connection, the crumbs of love. You can get that sense of connection or love through intimacy, or friendship, or prayer, or walking in nature. Some can get it through their faith. Some people find connection through sex, even when it’s meaningless.

Others may get love and connection through being sick as they have others to attend to them and be with them. Some get it by creating problems or drama in their life. For example, if you don’t give a child attention for anything good, he will do something bad to get that attention to see that you care. And adults do the same thing, but often in a more dramatic and more painful way, like through resorting to illegal or hurtful behaviour.

Have you been in this situation? When things are going well in your life, you tell people a different story? You play down the events in order to make them feel better. This is just another way of how we meet our need for connection but by doing this, we are taking the power away from ourselves just to make someone else feel connected to you. Ultimately, this is destructive to your positive state.

There are many ways to get love and connection…

The question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?

 NEED 5: Growth

The first four needs are critical and you will always find a way to meet each of these needs, but by not meeting the other two needs, your life will not feel fulfilled. These final two needs are the needs of your spirit, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of who you are at your core.  If you’re not growing, you are stagnant and withering! If a relationship is not growing, if a business is not growing, if you’re not growing, it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, how many friends you have, how many people love you—you’re not going to experience real fulfillment.

Where do you stand? Plateauing is not an option, if you are not growing in all aspects of your life…then what are you doing?  Those who have a need for growth are always striving to be better and learn more. Often, they are good employees, although they tend to move on quickly as soon as they have reached  their potential. One thing to remember though is that there is a tendency to err on the side of perfectionism and neglect the vital aspects of rest and relaxation and stress management. Do you believe that deep inside, you are continuing to grow and push yourself, to do and give more than was comfortable, more than you  ever thought possible?

There are many ways to grow…

The question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?

NEED 6: Contribution

Meaning does not come from what you get, it comes from what you give. Ultimately, it’s not what you get that will make you happy long term, but rather who you become and what you contribute..

Now think about how money can fulfill the six human needs. Can money give us certainty? You bet. Variety? Check. Obviously, it can make us feel important or significant. But what about connection and love?

Ultimate fulfillment in life comes not from something external, but from something internal. It comes from a sense of esteem for ourselves, which is not something we can ever get from someone else. People can tell you you’re beautiful, smart, intelligent, the best, or they can tell you that you are the most horrible human being on earth—but what matters is what you think about yourself. There are many ways to contribute…

The question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you?


The most important thing to remember is how we are meeting our needs: are we meeting them resourcefully or unresourcefully? 


Take some time to think through the Six Core Needs and how they drive your behaviour, undertake an inventory of how you currently meet your core needs.

What is at the top of your list?

How are you meeting that need?

The need that is at the top of your list, your ‘number one’ core need, is determining your direction and in turn, your direction is determining the pathway you are taking in your life. You can make empowering, positive shifts in this very moment. Therefore, you can shift the entire direction of your future if you choose. 

Is there anything you need to change in how you are meeting your dominant core need? 

Which of the needs do you feel are most lacking?

How are you meeting that need?

What is one resourceful strategy to meet each of your core needs that you could introduce to everyday life? 

To summarise, a chart may be helpful… 





Comfort, safety, control

Controlling others, bullying, perfectionism, fear of failure, risk aversion, playing it safe, anxiety, junk food, pornography, ego keeping you small, pride, arrogance, busyness, hoarding, remaining in unhappy situations for the security they provide, addiction, self-medication, self-sabotage

Backing ourselves, embracing uncertainty, good routines, setting plans/goals, self-discipline, trusting God, creativity, helpful habits, mantras, dressing well, eating healthy, exercise, confidence.


Newness, uncertainty, change, surprise, adventure

Drug taking, intoxication, party animal, recklessness, self  sabotage, constant change, adrenaline taking, risk taking

Playfulness, embracing adventure, spontaneity, hobbies, encouraging creativity, meeting new people, planned variety, sport, holidays.


Importance, worth, value, independence, individuality

Putting others down, judgement, lying, victim hood, rebellion relying on others to encourage or affirm you, busyness, performance, attachments (me + attachment + significance can make me happy), security + selfishness (everything must revolve around how it makes me feel). 

Taking responsibility for your own significance, stepping above the line, choosing to value yourself, significant because of who you are not what you do. 



Neediness, self-harming, unhealthy relationships, connection through drama, co dependence, drug and alcohol problems, promiscuity.

Self-love, sharing, supporting, connecting with God, real relationships, serving others


Give back, add value, legacy, influence

Being a workaholic, needing to be seen and recognised by others, contributing inappropriately, doing too much

Service, love, generosity, giving without the need for reward, adding value, giving appropriately


Become, achieve, attain, realise potential

Growth in one area that is out of proportion with all other areas, obsessions, derives, growth without direction, obesity, negative emotions

Progress, momentum, direction, improvement, character formation, enlarging, knowing what you want and investing in the thing that will get you there.



If you would like to know more, to be further supported in understanding how the Six Core Needs are ‘showing up’ in your life, or to understand about resourceful and unresourceful behaviours, please email Dr Rhonda Emonson PhD on [email protected]  and you will be provided with further resources.

Web:  www.mediationcoachingcounselling.com.au 

Email:  [email protected]


McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html        

Robbins, A. (1992). Awaken the giant within: How to take immediate control of your mental, emotional, physical & financial destiny. New York: Simon & Schuster.



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