The 6 Human Needs: Why We Do What We Do

Why do human beings do the things they do? How is it that one person will sacrifice his own life for another, while another will murder a stranger for sheer pleasure? What creates a Charles Manson or a Nelson Mandela? What is the force that drives and shapes all of our emotions, actions, qualities of life, and ultimately, our destinies?

While each human being is unique, we also share nervous systems that function in the same way. There are also six fundamental needs that everyone has in common, and all behavior is simply an attempt to meet those six needs.

The Six Human Needs

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

This drive is encoded in our nervous system.
The means by which people meet these six human needs are unlimited. For example, one of the six human needs is the desire for certainty that we can avoid pain and gain pleasure (i.e. comfort). Some people pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives, while others obtain certainty by giving up control and adopting a philosophy of faith. Variety makes us feel alive and engaged. Then there’s the desire for significance—a belief that one’s life has meaning and importance. Some individuals will pursue this need by competing with others, or by destroying and tearing down those around them. Others may strive to fulfill this need through connection with other human beings.
The force of life is the drive for fulfillment; we all have a need to experience a life of meaning. Fulfillment can only be achieved through a pattern of living in which we focus on two spiritual needs: 1) the need to continuously grow; and 2) the need to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way. All dysfunctional behaviors arise from the inability to consistently meet these needs. When our attempts to reach fulfillment fail, we will settle for comfort—or for meeting our needs on a small scale. Look to replace any dis-empowering ways of meeting your needs with things that empower and support you and others.

Understanding these needs, and which ones you are trying to meet in any given moment, can help you create new patterns that lead to lasting fulfillment.

Peak Performance Action Plan:

1. Which of these six needs do you tend to focus on or value the most?
2. What are the ways (good and bad) you meet these needs? For example, in your relationships, work, eating, exercise, etc.?
3. How can you increase your focus on growth and contribution? What are some things you can do, or new experiences you can participate in? Use the Hour of Power to maximize your planning in this area.


  1. I disagree with the significance part you describe as a need to feel special and important, this falls into the narcissistic category,Western society breeds many forms of narcissist and really all but the last one can fall into that category as well and I would think contribution is more of a trait than a need one possesses. your thoughts?

    Andrew on March 19th 2014
  2. Great TED talk and Mr Robbins you have again highlighted important needs do you consider the need for autonomy a human need that is varied in intensity in us all?

    Paul on January 20th 2014
  3. Tony, my sister got your CDs a long time ago personal power 2. I took the 2 CDs from power talk about the 6 human needs. I have listened to them on my iPod and now my phone about 100 times. It helps me not to be understood but to understand. When dealing with people at work it’s like I know why they are doing what they are doing even if they are choosing a poor vehicle to meet thus need. I then can often defuse them and help them meet their need in a better way by understanding what need they are trying to meet. People often come at you in an abrasive manner but they are trying to meet a need. It’s like they first come at you like you are keeping their need from them. But if you understand the 6 human needs you can. Step aside and point out how they can meet their need in a better way and maybe even drive them to it.
    I have felt with belligerent people who want to lash out at me and after helping meet their need they usually leave hugging and thanking me profusely. Tony keep doing what you are doing because by you being who you are I who I am.

    Bill on January 12th 2014
  4. I really like this easy to understand explanation of how we work as humans beings, to be able to recognise personal patters that work through all areas of life and that the really good news is that there is something we can do to change our habits and patters etc. its also good to know that we can increase the good stuff that we do too

    liz on January 4th 2014
  5. Reading this article was really an eye opener for me. I deeply know the first five needs and I feel it is time to contribute! Working with and knowing 3, 4 and 5 has given me what I need to share in no. 6.

    David on December 29th 2013
  6. This totally makes sense. Thanks for this!

    Aisha Tejani on December 25th 2013
  7. When I was 13 years old, I had my first crisis in dealing with sports, coaches, and teenagers in general. Instead of my parents just telling me that it was a phase in life, my dad gave me his copy of your tapes. Even at such a young age, I benefited significantly from your outlook and was able to take control of my life. I didn’t let people effect me the way they had been. It has been about 12 years since this time, and I am now at another turning point in my life. After a very long road, I am now 3 years into veterinary school and finally so close to obtaining my childhood dream. I am now forced to make significant decisions that will define the rest of my life, instead of just what school I will be attending next. In saying that, being a typical veterinarian is not enough for me. I want to make a difference and help at a higher level internationally. These lofty goals and demanding schedules have worn me down over time, and I decided to look for one of your talks for a little motivational help. Over the last few days, I have watched one of your videos each morning before getting to work. After more than a decade, you are again helping me get through a tough time in my life and I wanted to thank you. In listening again, you say some key points repetitively. Some of these have been among my mantras in life, not remembering that they started with your tapes. You do amazing work, and I just wanted to write this to say that I greatly appreciate what you do. 

    Kali on December 15th 2013
  8. ” I beleve it!!!!” I “got it” (understood) a very long time ago. Just attended my first ( and far from my last ) UPW in New Jersey. I have been carrying this bag of puzzle pieces (knowledge) I have acquired, around for years. I could always help others achieve, but never believed that I could help me. I believed in others X factor, but not my own. Even when I did accomplish goals I would say ” It was a fluke” I am good at multiple choice. “Stand up isn’t for me, I can only be funny in the moment, it has to be in real time” and so on … Well not anymore!!!! ( I finally stepped up ! Poured the puzzle on the table and PUT IT TOGETHER for the first time)!!! Who knew? I did or I wouldn’t have gone to UPW. NOW I know!!! I freakin Rock!!! I AM the voice, I will lead NOT follow… And now I see I am my voice ( not my old defeating beliefs) I will Lead me. Just me! ( I always said leader meant, lead or boss around others) “Oh that’s not me” therefore I will never be a leader. I see the stinkin thinkin now!!! Thank you Tony Robbins for this gift of ” you”, and your outstanding group of peers that joined in the seminar!!!! Joseph was inspiring!!!! What a feeling to be free from the limiting beliefs. I kicked the “dicken’s” out of them!!!!!!! YES YES YES YES!!!!!!! I’ve made my move!!!!!
    Life will never be the same!!!

    Lisa Charlton on November 15th 2013
  9. I am beginning to believe that just having something you want, really want, to accomplish is a gift. In the past what I wanted to accomplish was clear as day and easy to map out a path. My emotions absolutely drove me to be resourceful until I achieved the goal. Perhaps the greatest, and the worst, thing ever to have happen was, I achieved it. I say this because i have not wanted anything as much as I wanted that goal and now I am like the other 95% of the population that’s emotions are not pushing the resourcefulness needed to contribute significantly to society. I believe I am driven by significance. I want to contribute in a significant and meaningful manner in the lives of young female athletes. I have been a full time college coach for 12 years before going part time to raise my children. They are now 17 and 15 yrs old. I am educated more than ever and am trying to find my niche again. Your lectures have been tremendous and I appreciate them greatly. My dream is to help others find out what it is they really want so they can thrive in life.

    Annie Feller on October 26th 2013
  10. “Wow, I am just a college student in an intro to psychology class where we were assigned a video lecture analysis paper and we had to choose from a certain list of TED lectures, and before even seeing the name I simply just saw “Why we do what we do” so I went to the video and watched it probably four or five times and loved it! Your TED lecture video and this article got to me, and now I am going to truly enjoy writing a kick ass paper about your lecture and all the things that really spoke to me and helped me. So kudos to you Mr. Robbins, your TED lecture was amazing and Im now a true fan of what you do and everything you have to say so THANK YOU!!

    Raven B on October 22nd 2013

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