Two points about needs that will change your life

Most people are familiar with Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs." His theory was introduced in a paper called "A Theory of Human Motivation" presented in 1943. Maslow posited that all humans--you or I--at our basic, instinctual level, are driven or motivated to have our needs met.

While Maslow didn't use the pyramid, it portrays how few people actually get to the top (though many now add "Transcendence" above Self-actualization). He spoke of how we can be anxious, even compulsively-driven, when our "deficiency needs" aren't met.

You don't have to be a clinical psychologist, or join the debate of whether it's "that simple with humans," to see how deeply intuitive this basic theory is. You and I are driven by all kinds of needs.

Every time my stomach grumbles I'm reminded of it. Every time I can't keep my eyes open from exhaustion I'm reminded of it. Every time I miss my wife and her. . .hugs I'm reminded of it. Every time I want for the project to succeed I'm reminded of it.

The power of this "hierarchy of needs" is the great insight that we have instinctive impulses to get these needs met. And they can be powerful.

There are two points I want to make: 


Getting these needs met will override other higher-order needs you have.

For example, a homeless couple visited my church and got really active. I spent a whole lot of time with them. We did couples counseling and some life coaching. My family and many other families invested in them. The Church embraced them in various important ways.

Something that was so striking to me from the very beginning was how they usually planned their day with high order needs: beginning their new businesses, getting clients, building a website, recording his new hit songs that he had written for guitar, etc. This was always so striking to me. They had no food. No house or apartment. A few clothes. Very few friends. No steady income. No stability whatsoever. 

And the story went like this over and over again: "We had plans to go talk to this man about a possible job or get that new great job but we didn't have the money to get over there. So, we had to panhandle (= beg for money), and it was a bad day. We only got about $10 standing out there for six hours." And they would say this after looking exhausted and hungry. They typically walked into restaurants and asked for freebies. If that didn't work, they had to keep begging for money to go buy the bare minimum.

None of this swayed them. Even though greatly discouraged because they couldn't get their grand plans completed that day, they would repeat that pattern over and over. Dreaming and planning for higher order needs, while nearly all of there basic needs were deficient. And no matter how hard they wanted it or tried, their basic needs won every time. When you gotta' eat; you gotta' eat. (I've seen this similar pattern in other friends and family members I know. Big dreams--failure--basic needs not met--big dreams again--failure--etc.)

So what? You might not be homeless. Look over those needs. What things on your "to-do" list keep getting bumped off because other needs aren't being met? Are you frustrated in life? Is it because some basic needs aren't being met? I strongly encourage you to think critically about this because your basic needs will override the higher order needs.


Healthy people develop structure and relationships in life that allow as many of your basic needs to be met with as little energy as possible.

Why? Because our mental focus and emotional energy is not unlimited. It is finite. This is exactly why after you give a big presentation, complete a project, have a difficult conversation or conflict, or suffer through some trauma, you just feel spent. You feel like you don't have anything else to give to a person. You need to recharge. Some go running; some go drink; some go on vacation; some go do drugs; some reach out to friends; etc. (BTW: these are various "coping skills" and without healthy versions, addicts stay addicts and non-addicts become addicts).

Really healthy people have their basic needs met with little energy. This allows them to put more energy in higher-order needs. It makes sense. I have a great house that I'm so thankful for. Because of it, I never spend any energy or focus on shelter. My job gives me enough money to eat (and I don't have a farm), so I spend very little energy on planning for food each day. I have enough friendships that I spend little energy devising how to have bonded relationships with my wife and male friends. I could go on and on. This leaves me tons of energy for the highest order needs. I dream, make plans, design strategies, am creative, can problem-solve, etc. all because I have the energy and focus to get them accomplished.

(By the way, all of this works in organizations too. If basic budget needs aren't met, it's sure hard to dream of the future. If basic personnel don't exist, it's sure hard to implement strategies, etc.)

It is crucial to have structures and relationships in place so that you can have the energy you need to get the "top" things accomplished. When we get the higher order needs met, we feel fulfilled, accomplished, and live a life of purpose. 

And that brings joy.

First: be aware that your basic needs will override your higher order needs. So, get them met. Second, when you get them met, set up structures and relationships that allow you to do it with as little energy and focus as possible.

It's amazing how life (and work) can be when these two key points are implemented.