There are many theories willing to explain why we do what we do. The simplest and more powerful that I know and personally use in my coaching is the six human needs approach from Tony Robbins. It also helps to better understand our emotions for better relationships and hence a better quality of life. Read this blog post to learn more.

woman thinking why we do what we do - the six human needs - Laurent Zecchinon - Coaching & Biohacking
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The 6 human needs

Emotions are what make us move, energy in motion (e-motion). Overall, we want to move towards pleasure and away from pain.

According to #1 life & business strategist Tony ROBBINS, there are 6 universal human needs that we all absolutely need to fulfill to that aim (see his TED talk).

  • certainty: the assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure; other namings can be routine, security, control
  • uncertainty: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli; another naming is variety
  • significance: the need of feeling unique, important, special or needed
  • love & connection: the need for a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
  • growth: the need for an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
  • contribution: the need for a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

Unpleasant emotions

When our needs are unmet, we experience unpleasant emotions.

  • anxiety when we miss certainity
  • boredom when we miss variety
  • lack of self-esteem when we miss significance
  • loneliness when we miss love & connection
  • frustration when we miss growth
  • emptiness when we miss contribution.

Which emotions do you feel most of the time ?


Man is resourceful and can find many ways (vehicles) to meet their needs; some are healthy and some are not. We often go for instant gratification instead of thinking long-term.

Let’s talk about significance as an example; you can be significant by talking about yourself all the time or by belittling others, or you can meet this need by developing yourself and bringing value to others.

The need for connection can be met by creating meaningful relationships & helping others or by smoking , drinking or overeating.

In reality, this is often much more nuanced but you get the point.


Once the vehicles are identified, this is interesting to reflect about the rules to be satisfied.

Let’s imagine you want to grow your business, what do you need to be satisfied: 10% more clients ? 1000% more ?

The more stringent your rules, the harder it will be to be happy. A healthy way will be to progressively raise the bar instead of only focusing on quite unattainable goals.


An addiction occurs when something or someone meets at least 3 of our needs simultaneously. Think of overeating for example. It gives you the certainty that you feel good on the short-term (relaxing effect of digestion), the variety from the state you want to change and connection with yourself.

The price to pay

As I mentionner above, we will do whatever it takes to meet our needs (especially the first four). This may include violating our own values.

A woman was married for a long time and got a lover. She felt bad about it because her behavior was but was contrary to her values. Still she wasn’t able to make a choice between both men because her husband was meeting her needs for certainty and love, whereas her lover was meeting her needs for variety & significance.

Where to shift your focus ?

Now that you are aware of the 6 human needs, and which emotion you will feel when unmet, you have a better understanding of the top 2 needs that are the most important to you.

These top 2 needs shapes your life. If you value certainty above anything else, you will indeed have a totally different life that if you value love above all else.

We all have the 6 needs, and all are important, but the ranking matters more in terms of joy & fulfilment.

So, if you want to change your life, shift your focus towards love, growth & contribution.

If you are in a relationship, aim for meeting both your needs and that of your partner according to your respective vehicles & rules.

The 6 human needs, mindset & mental health

The 6 human needs theory is helpful to better understand mental health issues, especially for teenagers (see this post).

Your language, especially how you speak to yourself, is also very important.

Finally, learning how to master your mindset will also be one of your success factors. Keep in mind that, just as in sports and hygiene, it’s regularity that counts. That is where getting support from a coach will help.


Discover the 6 human needs

What is your driving force ?

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