Why do people do what they do? | 6 human needs (2024)

Why do people overeat, or overspend?

Why do people resort to conflict, or violence?

Why do people take drugs, or even take their own life?

Why do people crave attention, or yearn for love?

Why do people do what they do? More specifically – why do you do what you do? There is always a reason behind your actions. You may not know what that reason is – at least not consciously. In fact, quite often people act and behave in ways that seem irrational and inexplicable, even to themselves. And there are a million answers to the question, “Why do I do the things I do?” But all these reasons revolve around just six primary driving forces, which Tony calls the Six Human Needs.

The Six Human Needs are fundamental to every single person and shape how we live our lives. No matter what country you are from, what your socioeconomic status is, no matter your race, your religion, your color, your creed; no matter what your goals, desires, values, morals or dreams are – we all share these same needs.

If you want to understand why are you the way that you are on a deeper, more meaningful level, then you must begin with understanding these needs. Because once you do, you will understand why you act and react in certain ways. And that awareness is a key step to making a pivotal shift in your life so that you can overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities to ultimately find absolute fulfillment. Stop comparing yourself to others and achieve your own unique success.


Why do you do what you do? The first and most common answer is the need for certainty.

Certainty is the need to avoid pain and ideally find some comfort. That is why this is the most basic need we all have – a survival mechanism. We have to have certainty to even function in our daily lives. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt uncertain about something that was really important, like your health or the health of a loved one? How about uncertainty about your job or whether you’re going to make enough money to make ends meet? When our certainty is threatened, it is difficult to think clearly. When we are uncertain about something that matters, nothing else functions.

Now, we all try to find certainty, but we all go about it differently. Some people get certainty by establishing a routine. Some get it by lowering their expectations and saying, “I will never get what I want.” Others get it by trying to control everything and everyone. And still others get their certainty through faith and prayer. Every single person has their own way of meeting that basic need. The question is, are you meeting your need for certainty in a way that is empowering or disempowering you? Everyone prioritizes these human needs differently, but you have the power to choose what you focus on.


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The answer to “Why do people do what they do?” isn’t straightforward. The Six Human Needs can even appear to conflict with each other: We don’t just crave certainty – we also crave uncertainty.

The problem with certainty is that once we have it in every respect, we get bored. Our passion is found in the realm of uncertainty, or variety. Variety creates excitement for us. That’s what adventure is. It makes us feel alive. And we need surprises in our lives, because that’s what helps us grow. But just like with our need for certainty, we all strive to meet our need for variety in ways that are good, neutral and bad.

Some people find variety by doing drugs. Others will do it by over-eating. Some try extreme sports. Others get variety from a conversation with someone they find interesting, or by setting a new goal. And still others get variety by having a big problem. There are a million ways to get variety. The only question is, what is your way, and is it helping or hurting you.


The third need is significance. We all have the need to feel that our lives are significant – that our lives are important, unique and in some way special.

In an intimate relationship, if your partner ever starts thinking something or someone is more important than you, that will initiate serious pain. That “someone” could be your child, a mother, a father, your coworker or even an outside party. And the instant that happens – as soon as someone feels like something else is more significant than them – that is when the relationship starts to break down.

Outside of an intimate relationship, there are unlimited ways that people find significance in their lives. And those ways can be productive, neutral or destructive.

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For example, if you meet your need for significance by giving more than anyone else – by finding your uniqueness by making a difference in the world – there is no downside to that, only upside. You find an organization that you’re passionate about and offer up your time or resources to help it succeed. The power of generosity and compassion can change the world.

But what about those who resort to violence? When someone points a gun at you, how significant are they in your life right now? They are life-and-death significant. Violence is the fastest and cheapest way to get a feeling of significance from others. Unfortunately, it destroys the person using it and the victims involved. But violence has been around the entirety of humanity’s history, and it will be around forever unless we realize this and make a conscious change.

When you’re thinking about why do you do what you do, consider how you meet your need for significance. Do you work harder than anyone else? Do you know more about sports than anyone else? Do you dress uniquely, or have more earrings or tattoos than anyone else? Do you buy certain brands? Do you own a luxury car? Do you have more education and more diplomas than anyone else?

There are a million ways to be significant. What is yours?

Love and connection

Why do people do what they do? Throughout history, the answer has been love.

The problem with the need for significance is that it means you have to be different than everyone else. And just in the way that the need for certainty reveals the need for variety, the need for significance reveals the need for love and connection.

People find connection through friendship, sports or community. Other people get it through pets or art. Some prefer meditation or by being in nature. Some can get it through their faith and through prayer.

People find connection through sex, even when it’s meaningless. Some experience it during illness, when others attend to them. Some get it by creating problems. For example, if you don’t give a child attention for anything good, he will do something bad to get that attention and see that you care.

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Adults do the same thing, but often in a more dramatic and more painful way, like through resorting to illegal or hurtful behavior. Or what about when you are doing well in your life, but you tell people a different story? You put a negative spin on something in order to make them feel better. That is just another example of how we meet our need for connection. But in this way, you’re taking power away from yourself just to make someone else feel more connected to you, which is ultimately destructive to your positive state.

The trigger for many people wondering “Why do I do the things I do?” is that they are unhappy in their relationships. Here’s the thing: Most people settle. They settle for connection because love has scarred them. But connection is like crumbs when compared to true love. True love is absolute joy, comfort and passion. And on the scale from zero to 10, it is a 10. Where are you? Most people are around a four or six. They aren’t happy, but they aren’t unhappy enough to change and make it better.

Growth and contribution

The first four needs are critical. They are essential. You will always find a way to meet each of these needs, but these alone will not fulfill you. If you truly want to be fulfilled, then you must meet these final two needs – growth and contribution. These are the needs of your spirit. That is not meant in a religious sense, but in the sense of who you are at your core.

If you’re not growing, you’re dying. There is no such thing as a plateau or a comfortable, even place. If your relationship is not growing, it is dying. If your business is not growing, it’s dying. Where do you stand? Take an honest assessment of your life and ask yourself where you are growing and how that makes you feel? What area in your life is dying? And how does that make you suffer?

Contribution will give your life meaning. When we give beyond ourselves, we live in a world of abundance and compassion. That is why Tony always says, “The secret to living is giving.” When is the last time you have contributed freely to another person or a cause outside of yourself? How did that make you feel?

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Why you do what you do

So if we all have the same six needs, why do we behave differently?

First, we don’t value all six of the needs equally. Some have certainty as their top need. Some will have love and connection. Others may have significance. But whichever is number one is going to change the way you live your life.

Second, even if two people are both driven by the need for certainty, one person’s way of getting certainty will be different than the other’s. Perhaps one person’s rule for finding certainty is they have to work 20 hours a day, whereas another gets certainty by making everything wrong. “It will never work, and it’s all a waste of time. Why would I even get my hopes up?”

It seems counterintuitive, but people really will destroy their dreams and even break their own values to meet their needs. Understanding how our emotions and actions relate to our Six Human Needs is a key part of learning how to have more compassion for yourself and for others. If any of the following traits sound familiar, you might be surprised to learn they relate back to your Six Human Needs.

  • Lying. An honest person will lie because they value their needs more than their morals. They may lie in an interview to get a more fulfilling job, lie on a date to create a sense of connection or lie to their partner to avoid an argument – and create certainty in the relationship.
  • Cheating. When a person cheats, their relationship needs aren’t being fulfilled. The sense of love and connection has been lost. Their partner no longer makes them feel significant. Or the spark is gone – the spontaneity and variety of the early years is replaced by boring certainty.
  • Attention seeking. Do you always find yourself in the middle of drama? Chances are it’s because of your own behavior, not others. You can want to feel significant by making yourself the center of a problem, or you could be craving variety.
  • Bad habits. Vices are one of the biggest indicators that our needs aren’t being met in healthy ways. Alcohol-fueled nights out can bring variety into our lives. But we can also turn to bad habits because we crave certainty – we know drugs, alcohol and too much food are bad for us, but we also know they will always be there.
  • Never saying no. It’s easy to mistake being a “yes” person for being fulfilling – it makes you feel significant and needed. But be careful you’re not ignoring your own needs. You may think you’re doing something because you’re a nice person or you feel obligated, but it’s actually your need for certainty.

So why do you do what you do? Now that you understand the 6 Human Needs and how they relate to your decisions, you can identify and correct their negative effects on your life. If you can make empowering, positive shifts at this moment, then you can shift the entire direction of your life.

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Why do people do what they do? | 6 human needs (2024)


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