Needs & Wants

silhouette of adult holding umbrella over child to symbolize exploring needs & wants

This is an opportunity to look at needs & wants differently that we might have in the past. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we tend to focus on the base – the bottom tier or two of the triangle – as the only true needs. The needs we have that keep us alive and safe. But I’m making an assumption that if you’re reading this, you’ve gotten those needs more or less taken care of. By focusing only here, it is easy to dismiss the other needs as wants. After all, do I really need variety in my day?

And the answer is yes – yes I do. This is something that needs to be fulfilled if I’m going to be at my best. If I’m going to do what I’ve set out to do. Maslow said, “What happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” At this point, we focus on higher-level needs. Although you might not “need” these things to stay alive, they are no less needs than the bread.

This doesn’t mean that our base or primary needs are always 100% fulfilled. Sometimes we have to go back and focus on or refine those and that’ll better align us for fulfilling these higher needs. So it is an important exercise to identify what we truly need to live into ourselves, to be who we’ve set out to be in life.

Identifying your Needs & Wants

To start, write down everything that occurs to you as you explore. And then, just like values, if you’ve got too many, it is impossible to fulfill on all of them. Do the work of editing your list down to the essentials. Consider whether you can regularly fulfill them or whether it could serve to eliminate them. The non-needs can still be strong wants, and something to keep a pulse on from time to time, but when things get tough, it’s helpful to know what to prioritize for yourself.

There are 3 approaches to try below – try one or try them all.

Use Maslow’s categories to contemplate what is a need for you in each area. Even in the base of the hierarchy, it is ok to define out those basic needs a little more. Do you need to eat a certain way to operate at your best? Is there a certain way you need to take care of your body to function well? Take a look at these categories (including the categories from the expanded hierarchy) and see what needs arise for you in each:

Physiological – food, drink, home/home environment, activity, hygiene, sleep
Safety – safe from elements/threats, security (financial, health, self), stability, freedom from fear
Love & Belonging – friendship, intimacy, trust, being part of a group (family, friends, work), free from ridicule, freedom to express
Esteem – self:pride, achievement, mastery, autonomy; others: status, respect, recognition, attention
Cognitive – learning, comprehension, curiosity, exploration
Aesthetic – beauty, design, appearance, balance
Self-actualization – purpose, creativity, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, achieving potential
Transcendence – Driven by things beyond oneself

Take a look at your top values. (Head here for a values resource if needed.) It’s possible that when our needs aren’t being met, we feel most out of alignment with our values. Think back to triggering moments at work, at home, with friends, with others. What are those situations you stayed stuck on for too long? You kept thinking about them (or still are) far past when it seemed reasonable for it to still bug you. Whether with yourself or involving others. Can you identify an underlying value of yours that you may have felt wasn’t present in you or the others in that situation? If you could wave a wand, what would be needed in this situation for it to be more in alignment with your values? See if anything that arises feels like a need for you. For each situation, write down:

What was the situation? How did it make you feel? What judgements did you have about yourself or the other(s) involved?
What value of yours seems like it’s missing in yourself, the others, the situation?
What needs to be present in this situation (behaviors, actions, boundaries, structures, etc.) for it to feel more aligned with you and your values?

A list of questions to get your need-juices flowing:

When you’re feeling wonky (physically or more emotionally/anxiously), what do you need to feel better? What would you need to not feel like that in the future?
What boundaries do you need to set?
What does your environment look like when you’re working your best? (lighting, furniture, space, others, sound, desk, computer, inside/outside, etc.)
What is the best part and the worst part of: career/business, family, yourself, friends, community (and any other category you find important in your life)?
What are you really bad at? How have you found to manage that?
Think of some times that you’ve felt really in the zone. At ease & flow. See if you can visualize it – close your eyes and go back to that moment as if you are experiencing it now. What were you doing? Was anyone else involved or present? Where were you? What other sounds were present? Was food or drink involved? What were you wearing? What position was your body in? How did you feel before that moment? In the moment? After the moment?
How do you stay organized?
What would an ideal work day look like for you? Work week?
What would an ideal personal day look like for you? A personal week?
What are your biggest pet peeves? Why those?
What through-lines can you identify in your life? Have all of your favorite bosses possessed a certain quality? Is there a common thread you’ve enjoyed in each of your jobs? Of everywhere you’ve lived, was there something in common? Do the people close to you now or in the past have a similar trait? Is there a particular strength you’ve leaned on heavily? Has there been a weakness that you’re constantly having to manage? What have you done for physical activity/exercise as you’ve moved through life’s stages? What colors were your clothes or walls?

For all of these, ask yourself Why?