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  • Dr. Lalit Chawla

E#55: The Wheel of Needs Part I :The Need for Certainty and Uncertainty(Variety) in our Lives


This is a episode explains how the need for certainty and uncertainty guides our lives.



(This is the core of the transcript from the podcast. The Intro has been removed and some areas improved for reading ease.)



don't know about you, but right now, there has been such a unique, bizarre, unusual, whirlwind of emotions and events that have occurred in 2020. For so many of us, whether you're in healthcare or not, there is considerable uncertainty about our immediate future and long term future. Are you feeling a variety of different emotions such as anxiety, tranquillity, sadness, grief, loneliness, anticipation, restfulness all in the last few weeks? Almost everyone I know is feeling a whole variety of positive, negative and neutral emotions. For some, there is a sense of helplessness about what to do in our professional life and home life. Anyone in healthcare understands how to deal with helplessness and uncertainty, but this is a level we've not lived through.


We've all experienced feelings of helplessness, whether it's with something we are tried to change in our personal lives or when we've tried to help someone who feels helpless. We know it's challenging as we know that people come from various backgrounds, histories, beliefs, and life experiences, which makes giving advice and taking advice challenging. However, as much as we are different, we are all the same at a fundamental level in the way we see our world and how we interact in it.


What I'm about to share with you in this episode has impacted the way I practice medicine. Explaining this concept has helped patients overcome obstacles in their personal, professional, financial and social situations. The simple act of sharing this lesson has helped many doctors, nurses, patients, business leaders, parents and even teenagers move towards positive changes. Unanimously it has made a significant impact on their lives in terms of their wellness, relationships, and even finances. To date, everyone, without exception, has changed the way they view themselves and others. It sheds deep understanding into the reason why people do what they do and why they avoid doing things in their life- things that they want to do or should do but can't seem to get past procrastination, fear or guilt to get it done. We've all been there at some point in our lives and without a doubt will continue to do so.


why people do what they do and why they avoid doing things in their life- things that they want to do or should do but can't seem to get past procrastination, fear or guilt

But most importantly, this teaching helps individuals understand why people in their life and the greater world do what they do, so there is less judgement towards them. Being free of judgment is essential to move towards patience and acceptance of the people in their lives and the wider community. Having judgment tints the vision of the world as you see and experience it. Right now, in our world, there are many issues that people are passing judgements on. There are lots of conflicts occurring at a macro and micro level. Think about the conversations you may be having with your friends or family right now, given all that's happened in the last few months. A lot is going on with the pandemic, human rights and freedoms, past histories and the way different communities, leaders, and countries are handling the pandemic.


Judgement doesn't allow for compassion and harbours resentment, which is a reflection of internal self-worth. When we are free of judgment, we move beyond fear, control, dominance and ego and live with inner real power and strength that reflects our best self. We move beyond a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. We move from being a victim to having the ability to greater control our surroundings. So without further adieu, I'd like to share with you my understanding of the six human needs psychology, which helps create personal empowerment and awareness.


I call it the Wheel of Needs, but it comes from human needs psychology, which is an extension of the work of Maslow, Burton, Sites and Robbins. Unlike the most well-known works of Abraham Maslow, the pyramid of needs, which you more than likely have seen at some point, this more up to date model of human needs is more active, present and not hierarchical. It explains six human needs which are Certainty, Variety, Recognition/Significance, Love and Connection, Growth and Contribution, which are guiding everyone's life. If you are human and live anywhere in this world, these needs apply to you.


Having judgment tints the vision of the world as you see and experience it.

We all have to meet these needs, but as you'll see how, when, where, why, and what priority they show up will make all the difference in an individual's character, behaviours, relationships, and life experiences. If you think and reflect on these needs and observe others as to how this applies to their behaviors, then that's the best way to learn and own this material. I'm going to explain these needs, but for this episode, I'm going to simply explain the only two out of the six and then explain another four in the following episodes. So the first need:


1. The Need for CERTAINTY / SAFETY/ SECURITY:

This is the first need we meet when we enter this world, and it shapes many parts of our lives. Its degree of importance changes as we age and mature. This need deals with the need to know that we are safe, secure and stable. It addresses our basic needs for survival in terms of food, shelter, clothing and health. For example, if we leave our home, we need to know that we won't be shot at or have to dodge a bomb thrown at us. We need to know we can consistently have food, shelter and clothing to stay alive and be protected from the external elements. During this Coronavirus pandemic, we have experienced an enormous disruption in our need to stay safe as the coronavirus can affect people's health. The old saying health is wealth certainly applies here. If you don't have your health, you can't pursue your daily activities, let alone your dreams.


If you don't have your health, you can't pursue your daily activities, let alone your dreams.

The level of certainty can vary significantly from one person to another. One person may only feel secure if they own a 10 million dollar home with an ocean view and five servants. If they had to downgrade to a 5 million dollar home with only two servants, they could feel very insecure and perceive their world has been crushed. On the other hand, another person can feel on top of the world if they live in a basement suite with a welfare cheque coming in monthly. If they had a 50 dollar monthly increase, they would be elated beyond words.

If you've ever had to deal with financial loss or possibly a serious health problem such as cancer, you know how that can affect your need for security. And some people handle it better than others, depending on how vital the need for certainty is for them.


In the world of medicine, we deal with the need for certainty on a consistent basis. When a person's health is at stake, it could shake their entire world, especially if it is debilitating or life-threatening. As a physician, I've seen people feel tremendously blessed knowing they have access to medical attention during their treatment for cancer, heart attack or stroke, etc. Knowing they have access to these resources can create an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I know that the pandemic delaying treatment for specific medical conditions has disrupted our need for security. This is especially so if you are waiting for a critical surgery or treatment for cancer or other vital medical issues.


We all see that the need for certainty is most predominant in children. In the early developmental stage, they are entirely dependent on others to meet this need for survival. Disruption in this need can significantly affect a child's ability to move onto the next developmental stage, which affects the way they conduct themselves in the world. I recall a patient who helped raise his siblings because his mother had severe health issues. He never played or explored the world as a child as he was working to support the family. With vivid detail, he recalled that his mother would give him an orange as a Christmas gift as a child. From this life experience as a child, a habit was instilled in him to worry about financial security. Later on, as a young man, he was obsessed with making money, so much so that when he was worth millions, he still lived in a tiny basement suite in the multimillion-dollar complex he owned and looked for free coffee and donuts all the time. He said he felt uncomfortable spending money, which was a result of his deep rooted need for consistent security. This entrenchment resulted in broken relationships with his wives and children. He was stuck in this need for certainty and never moved on to the next natural development stage, which is the need for variety.

WORDS that reflect this need include comfort, safety, sense of control, stability, feeling grounded, protection

he still lived in a tiny basement suite in the multimillion-dollar complex he owned and looked for free coffee and donuts all the time.

2. The Need for VARIETY/UNCERTAINTY:

This need deals with the need to have new stimulus and challenges in our lives. We all need variety, whether it comes through the mental, emotional, or physical activities, we do. This need for variety can be seen in our day to day lives.


I'd like you to think about your favourite clothing, food, television episode, song etc. Now imagine eating that dish daily or wearing that same outfit every day, watching the same program daily or listening to the same song repeatedly. After a while, you would become tired of it, wouldn't you? You wouldn't want to eat it, wear it, listen to that again for some time. Have you ever heard a song you loved and listened to it so often that you never wanted to hear it again? That's the need for variety at work in our lives.


The reason this exists is that people need a new stimulus for something different and unique. The degree to which we need variety also varies from one person to the next. Like all of our needs, the need for variety can be met in various ways, i.e. the vehicles we use. From a mental or intellectual aspect, someone can achieve this in terms of what they may be reading, things we are watching, talking or hobbies we engage in.


We also see variety in how people meet their physical needs. You may know of people who describe themselves as adrenalin junkies who fulfill their physical needs by doing high-risk activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping, ice climbing, river rafting, etc.


Another person who may meet this need by merely walking to work via a different route, doing yoga, playing tennis, golf, etc. Variety is the spice of life. The possibilities of meeting our needs are endless, but it's essential to acknowledge that this need exists in our lives.

I think many of you will relate to what I'm about to share in that I learned how critical this need was when I tried to get back on track to better health by attempting to exercise consistently, something I found challenging and frankly was struggling with. Like so many people today I became so busy with day to day "life" events that working out was not a high priority. It always seemed boring, repetitive and something I should do but never could do consistently. How many of you can relate to that? This changed when I realized one day that I needed to add more variety in this area. I was deferring exercise because I kept thinking of the same exercise I always did, and that had become mundane even though I was not consciously aware of it. So I varied the activities by doing different physical activities from walking, swimming, weights, biking, yoga, and weight training. It helped me spice things up. I also added music and watched programs that I enjoyed and never had time to see previously. My level of variety went from a 2/10 to 9/10 by making exercise something I would look forward to as opposed to something I was feeling forced to do, which never works long term.


From an emotional context, people also need to vary their emotions. This need for various emotional stimuli can be met by meeting new people or putting themselves in unique social circumstances.

We all need variety, whether it comes through the mental, emotional, or physical activities, we do.

In today's consumer age, and I'm guilty of doing this, spending money on material goods can appear to be a positive experience. One reason people spend money to buy new things is to get the emotional excitement, novelty and newness of having a possession. When we acquire that new item, we feel a set of emotions that moves us away from the monotony of our lives. The new ownership creates a unique feeling or forms a new identity. With repetitive and robust consumer "programming", we can fulfill our need to have variety through spending and to own.

Unfortunately, for most, that emotional high is short lived. Thus, we then go out and seek something new to buy as the spending cycle continues. This is certainly an expensive way to meet this need and learning how to reach this through other means such as cultivating the habit of creativity, building something, learning something new is longer lasting, more rewarding, and engaging in a totally different way than buying something.

Note that this need, like all other needs, can be met in positive ways, neutral ways or destructive ways and conscientiously or unconsciously by creating new environments where they are emotionally challenged. The classic example of meeting this need negatively can be a person who jumps from one troubling relationship to the next when they're emotionally bored. People can create new situations or problems, depending on how you define it, and trying to solve them helps meet that need of variety. Some examples of vehicles that can instantly create variety and changes in a person's state are alcohol, drugs, sex, food, watching a movie, travel etc.


Meeting emotional states can often be seen by the unconscious choices people make. A classic example is individuals who stay in abusive relationships, which feeds their addiction. They may know they are in an unhealthy environment, but if they leave that emotional roller coaster, they feel a sense of unease. Until they reconcile these fluctuations and find positive ways to meet their need for emotional variety, it can be challenging to change that situation.

People can get addicted to these negative emotional states, but alternatively, they can also get addicted to positive emotional states that help them become better, such as exercising, reading, cleaning, creating you name it. The need is always there, the way you meet that need varies.

When we acquire that new item, we feel a set of emotions that moves us away from the monotony of our lives.

In the adolescent stage, this need for variety is predominant as adolescents discover who they are and what emotions, experiences, and challenges they can handle and enjoy. Teenagers live in the testing phase and love to test their environment and the people in them, whether they are conscientious of this behaviour or not. They are moving from the developmental stage of certainty to variety because they no longer need that constant or consistent level of assurance provided by their parents or caregivers. In this process, they are exploring and carving out their identity. They evaluate the people in their lives, discover their true identity, and respond to them.


Consequently, in North American or Western cultures, adults sometimes have difficulty distinguishing the difference between children testing vs. challenging adults' authority. Teenagers are very perceptive and idealistic; specifically, they are also evaluating truths and congruent behaviours, especially adult role models in their lives. They have a natural tendency to oppose any hypocrisy and are idealistic in their thinking. Many parents have talked to me feeling frustrated and exasperated that they don't know what happened to their sweet child, who is now suddenly questioning their judgments, actions and the decisions they are making or have made. Parents may take it as criticism, but the fact is they are looking at all the role models and evaluating if their actions match up to what they expect have been taught over the years; that is, are they congruent with their beliefs and actions? That is not always the case, and parents either embarrassed or felt their child is intentionally creating trouble for pointing out various incongruencies that exist in a parent's behaviour. A teenager can echo or think, "I thought my parents said or believed in equality, but look at their derogatory comment they just made about that person"?

Teenagers live in the testing phase and love to test their environment and the people in them

The way adults can reconcile and create alignment is to be straightforward and truthful to their teenage child. Teenagers are more perceptive than most adults give them credit. They are growing in their lives as they learn how to navigate their way into the next developmental stage, which is about being a more relevant and significant person with uniqueness.

Examples of words that reflect this need are crisis, conflict, fear, change, entertainment, boredom, surprise, thrill etc.


In this pandemic, we are dealing with a tremendous level of uncertainty. Depending on where you are, you have lots of challenges ahead, which makes it stressful, especially if you are not comfortable with uncertainty or variety.


So these are two of the six needs so far. I encourage you as you move around this week and interact with others or think about people you know, ask yourself, how are these two needs showing up in my life and the other people around me? Is someone you know very stressed right now because their certainty level has decreased significantly, and they don't like variety or uncertainty? The best way to remember and retain knowledge is to use it. I promise you this is very impactful information.


Next week, I'll share with you the upcoming two needs: the need for love/connection and the need for recognition, typically known as the need for significance.


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