top of page
  • Dr. Lalit Chawla

E#58: The Wheel of Needs4: How Our Needs Drive Our Habits, Choices and Relationships


This is a episode explains how our need structure drives our choices which affect our outcomes daily and long term.

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


Welcome back. I hope you had a great week. This is the fourth and final episode or a four-part series on The 6 Human Needs or as I refer to it as "The Wheels of Need." As a quick recap, firstly, I feel this is essential for me to say that this is a framework that I've shared with others, whether it is at a conference or with medical students and residents. All of whom have found this exceptionally meaningful because it explains why people behave the way they do. It also helps people gain a level of understanding about human behaviour that they've never fully appreciated before. It also is a tremendous tool to know how to help people too.

Episode one and two were about the need for certainty, uncertainty, recognition and love and how important they have in our lives. If you didn't listen to it, please do as it is helpful and will make this episode even more powerful and meaningful to you. I promise you this framework transforms people and will change the way you see yourself and others and significantly improve your understanding of human relationships and motivations.

But in a nutshell, in terms of the first two needs, certainty and uncertainty/variety, we need to have a security level in our health, relationships, and financial life, which varies from person to person. The need for variety is also essential in that we need to challenge our mental, emotional, and physical well-being, which also varies from person to person. The need for recognition/significance is something we all need, and we can meet this need, as in all of the needs, in a positive, negative or neutral way. And the fourth need was the need for love and connection. That need is the need for how and why we connect with others and ourselves. Whether it's our peers, family or partner, now that is a highly simplified explanation.

The four needs: certainty, variety, significance/recognition and love/connection are called the survival needs or needs of the personality. Everyone meets these needs to various degrees, as I've already mentioned. These four needs shape most of the wheel, but it doesn't get the wheel moving. The wheel is incomplete. Individuals who never progress beyond these four needs will never move beyond survival. We all know or have heard of individuals who have met all the four needs at a high level but get involved in self-destructive behaviours such as drugs, alcohol or other harmful addictions. We've read about celebrities who have committed suicide intentionally or otherwise because they essentially did not feel fulfilled despite having riches, fame, and a considerable level of variety and excitement. People get into these states because they lack the next two needs for thriving: the need for growth and contribution.

These next two needs, which were covered in the last episode, give a person's life meaning and this extends their life to another level of fulfillment, joy and realization. We've all experienced these emotions at some level, even if it was brief. When we share our abilities to help others or improve ourselves, we feel energized. We feel more harmony, happiness and fulfillment. That's why they are called the needs of fulfillment, or I like to call them the needs to thrive.

The wheel is incomplete. Individuals who never progress beyond these four needs will never move beyond survival.

How Do We Use these Needs to Shape or Change a Behaviour?

I saw a patient who was initially addicted to alcohol and was suffering from early signs of liver disease. He had been through an addiction program to help him quit, but he couldn't change his behaviour. He was fully aware that his drinking was killing him, and he couldn't change and didn't know how to anymore - he was stuck and didn't know how to get out. I asked him, "when do you drink and how long have you been drinking?"

He told me, "you know Doc, I never drank a whole lot before until after my kids grew up and went off to University. I never really drank at home and just drink with my buddies after work. We work on some very cool stuff …we restore old cars or motorbikes in my buddies garage, and we do an amazing job and put a little extra cash in our pockets if we sell them. It's a hobby, and we have a blast, and it's something new from the boring desk job I have. So while we work on the projects, we have 4-5 beers. And you know Doc, I also grew up in a family where my dad felt that real men drink so I would feel like a sissy if I stopped and I don't know what my buddies would think if I did".

So I didn't have to be a genius to see that he met his need for variety by working on the new cool vehicles. He was meeting his need for love/connection by doing it with his friends, and he met his need for significance/recognition by being able to do something unique and different that few people in his peer group did. His need for recognition was also strongly conditioned by his father, who felt "real men drink." No wonder he couldn't stop drinking. To stop drinking, he would lose his life in a different way. His behaviour would have been impossible to change if he didn't see how he could change the way he met his top three needs.

Essentially, if a person meets three of these six needs at a high level, it forms a habit or creates a conditioned behaviour. So, it was hard for him to quit because he had three needs he was meeting at a high level consistently. For him to change, he needs to remove something from his psychology or add something such as a new idea or perspective to change his need structure.

He was fully aware that his drinking was killing him, and he couldn't change and didn't know how to anymore - he was stuck and didn't know how to get out.

I have a friend who exercises and eats healthy foods consistently because he feels he is contributing to himself, his family, and others because it adds more energy when he shows up to work, thereby meeting his need for contribution at the highest level. When he exercises and eats well, he feels he is doing something important not only for himself but also for others, thus fulfilling his need for recognition. When he varies the way he exercises and does it with others, he meets her need for variety and connection as well. In the end, he meets three or more needs at the highest level, thereby making it a behaviour that is easily conditioned- that is a habit. Now by exercising and eating well is very easy for him, and he continues to remain healthy. To not exercise would go against his need structure.

This type of person will always have greater success in continuing and conditioning a habit vs. someone who sees exercising as a chore, dull, lifeless, unimportant. Some people see exercise as an activitiy that takes away from being with family or friends instead of living longer, healthier and contributing at a higher level. So how you look at your needs in terms of your habit can determine your outcome.

Getting back to the patient who was addicted to alcohol. As a clinician, I knew what was feeding his behaviour to drink. If I wanted to make an impact, I had to address those three needs so that he could change and live a longer and healthier life. I ended up challenging his father's level of significance and asked him, "do you think your dad would think you would be a real man if you didn't stop doing something that would kill you? Would he not define a real man as someone who can control his behaviour?"

That shifted and reframed the way he thought about his father's influence. And luckily, he said, "no, I guess not …he'd think I was pretty stupid for doing something that could kill me; I should man up and make a decision and stick with it." In terms of connection, he was able to tell his friends that he had a serious health issue. He reflected upon the fact that he would be hurt if one of his friends never shared a serious health issue with him because one of them would feel he'd be judged by him (ie. if the situation was reversed and one of his friends thought he was not trustworthy). So he opened up to share his situation with them, and they decreased their drinking around him and didn't allow him to drink at all. They became his best allies. He was able to continue meeting his needs but now switched the way he met them and subsequently went on to live a longer, healthier life.

"do you think your dad would think you would be a real man if you didn't stop doing something that would kill you?

How our Top Two Needs Shape Our Relationships:

I'd like to share a true story of a patient encounter I had a few years back with you. Here's what happened as I was about to go into the exam room- just before I opened the door, I could hear her (we will call her Kelly) crying and visualizing her tears flowing. When I walked in through the door, Kelly was sobbing inconsolably, the deep heavy cry that occurs when a person can't even catch their breath. I sat down in front of her and waited; the box of tissue was in front of her, and she was already nursing her tears. I tried to remain calm, not knowing what she would say. I had never seen her before and had no clue as to what was happening in her world. In her tears, she said, "Dr. Chawla, I don't know what to do with my husband. We now fight over the simple things. He never comes home anymore, and now he's not taking my calls or answering my texts. I haven't heard from him in three days. The kids are confused; I'm confused. I know it's not another woman. I don't know what to do! I feel helpless. My friends and family don't know what to say to me. We never fought before. My sister thinks I should leave him, my mom says there must be something else going on, give it time. What can I do? (The long pause …as I wondered if there was more to the story. My old self would have hoped for a way out, my new self knew a way to help her improve herself.

As much as this story was something I faced as a physician, it is not uncommon for other healthcare providers to experience these types of scenarios. The details may vary, but trying to help someone who feels helpless is quite prevalent in our profession. The reality is; the sense of helplessness also exists outside of the clinical setting and at some point in everyone's life. We've all experienced this feeling of helplessness, whether it's with ourselves or when we've tried to help someone who feels helpless. By now, we know many factors come into play when we are in this scenario.

So what transpired in this scenario?

In a short time with her, I learned that Kelly's top two needs that governed her life were the need for love and growth in literally three sentences. She "loved raising her children and watching them develop." Still, she found her role and level of importance were changing as they were becoming more independent and not needing her as much- they were heading into the teenage years, therefore more independence. The children required greater variety and testing as they were naturally moving away from their need for certainty. Kelly, unconsciously, felt bored and unfulfilled as raising her children was her main avenue to meet her top two needs of getting love and connection. So she decided to get a job.

When I asked her if they needed the extra income, she said no, her husband brought enough money home, and she didn't need to work, and that's why she was able to stay home, which she preferred. To make things worse, in Kelly's mind, she ended up finding a job with an overbearing boss and didn't make any friends at work. She hated her job. It wasn't surprising that she didn't like her work because she did not get any form of connection at her workplace.

"Dr. Chawla, I don't know what to do with my husband. We now fight over the simple things. He never comes home anymore, and now he's not taking my calls or answering my texts. I haven't heard from him in three days. The kids are confused; I'm confused. I know it's not another woman."

I then asked about her husband Peter (which is not his real name). I quickly discovered his top two needs were significance and certainty. He grew up in a very abusive home where both his mother and father were verbally and sometimes physically abusive. He grew up with words of discouragement and was consistently told that he was "good for nothing idiot and a loser." When Peter met Kelly, with her help, he broke through those chains of negativity and abuse. He was able to get a good education and then a great job where he could provide for his family. He was also the president of his local billiard club. Kelly described him as a kind man.

In summary, he was significant and certainty driven. This wasn't hard to decode. He met his needs primarily by providing for his family and believed in a stable, predictable environment. Peter later told me that he never wanted to be like his parents and firmly believed in the family unit. But now, things had changed dramatically. He wasn't responding to her texts and only came home in the morning and evenings to see the children and make breakfast and dinner. He wouldn't sleep at home, but stayed at his sister's house and slept there. Kelly also hadn't heard from him in three days, and Peter's sister told Kelly that he didn't want to talk to Kelly anymore.

Kelly said that they had minor arguments in the past, but now the small arguments were getting bigger and bigger, and she couldn't figure out why. They were fighting at a level neither of them experienced. Most importantly, neither of them didn't know how they got there and how to get out. Remember, Kelly, described her marriage as a good marriage with minimal disagreements.

Kelly was very open with me to share her story situation. But here's an interesting note, I had never met Kelly before, and in reality, she didn't know me either. She came to me because I was a doctor and no one she knew was helping her or provide her with any insight. As in all interactions, trust and understanding are crucial to finding out what's happening and knowing where and how to help. As a clinician, if you don't have that or can't develop that, your influence diminishes, and you can't provide any real value. I was being previed to her life story because of my title as a doctor, and she was so desperate she didn't know what else to do.

"good for nothing idiot and a loser."

After I had explained the six human needs with Kelly, she understood where she contributed to the interaction and why he felt disempowered. She told me she wasn't meeting his needs, and his work friends were teasing him about him wearing a "dress and not being the man of the house." He was feeling insignificant. She now understood why he never wanted to deposit her cheques into the bank account. She said things escalated when she'd make comments like, "I'll use my money to buy the groceries, etc.". He stopped texting her and never came home after she "who needs your money anyway, I work too, you know." Kelly also self-reflected on her primary vehicle for meeting her needs were through her children. Her additional source could and should have been her husband. She had stopped crying and developed a new appreciation of her world and could see how she could change her unconscious responses and create more considerable influence. By increasing her awareness by learning the six human needs, she was equipped to see what she could do to make and reunite the relationship and live with greater harmony.

In the past, I would try to wade through this type of interaction sometimes well and sometimes not so well. When I share this model of the Wheel of Needs with patients, I simply say, "I'd like to share with you something many people find helpful and shed some light into the scenario," and I simply go into the six human needs teachings. I write it down on paper, and to date, everyone asks for that piece of paper. I encourage you to use your examples, and you can make it as long or short as you want. Use whatever style that works for you.

This model of learning is incredibly valuable for many reasons. It allows people to come to a better understanding of their actions and what drives them. It also allows them to see what top two needs are driving other people in their life. Most importantly, it will enable individuals to view all this without judgment and pretense. When you can remove judgment from a situation, it allows you to have greater empathy for the other person and also helps change your responses to that person and, ultimately, the situation.

The other important factor about this model is that it is simple yet not simplistic. It gives people a framework that they can use after they've left your office. It helps them understand themselves and their world better. The challenge is that there can be so many opinions and ideas, making it challenging to organize a person's thoughts and plans to create action. Confusion happens in these cases, especially in relationships, because there are so many moving parts. The six human needs help clarify the situation, and with clarity comes actionable results.

If you go to the website, you'll find a free questionnaire that you can use to uncover your top two needs.

I hope this podcast served you in some way, if you've enjoyed listening to this podcast, please share with a friend or colleague and subscribe to us Apple podcast, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. And if you go to the and sign in there, you'll get my weekly emails about the podcast episode coming out.

I'm Dr. Lalit Chawla and thank you so much for listening. Let's make a higher, more productive community so that you live with greater passion, harmony and magic in your life and help others do the same.

Have a fantastic weekend!


I would love to hear any comments about this podcast and what would you like to hear in future episodes?


bottom of page