The Core Human Desire

Had a really interesting breakthrough the other day based on a conversation with Rav Suri about the core human desire.

I was explaining the foundations of PNST and was covering the psychological needs. He asked ‘Why are these psychological needs? What drives them?’

I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve since discovered why I believe these psychological needs are at the core of human desire and from where they stem.

My logic went like this:

  • Why do people desire power and connection and freedom and significance and everything else? What do they get out of it? What happens if they don’t get it? If they do get it, they feel good. If they don’t get it, they feel anxious.
  • What’s the cause of anxiety? According to Flow theory, the cause is that perceived challenge of an activity is greater than perceived skill (Czikszentmihalyi)
  • For someone to experience anxiety due to lacking a psychological need, then it must mean that they need that psychological need as the ‘skill’ component.
  • If this is the case, then they must be pursuing a flow state in every moment and requiring this psychological need to overcome their perceived challenges

If this is correct, then the core human desire in every moment is to pursue core elements that are required for Flow: an intrinsically significant task pursued at a challenging but achievable level.

This makes logical sense and aligns with both my lived experience and the experience of those I’ve worked with.

They had an intrinsically significant goal they were pursuing and they perceived that the challenge was higher than their skill level.

Now, the place where the psychological needs comes in if people simply operated in the present moment and focussed on one specific task, we would be able to assess the challenge and skill matrix for that one activity and our experience of that moment would be relative to that activity. BUT… We don’t.

Humans don’t just think about one activity in one moment. We think about our future goals and plans and we think big picture.

This is where psychological needs come in: they are the ‘skill’ that we need to overcome undefined and non-specific future goals.

The psychological need for power provides the perception that we can overcome obstacles in our future, be they specific and defined, or unspecific and undefined.

The psychological need for control provides the perception that we can manipulate significant variables in our future, be they specific and defined, or unspecific and undefined.

The psychological need for connection provides the perception that we are not the only person going through these challenges and that we have others on our team.

The psychological need for freedom provides the perception that we can pursue an intrinsically significant goal.

The rest of the needs all fit this model: they provide us with a perceptual map of our ability to overcome both defined and undefined challenges that may or may not appear in our future.

At this point in time, I’m calling this perceptual map our ‘Capability Schema’, but that’s a loose working title. I’ll see how it goes.

So, that is the core desire of every human in every moment: to pursue an intrinsically significant goal at a challenging but achievable level.

Thank Rav Suri (Mac Shine for facilitating the conversation).

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