Why Smart People Make Stupid Decisions

We are driven by forces that often seem beyond our control.

We prefer to believe we make rational decisions, but neuroscience has demonstrated that our decisions are actually emotional, but we seek logical reasons to justify them.

One of the most powerful concepts I have ever learned was the model of the six emotional needs. Every decision you have ever made has been driven by one or more of these six emotional needs.

This model completely changed how I view human behavior and decision making. Now I consider these six needs every time I negotiate, teach, coach, sell, or influence other people.

When you have a practical understanding of this model, your romantic, personal, and professional relationships will dramatically improve.

Here are the six needs:

Certainty – the need for predictable safety and security

Uncertainty – the need for variety, surprise, challenge, and excitement

Significance – the need to feel valued, important, wanted, and special

Love and Connection – the need to feel close to and intimate with other people

Growth – the need to expand, develop, and improve

Contribution – the need to give to something beyond ourselves

Without exception, we are all influenced by these six emotional needs; however, we all prioritize them differently. To understand human behavior, it is critical to determine which of the six needs have the greatest influence.

Once you understand what drives your choices, then you can make changes that will lead to a more productive and fulfilling life. And when you understand someone else’s primary needs, you will be able to connect with them on a deeper level and have greater influence.

The lenses through which you view the world, and the moral code you have adopted, have been determined by which emotional needs you prioritize.

None of the six needs is superior to the others; that said, the quality of your life is determined largely by which of these six needs influences you the most. If certainty or significance is your primary need, you will always struggle to find fulfillment.

We live in an unpredictable world, so if certainty is one of your primary needs, you will be forced to lower your expectations or attempt to control your environment and the people around you.

When you prioritize significance, your happiness will always be dependent on the approval of others, which is impossible to consistently achieve. Chasing significance also puts you in a never-ending competition where someone always will be ahead of you. 

There is nothing wrong with making choices for certainty or significance, but be cautious when either of those two is the primary driving force in your life. If either is your first or second primary need, consciously work to shift toward growth and contribution.

We use various vehicles to fulfil these six needs—some can be positive, whereas others can be negative.

For example, a woman might enter a romantic relationship to meet one or more of the six needs:

She can marry a wealthy man to meet her need for certainty.

She can date an unattached, promiscuous man to meet her need for uncertainty.

She can marry a famous man to meet her need for significance.

She can marry a man she shares a deep connection with to meet her need for love.

She can marry a man who inspires and encourages her to meet her need for growth.

She can marry a man who desires a family she can use to fulfil her need for contribution.

Here are other examples:

A man can find a stable government job to meet his need for certainty.

A man can launch a risky business to meet his need for uncertainty.

A man can climb the corporate ladder to meet his need for significance.

A man can become an artist to fulfill his need for connection with his fans.

A man can enter a low-paying but challenging career to meet his need for growth.

A man can work for a nonprofit to meet his need for contribution.

None of those examples is right or wrong, but it is important that the vehicles you choose to meet your needs are healthy and align with a lifestyle that will bring you fulfillment.

According to the renowned speaker Anthony Robbins, “All dysfunctional behaviors arise from the inability to consistently meet these six needs.”

We will always find a way to meet these needs, but people frequently find unhealthy ways to meet them. When we inexplicably engage in unhealthy behavior, this model can explain the “rewards” one gains from seemingly destructive choices.

For example, people often use depression as a vehicle to meet some of their emotional needs:

Depression can meet the need for certainty by offering a predictable, consistent state.

Depression can meet the need for significance when someone chronically complains and participates in “my despair is worse than your despair” competitions.

Depression can meet the need for love and connection when one receives sympathy every time he or she shares his or her problems.

Consciously or not, we do things only if we believe they will meet one or more of these six emotional needs. People unconsciously hold on to problems, because one that fulfills three or more of the six emotional needs, becomes addictive.

You can understand everything you want to know about yourself, and others, when you determine which of the six needs drive the majority of your choices and which vehicles you use to meet those needs.

When you understand which of the six needs you are trying to meet with each vehicle, it can help you create new patterns that will enable you stop making self-destructive choices.

If you want to live a happy and fulfilled life, you may need to reprioritize certainty and significance and then choose vehicles that are consistent with the life you want to live.

Would you like to have someone to help you work through these ideas with you? Click here to schedule your Free High Performance Coaching session.

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