How to figure out what matters most to you

And how your need to feel significant might be sabotaging your life and relationships.

Everybody has different goals and desires that drive them, but we all have the same needs.” This is how Tony Robbins leads the crowd of nearly eight thousand people packed into Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, into figuring out what they most value in life.

A volley of questions fall over the audience from the big man, “Why do humans do the things they do?” “What drives and shapes all of our emotions, actions, our quality of life?” and “What makes a Charles Manson? Why is it different to what makes a Nelson Mandela?”

Here for his largest ‘Unleash the Power Within’ conference in Australia to-date, the massive audience are told that while each of us are unique, there are universal truths. In the same way that we share a similarly functioning biology, there are also six fundamental needs that every human has in common. And, the world-famous philanthropist and life coach, goes on to explain, “all behavior is just an attempt to meet those six needs - but the different ways people meet these needs are unlimited.”

So, what are these six human needs? As Tony lays it out, the needs we all share are:

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure. This manifests in positive ways like saving money, eating healthy and exercising and basically doing things to maintain equilibrium in your life. But Tony explains that there are downsides to all the needs, the downsides to certainty would be not trying new things, or not being open to new people.

2. Uncertainty: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli. At first it almost seems like a contradiction to the first point, and in the contrary way of humans it is. However, this made more sense to me when it was phrased as ‘variety’. Basically, it’s the need we have to seek out new experiences - new friends, new jobs, new things to learn - with the downside of instability or impulsive behaviour.

3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed. Now, this was the big one, hold onto this point and we’ll get into it in a second.

4. Connection and Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something. Here there was a big wave of recognition from the crowd when Tony pointed out that many people settle for connection over meaningful love. Connection can be a positive thing, of course, but the negative ways it tends to show up fall into the categories of shallow friendships.

5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. Or as Tony rephrased it, ‘Motion equals emotion’. It’s a very old idea that self-esteem comes from your actions and a sense of achievement. “Remember, rewards come in action, not in discussion,” he explained to the crowd.

6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others. Of this need Robbins says, “Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy, true fulfilment.”

While the top four needs in this list above are what shape our personality - with the last two (growth and contribution) are what is shaping our spiritual needs - each human subconsciously puts these six needs in their own order of importance. Personally I immediately gravitated towards Certainty and Love/ Connection as my top two driving forces, while my seat-mate in the arena prioritised Uncertainty and Significance.

The problem as Tony explained it, comes when you list significance or certainty as one of the top two needs. If either of these things are the most important driving force to your personality then, ‘you’re gonna have problems. Guar-an-teed.”

The trouble with certainty is simple: for certainty life has to stay the same - something life does not do. “The only way to achieve that is to lower your expectations or just be stressed out all the time, neither of which are a good option.”

But back to point three - the most interesting I thing learnt came from his ideas around significance. More specifically the way that overcoming our underlying need to feel “significant” can lead to a much more positive and fulfilled life.

On the surface, significance seems super positive - I get significance from my work and from keeping up my relationships with my family and friends. But a deep dive into the need uncovered that the need to feel significant, or important, brings out the ugly in most of us. Tony had the crowd honestly look into their personal, “root of each of our different cravings for significance?”.

This is other side of significance - the arguments we manufacture to prove importance in the life of someone we love, the bossy behaviour at work, road rage and passive aggression and all the things we do to prove to other people that we are here and we matter.

Here was my biggest learn from day one: while there’s nothing wrong with the need to feel important - everyone wants to feel significant- you have to choose carefully about how you achieve this feeling. “Using the power of decision gives you the capacity to get past any excuse to change any and every part of your life in an instant,” cautioned Robbins.

To satisfy this need in a way that will make us feel good in the long run we must choose to be productive, not destructive.

It’s difficult to explain the impact this had on me, the feeling of standing in this huge superdome, literally built as a monument to significance - the 2000 Olympic games - and understand deeply that we all have to instead make an effort to prove our significance through service to the world and making it better, and also through gratitude.

Or, as Tony neatly summarised, “trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” And, it did - a surge of goodwill from the crowd that was so tangible it felt like an entity in the room rolled over everyone and imbued his words with real meaning - the feeling hasn’t left me since.