When it comes to setting goals, most people tend to focus on the areas society urges and expects us to without regard for what’s truly important to us. I’m proposing that this a flawed path toward goal attainment. People need to consider their five basic needs: which ones are most important and which ones are most depleted.

The five basic needs that drive all human behavior are Safety & Security, Connection, Significance, Freedom and Joy. When you think about how you spend your time each day, what need drives most of your actions? I know that, for me, my high needs are Connection and Freedom. A moderate need for me is Significance and the needs that I don’t often consider are Joy and Safety & Security. If you want to see what needs might be highest for you, check out the assessments for each need at The Relationship Center.

Now that you’re familiar with how your needs affect your life, it’s time to evaluate how well you can meet them, starting with your highest. You will want to set your 2021 goals in such a way that you address your highest needs, as well as the needs that may be depleted.

Often, we try to set goals in areas where we believe we should change without the motivation behind it to drive us toward the change. Without the necessary motivation, you will find it challenging to accomplish your goals, leading to frustration. For example, let’s say you want to lose the 30 pounds of extra weight you’re carrying for health reasons, but Safety & Security is your lowest priority. You will make progress toward your weight loss goal until something competes with it that satisfies a more important need.

Let’s look at some common goals and examine the motivation behind them.

  1. Increase savings.
  2. Exercise daily.
  3. Eat healthier.
  4. Spend quality time with your children.
  5. Engage in a regular routine for self-care.
  6. Read more.
  7. Meditate daily.
  8. Improve work/life balance.

On the surface, increasing savings seems to be a Safety & Security need, but it could also be Significance if your motivation is to become known as someone who is smart with finances, or if it’s something you are doing to improve your financial skills. It could also be driven by Freedom because, with more money, you have more freedom. If increasing your savings or income is one of your goals for 2021, what is the driving force behind it?

Exercising, eating healthier and losing weight are often driven by Safety & Security, a need to improve one’s health. However, it could also be motivated by Freedom—Freedom to move freely without pain. It could be for Connection because you believe you would be more attractive if you lost some weight. It could also be Significance because you don’t like to be controlled by food and you know a healthy routine will serve you well. If you have a goal in this general area, what is motivating you?

Spending quality time with your children is typically motivated by the need for Connection. However, it could be a need for Joy. Significance could drive it, too, because you are working to be the best parent you can possibly be. Freedom could also be driving it because you want freedom from the other things that have occupied your life. What need is driving this goal for you?

A self-care routine could be motivated by Safety & Security, Connection with oneself, Significance, Freedom and Joy. If self-care is one of your goals, what’s motivating you?

Reading and meditating regularly could be motivated by Significance, Freedom or Joy. Which is it for you?

Improving your work/life balance could similarly be motivated by Freedom, Significance, Connection, Joy or Safety & Security—Freedom if you are looking for more personal time, Significance if it is something you are attempting to master, Connection if you want to improve relationships with friends and family, Joy if you see more personal time as affording opportunities for joy and Safety & Security if you are concerned your current lifestyle is creating medical concerns.

There is an intimate connection between your goals and the needs that are driving you. Generally, your highest needs drive most of your behavior unless one area is frustrated or deprived for a period of time. You cannot go long without satisfying your needs. If one has been ignored too long, it will scream to be met.

Next week, I’ll be writing more about this connection to perhaps explain why you might be having challenges meeting goals you know would be good for you to accomplish.

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