In 1943, renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a paper called, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In it, he introduced his now-famous motivation model generally referred to as the Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow hypothesized that there were five basic stages of needs that human beings moved through at different times in their lives that served as the driving motivation behind their actions. These stages were 1) Physiological (food, shelter, sex, etc.), 2) Safety, 3) Belongingness and Love, 4) Esteem and 5) Self-Actualization. His theory, which is still referred to today, assumed that a deficiency in any of the earlier stages of need, would prevent us from moving toward the later stages.
While intuitively seductive in its simplicity, research from the disciplines of anthropology and neuroscience has recently painted a slightly different picture of what truly motivates us. In his 2013 book Social – Why We’re Wired to Connect, UCLA neuroscientist Matt Lieberman points to much evidence that human brains actually developed very specific neural circuitry to facilitate the creation of close connections with other people as our primary need, even before the pursuit of food, water, sex and then safety.
Because our early ancestors could never consistently satisfy these needs as reliably by ourselves as we could working with others.
From the time we are born, we find ourselves forever at the mercy of others. At infancy and through childhood, we rely upon the benevolence of our parents to feed and protect us. Then we rely upon them and others to teach us how to become self-sufficient; to be able to take care of our physiological and safety needs by ourselves. But even when we do reach a state where we have the physical strength and intellect to fend for ourselves, we never do it as efficiently by ourselves as we do when we are part of a greater community. Because of this, according to Lieberman, “Love and belonging might seem like a convenience we can do without, but our biology is built to thirst for connection because it is linked to our most basic survival needs.”
“If you’re too busy to help other people, you’re too busy.” – Bob Moawad
In addition to merely surviving more efficiently, it turns out that we may actually adapt and evolve better with the support of others as well. In his 2014 New York Times bestseller, The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg brilliantly observed that two of the essential ingredients required for replacing non-productive (sometimes destructive) habits with productive ones are hope and belief. And guess where these intangible elements most reliably come from? You guessed it – other people. By building strong, social support networks of others who both encourage us and reflect our good qualities back to us, we are much more likely to maintain the willpower necessary for our brains to imagine, adopt and maintain new habits and routines.
As you make your way through the rest of this week, challenge yourself to build and reinforce social connections wherever possible. Not only may you end up being the source of hope and inspiration that helps another person to move toward his or her best self, but you will likely find others waiting in the wings with a smile to help you do the same.