Reality Check: Back to Basics

While browsing my bookshelf, I thought it time to reread one of the classics: Stephen Covey’s “First Things First.”
If you’re looking for help to live a satisfying life, Covey’s books are a good place to start. You won’t find a step-by-step formula, but you will find questions and suggestions to get you thinking.
There are both similarities and differences between Covey’s approach and Glasser’s (Reality Therapy) approach. For example, both identify basic human needs, but they do it differently.
Why bother discussing basic needs? If you’re feeling vaguely dissatisfied; when you have a gnawing feeling that something is “off” but you’re not sure what it is, then understanding your basic needs could help you identify gaps in your life.
This understanding can help you choose actions to address what’s missing.
In “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Glasser suggests that humans have five needs: survival, fun, love/belonging, power and freedom. Different people have different strengths of these needs. To have a satisfying life, we need to find ways to satisfy each one.
Covey suggests four needs that are fundamental to fulfillment. He puts them together in a phrase: to live, to learn, to love, to leave a legacy.
How do Glasser and Covey compare? Let’s go through them one by one.
What Glasser refers to as the need for survival connects with what Covey calls the need “to live.” Our striving to satisfy physical needs—food, shelter, health—all connect to that. Economic security is in here too; we endure sometimes difficult work so that we may earn a living and survive. We give up tasty foods in efforts to maintain our health; that is, to survive.
“To learn” is another need specified by Covey. While Glasser doesn’t address learning specifically as a basic need, he does refer to the need for fun. Fun, he asserts, is the genetic reward for learning. To laugh and to play is to learn.
Satisfaction comes from growing, exploring, learning something new about ourselves, others, or the world around us. If we were to believe that we already know everything that’s worth knowing, dissatisfaction could set in. Perhaps it’s because we’re missing the fun of learning!
Covey’s “to love,” and Glasser’s love/belonging need are clearly similar. Both speak to the importance of satisfying relationships—not just intimate or spousal relationships, but the broader perspective of connecting with people.
If we feel alone, alienated, or believe that we are the only person who sees things the way that we do, we’re dissatisfied. We need to know that we belong somewhere. Thus, we seek out others with whom we feel comfortable and accepted; places where “everybody knows our name.” Places where we belong.
Finally, Covey says we have a need to “leave a legacy.” This is the need to have a sense of meaning and purpose; the need to contribute, to know what’s important. I think that Glasser’s need for power is very much a component of this. Different people attempt to satisfy their need for power in different ways. When you work toward a clear purpose, you’re demonstrating one way to satisfy your need for power. And, it leaves a legacy.
Curiously, Glasser’s fifth identified need—the need for freedom—doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in Covey’s classification. However, for some people, the need for freedom is very strong.
Recognizing the freedom need can help us understand why some people make seemingly irrational decisions. For example, why might a person sabotage an apparently good relationship? A good job? Good living arrangements? It could be an attempt to satisfy their need for freedom.
Understanding our basic needs can help us create a more satisfying life. Do you see how these needs might motivate actions, in your life or others’?

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