Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What You Want vs. What You Need

Motivation: the process by which activities are started, directed, and continued so that physical or psychological needs or wants are met.

I thought it would be prudent to differentiate between a need and a want before I delved any deeper into other motivation theories. This is one of the hardest lessons to teach children, but many adults also have a hard time distinguishing between what they want and what they really need. Let's take a look at the Drive-Reduction theory of motivation (an instinct theory).

Need: a requirement of some material, such as food and water, that is essential for survival of the organism. This is a biologically based necessity, usually instinctual in nature. Needs, true needs, tend to fall into the primary drives category. There are only a select few of these. Anything else can fall into the secondary drives category (at least according to instinct theory).

Instinct: biologically determined and innate pattern of behavior that exists in both people and animals. Instincts are unlearned, uniform in expression, and universal in a species. This is why there are only a few primary drives. Only a few things are unlearned and universal needs across ALL humans.

Drive: a psychological tension and physical arousal arising when there is a need that motivates the organism to act in order to fulfill the need and reduce the tension.This is essentially our psychological tipping point; when we can no longer ignore our deficiency (need), then we are moved into action in order to reduce our body's nagging insistence that we care for it.

Primary drives: those drives that involve needs of the body. There are only a few primary drives--things we must have in order to survive. The goals of primary drive satisfaction is to achieve homeostasis (a steady state or balance within the body). The only primary drives that exist are:
  • hunger
  • thirst
  • avoidance of pain
  • sex (important on a species level)
  • [honorable mentions: oxygen, sleep]
  • [pending more defined research and definition: love]
That's it. These are the only things that you absolutely NEED in life. Everything else is either a personality characteristic that is not universal to all humans (psychological drives, stimulus drives; [see related motivation posts]) or an acquired or secondary drive. Granted, life would be boring and not really fulfilling with only these basic needs, but these are the only true needs for humans. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are once again confusing the meaning of the words.

Secondary (acquired) drives: those drives that are learned through experience or conditioning. Somewhere along the way people learned that other things seem to be important (or perceived as such) for a human life. These things are wide and varied and you can argue that society has made then almost a necessity, however, there may be ways around them. Included in secondary drives are things like money, status, fashion, education, power, "stuff" and consumer goods (cell phones, tablets, Internet, etc.), and certain qualities of the basic needs, such as expensive food or drink. In all reality, no one needs a well-paying job. However, it is incredibly difficult to provide the basics, and some luxuries, for ourselves and our families without one. This is probably why it is so easy to confuse need and want. Many people want a car, for example, but it is possible--though not comfortable--to navigate the world without one.


Goal: target of motivated behavior. This is usually the reduction of a need or the satisfaction of a desire. We are goal-oriented in nature, so we constantly create goals to achieve when our bodies do not provide a natural deficiency to satisfy. For many people, satisfaction of primary drives is taken for granted. This could explain why it becomes increasingly easier to fall into the trap of believing that secondary drives are necessities as well. We are hard-wired to constantly fulfill deficiencies. When we have no real deficiencies, then we seek to create new ones so that we can continue responding [response: an action or series of actions, usually with the purpose of reducing a need].