What is a psychological need?

Psychological needs form a core foundation of PNST, with these needs identified as the core driver behind all thoughts, decisions, actions, and emotional responses. But this raises good questions: What is a psychological need? And why do we have them?

To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand the basic pursuit of life and how we, as humans, pursue this goal.

The Pursuit of Life

The pursuit of life, in its simplest form, is what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi referred to as an ‘optimal experience’ in his ground-breaking work on flow.

An optimal experience is [something] and is achieved when an intrinsically significant goal is pursued at a challenging but achievable level.

This is what the human mind is pursuing in every moment, from the second we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. It’s what we seek while we’re in the shower, travelling to work, relaxing with friends, and planning tomorrow’s workload. It’s everything we want in every moment.

The place where UTHP diverges from Csikszentmihalyi’s original theory of flow is that his original theory focuses solely on activities in the present moment. His theory was based on studies of people ‘being in the zone’ while undertaking activities and so his theory doesn’t focus on any moment other than the present moment.

In UTHP, the human mind isn’t only focussed on creating an optimal experience based on the perception of skills and challenges in the present moment. `

The relationship between optimum experience and psychological needs

Now, the important part: how does the optimum experience relate to psychological needs?

In order for a person to have an optimum experience based on their perception of their future, they need to perceive that they have the skills and abilities to overcome the challenges that they may experience in their future.

The wide range of challenges that a person may encounter in the future means that it is not possible for a person to know how to overcome every single challenge they may face. Instead, people attempt to form a perceptual map of their general ability to overcome the challenges they may face. This is called a Capability Schema. It’s an individual’s perception of their capacity to overcome any challenges they may face in

A psychological need is part of the bigger-picture perceptual map that a person holds in their head of their ability to overcome the unspecific and undefined challenges that they believe may exist in the future and prevent them from achieving their goals. They form part of the individual’s perception of their skills and abilities.

For example:

  • The psychological need for power is related to an individual’s perception that they can overcome challenges that may impact their ability to achieve their intrinsically significant future goals
  • The psychological need for connection is related to an individual’s perception that they are not the only/first person to walk their life path and that others will be able to provide guidance on their journey towards their intrinsically significant goals.
  • The psychological need for freedom is related to an individuals perception that they will be able to pursue intrinsically significant goals and will not be forced to undertake tasks related to non-significant goals

This perceptual map is different from the concept of self-efficacy as self-efficacy is the perception that the individual can overcome challenges. This perceptual map (or capability schema) is not limited to whether or not the individual can overcome the unknown and undefined challenges, but that they have the resources (including psychological tools, physical tools, and importantly, other people) to overcome the challenges.