Five Driving Needs (Part 1): A Framework for Understanding the Energized Brain

Your powerfully productive day is the result of an energized brain.


Imagine yourself at the end of a powerfully productive day. You became so immersed in your work you lost all track of time. Every task you checked off increased the buzz. By end of day, the sense of progress was palpable.

What creates a day like that? One could imagine it was sandwiched between two dismally unproductive days. So what changed?

It wasn’t your talents - they don’t change from one day to the next. Neither was it your education, your experience, or skills - they don’t spike from one day to the next. It’s unlikely that gritting your teeth and trying harder contributed a thing.

Consider this possibility: that day was the result of an energized brain. Not raw physical verve and mojo, but what we call intelligent energy – the ability to sustain focus in the midst of distractions, manage your emotions in high stakes situations, process oceans of information, pick out the vital bits of intel and connect the dots in surprising ways.

This article de-mystifies that ever-elusive, powerfully productive day. It doesn’t occur randomly or by chance. There is a pattern:

  1. Your driving needs are fulfilled
  2. Those fulfilled needs energize your brain
  3. That energy endows you with peak performance.


Question: what do people mean when they say, “The juices are flowing”?
Answer: Ideas are popping. The volume of ideas, The novelty of those ideas. The usability of those ideas. In short, creativity is getting easy here.

Question: what happens when your phone runs out of juice?
Answer: Brilliant technology - now useless - a paperweight – because it ran out of energy.

Question: what do people mean when they say, “I’ve got the juice to do this now”?
Answer: “I have energy to tackle this.”

The point? Juice is vernacular for energy. You’ve no doubt heard of dopamine – it’s an electro-chemical juice. When it flows – we’re more creative. There are several kinds of juices – each endowing us with a unique functionality. When GABA flows we feel calm. When serotonin flows we feel confident. When oxytocin flows we feel rapport. These juices prime our brains with the connectivity and current that produce peak performance, but they transcend plumbing and electricity by a long shot.

These brain-friendly juices create an emotional state, priming us with feelings of connection, clarity, creativity and confidence. Each juice is a form of intelligent energy that makes our brains smarter and our bodies more vitalized. Juice makes things easier – it shows up in the numbers – and in the work environment.

At Juice, Inc, we have partnered with many leaders to release this intelligent energy in their employees. Here’s what they told us:

  • “We’ve cut our credits and returns in half.” (Distribution Center)
  • “For the first time in I don’t know how long, my employees are actually singing on the production line.” (Manufacturing)
  • “There were several people who had their resumes polished up. None of them are looking for new jobs anymore.” (Hospital)

It would be easy to assume energizing juices are only released through transcendental experiences. The truth is something more surprising, counter-intuitive and accessible: our psychological needs determine the flow of high-performance juices. At Juice Inc, we have worked with countless organizations to develop tools that tap into that energy. Distilled from this work is our philosophy of the Five Driving Needs.

Just as we have basic physical needs, we have an array of psychological needs – just as ancient, primal, and as biologically urgent as oxygen – which drive our behavior. The following five driving needs are essential nutrients to human flourishing: belonging, security, freedom, significance and meaning.

The study of neurotransmitters and hormones, or if you like fancy words –Neuroendocrinology, informs us that our brains and bodies are deeply impacted by psychological needs. Unmet needs – and fulfilled ones – have electro-chemical and physical consequences. While there is far more to be discovered (these neurotransmitters are more soup than circuit-board) a basic grasp of the linkage between needs and neurotransmitters will help us understand how energizing juices flow in our brains. Loretta Graziano Breuning’s book Meet Your Happy Chemicals is a great place to start, as is this Psychology Today article, and finally my own book Beyond Engagement, where I introduced this five driving needs framework.

Understanding the Relationship between Driving Needs and “Juice”

  • Belonging includes relatedness, affiliation, social connection, friendship, acceptance, inclusion, feeling part of the tribe, close relationships, attachment and kinship.
    Belonging makes oxytocin flow. Oxytocin is the juice of connection, powering our brains to bond, create rapport, and develop trust.

  • Security entails clarity, order, consistency, predictability, organization, dependable structure, effective systems, fair play, equality and clear expectations.
    Security makes the sense of threat recede and several anti-stress hormones, like GABA, flow. GABA is the juice of calmness. It can be unlocked through the practice of yoga and meditation - energizing our brains to become soothed, structured and organized. Some research suggests that GABA can help people make decisions, formulate strategies, and focus while problem-solving. Removal of the sense of threat also shuts off our sympathetic nervous system (energy-expensive, gas-guzzling mode) and switches on our parasympathetic nervous system (energy conservation mode) with a release of prolactin, oxytocin and vasopressin – which deliver additional feelings of calmness.

  • Freedom involves decision-making latitude, autonomy, agency, adventure, opportunity to take risks, the leeway to prove oneself, and the right to choose for yourself.
    Freedom and possibility make dopamine flow. Dopamine is the juice of motivation, energizing our brains to focus, be mentally flexible, creative and innovative, to pursue goals and to push through setbacks.

  • Significance means achievement, competence, mastery, progress, performance, capability, self-esteem, excellence, quality, status, differentiation from the status quo, being valued and respected, reputation and legacy. Significance makes serotonin flow. Serotonin is the juice of confidence, energizing our brains with agency, belief, invincibility and self-efficacy.

  • Meaning includes purpose, contributing to a cause, seeking justice, pursuing the greater good, making a difference, and altruism.
    Purpose and meaning make high-performance hormones flow – but it’s not yet conclusive which ones. The current understanding points to endocannabinoids. They constitute the juice of bliss, balancing our brains and creating homeostasis; they tell the other neurotransmitters to “cool it” when firing too fast, and create a sort of natural high.

What kind of juices do you need today?

  • Connective juices?
  • Calmness juices?
  • Creative juices?
  • Confident juices?
  • Cool it juices?

Identify the driving need that matters most to you. Plan how you will get that need met and you can release the juices that produce a super-productive brain and a super-productive day!

Read the next article in our Five Driving Needs Series: Why are Psychological Needs so Biologically Urgent?

More About Transforming Employee Engagement

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An Introduction to the Beyond Engagement Philosophy

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