If a person’s natural M.O. is to contribute and make a difference but they are blocked from doing so, it produces an unmet need. This creates internal tension - the gap between their desired state and their current reality. There’s good news about tension – it has energy right inside it – and that energy can be released. When a driving need is fulfilled, the tension is resolved – and energy is released, producing a state of being. A state of being is more than just a feeling—it is a pervasive emotional condition that includes but transcends the emotion – affecting one’s entire being.

An emotion is like the temperature in your office, a state of being is like the weather in your city. For example:

Feeling accepted by a coworker in a meeting is good, but it can be a fleeting emotion.

Working in a team where you experience a solid, stable sense of belonging is a state of being.

Being given the chance to work on a new project is good, but it can be a fleeting feeling. Experiencing undisrupted freedom to make decisions and take action is a state of being.

An employee – let’s call her Jasmine, who experiences belonging within her team as a state of being. It’s the state of being – not just a passing nod of acceptance that releases a flow of oxytocin – freeing up mental bandwidth by bathing Jasmine’s brain with feelings of bonding, rapport and trust. Oxytocin is such potent juice that it can flush out fears of rejection, exclusion or isolation.

If she is also experiencing a state of significance, the potent juice of serotonin bathes her brain with feelings of agency, belief, confidence – flushing out the fears of being discounted, sidelined or disrespected.

Imagine Jasmine experiencing all five a five-fold state of belonging, security, freedom, significance and meaning. Her ability to connect with people quickly unlocks trust in the group. Her calm brain sees things so clearly, cutting through the clutter, constantly re-focusing the team on what matters. Her creative thinking permeates the conversation with a sense of possibility – possibility that is infused with a sense of agency and purpose. Jasmine’s juiced brain makes her indispensable.

The addition of each juice does not produce a 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 sum. It’s multiplicative. Our clarity multiplies the impact of our connection which multiplies the impact of our creativity, our possibility and our purpose. The juices working in concert are a source of super-performance that scientists do not yet understand. It’s the inter-relationships of the juices that creates human magic.

You can visualize the interior of Jasmine’s brain as a virtual Cirque-du-Soleil of neurotransmitters – leaping across synaptic clefts with exquisite coordination, connecting impulses to receptors with the precise timing of trapeze artists, integrating neural networks with brilliant orchestration.

But this show means business. When the juices are flowing, her brain can prioritize, focus, connect the dots and make strategic decisions. She has access to an expanded set of options, can enter into a flow state and perform at the highest level. For Jasmine, the system is rigged in her favour – rigged to let her win.



A juiced brain multiplies options.

We said that when Jasmine experiences a state of being where she feels highly connected, safe, autonomous, significant and purposeful, her brain is liberated from the interference of rejection, threat, control, disrespect and futility. This frees up brain capacity and allows her to perform optimally.

Our understanding of the flow of neurotransmitters takes this to another level. When Jasmine’s driving needs are fulfilled, her brain is not only unimpeded – it is primed for peak productivity by a virtuous current of fluid brain communication. The synapses spark – and the potential of each neuron sends out an impulse and instantly receives a response.

Imagine Jasmine doing an important presentation and she’s asked a tough question. Her positively primed brain instantly connects the dots and offers her options and alternatives for the best possible answer – creating a highly coherent flow of thought in her presentation.

Let’s explore the science of how that occurs.

Researchers tell us that Jasmine’s working memory can keep in mind 4-6 pieces of information at a time. Let’s work with the average – 5. In this meeting, she could be processing:

  1. What happened in her last meeting with this group.
  2. The concerns they’re surfacing today.
  3. Her goals.
  4. The positive outcomes if this meeting goes well.
  5. How people are engaging.

Her brain can sequence these 5 bits of data in different ways. Each sequence creates an option - a possibility for action or response.

How many options can Jasmine generate if she has 5 bits of intel to sequence in any way she wishes?

5? 25? 75?

More. It’s actually 120. (The math is 5 factorial: 5 X 4 X 3 X 2 X 1 = 120)

120 options. 120 different ways of approaching this situation – that’s a rich set of possibilities. This is the human brain with its needs met – super-primed with high-performance hormones.

Needs unfulfilled bathe our brains with black and white, binary juices.

Let’s go back and visualize Jasmine doing her presentation. It begins to go badly. People start rolling their eyes, checking their devices and ignoring her. This threatens her self-esteem - she senses her need for significance is at risk. What happens next is a splash of stress juices (adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine) that impair her working memory, and drive black and white thinking (either/or, now or never, all or nothing, you’re either with me or against me). They have one simple task: take the complexity out of the situation so Jasmine can make a lightning-fast decision that restores her safety.

These stress chemicals are well-suited for rescue operations – lifting a car or saving someone from a thug, but they are not well-suited for higher-order thinking. Why? Their purpose is to remove options – flushing out bits of data deemed to be extraneous; future-based thoughts, generative thoughts and complex thoughts.

What happens when one bit of data is flushed out of Jasmine’s rational brain? When positively primed – she had access to 120 options. How many options will she be left with now? The answer is 4 factorial (4 X 3 X 2 X 1 = 24) She just lost 96 options. If Jasmine lacks self-awareness and fails to implement a strategy to get her higher-order thinking back, another bit of data is flushed out and she’s now left with 6 options. She has lost 95% of the options she had access to only moments before.

She might get so triggered that she loses all but two bits of data. From 120 to 2 options. That is radical brain-power shrinkage. Radical contraction. What’s not possible now? Creative, nuanced, higher order thinking. Black and white, binary thinking is all she’s capable of: now or never, all or nothing, right or wrong, you’re either with me or against me, on the bus or off the bus.

It is virtually impossible to be innovative in this state. It’s highly unlikely Jasmine will be socially skillful or engage in partnering, integrative thinking or value-creation.

The unmet needs that trigger these brain-shrinking chemicals are myriad, but the biggest ones are psychological, like these:

• Unresolved conflict, team tension, being excluded

• Working in a state of chaos, fear of being bullied

• Feeling micromanaged, controlled or trapped

• Feeling unappreciated, judged or unduly criticized

• Hopelessness and futility, not being able to make a difference

Note the 5 driving needs unmet: no belonging, no security, no freedom, no significance, no meaning.

It’s instructive to discover the science behind what we’ve all experienced: a brain that feels alone, at risk, trapped, discounted or hopeless is incapable of connecting the dots – except in the most basic, black-and-white ways.

But there’s something inspiring in this science – something we shouldn’t miss. If you’re having a conversation and you become triggered and go from having 5 bits of data (120 options) down to 4 bits (24 options) there are powerful self-management strategies you can use to get your smarts back – and more.

We won’t unpack them here, but strategies like naming your state, tapping into gratitude and counting your breaths can send a powerful “all clear” signal, a powerful bio-hack assuring your brain that you are no longer in place of threat. These strategies release a cascade of neuro-friendly juices into your brain that restores bits of data, from 4 to 5 – even surpassing the average of 5 and bumping you up to 6. With 6 bits of data, you now have access to an amazing 720 options. Your brain is now richly primed to be crystal-clear, innovative, resourceful, nimble and strategic.


In Conclusion

Powerfully productive days are the result of energized brains – brains primed by neuron-friendly juices that make performance feel easy. These juices flow in the pursuit and fulfillment of our driving needs.

Perhaps it’s time for a pivot – from seeing our needs as a sign of weakness to viewing them as our agents of growth. Our needs grow us in several ways:

Our needs require us to connect and partner with others

Our needs permit (and even require us) to be vulnerable and authentic

Our needs school us in a genuine compassion and empathy for others

Our needs provide the opportunity to experience fulfillment and growth

Our needs cause us to transform

Our needs make us human

Perhaps it is time to befriend our Five Driving Needs.

Read the previous article in the Five Driving Needs series: Why Are Psychological Needs so Biologically Urgent?

Stay tuned for the next article in this series!

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