How I use the Primal Human Needs to live a balanced life

Roger Elliott
Roger Elliott, Managing Director of Uncommon Knowledge & Hypnosis Downloads

The tricky thing about running a psychology training company is that there’s an expectation that you should be 100% sorted 100% of the time.

Back in real life, of course, running a company is running a company. In fact, there might even be a bit of ‘cobbler’s shoes’ syndrome going on.

If things do get a bit stressful, at least I have the framework of the Primal Human Needs to fall back on as a quick checklist.

Staying sane in the modern world

In case you don’t know, Uncommon Knowledge use this framework as a basis for a healthy life, both when we’re treating individual clients and developing our online products.

I’ll tell you the sorts of things I do to manage stress on a weekly basis. But first, here’s the list of Primal Human Needs:

  • feel safe and secure day to day
  • give and receive attention
  • have a sense of some control and influence over events in life
  • feel stretched and stimulated by life to avoid boredom
  • have fun sometimes and feel life is enjoyable
  • feel intimate with at least one other human being
  • feel connected to and part of a wider community
  • be able to have privacy and time to privately reflect
  • have a sense of status, a recognizable and appreciated role in life
  • have a sense of competence and achievement
  • a sense of meaning about life and what we do.

How I use the needs

Now, sometimes when I read this sort of ‘how I do it’ article, I get the feeling that the writer is some kind of super-organized superhero who cuts their day into time slots, each allocated to a specific activity with a designated aim.

Do these people really exist? Well, if they do, I’m not one of them. The list of things below has come about through trial and error and it’s by no means perfect. AND I let various parts of it slip at different times. But I do know that if I stick to it at least 80%, then I’m generally happier and healthier.

  1. Play with my family. This takes effort every day because, due to the nature of my work, I can always be working. But really submerging myself in having fun with my kids quickly switches off the business part of my brain and reminds me how to have fun and relax. If you don’t have a child handy, you could try our ‘Eyes of a Child‘ session.
  2. Spend time with my wife. Intimacy is important to me; before I had kids, I didn’t realize how important (“you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”). Although our parents are both within a 4-hour drive, it’s not the same as having grandparents next door, so we have to make more of an effort to make time to spend together. Often this takes the form of a weekend away together. And now that our kids are a little older, we’ve got a local babysitter so we can get a night out every week. On a daily basis, this means getting the kids in bed early enough that we can watch half an hour’s TV together.
  3. Get time alone. As I’ve got (a little) older, I’ve realized just how much I need alone time. I really enjoy company and working in a team is great fun. But unless I get a good part of a day alone every week, the inside of my brain starts to feel like a child’s toybox: stuff everywhere with no real idea of what goes with what.
  4. Hang out with friends. I do love a good blether [Scottish for ‘chat’]. If that can be with a friend with a great sense of humour, then all the better. This is something I need to do better, as work and family commitments often make it difficult to spend time with pals.
  5. Get outdoors. Spend at least half an hour (if possible, an hour) outside every day. That’s sometimes a challenge here on the wet and windy west coast, but as we’re fond of repeating around these parts, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. So, in the morning you’ll often find me working outside, building a path, moving and chopping logs for next winter, or just walking up the hill behind our house. There’s also something more intangible about being in nature that seems to enhance my wellbeing.
  6. Sleep a lot. Generally I’m pretty healthy and have great energy levels, but the times I get ill almost always coincide with missed sleep. So it’s bed by 10 (ish), up at 7.
  7. Watch the stress/workaholism. I love my work so much I can end up doing too much of it. There is so much we want to do and the opportunities are so exciting, it’s easy to spend way too much energy on it, to the point of brain meltdown (technical psychological term). This tends not to happen as long as I stick to my rule of time outside, which somehow ‘resets’ my brain.
  8. Stay connected to my community. When we first moved to Oban, I hated the sensation of not knowing what was going on around me and not being able to help move things in the right direction. Now, I’m involved with tutoring business skills at the local high school and with a local social enterprise that keeps my finger on the pulse of the community and lets me contribute what I can.
  9. Learn a lot. I’m at my happiest when I’m learning. When I start to lose some of my joy for life, it’s often because everyday things have got in the way of learning for several weeks. I like big ideas, new ways of doing business, and stimulating conversations, so I do what I can to ensure they’re always in my life.

That’s about it. I hope I’ve given you a sense of how to use the Primal Human Needs in your own life.

Tell me how you keep things in balance in your life in the comments below…

  • Mags

    That was an interesting read. Yes, balance is very important so, although I like to do things well and work hard I also know how to relax. If I can find time in my day for ‘me’ time then I love to become absorbed in my current book and doing so feels like luxury.
    Other ways I fulfil primal needs are by challenging myself by doing a strenuous workout regularly (groan). Painful at the time but a great sense of achievement and surprise that I actually survived.
    Time spent with loved ones, family and friends are best times. Fun, laughter, conversation. I’m perfectly at ease.
    Embarrassed about this one. Crochet. No, not woolly tea cosies but intricate patterns using superfine cottons can produce beautiful heirlooms. Another challenge.
    Almost overlooked this one. As a hypnotherapist, I do enjoy meeting and listening to my clients. Behaviours and what makes people tick has always fascinated me.
    Contributing to my community? Does spending time with an elderly, lonely relative and a relative with cancer count?
    I’ll be interested to read how others fulfil their basic needs and suspect that mine could appear mundane

  • Joseph

    Yes that article is right on the button. From an early age in my professional life I learned the need for novelty in my life. Study and doing courses was a way of life for me and many of my friends (we all worked in the caring professions). We just decided that in order to have life outside of long working shifts and studying. We started a therapy crawl, a bit like a pub crawl without the booze.

    So we walked around towns sitting down with people, some who lived on the streets and talk them up into feeling really good about themselves and we learned a great deal from them especially genuine empathy and eing humble. Now in the process of giving people genuine friendship and talking up their self esteem ewe learned so much in return.

    It definitely was better than reading or role playing, it was real life in action.
    It had a profound affect on me any my best friends , it made us more genuine in our dealings with others.

    Well I still wander around the world and teach, traan and get involved in volunteer work in very remote parts. So what we set out to do as Students as an experiment in upping peoples self esteem turned us into more genuine and humane therapists as we learned so much back from our roaming clients on City streets.

    Best wisses to uncommon form , its the best.


  • Lynne Hopwood

    Hi. I looked at this article with interest. The list is long and could be overwhelming but I will keep it close by as a useful reminder of staying mentally/emotionally healthy. I am a Hypnotherapist returning to the fold, anxious to learn and as Mark Tyrrell puts it ‘fall in love with hypnotherapy all over again’. I am blessed with a new relationship which takes care of the emotionally intimate bit. I belong to two amateur dramatic societies which means I get to be seen (very important) and also brings me into contact with like-minded people who don’t mind going down to the pub after rehearsals. I challenge myself mentally with Su-doku and codeword (I previously thought I could not do this but I can !). At the weekend I enjoy long walks in the countryside with my Partner and visiting the cinema. He is very keen on new learning something I have felt lazy about in the past but now I am feeling more alert and interested in the world. Especially history. I look forward to the next Uncommon Knowledge online course. Please don’t keep me waiting. The light is now on !