4 aspects system of needs

Solving important problems with systematic problem solving.

4 aspects system of needs

September 26, 2019 Uncategorized 0

Why should you care?

OK, another system of needs you might think. Isn’t there enough of them already? Well, maybe. The 4 aspects system of needs I use as my primary system of needs and which I present here has several advantages. 

  • It is quite complete while very simple. (Completeness checks described below in the methodology part and I need to remember only 4 words, the remaining comes to my mind automatically)
  • It unites and extends several other systems and explains why those systems are useful but also dangerously incomplete. 
  • It is highly flexible and can be used in various situations by tiny changes in our perspectives. 


Funny thing is that I am not sure if I am its author or Stephen Covey (I work with 4 aspects since studying Covey’s 7 habits* and 8th habit**) or someone Covey builds on. However, as described here, it’s my perspective (strongly inspired by Covey) and how I use it and many of the ideas are probably mine (or at least I probably combined ideas of others in a new way). 

Basics of system #1 – 4 aspects

I work with a model of a world where, in pretty much any situation, I assume it has 4 basic aspects and I try to see them. You can see it also in the list of 80+ typical cultural flaws.

  • Physical (and financial) aspect related to things like money, freedom, survival and actually doing things
  • Mental aspect related to things like efficiency, effectivity, growth and doing things right
  • Emotional (and social) aspect related to things like relationships, emotions, communication and doing things in an enjoyable way
  • Spiritual aspect related to things like purpose, conscience and doing the right things

All of these aspects are important in many situations; all of them are highly interconnected***; I am not aware of any other aspect, these 4 seem to be complete as far as my ability to describe the world goes; and they serve as a basis for the 4 aspects system of needs. 

Basics of the system #2 – core needs, more needs, ego and comfort needs

I want the system to be flexible, as complete as possible, and simple. Therefore I must distinguish between core needs (I use them in situations where I don’t have much time/energy for a more complete analysis) and more needs (I use them in situations where the outcome is so important that the extra time needed on analysis is worth it). 

Both – the core needs and more needs – are needs I am persuaded most of the people want to have fulfilled and that work on fulfilling them leads to a better life. What they have in common is that they require a flow of energy from the individual (giving) and/or that they lead to higher good and interdependence. 

Ego and comfort needs are also the needs that most people want to have fulfilled, but where efforts to fulfill them often lead to a worse life. What they have in common is that there is no flow of energy (comfort) or that the flow of energy is from environment/others towards the individual (taking) and/or that they lead to conflicts, separation and do harm to wider environment. 

My personal strategy towards a better life includes working on satisfying my core and more needs and minimalizing my desire to have comfort and ego needs to be fulfilled. More about it in some later article. 

The 4 aspects system of needs

The first row are what I believe to be the “core needs” in every aspect, the second row are “more needs”, the third row are the “ego and comfort needs”.

Survival, Health, Energy, Money, to eat and drinkGrowth, Learning, Excellence / Mastery, UnderstandingJoy, Love (others, self and to be loved), Passion, RelationshipsPurpose, Conscience, Meaning, Contribution
Safety, Security, Sex, Freedom, Stability, Independence, Order, Choice, Privacy, Beauty, Sleep, Activity, Strength, Autonomy, ResponsibilitySolving problems, Challenge, Correctness, Productivity, Effectivity, to Create, Quality, Competence, Flow and FocusFamily, Friends, Community, Fun,  Happiness, Harmony, Peace, Tranquility, Partner, Relax, Excitement, Adventure, Respect, Collaboration, Support, Connection, Belonging, SatisfactionJustice, Fairness, to leave a message, Meaning beyond self, to be in agreement with ones values, Devotion, to help others, Self-realization
Comfort, Pleasure, Power, Influence, Victory, Success, Control, Superiority, Achievementto be right
Attention, Popularity, Appreciation, Pride, Recognition, Prestige, Social Status

Similar systems of needs and frameworks

There are many frameworks which work with only a few needs and seem quite complete at first sight. I am sure the reason why they seem quite complete at first sight is that each need represents a different aspect and the framework always uses at least 3 aspects. 

  • Stephen Covey works with 4 basic needs: to Live (physical); to Learn (mental); to Love (emotional); to Leave a Legacy (spiritual). 
  • Ikigai is a common guide when it comes to choosing a career / a job. The advice is to choose a career where you do a) what you are good at (mental); b) what you love (emotional); c) what the world needs (spiritual); d) what you can be paid for (physical). 
  • Self-determination theory often used by leaders to create a motivating environment for their employees focuses on 3 needs: Autonomy (physical); Competence (mental); Relatedness (emotional). 
  • Daniel Pink’s Motivation 3.0 works with 3 basic needs: Autonomy (physical); Mastery (mental); Purpose (spiritual).

When you understand the 4 aspects system of needs, you see that all these other systems are building (consciously or unconsciously) on the same idea and are just playing with what is the core need in every aspect. You might see that you don’t need any of these frameworks because you now have a better framework. 4 aspects system of needs is a more complete framework which doesn’t lose the simplicity of any of these frameworks because you can always easily simplify it to equivalent “4 basic needs” form without much conscious thinking. 

Maybe you also come to the same hypothesis (possibly wrong) as I did that Pink (consciously or unconsciously) just 

  1. took the self-determination theory,
  2. did a synthetical (no real semantical) change from Competence to Mastery,
  3. correctly spotted missing spiritual aspect in the self-determination theory and added it there,
  4. got rid of Relatedness for some reason (maybe objective that there might be some evidence that it’s not as important as autonomy, mastery or purpose? Maybe subjective – maybe he is just a strong C, D or C/D person in DISC personality profiles? Maybe practical so that his framework is not too similar to self-determination theory and so that it’s worth a new name which can bring some marketing value?), and
  5. rebranded the thing. 

Let’s also take a look at Ikigai and why its oversimplification of things (without mentioning the more complex part) can lead to bad decisions if used improperly: Let’s say I work at a job with really nice salary above industry standards, I do what I am great at and passionate about and what I do helps the organization and the world. If using only Ikigai, I might get a feeling that I should stay in such a job. However, what if that job also includes 12-hour workdays (which already has strong negative impacts on my personal and family life and needs of family, friends, health and others), very little learning opportunities (growth & development needs), colleagues I don’t like to work with (relationships need), a micromanaging boss (autonomy, relationships and other needs) and I have a feeling I could be more useful elsewhere (self-realization, higher purpose, devotion and other spiritual needs)? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to say that if I stay in such a situation based on applying Ikigai, it’s a fault of Ikigai framework. Not at all, it’s my fault (if it’s a fault at all, it might also be a good decision) and how I applied the framework. What I want to say by this example is that having a system of needs which can be quite complete and simple at the same time can be quite handy. 

Also in a different situation, if you are a leader who wants to build an excellent organization, focusing only on 3 or 4 core needs of your employees (whether Ikigai, Covey’s core needs, self-determination theory or Motivation 3.0) you might do quite a good job, but also quite a mediocre one with unnecessarily high probability. 


Generation of the needs in the system and separation towards core needs, more needs, and ego/comfort needs. 

  1. I started with Covey’s 4 aspects as I consider them to often give a surprisingly complete view of many situations.
  2. I filled all those aspects with needs from my experience, other books, and other sources. It was surprisingly easy, very few needs are somewhere between 2 aspects and I haven’t identified a need which could be under 3 aspects. 
  3. Distinguishing core, more and ego/comfort needs was mostly my thinking, intuition, experience and various literature sources. No primary psychological research was done. 

Improving and testing “completeness” (it is not complete, but it’s reasonably long and hopefully doesn’t miss anything crucial which people have already named)

  1. I tested whether some universal system of needs (those which model the world that people have the same needs) doesn’t include needs I forgot to mention. I checked Maslow, Max-Neef, Murray, McClelland, ERG theory, Two-factor theory, Self-determination theory, and some others and some “nameless” theories. Almost all of the needs of these systems are also in the 4 aspects system of needs. 
  2. I tested with some typological models of people (those which model the world that there are categories/archetypes of people). I checked DISC and Jung’s archetypes. Even here, the 4 aspects system of needs seems to be quite complete.
  3. I was building this system of needs for some time (over a year) and I was extending it continually when reading something interesting and/or when solving situations from various areas of life: personal life, partnership, family, friends, work, … 


Hopefully, I have inspired you to use the 4 aspect system of needs and to use it regularly. When you feel you need to do some change in your life; when people around you are not happy and you want to help them; when you design your organization or when you want to improve your organization; when you design your life; when you do some major life decision; … 


* Stephen Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

** Stephen Covey: The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

*** Jim Loehr; Tony Schwartz: The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal

Note: All 3 of them are among my top recommended books.

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