The three things humans are wired to do are survive, belong, and become.

At first glance, survive, belong, and become seem too primal to apply to today's highly-advanced modern world. But a deeper look reveals these are the cornerstones of human behaviors. 

Survive, belong, and become are actually the hidden operating system running our work lives.

In my recent interview with Britt Andreatta, PhD, consultant and author of Wired to Grow: Harness the Power of Brain Science to Master Any Skill, she shared how these three primary human needs are showing up in today's modern workplace.

1. Survive

"Survive is our need for food, water, and shelter," says Andreatta. "The survive instinct can get triggered around our paycheck because that's how we buy food, water, and shelter."

According to Andreatta, the survive instinct is present when, "people think to themselves, 'do I have the skills to be successful at my job.'" For many, survive lives in the relationship with whoever writes their performance reviews. "[Managers] evaluate what level of contribution you made and that provides access to promotions, raises, and bonuses or perhaps sidelined or even fired," says Andreatta.

Survive also lives in our relationships with our coworkers. As humans, we are consistently evaluating if our coworkers are obstructing us from success or supporting us in success.

2. Belong

"Belong is our need to be accepted for who we are, to be cared for by others, and be involved in a meaningful community," says Andreatta. "Belong is tightly wound to our sense of survival because we are a tribal species and biologically wired to live and work together and survive together."

Because people spend most of their waking hours at work, a sense of belonging is triggered by work. Work is a profound place to find belonging.

As a survival technique, humans are biologically wired to scan the tribe to identify where they stand. The human brain will ask questions like these...

  • Am I in the center of the tribe as a leader, in the neutral middle, or being pushed out or excluded from the tribe?
  • Am I being seen for what I contribute?
  • Am I being valued by the others?

Belonging is important to humans because "when we were cavemen and cavewomen living on the plains and if your tribe ousted you, your literal chances of survival were minimal," says Andreatta. After all these years, our biology still works this way.

"This is not about being popular. It's about being valued," Andreatta continues. "At a minimum, most of us need to know we can make a contribution--using our strengths, gifts, or talents--and what is contributed is valued by the team. They may not like me, but I am needed."

Our biological stress decreases and frees us up to do higher-level work when we can confidently say, "Yes, I can contribute. And yes, I'm valued."

3. Become

"Become is our need to learn and grow to become our best selves; to live to our fullest potential," says Andreatta. "Become is our greatest need and human's greatest satisfaction comes from becoming our best selves."

"Most companies want their people to get to the become level but most companies don't satisfy the survive and belong needs so people can't get to the become stage," says Andreatta. 

The become need is present at work in the opportunities to learn and grow. Organizations interested in unlocking the greatest potential of their people will need to prioritize learning and development. And individuals interested in becoming their best selves must be committed to lifelong learning.

The become need is ongoing. Andreatta describes it as "the rotating ladder-like strands of human DNA...we never get to the top."

Life's a journey, not a destination.

Published on: Jan 21, 2020
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