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Needs Calculus

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In differential diagnosis, where one looks at several likely or partial candidates to explain what a person is going through, I always look first for chronological age and second for self-report about the level of fulfillment of a variety of core needs.

For example, if a kid is presenting as depressed or hyperactive, I check in with them about how well certain needs are being met (such as participation, fun, and rest).

Few have been taught how to connect deeply with their own needs, to meaningfully track how anything is working for them. This isn’t from neglect as much as a lack of rigor in understanding and tracking over time the status of our own needs. Needs, like a baseball or a planet, have position, velocity, and acceleration.

Needs Calculus 2

Self-connection can have a scaffolded structure of skills and successes. You have to be specific in observing what is happening in your environment and the impact on you. Just as some therapists recommend a mood journal, I suggest any form of journaling.  Tracking the passage of time increases the capacity to access the reminder “This too shall pass.” If time is a set of railroad tracks, then the train steams ahead. Record observations, both light and dark, of what happens to you on the train, and what you see in the scenery passing by.

To be calm in the present moment requires a sense of time, of past and future, that is as steady as railroad tracks but as uncertain as the weather. Journaling, with a date in the upper right corner of the page, helps. (Sometimes I pull from my journal entries in my blogs, and I always hope it is adds depth and clarity to this discussion).

One journaling idea is something I’ve coined “Needs Calculus”. I draw upon some of the work of positive psychology, including a “set point of happiness”, which asserts that people adjust to their level of happiness, and feelings arise from adjustments to their baseline expectations more than from any objective measure of well-being.

To take this concept further, I turn to math for counsel.

For those who don’t remember their calculus or physics: an object can be described by its location (where it is). Your needs can be seen as having position: somewhere between fully, dreamily met and eerily, nightmarishly unmet.

Movement is a change in location over time. Speed, when clarified with a direction, is called velocity. Needs have velocity: is it getting better, or worse? (More attended to, or less?).

Velocity changes over time, and this is called acceleration.  Is it getting better more quickly, or are you reaching diminishing marginal returns? Is there a plateau of well-being?

I would be a jerk to try to fit in a change in acceleration over time (called “jerk”), but the metaphor can continue there if useful.

If you track need satisfaction over time, the area under the curve could be considered the amount of well-being.  The unit of well-being over time is a “Happy-Hour.”

Start tracking wellbeing with a time axis, and see what requests of yourself and others arise naturally.  This may provide some self-guidance as to how to structure freedom. Freedom without guidance may be spastic, which could be useful to tear down oppressive structures but doesn’t obviously lead to next steps.

For now, identify a few key needs along with their velocity and acceleration. Record this. Offer yourself gratitude for needs that are either well-met, getting better, or about to get better.  We can’t know the future, but we can know position, velocity, and acceleration.

Increase Happy Hours. (And that goes for the kids and their caregivers).

Oh, and I’d love to hear the results of this practice (or any other thoughts you have about it) in the comments below.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Kim Miller October 26, 2015, 6:21 pm

    Love it. What an awesome and interesting break down of needs and how to better understand them. I have learned a new perspective and I am grateful. I’ll totally integrate this into my own practice. ?

    • byamtich October 26, 2015, 6:37 pm

      Awesome! I’m delighted and honored. FWIW, I think doing some of it on paper helps a lot. Date in upper right,
      line 1: chronological age,
      line 3: Relevant Needs arrow to line 4
      line 4: Status of relevant needs
      line 5: Strategies to attend to relevant needs
      line 6: Request of Self or Other

      People before me have made plenty helpful worksheets , but this is my draft.

  • Yannai October 26, 2015, 8:31 pm

    Bob, this is awesome! You always have great hard-sciency models, analogies, and metaphors for elements of the human condition, but I never saw you present them in a manner that could be understood by muggles. Did you put the “I would be a jerk” pun in yourself, or did Sara coerce you? I ask because the Bob I’ve known would have plowed straight ahead to jerk, jounce, y””'(x), and y”””(x) before slowing down to catch his breath (:

    • byamtich October 26, 2015, 8:36 pm

      Ha! The awareness of others, the double-check, was my hat-tip to Sara. I learned jounce from you. I hope your jounce is going well. I’m touched, honored, in fact, to see you on the interwebz. I was going to talk to you about how to share some of your insights about video games.

      • Yannai October 27, 2015, 9:53 am

        Then call me today or tomorrow. Thursday, I’m off to Central America!

  • Joy October 26, 2015, 9:50 pm

    I am feeling some positional shifting happening in me. Time warping. Some needs moving in and out of existence. Yes, some are accelerating and others diminish. I will pay attention and play with your model. My wiring seems to know your wiring, trust a positive factor. This isn’t meant to be cryptic. Rather playful as a way of expanding the mindset to see a juxtaposition of oneself with one’s needs and noting unfolding stategies.

    • Joy October 27, 2015, 8:02 am

      This morning I wake up and feel the sensation of a baseball landing firmly in the baseball glove as the sensation of having my needs met.

    • byamtich October 27, 2015, 8:28 am

      Keep on playing! I can’t wait for your book to come out.

  • Jade Rivera October 27, 2015, 6:02 pm

    This is wonderful! I’ve heard you talk about this before, but not in such clear terms. I’m happy for the chance to understand it better. I do something similar, though not as complex, in class with characters in books. We actually graph the characters over time. It’s cool. I may start leading a literature class, next January. So I’ll have a chance to show you what I mean. 🙂

    • byamtich October 27, 2015, 6:22 pm

      Thank you! I’ve struggled to explain things in such a simple, linear way, and I hope it helps. I wish you could have been at my first presentation in 2007; Miki told me I said “meditation” when I meant “contemplation”, and I haven’t used either word much since then. Can you see how this simplicity leads me to use Feeings and Needs cards so much?
      I’m excited to see how your literature class incorporates so much social-emotional learning. There are so many “turning points” and “moments of choice” in the graph of life.

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