How to Know—and Own—Your Needs
September 17, 2018
When I get frustrated by my everyday life, I tend to think of what I want to cut out. Are there habits I want to break? Obligations to shed? Friends from whom I need to move on?
It’s a satisfying strategy, but always leaves me feeling like something’s missing. It didn’t occur to me what that was until I saw author Cheryl Strayed’s tweet last week: “What do you want more of in your life? Not less of. More. What?”
What do you want more of in your life? Not less of. More. What?— Cheryl Strayed (@CherylStrayed) August 30, 2018
Reading that tweet, it hit me: While I focus so much energy on ridding myself of what doesn’t serve me, I forget to replace it with something that does. I’ll think of what I don’t want filling my time, rather than what I do. I began to wonder what it was that I wanted more of, not less.
Answers to Strayed’s tweet ranged from grace, to empathy, to time with loved ones. As I struggled to come up with my own response, I realized it’s tricky to articulate what, exactly we need—and even trickier to ask for it. But it serves us to learn how.
According to researcher Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, knowing and naming your needs packs some serious benefits.
“Not surprisingly, people who are good at identifying their needs are also more likely to have their psychological needs met—they enjoy better relationships, a greater sense of being good at what they do, and more freedom in their actions,” he writes on Psychology Today.
Those who can easily identify their needs are often more emotionally stable, less likely to have FOMO (because you actually need that night in), and feel more secure in their relationships—likely because they’re not wondering if they actually want something (or someone) else, instead.
Want that same stability? Here are a few ways to better learn what you need, and start asking for it.
Start By Tuning Into Your Body
Say you feel off, but aren’t sure why. Before you think about what to change, focus on how you feel.
Are your limbs coursing with adrenaline?
Do you feel overheated?
Try getting mindful and doing a quick body scan, noticing your mental and physical state. Identifying where you're at now is the first step in figuring out what you need.
Pinpoint Your Need
Once you’ve noticed how you're feeling, take out a pen and piece of paper (or, your Notes app on your phone), and jot down what you need in relation to how you're feeling right now.
The idea here is to take all the ideas floating around in your head—I want to feel closer to her! I want to nourish my body—and turn them into solid, actionable needs.
Not sure where to start? The Center for Nonviolent Communication offers a “needs inventory” list. Needs range from emotional (acceptance, appreciation) to even physical wellbeing (air, movement).
Take a look at the list here, and write down the ones that you’re seeking out. Putting words to what you need can help you get even more intentional.
Ask Yourself For What You Need
Once you’ve gotten a handle on what it is you want and need more of, it’s time to ask for it. Start by asking yourself for what you need.
Seems simple, right?
All you have to do is look at your list, pick a need and go after it. But articulating your needs and pursuing them are two different things, and excuses tend to pop up in the space in between. The next time you find yourself backing down from something you want or need, try talking through your excuse—out loud.
Find a private space, then explain your reasoning as you would to a friend. Chances are, your rationale for giving up on your needs sounds a little hollower out loud than it does in your head.
Once you’ve gone through your list of excuses, remind yourself of why you want or need that specific thing. If you need more time to yourself, for example, explain why. Research has found that talking to yourself can improve control over a task, and boost cognitive function—just the push you need to go after what you want.
Ask Others For What You Need
Then, try asking others for what you need. I get it, this is tricky—particularly if your relationships are built on suppressing your needs in the name of harmony and ease.
“I’ve discovered in most relationships that end up incurring our frustration, we usually deem [our own needs] ‘small enough’ that we don’t want to go through the effort and awkwardness of having the conversation about it,” life coach Shasta Nelson writes on Huffington Post. “So we try to convince ourselves it’s not a big deal, but then we find ourselves slowly moving away from the relationship, resentful that she does x, or doesn’t x, like we think she should.”
Nelson’s advice: Start a conversation about what you need by leading with gratitude. Share your appreciation for your friend or partner’s time and effort, and then clearly state what it is you’re looking for instead.
Say you’re in need of empathy, but your pal keeps trying to tell you what to do. Nelson suggests saying something like: “I appreciate you trying to solve my problem, and I may get to that point when I need that. But right now it’s not so much that I don’t know what to do as much as I just need someone to empathize with me and tell me they understand why I am frustrated with my boss!”
Start with appreciation, state how you’re feeling, then open up about what would make you feel good—and what you need in that moment. Again, it won’t feel easy at first, but with practice you’ll get better at recognizing, owning, and sharing your needs. And then, as the great Cheryl Strayed recommends, you’ll start knowing what you want more—not less—of in your day-to-day.