The Unified Theory of Cognitive Psychology (UTCP) is a meta-theory that combines psychoanalytic, behaviourist, humanistic, cognitive, and evolutionary schools of psychology into a single construct. It proposes a single cognitive process that explains, dictates, and can predict an individual’s cognition, attention, behaviour, affect, and mood (CABAM).
It does this through a process of deductive reasoning — identifying the core elements common to the observed behaviours and experiences and attempting to identify how these elements give rise to such elements.
As UTCP works from foundational elements outwards, it also provides a functional description of cognitive processes that cause affective and mood disorders (such as stress, anxiety, and depression), personality disorders (such as antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and social anxiety disorder), and childhood disorders (such as oppositional defiance disorder, conduct disorder, and childhood depressions and anxiety). The identification of the underlying cognitive processes provides a simplified framework for the diagnosis and classification of behavioural, personality, and mood disorders, and streamlined treatments of these conditions.
This theory is built from one of the fundamental tenets of behaviourism.
- needs to include references to the other schools of psychology
- The headings are ugly. Fix them.
- What about the need for safety? Is ‘freedom from’ good enough? Or does that need to be included?
- Desire for uncertainty?
- Names for psychological needs don’t matter. They’re just a way to externally relate an internal experience. People can use other names.
- Finish the end section about how someone chooses their psychological need. Two kinds of perception: which element within the challenge/skill/resource matrix is missing and which psychological need is the easiest for them to pursue (law of least effort).
A Foundation of Self-Interest
The core foundation on which UTCP is based is taken from behaviourist psychology: that people are motivated to move towards positive outcomes and away from negative outcomes (CITE). The theory in behaviourism is linked solely to an individual’s behaviour, but as behaviour is inextricably linked to cognition (CITE), attention (CITE), affect (CITE Demasio), and mood (CITE), UTHP proposes that the pursuit of positive outcomes and avoiding negative outcomes is the foundations of all CABAM.
People orient towards, think about, and take action to fulfil their desired positive outcome. They’re attempting to move towards their goals and this drive forms the basis of their cognition, attention, and behaviour. People’s affective state is determined by their relative success or failure to move closer to fulfilling their desires and their mood is a reflection of their long-term success at fulfilling their desires. If they move closer to fulfilling their desires then their affective state will be somewhere in the positive spectrum (depending on a number of different factors such as the importance of the goal, how much closer they were able to move to that goal, and who and what they deem responsible for their progression) and if they fail to move closer, their affective state will be somewhere in the negative spectrum (depending on the same factors). If they consistently move closer to their desired goal, their mood will be somewhere in the positive spectrum (once again, depending on a number of factors) and if they consistently fail to move closer to their desired goal, their mood will be somewhere in the negative spectrum.
This foundation of desire-orientation provides a simple justification to understand the way a person interacts with and experiences their world, but leaves a big unanswered question: What is a ‘positive outcome’? How specifically does this positive outcome influence their CABAM? And why are some people’s ‘negative outcomes’ the same as other people’s ‘positive outcomes’?
What People Want
There are many schools of thought and theories around what people desire as their ‘positive outcome’. Humanistic psychology identifies self-actualisation (CITE), psychoanalytic theory identifies something to do with my mother (CITE), but the most functionally beneficial proposal comes from cognitive psychology, specifically, Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow.
Flow, as defined by Csikszentmihalyi, is…. (CITE) Csikszentmihalyi identified nine characteristics of Flow, with three necessary for the creation of a Flow experience. He identifies that an individual must (1) pursue an intrinsically significant goal (2) at a challenging (3) but achievable level. If the individual is able to identify an intrinsically significant goal and pursue it at a level where they perceive the challenges of the activity push their skills to the limit of their capacity but they’re able to ovecome the challenges, then the individual will experience Flow (CITE)
While Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow is a functional framework for understanding the determining factors behind a person’s CABAM, it is limited in two dimensions.
The first dimension is that the three elements necessary to achieve a state of flow don’t fully account for the Flow experience. While challenge and skill are two elements necessary to pursue an intrinsically significant goal, there is a third element: resources. Having the perceived skills necessary to overcome the perceived challenges doesn’t mean the individual will be able to overcome those challenges if they lack the resources necessary to properly implement their skills. These resources can include tools, equipment, support, and/or time. Without the resources necessary to overcome the challenges of the activity, it doesn’t matter if there is a challenge and skill balance as the individual won’t be able to fully engage with the task and experience a state of Flow.
The second dimension on which the theory of Flow is not adequate to explain all CABAM is that the theory of Flow is solely focused on the present moment. For someone to experience Flow, they must pursue an intrinsically significant task at a challenging but achievable level, with sufficient resources, in the present moment. This is functionally useful for understanding the experience of Flow, but inadequate for explaining the full range of CABAM as people don’t live solely in the present moment. People are equipped with the cognitive capacity to project backwards in time to ruminate over past events and forwards in time to anticipate challenges and issues for which we need to plan. As such, UTCP adds a fourth dimension of time as this explains all CABAM.
The addition of these two dimensions to Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow is a departure from the classic theory of Flow as so using the word ‘Flow’ to describe the pursued experience is not appropriate. Within UTCP, the name for the core desired ‘positive outcome’ is not Flow, but psychostasis – a point of psychological equilibrium in which challenge, skill, and resources all align.
It is this pursuit of an optimal experience, which is an intrinsically significant goal at a challenging but achievable, with the necessary resources, both in the present and the future, that is the core driver of all CABAM.
How This Pursuit Impacts CABAM
This is the underlying cognitive process that drives CABAM in every moment. The human mind is constantly attempting to either:
- Identify an intrinsically significant goal, both in the present moment and in the future
- Gain the resources necessary to pursue that intrinsically significant goal, both in the present moment and in the future
- Acquire the skills necessary to overcome the perceived challenges in pursuing their intrinsically significant goal
This is the foundation of all cognition. People are either thinking about how to move towards (in the case of an attainment-related goal) or away from (in the case of an avoidance-related goal) their present-moment or future intrinsically significant goal (PFISG), thinking about how to gain the resources necessary to achieve their PFISG, or gain the skills necessary to overcome the challenges they perceive will prevent them from achieving their PFISG.
This is the foundation of all attention. People direct their attention towards either identifying or achieving their PFISG, identifying resources necessary to achieve their PFISG, or attaining or applying the skills necessary to achieve their PFISG.
This is the foundation of all behaviour. People are taking actions they believe will move them towards (in the case of attainment-related goals) or away from (in the case of avoidance-related goals) their PFISG, they’re attempting to acquire the resources necessary to achieve their PFISG, or their attaining or applying the skills necessary to overcome the challenges they perceive on the path to their PFISG.
This is the foundation of all affect. If people are able to move closer to their PFISG, they will experience a positive affective state. The exact state will be determined by the significance of the PFISG, how much closer they moved to their PFISG, and to whom and what they attribute that progress. If people fail to move closer to their PFISG, they will experience a negative affective state. The extent of that state will be directly related to how significant the failure, the options available after that failure, and to whom and what they attribute their failure.
This is the foundation of all moods. If people are able to consistently move towards their PFISG, they will experience a positive mood. Their exact mood will be determined by the significance of the PFISG, how much closer they moved towards their PFISG, and to whom and what they attribute that progress. If they fail to consistently move towards their PFISG, they will experience a negative mood. The extent of that mood will be directly related to how significant the failure, the options available after that failure, and to whom and what they attribute that failure.
Before we dive deeper into the nature of the optimal experience, the components of an intrinsically significant goal, how the pursuit of this intrinsically significant goal is responsible for all behavioural disorders, and how understanding this framework changes the way we diagnose, classify, and treat these disorders, there are a few important fundamentals to understand.
The process of pursuing an optimal experience is not a simple linear progression where an individual chooses a PFISG at a challenging but achievable level, which they have the necessary resources to overcome, and then undertakes that activity and acheives an optimal experience before moving on to the next goal. Challenges, skills, and resources all interact both at the commencement of the activity and throughout the activity to produce changing conditions to which a person needs to rebalance in order to create an optimal experience.
Fundamental 1: The Activity is not the Challenge
While each activity has its own unique challenges and skill and resource requirements, these challenges and skill and resource requirements are not inherent to the activity. The level of challenge within an activity is determined by the individual’s goal within that activity. The fact that a person’s individual goal within an activity means that two people can undertake the same activity with completely different goals and therefore face completely different challenges.
For example, two people can participate in the same basketball match with two different goals and these different goals will lead to different challenges. One person could have the goal of impressing her coach, which will lead to the challenge of understanding what her coach does and does not find impressive and then demonstrating those elements on the basketball court. Another person may have the goal of scoring the most points which would lead to the challenge of successfully navigating the defensive tactics of his opposing player in order to maximise his points. Both people are participating in the same activity but their individual goals within that activity determine the challenges they face.
Fundamental 2: There is not One Goal
Achieving a goal very rarely requires one step or action. Most goals require many different steps, processes, and actions in order to achieve the desired outcome. Because of this, each primary goal can typically be broken into a series of progressively smaller and smaller goals.
Fundamental 3: The Goal Does Not Determine the Skills and Resources
Just as the activity is not the goal, there is no direct relationship between the specific challenge and the skills and resources required to overcome those challenges. Skills and resources interact with each other to either increase or decrease the requirements of the other category.
For example, the skill a person requires to score more points than the other basketball team changes dramatically with the addition or subtraction of a subsequent person into the court. A team with 6 players against 5 will need to be less skillful while a team with 4 players vs 5 will need to be significantly more skillful.
Fundamental 4: Challenge is not Static
The fact that the challenges faced by a person are determined by their goal within that activity means that challenges are not static and can change throughout the course of the activity as well as throughout the course of their life. A person can enter an activity with one goal that leads to a specific set of challenges but then change the goal during the activity which completely changes the challenges.
If the basketball player that was focused on scoring the most points changed their goal from scoring lots of points to the goal of preventing the other team from scoring points, the challenges would change. Instead of trying to get the ball as much as possible and scoring as quickly as possible, they would need to slow down the other team’s progression down the basketball court and interfere with the other team’s ability to score.
Likewise, if the opposing team identified specific preferences and tendencies within the basketball players scoring skillset and learnt to defend them in a more effective manner, the challenge of the activity would increase.
Fundamental 5: Skills and Resources are also Not Static
Just as the challenge does not stay static within an activity, skills and resources also do not stay static. The act of participating in the activity provides an opportunity for the individual to improve their skills.
Dribbling a basketball within an activity will increase a person’s skill at dribbling a basketball. Defending a player in a basketball game will make the person more skilful at defending. Participation in the game will also change the level of resources available. The simple act of participation in any activity will always decrease the amount of the resource of time that is available. Participation will also drain other resources such as physical and cognitive energy and can drain other physical resources if the activity requires those resources. This change in resources can then also impact the skills, which then means that continued participation requires increased levels. of resources, leading to faster depletion of the resources.
As these skills and resources change, the nature of the difficulty of the challenge can also change.
The Nature of Psychostatis
These five fundamentals of optimal experience mean that the level of challenge, skill, and resource necessary to achieve psychostasis is neither objective, singular, nor static point.
They are not objective as there is no level of skill or resource that must be achieved or obtained within an activity in order to create an optimal experience. The individual can move the challenge around by changing their goal.
It is not singular in that the skill and resource balance necessary to overcome a specific challenge (as determined by a PFISG) and create an optimal experience is not a specific mesh point of skills and resources. Skills and resources interact in a way that means that an increase in skill can allow for a decrease in resources. As such, there is no singular and specific mesh point a person has to achieve in order to create an optimal experience. There is a zone in which a person can get in order to create this optimal experience. This is known as the Zone of Optimal Experience
It is not static in that the challenge and required skills and resources to overcome that challenge typically do not hold constant over time. The challenge can fluctuate due to changing goals and conditions, skills can increase due to learning new skills but also decrease due to the depletion of the resources necessary to implement those skills.
All these fundamentals combined mean that the process of achieving psychostasis is a moment-by-moment process where the person must attempt to maintain their position in the Zone of Optimal Experience. Significant deviation outside that zone creates subjective experiences that are discussed more below.
What is an Intrinsically Significant Goal?
There are two kinds of intrinsically significant goals: present-moment and future goals.
Present-moment goals are those that are the immediate concern of our cognition, attention, and behaviour. The steps to achieving these goals is typically well-known and familiar to the individual. Future goals are those where the individual can identify the goal and may have an idea of the steps necessary to achieve that goal, but typically lacks the detail necessary to execute the steps.
An intrinsically significant goal is a goal on which the person places a high value on achieving. This can be anything that is important to them at that point in time.
There are two broad categories of goals: present moment and future goals
Present Moment Intrinsically Significant Goals
Present moment goals are those that exist in the present moment. They’re the immediate task that we’re attempting to complete as a priority above all other goals and are the immediate focus of our attention, cognition, and behaviour.
System 2 goal. It’s quantifiable.
People don’t just have one goal at any one point in time. The nature of the human brain allows us to not only have goals that are important in the present moment, but also a cascading series of goals that are necessary in order to achieve the identified intrinsically significant goal.
For example, even the goal of eating a sandwich contains many layers of goal that are necessary to achieve before that sandwich can be eaten. The person needs to:
- Get all the ingredients
- Get the utensils
- Create space to make the sandwich
- Add the butter
- Prepare the filling
- Add the filling
- Cut the sandwich
There are two layers to intrinsically significant goals.
The first layer is the specific and identifiable object or outcome. This can be money or fame or nice cars or a partner.
Future Intrinsically Significant Goals
But don’t want objects or outcomes. They want physical sensations. And those sensations are psychological needs.
System 1 goal. Not quantifiable.
Psychological needs were first identified in Self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan.
They define psychological needs as… but this definition is limited as it does not explain the role that psychological needs play within an individual’s cognitive framework.
To provide a more functional framework for understanding the role that psychological need play within the orientation of CABAM and the creation of psychopathology, they are defined within UTCP as:
A physical sensation created by the internal perception of a person’s relationship with and capacity within their perceived external reality.
This definition contains some important points.
- Psychological needs represent within the body as physical sensations. They’re felt, not thought.
- Psychological needs are perceptions, not facts. They don’t have to be true, they’re created by the weight of evidence and the interpretation of that evidence by the individual. Self-world interaction schema.
- They relate to both immediate time and future projection
- They’re not limited to a self-schema or a world schema, but are part of the schema that bridges the relationship between the self and the world.
Explain this definition
There are 13 psychological needs are identified in UTCP.
- Freedom from (pain, suffering, distress)
- Freedom to (pursue intrinsically significant goals)
- Freedom of (self-expression)
The pursuit of these 13 psychological needs is the intrinsically significant goal that underlie all CABAM. Every cognition, all attention, and all behaviour can be attributed directly to the fulfilment of one of these psychological needs and an individual’s affective state and mood is a direct result of their ability to fulfil one of these 13 psychological needs.
The Relationship Between The Goals
The role of the present-moment goals
Why Psychological Needs Are Important
But why? Why do people pursue these needs? The answer is complex and simple.
As discussed above, the driving mechanism for all CABAM is the pursuit of a PFISG. This PFISG, as the name suggests, relates to present moment as well as future goals, both which have their own challenges and skills necessary to ovecome those challenges.
While the identification of present moment challenges is relatively straightforward for most goals, the identification of future challenges is often much less clear, especially those with longer timelines. As such, in order for a person to perceive that they have the skills necessary to overcome the challenges in the pursuit of their future goals, they don’t require a specific skillset, they require the perception that they can overcome non-specific challenges and issues that may arise as they pursue their intrinsically significant goal. Psychological needs are these perceptions of the skills and resources necessary to overcome unknown future non-specific and undefined challenges.
To illustrate this, the 13 psychological needs can be broken into three categories: skills, resources, and challenge manipulation.
These needs all need their own headings and big explanations of what exactly they are.
Skill needs are those specifically related to overcoming challenges
- Power is the perception that the individual can overcome a barrier
- Control is the perception that the individual can manipulate important variables
- Achievement is the perception that the individual can work towards and achieve a goal
- Progression is the perception that the individual is moving towards their intrinsically significant goals
- Contribution is the perception that the individual has played a role in eliminating a significant challenge
Resource needs are those related to the addition of human resources:
- Connection is a perception that the individual has a significant bond with another person
- Inclusion is the perception that the individual is part of a group
- Acceptance is the perception that the individual will not be excluded based on their intrinsic desires, drives, and characteristics
- Significance is the perception that the individual plays an important role in the lives of others
- Desirability is the perception that others desire them and want them
Challenge manipulation needs are those related to your ability to pursue intrinsically significant challenges at a challenging but achievable level.
- Freedom from is the perception that the individual does not have ‘baggage’ preventing them from moving forward (negative to neutral). This is for when the challenge level is too high and hte individual wants to reduce the challenge.
- Freedom to is the perception that the individual is able to move forward without restriction (neutral to positive). This is for when the challenge level is too low and the individual wants to increase the challenge.
- Freedom of is the perception that the individual can choose an intrinsically significant goal. This is for when the individual knows the challenge they need to pursue to create an optimal experience, but is too concenred about other challenges, like what people think.
These psychological needs are the ‘skills’ necessary to perceive that the individual can overcome the non-specific challenges necessary in achieving their future goals.
The (typically unconscious) cognitive process responsible for all cognition, attention, behaviour, affect, and mood (CABAM) is the pursuit of a positive outcome. The positive outcome that people are attempting to achieve is an optimal experience, which is created by the pursuit of a present-moment or future intrinsically significant goal (PFISG) at a challenging but achievable level, with the required resources. While there are externally observable goals that a person can pursue, the underlying objective in the pursuit of those goals is to fulfil a psychological need. There are 13 psychological needs that fall into three categories that align with the requirements for creating an optimal experience. The psychological needs related to skills are Power, Control, Achievement, Progression, and Contribution. The psychological needs related to resources are Connection, Inclusion, Acceptance, Desirability, and Significance. The psychological needs related to challenge manipulation are Freedom From, Freedom To, and Freedom Of.
The Relationships Between Goals and Needs
There is no one-to-one direct relationship between an externally observable goal and a psychological need. Two different people can pursue the same externally observable goal but for completely different psychological needs.
For example, one person can pursue money to fulfil the need for Freedom From debt. Another person might pursue money to fulfil the need for Power over other people. Another person might pursue money to fulfil the need for Inclusion in a group.
Similarly, one person can display symptoms of anorexia to experience Power over their internal desires and needs (CITE). Another person might display symptoms of anorexia to fulfil the need of desirability by attaining a more desirable body shape. Another person may display the symptoms of anorexia to fulfil their need for significance by getting people to pay attention to them.
There is no direct one-to-one relationship between one goal and a psychological need, with people being able to pursue one particular goal to fulfil a wide variety of psychological needs.
The Cause of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
The causes of stress, anxiety, and depression are all related to an individual moving too far outside the zone of optimal experience.
The Cause of Stress
Stress is defined as (something to do with a lack of resources. Get it from the textbook) (CITE). The UTCP optimal experience indicates that stress is experienced when an individual is pursuing a PFISG and has an alignment between challenge and skill, but lacks the resources necessary to achieve that PFISG. This perceived lack of resources means that despite the alignment of the challenge and skill, the individual cannot pursue their PFISG and achieve an optimal experience. This perceived inability to pursue their PFISG due to a lack of resources causes the subjective experience of stress.
If you want to read a full breakdown of the cause of stress, as seen through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: The Cause of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression. If you want to read about the process of treating this disorder through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: How to Treat Stress.
The Cause of Anxiety
Anxiety is defined as apprehension caused by anticipated future challenges (CITE). People don’t worry about challenges that they believe they have the skills to overcome. People only worry about challenges that they perceive they won’t be able to overcome. Therefore, the UTCP optimal experience framework indicates that anxiety is experienced when an individual is pursuing a PFISG a has an alignment between challenge and resources, but perceives they lack the skills necessary to overcome the perceived challenges. The perception of the lack of skill means the individual cannot overcome the challenges in the pursuit of their PFISG and achieve an optimal experience. This causes the subjective experience of anxiety.
This is validated by Csikszentmihalyi.
Anxiety typically takes two forms: specific anxiety and General Anxiety Disorder. Specific, task-related anxiety relates to a specific goal that an individual is attempting to achieve in the present moment and is caused by a misalignment between the perceived challenge and perceived skill in a specific activity. For example, fulfilling the need for Connection through the goal of getting people to like you and the strategy of changing personalities to attempt to present as the kind of person that different people would like creates a high level of challenge. This level of challenge is often difficult to overcome resulting in high levels of anxiety in social situations, which is often diagnosed as Social Anxiety Disorder.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder relates to a general, pervasive experience of anxiety throughout the day and is unrelated to a specific task. It is caused by when the individual perceives that they don’t have the power, control, connection, inclusion, or other psychological needs necessary to overcome the future unknown challenges in the pursuit of their future intrinsically significant goal.
If you want to read a full breakdown of the cause of anxiety, as seen through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: The Cause of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression. If you want to read about the process of treating this disorder through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: How to Treat Anxiety.
The Cause of Depression
Depression is a perception of hopelessness (CITE Aaron Beck). This hopelessness comes from a perception that an individual has no possibility of fulfilling their psychological needs. This typically occurs when the individual has made what they beleive to be a repeated and sustained effort to fulfil their psychological needs through a particular goal and strategy and has repeatedly failed make progress. The UTCP Optimal Experience framework indicates that depression is caused when an individual pursues a PFISG and perceives they lack the skills and/or resources necessary to overcome their perceived challenges, but importantly, will never have the skills and resources necessary to overcome these challenges. This perception that they will never have the skill and/or resources necessary to overcome their challenges and achieve their PFISG leads to a perception of hopelessness and the subjective experience of depression.
This theory is supported by Beck’s Hopelessness Theory of depression, which idenfiies that the cause of depression is “an expectation that desireable outcomes will not occur and that no available responses can change that situation” (p.198 Abnormal psych textbook). It’s also supported by the fact that people who believe that when problems are caused by external and stable causes, they’re more likely to experince depression.
Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Comorbidity
The fact that stress, anxiety, and depression are all created through an imbalance between challenge, skill, and resources results in a high level of comorbidity between the three experiences. INCLUDE STATS.
The fact that there is not a 100% comorbidity between stress, anxiety, and depression indicates that the mechanisms that cause these subjective experiences are related, but are entirely separate. For example, a person can perceive that they lack the resources and skills necessary to overcome perceived challenges on the path to their PFISG (and therefore experience both stress and anxiety), but still believe that they will overcome these challenges (and therefore, not experience depression). A person can perceive that they have the skills yet lack the resources necessary to overcome their challenges on the path to achieving their PFISG (therefore experiencing stress but not anxiety) and perceive they will never have the resources they need, therefore experiencing depression.
This means that stress, anxiety, and depression (along with other affective states and mood disorders) are not problems to solve. They’re simply the communication tool that your unconscious mind (System 1) uses to communicate to your conscious mind (System 2) about your perceived ability to fulfil your psychological needs. Medicating your way out of stress, anxiety, and depression disorders is like throwing away your bank statement when you don’t like what it says. It’s not a problem to solve. It’s a communication device that illuminates your underlying issues.
Interestingly, a person can perceive that they lack both the resources and skills necessary to achieve their PFISG and never will have those resources and skills (and therefore experience depression) without experiencing anxiety or stress. This is only achievable when the person gives up on achieving their PFISG and is not actively pursuing their goals. This lack of engagement with the process of achieving their PFISG frees them from the burden of the experience of anxiety and stress but also removes the possibility of them developing the perception that they can achieve their goals and escape the experience of depression.
The Cause of Maladaptive Behaviour
This lack of a direct relationship between goals and psychological needs is the foundation of maladaptive behavioural challenges and disorders, including antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, conduct disorder, violence, drug and alcohol use, and all other maladaptive behaviours. As there is no direct one-to-one relationship between goals and psychological needs, there are many different goals a person can pursue to fulfil their psychological needs. The goals that an individual pursues to fulfil their psychological needs determine the challenges, issues, and barriers they (and society) will face in their day-to-day life.
For example, the psychological need for Power is the perception that the individual can create change in their world. That perception can be achieved by overcoming any challenges that the individual may face. This could be the challenge of making people do what they want them to, it could include the challenge of obtaining money, it could the challenge of winning a sporting competition. But, it could also include the challenge of controlling their emotional response of expression, the challenge of overcoming their limiting beliefs and fears, or the challenge of taking control of their focus and time management. Power can be attained through any goal that allows the individual to perceive they have overcome their challenges and the goal they choose will dictate the difficulties they face.
But along with there being no direct one-to-one relationship between a goal and a psychological need, there is also no direct one-to-one relationship between a goal and a strategy for achieving that goal. The strategy a person chooses to achieve their goal and fulfil their psychological need also contributes to the challenges they (and society) will face as they live their life.
A person can obtain the power to make people do what they want through threats of physical violence, they can use emotional manipulation and blackmail, or they can physically restrain their freedoms. But. they can also pay people to do what they want, they can learn to charm and persuade people, or they can inspire people. Each of these strategies presents a series of difficulties and challenges that must be overcome in order to fulfil the psychological need for Power.
It is the relationship between psychological need, goal, and strategy that is the foundation for behaviour and affective-based psychopathology.
NOTE: The UTCP framework does not explain psychopathology related to perception (such as schizophrenia spectrum disorders and delirium) or information processing challenges (such as autism spectrum disorders), though it does explain the behavioural and affective symptoms of those disorders.
Personality disorders are not as clear-cut as the DSM would indicate. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.03.002
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is described as… and is characterised by…
The cause, as identified within the UTCP framework, is typically related to an ineffective goal and strategy for fulfilling the psychological need for Significance. In BPD, the goal of fulfilling the need for Significance is typically getting people to make the sufferer feel significant and the strategy for achieving that goal is typically to play a minor or inconsequential role (or no role) in the lives of others and expect people to praise and validate the sufferer. This strategy for achieving their goal is ineffective and results in the common characteristics of BPD, including instability of relationships and instability of emotions.
As stated above, there is no direct one-to-one relationship between psychological needs and goals and goals and strategies so there are many different need-goal-strategy relationships that can manifest as BPD, but annecdotal evidence suggests that the two above relationships are the two most common presentations.
A full breakdown of the cause of Borderline Personality Disorder, as seen through the UTCP framework, is here: The Cause of Borderline Personality Disorder. A breakdown of the process of treating this disorder through the UTCP framework is here: How to Treat Borderline Personality Disorder.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
Histrionic Personality Disorder is defined as… and is characterised by…
The cause of Histrionic Personality Disorder, as identified in UTCP, is an interesting example of the lack of a direct relationship between psychological need, intrinsically significant goal, and the strategy necessary to fulfil those goals, as it is also the result of an ineffective Script for fulfilling the need for significance. The difference between people who have Borderline Personality Disorder and those who have Histrionic Personality Disorder is that those with Histrionic Personality Disorder have the physical and social tools necessary to attempt to fulfil their need through sex and sexuality. Their desired goal to feel significant is to be the centre of attention and their strategy is to use their appearance and social skills to achieve this goal.
If you want to read a full breakdown of the cause of Histrionic Personality Disorder, as seen through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: The Cause of Histrionic Personality Disorder. If you want to read about the process of treating this disorder through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: How to Treat Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)is… and is characterised by…
The cause of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as identified in UTCP, is a contining example of the lack of direct relationship between psychological need, goal, and strategy, as the core psychological the same as BPD and HPB: significance. The difference between BPD and HPB and NPD is that people with NPD typically have a skill or ability through which they gain some kind of praise or adoration and can achieve some sense of significance. This pathway for fulfilling their need provides some sense of need fulfillment, but is typically limited to a small realm or group of people and makes their psychstatis volatile.
If you want to read a full breakdown of the cause of Nascissistic Personality Disorder, as seen through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: The Cause of Nascissistic Personality Disorder. If you want to read about the process of treating this disorder through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: How to Treat Nascissistic Personality Disorder.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial Perosnality Disorder (APD) is… and is characterised by…
APD typically results from the desire to fulfil the need for Freedom. The goal for fulfilling the need for Freedom is undertaking any activity that the individual desires at any moment, and the strategy for achieving this goal is to use threats, violence, and aggression to remove any objection to their action. This goal and strategy result in the characteristics commonly diagnosed as APD, including the callous disregard for the rights and needs of others.
A second, but less common, need-goal-strategy relation can also manifest as APD. The desired psychological need is Power, the goal for fulfilling the need for Power is asserting dominance over other people, and the strategy for achieving that goal is through physical domination, often manifesting as acts of violence or taking action that violates another person’s rights to assert that dominance.
Other need-goal-strategy relationships can manifest as APD but anecdotal evidence suggests that these are the two most common manifestations.
If you want to read a full breakdown of the cause of Antisocial Personality Disorder, as seen through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: The Cause of Antisocial Personality Disorder. If you want to read about the process of treating this disorder through the lens of UTCP, you can do so here: How to Treat Antisocial Personality Disorder.
UTCP Disorder Treatment Process
The treatment process within the UTCP framework is the same for all disorders. This is possible because the cause of all disorders is the same: an ineffective goal or strategy (or both) for fulfilling psychological needs.
The cause of BPD is an ineffective strategy for achieving a goal and fulfilling a person’s psychological need for Significance. The treatment for BPD is to help the person find a more effective strategy for fulfilling their need for Significance. The cause of APD is an ineffective goal and strategy for fulfilling a person’s psychological need for Freedom To. The treatment for APD is to help the person find a more effective strategy for fulfilling their need for Freedom To.
The cause of Generalised Anxiety Disorder is typically a goal and/or strategy for fulfilling a psychological need that limits a person’s ability to influence whether or not a person effectively executes their strategy and achieves their goal, resulting in a lack of certainty as to whether or not they have the skills necessary to fulfil their psychological need. The treatment for Generalised Anxiety Disorder is to help the person find a strategy for fulfilling their psychological needs that gives them more control over whether or not they execute their strategy and achieve their goal (therefore, fulfilling their psychological need).
The goals and strategies that are recommended within the UTCP treatment process all share the same characteristics: efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability, and independence (EESI – pronounced ‘easy’).
NOTE: The examples below need to be formatted into the same structure.
Efficient goals and strategies are those that allow the person to fulfil their psychological need with less effort than they’re currently expanding. For example, it requires a lot of effort to convince someone else to do what you want to fulfil your psychological need for Power, but fulfilling that need through challenging a limiting belief takes far less effort.
Effective goals and strategies are those that allow the person to fulfil their psychological needs in ways that actually fulfil their needs, rather than leaving them in a state of constant frustration. For example, opening up and sharing emotionally significant stories with like-minded people and then listening when they share similar stories is a far more effective way to fulfil the psychological need for Connection than sitting at home waiting for people to reach out and share emotoinally significant stories
Sustainable goals and strategies are those that can be continued over long periods of time without the need to take a break and recover, leaving a window where psychological needs cannot be fulfilled. For example, refusing to eat enough food to sustain your body as a way of fulfilling the psychological need for Power may be effective and efficient, but is not sustainable in the long term.
Independent goals and strategies are those that are not dependent on elements outside the control of the person, thus putting them in complete control of fulfilling their psychological needs. For example, attempting to gain the approval and permission of people around you do what you actually and fulfil the psychological need of Freedom Of is reliant on many things (people) outside the control of the individual. Giving yourself the permission is reliant solely on the individual, this providing a simpler and more effective pathway to fulfil psychological needs.
The treatment process for all disorders follows the same process of identifying more efficient, effective, sustainable, and independent goals and strategies for fulfilling needs. There are four steps in this treatment process, with one modifier necessary prior to commencing the treatment process. You can read about it here: The UTCP Treatment Process.
The UTCP Disorder Classification System
The UTCP framework differs from the current DSM classification system. The current DSM classification system classifies disorders based on symptoms of disorders, such as behaviours, subjective experiences, and physical traits. Disorders with similar symptom characteristics are grouped together around those characteristics. While this system has proven to be a valuable structure for current clinical diagnosis, UTCP takes a different approach. Instead of classifying disorders based on symptoms, UTCP classifies disorders based on the underlying psychological need.
UTCP does this is because the most efficient, effective, sustainable, and independent goals and strategies for fulfilling a psychological need are the same for all people, regardless of the goal and strategy that a person was using prior to seeking treatment.
For example, the most efficient, effective, sustainable, and independent pathways for fulfilling the psychological need for Power are always related to overcoming internal limitations and barriers, regardless of the prior goal and strategy of the individual. This includes previous pathways such as using violence to experience power (such as with APD), denying your own physical needs to experience power (such as with anorexia), and controlling other people to experience power (such as with domestic violence). These three disorders all share the same underlying cause of a maladaptive goal and/or strategy for fulfilling the psychological need for power and therefore, all share the same treatment.
As disorders with the same psychological need all require the same treatment, regardless of their previous goal. and strategy, UTCP classifies all these disorders under the same umbrella: Power Inefficiencies.
The UTCP classification system groups all disorders by the core psychological need that is being pursued by the individual allowing all disorders within that group to share treatments.
The Foundation of Need Preferences
Different people prioritise different psychological needs. Some people prioritise Inclusion while others prioritise Contribution while others prioritise Desirability. Annecdotal evidence suggests that there is a greater weighting placed on some psychological needs than others (typically Power, Control, Connection, and Acceptance are the most common), but all 13 psychological needs can be identified as a priority in a large and broad enough sample of the population.
There are three factors that contribute significantly to this: Law of Least Effort, pathway effectiveness, and developmental experiences.
The Law of Least Effort
The Law of Least Effort is an observed cognitive tendency for people to use as little effort as possible when attempting to achieve a goal. People will take the shortest route, the fastest path, and the most effective pathway of which they’re aware to get what they want from life. The way this relates influencing which psychological needs are prioritised is related to the naure of psychological needs themselves.
A psychological need is a perception of a person’s relationship to and capacity within their external reality. It’s not an objective fact. It’s just their internal perception. For example, someone who fulfils their psychological need for Power can’t create their desired outcome in every situation, now and forever. They simply perceive that they have a greater ability than they previously had to create the outcomes they desire.
One of the characteristics of perception is that not all people perceive the world using the same set of tools. For example, a person with limited vision would find it easier to rely more heavily on their other senses to perceive their world. The same is true for someone with limited hearing, they would find it easier to rely on their sight or sense of touch. But perception isn’t just based on the information we take in from the world around us, it’s also related to our ability to process that information. A person who has perfect hearing but is listening to people speak a foriegn langauge would find it easier rely on clues other than the words that were being used to develop their perception of relationship with and capacity within their external world.
The way this impacts a person’s prefernce for psychological needs is that people tend to fall into two categories in terms of what information they find easier to use to develop their perception of their relatoinship with and capacity within their external reality. People tend to either find it rely on communication or action.
People who rely on communication typically lean towards psychological needs in the resource category, such as connection, inclusion, acceptance, desirability, and significance as these are easier to understand through communication.
People who rely on action typically lean towards psychologicla needs in the skills category as these are easier to understand through action. For example, it requires less effort to fulfill the psychological need for Power and Control for someone who is bigger and stronger than their peers than it does to fulfil the need for Connection for someone with language processing challenges.
This preference appears to have somewhat of a genetic foundation which starts from birth. When a baby is born, their brain undergoes a set of changes that result in a specific neural structure. This neural structure tends to favour either relying on communication or action. When a child is born with a prefernce for one, the Law of Least Effort then dictates that they will rely on thsi skill more as they grow up. Relying on this skill leads to further development of that skill and therefore, a greater relaince. Females tend (though not always) tend to develop
People who prioritise skill needs are those that find it easier to understand their relationship to and capacity within their external environment through action. Western society has assigned the term ‘masculine’ to describe people who prioritise the skill psycholgoical needs.
People who prioritise resource needs are those that find it easier to udnerstand and develop their relationship to and capacity within the external environment through communication. Western society has assigned the term ‘feminine’ to describe people who prioritise the skill psycholgoical needs.
As needs are perceptions of an individuals relatoinships with and capability within the world, some people can fulfil their needs without much effort due to their schematic map. If you perceive, through years of accumulated evidence, that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, it doesn’t take much action in a day to change that perception. But, if your schematic map indicates that you do not have the ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want it, then it’ll take a lot of work at the start of the day.
While the Law of Least Effort determines which category of psychological needs a person will prioritise, it is not the sole determinant. A person’s ability to fulfil their needs also plays a signficant role.
This is because need are heirarchical. People work through a list. The more efficient, effective, sustainable, and indepedent people are at fulfilling their needs determines how quickly they can get through their list.
If they pereive that their current challenge level is the problem, they will focus on challenge-focussed needs. Freedom From relates to removing challenges and is typically favoured by a person who perceives that the challenge is too high. Freedom To relates to the ability pursue activities that they want and is typically favoured by people who perceive that the challenge level is too low. And Freedom From relates to the ability to pursue intrinsically significant challenges and is typically favoured by people who know what they want but are dealing with other challenges (such as being judged).
The specific goal and strategy are important because if someone’s goal and strategy is highly dependent then their fulfillment of that need will be highly unstable and they will need to fulfil it over and over again. Whereas if a person’s goal and strategy is more independent, their experince will be more stable and they’ll be able to move through thier list.
Psychological needs are perceptions and if a person can produce enough consistent evidence over time, that perception can form part of their schematic map. This means that while the psychological need may be top of their list, they don’t need to take any action to fulfil that need and so the next need in their heirarchical progression will become the most important.
The role of the schematic map in influencing psychological need doesn’t stop with a person’s ability to fulfil their psycholgoical need. It also infuences which needs they prioritise.
Childhood experiences play a significant role in the formation of personal and world schemas. If a person is reguraly deprived of the opportunity to fulfil a psychological need in childhood, their schmetic map can form in such a way that they perceive the fulfillment of that need as being a priority above all others. For example, someone who is deprived of the need of Freedom To by growing up in an overly protective environment may develop a schematic map that sees Freedom To as an extremely limited commodity and therefore prioritise that. Likewise, someone who grows up in an extremely controlling environment may perceive that the psycholgoical need of Power is an extremely limited commodity and prioritise that.
These childhood experiences can play a significant role in shaping a person’s schematic map of themselves and the world and significantly influence a person’s desired psychological need.
The Foundation of Goal and Strategy Preferences
Why do people choose some goals and strategies while others choose others?
Conditioning, as suggested by behaviourism. The foundations of this conditioning probably starts during infancy, as suggested by psychodynamics, as a person’s parents are the first to fulfil the needs of the child and therefore, set the conditioning. These repeated patterns of fulfillment create the self-world interaction schema. This schema is made up of the cognitive beliefs identified by cognitive psychology.
When it comes to the manipulation of the skill and resource elements, the category that a person typically chooses relates to the law of least effort. Some people have the communication skills necessary to effectively recruit resources. Others
Once the person
Fuck. Are relatedness goals about accumulating resources? Is that what they are? Connection is knowing that other’s have walked this path before. Inclusion is being part of a group. Acceptance is being allowed to be yourself as part of that group. Some are about collecting resources… Connection is about having someone on your team. Fuck. This is a game changer. Desireability means that people will do things for you. Significance means that people will do things for you.
Relatedness psychological needs are related to acquiring the resouces necessary to overcome the future non-specific challenges. They’re for people who believe there will be challenges that are too big to overcome on their own and by accumulating resources, they will be able to overcome them.
FUCK. Agentic psychological needs are related to skills. Relatedness psychological needs are related to resources. Freedom psychological needs are related to being able to pursue an intrinsically significant goal.
The psychological needs are not objective
How do people link needs to goals?
How do people link goals to strategies?
The Short Version
As you’ll see below, the theoretical foundations of UTHP are indepth and can be a little omplex to get your head around, so here are the basic principles in the shortest and simplest version possible. There are only four foundations on which the whole theory operates.
1. Outcome Orientation
The foundation of all cognition and behaviour is to achieve a goal. Thoughts and actions don’t just materialise out of nowhere and people don’t just undertake actions for actions sake. In every moment, people are attempting to fulfil a need by achieving a goal.
The individual’s affective state is also determined by this outcome orientation. People’s mood (stress, anxiety, and depression) are determined by their perception of their ability to achieve their goals and people’s emotional state (happy, sad, angry, etc…) is determined by whether or not they achieve their goals .
2. The Core Desire
The ultimate goal that people are attempting to achieve is the fulfilment of a psychological need. While peopel think they want money or relationships or to travel around the world, these actions and outcomes are simply proxies that they believe will fulfil one of (currently) 13 psychological needs. These needs include:
- Freedom from
- Freedom to
- Freedom of
The pursuit of these 13 psychological needs is the driving force behind all cognitions and behaviours and determine people’s affective state.
3. The Problem is the Pathway
The root cause of any dysfunction or non-genetic psychopathology is not the psychological need they are attempting to fulfil, but the pathway through which they’re attempting to fulfil that need. Specifically, the problems are caused by attempting to utilise goals and strategies for fulfilling a psychological need that are highly, or at least partially dependent on elements outside of the control of the individual.
The more dependent a pathway is for fulfilling psychological needs, the less control the individual has over whether or not they can fulfil their psychological needs and the less likely they are to fulfil them. This lack of control over whether or not a person can fulfil their psychological need results in an unstable and volatile affective state where the individual is more likely to perceive they have a reduced ability to control their life and a higher chance of experiencing mood disorders.
4. The Solution is EESI
In every situation, the solution to dysfunction and psychopathology is finding a pathway to fulfilling a psychological need that is less dependent on factors that are outside of the control of the individual. This independence of external factors provides a reliable base that results in a stable affective state and an internal perception that the individual is in control of their life.
The Long Version
Here are the theoretical underpinnings of the short version of UTHP.
Every theory has a set of basic foundations that underlie its development. UTHP is no different. Here are the theoretical foundations upon which the theory is developed.
The first basic assumption is that of utility maximisation — that with every though, every decision, and every action, people are attempting to fulfil their needs. This inherent ‘selfishness’ determines drives their big decisions about where someone will live, what they will do for a living, and who they will spend their time with, down to the smallest details of how they’ll dress in the morning, what they’ll eat for lunch, and which seat they will choose on the bus. While there are a number of criticisms of utility, they focus primarily on how effective people are at maximising utility, not whether or not they’re pursuinng maximum utility.
People are not empty vessels choosing randomly from a set of immediately available options like a random number generator, they’re driven and motivated to fulfil their underlying needs and desires and are continuously moving towards fulfilling their goals.
The Importance of the Assumption of Utility Maximisation (THIS NEEDS CLARIFICATION)
The assumption of utility maximisation is important because it changes the peception, understanding, and treatment of maladaptive thoughts, decisions, and behaviours.
The assumption that thoughts, decisions, and actions are taken in isolation from desires and are simply the random reaction to a situation with previously observed behaviours, then the process of changing behaviour involves explaining why that particular behaviour is unproductive and teaching a new behaviour. The capacity to change behaviour is then dependent on how effectively you can disincentivise the current behaviour and incentivise the new behaviour. It’s an external and controlling process which dimishes the agency of the individual.
But, the assumption that the basis of thoughts, decisions, and actions is the fulfillment of a need or desire, then the process of changing their thoughts, decisions, and behaviours involves helping the person see how their process for the fulfilment of their goals is ineffective and helping them find new pathways to fulfilling their desires. The capacity to change behaviours is then dependent on how effectively you can demostrate the limitations of the person’s current thoughts, decisions, and behaviours and show them how much easier their life could be by following a new path. This is an internally motivated path that aligns with their goals and desires.
The second basic assumption of UTHP is that of dual-process thinking. Dual process thinking is the idea that there are two systems within the human brain with different processes, structures, preferences, and functions. Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and slow is the most comprehensive breakdown of dual process thinking, but here is a short summary:
The first system (known as System 1 or Type 1 thinking) is the ‘unconscious’ mind. It thinks in images and feelings, processes large amounts of information instantaneously, thinks in the present moment. System one is responsible for the majority of behaviours and decisions, though System 2 can control behaviours and decisions for limited periods, especially when there is little to no emotional significance to the behaviours and decisions.
The second system (known as System 2 or Type 2 thinking) is the ‘conscious’ mind. It thinks in words and can only process
The Importance of the Foundations of Dual-Process Thinking
The importance of the assumption of dual-process thinking is that it explains why there are often contradictory accounts of the basic motivations of human behaviour (specifically, the role of logic and emotion as the drivers of behaviour) and understanding both systems and the role each one plays clarifies these contradictions.
IMPORTANT: Include the fact that System 1 is in charge as emotion is the determinant of behaviour (Demasio)
This assumption of utility maximisation and dual-process thinking provide basis for understanding UTHP.
UTHP Core Theory
There are X foundations of the core theory of UTHP.
The Pursuit of Life
The core theory of UTHP is built on a simple premise: the pursuit of life is an optimal experience.
‘Optimal experience’ is a term coined by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi to describe the subjective experience of flow, or being in the zone. It’s the experience where… This core desire in every moment in life. This is why people choose the house in which they live. This is why people eat the food they want. This is why people get into relationships. This is the basis of every cognition and every behaviour and our ability to achieve this state determines our affective state.
Csikszentmihalyi identified 9 characteristics that are present in flow including… (INSERT HERE), but there are three characteristics that most important for achieving a state of flow: pursuit of an (1) intrinsically significant goal at a (2) challenging, but (3) achievable level. This balance of challenge at a level equal to a perceived skill level in the pursuit of an intrinsically significant goal results in (characteristics) and an optimal experience.
Dual-System Optimal Experience
UTHP extends Csikszentmihalyi’s theory by combining it with dual-systems theory to identify both a System 1 and System 2 intrinsically signficant goal, challenge, and perception of skill.
System 2 Intrinsically Significant Goal
Thinks in specifics using words. A System 2 goal is a any goal you’ll find listed in a personal development handbook or suggested in a goal setting exercise. This can be anything from small goals like
System 1 Intrinsically Significant Goal
Psychological need – Self-Determination Theory
While System 2 goals are the most easily communicatable and most tangible, the goals that are the core pursuit are System 1 goals of psychological needs.
System 2 Challenge
System 1 Challenge
System 2 Perceived Skill
System 1 Perceived Skill
What this all means
There’s a lot of theory in the sections above, but the practical reality of these ideas is simple.
The Basis of Cognition and Behaviour
The pursuit of life in any moment is the fulfillment of a psychological need at a challenging but achievable level. This is why people
The Basis of Affect
There are two distinct categories of affect which need to be addressed separately: emotions and mood disorders.
The Basis of Emotional Response
Affect is a byproduct of the individual perception of progress towards the fulfilment of psychological needs.
If the individual perceives they’ve progressed towards the fulfilment of their psychological need, they experiece an affective response
The Basis of Mood Disorder
There are three primary mood disorders that are addressed within the UTHP framework: stress, anxiety, and depression
Stress is a perceived capacity issue, experienced when the individual perceives that they do not have the resources necessary to overcome the challenges present in the pursuit of an intrinsically significant goal. These resources frequently include time, money, and other things.
This is supported by…
Anxiety is a perceived ability issue, experienced when the individual percieves that they do not have the skills necessary to overcome the challenges present in the pursuit of an intrinsically significant goal. These skills can include making a good impression, getting people to like them, win a sporting competition, etc…
This is supported by Csikszentmihalyi original work
NOTE: Csikszentmihalyi’s work also identifies that boredom is the product of an imbalance of challenge and skill, but with the perception of skill being greater than the perceived challenge. As this is not diagnosed as a major mood disorder it is not included in depth in this breakdown.
Depression is a perceived possibility issue, experienced when the individual perceives that they do not have a viable pathway to the fulfillment of their psychological needs.
Minor depressive disorders typically relate to the fulfilment of one psychological need while major depressive disorders typically relate to the fulfillment of mulitple psychological needs.
FIND SUPPORTING EVIDENCE
UTHP Core Theory
UTHP core theory.
Foundation 1. People Are Outcome-Oriented
The first core foundation of PNST is that people are outcome-oriented. In every moment, people are trying to fulfil a desire and this orientation towards fulfilling this desire controls every part of every moment of their day.
- They pay attention to sensory inputs that are relevant to fulfilling thier desires and disregard sensory information that is irrelevant
- The sensory information related to that desire is then processed to assesses its impact on the person’s ability to fulfil thier desires
- Decisions (both conscious and unconscious) are made based on that sensory input to move the person towards fulfilling that desires
- Actions are taken based on those decisions that will move the person towards fulfilling their desires
- Emotional responses are related to, and proportional to the degree which the sensory inputs, thoughts, decisions, and actions move the person towards or away from their desired outcome
This applies to every second of every moment in every day of a person’s life. Everything is about fulfilling a desire. This includes:
- The clothes they wear
- The food they eat
- The people they talk to
- Where they work
- The seat they choose on the bus
- Where they buy their groceries
- How long they spend scrolling through their Facebook feed
- When they take their lunch break
- The school assignments they prioritise and the ones they push off till later
Every moment of every second of every day is dominated by the pursuit of fulfilling a desire.
You can read a full breakdown of this concept, its practical foundation, and why this is a critically important concept to understand when attempting to understand human decision-making, motivation, and behaviour, here.
Foundation 2. Theses Core Desires are Psychological Needs
The second core foundation of PNST is that the core desire behind every material possession or desired outcome is fulfilling a psychological need. Material possessions and outcomes are simply a pathway to fulfilling these core psychological needs. They are not the end-point of thoughts, decisions, and actions.
There are 10 core psychological needs that are broken into three broad categories.
Category 1: Agency Needs
Agency needs are those needs related to a person’s ability to get things done. The core agency needs are:
Category 2: Relatedness Needs
Relatedness needs are those needs related to a person’s relationships with others. The core relatedness needs are:
Category 3: Constraint/Limitation Needs
Constraint needs relate to a person’s perception of the impositions placed upon them by the world around them. The core constraint needs are:
- Freedom from (pain/suffering/restriction/limitation)
- Freedom to (live their life/follow dreams)
- Freedom of (expression)
Foundation 3. People fulfil psychological needs by achieving goals
In order for people to fulfil their psychological needs, people attempt to achieve goals. These goals are any outcome that the person has either consciously or unconsciously linked (through classical conditioning, operant conditioning, observation, modelling, or simply cognition) to the fulfilment of their psychological need.
There is no direct 1:1 relationship between a specific goal and the fulfilment of a specific psychological need. For example, obtaining large amounts of money can fulfil the psychological need for power (as it can be used to overcome challenges and barriers), control (as it can be used to manipulate significant variables), freedom from (as it can be used to remove the limitations and impositions of existence in a modern society), inclusion (as people want to hang out with rich people), significance (as money allows people to play an important role in the lives of others), progression (as achieving goals and moving forward becomes easier with lots of money), and contribution (as it is easier to solve big problems).
Foundation 4. People achieve goals through strategies
There are various pathways that a person can take to achieve their goals (and ultimately fulfil their psychological needs). These pathways are referred to as strategies within UTHP.
As with goals, there is no 1:1 relationship between a specific pathway and a specific goal achievement. For example, there are many different ways to make money. There are also many different ways to win sport games, climb the corporate ladder, make friends, find romantic partners, etc…
Foundation 5. Mood is determined by perception of ability to overcome challenges
Psychological needs (what do I want) and the pathways through which people fulfill them (how do I get it) are two of the three underlying psychological processes that are continuously operating in both the conscious and unconscious mind and are the primary determinants of human behavioural pathways. The third underlying psychological process is an assessment process focussed on ‘can I get what I want?’ This process is what determines a person’s affect/mood.
There are four primary affective issues:
- If a person perceives that overcoming the challenges identified through their ‘how do I get it’ schema (and fulfil their psychological needs) is too easy, they will experience boredom
- If a person perceives that they do not have the capacity to overcome the challenges identified through their ‘how do I get it’ schema (and fulfil their psychological needs), they will experience stress
- If a person perceives that they do not have the ability to overcome the challenges identified through their ‘how do I get it’ schema (and fulfil their psychological needs), they will experience anxiety
- If a person perceives that they do not have the possibility of overcoming the challenges identified through their ‘how do I get it’ schema (and fulfil their psychological needs), they will experience depression
- If a person perceives that they can and will overcome the challenges identified through their ‘how do I get it’ schema, they will experience confidence and/or self-belief
There are two levels to a person’s perception of whether or not they can overcome the challenges in their ‘how do I get it’ schema: task level and general competency level.
Task Level Perception
Task-level perception of abilities relates to the specific activity or goal that a person is attempting to complete or achieve. It’s where they perceive that they can, given their past experiences and knowledge, fulfil their specific goal/desire in that moment. It might be throwing a ball or reading document or ordering food. It doesn’t matter what they specific task or goal might be, only that the person perceives that they have the ability to fulfil their goal/desire.
This is System 2-level perception
General Competency-Level Perception
While a person’s ability to perceive that they can overcome challenges is an important element in determining their mood, their bigger picture, System 1-level perception of their general competency and ability to overcome challenges. This level of perception isn’t so much “I can complete this task”, but more “I can overcome challenges and issues and create the life I want”. It’s the bigger picture.
This level of perception is made of of 11 specific perceptual goals, with the level of importance to the specific individual differing based on which other perceptual goals they’ve achieved and the dominant perceptual regions of their brain (masculine vs feminine).
These perceptual goals are:
- The perception that the person can overcome significant challenges and barriers
- The perception that the person can manipulate impactful variables
- The perception that the person can make progress towards the life they want
- The perception that the person can impact the big challenges and issues in the world
- The perception that the person is not the only person to have gone through these challenges
- The perception that the person has other people on their team
- The perception that others will join their team based on who the person is right now
- The perception that the person plays an important role in the lives of others
- The perception that the person can
These perceptual goals align with the psychological needs.
- Power: The perception that the person can overcome significant challenges and barriers
- Control: The perception that the person can manipulate impactful variables
- Progression/Achievement: The perception that the person can make progress towards the life they want
- Contribution: The perception that the person can impact the big challenges and issues in the world
- Connection: The perception that the person is not the only person to have gone through these challenges
- Inclusion: The perception that the person has other people on their team
- Acceptance: The perception that others will join their team based on who the person is right now
- Significance: The perception that the person plays an important role in the lives of others
- Freedom from: The perception that the person can
- Freedom to:
- Freedom of:
Foundation 6. Affect is determined by the outcomes of the pursuit of goals
A person’s emotional and affective state is determined by their success/failure in their pursuit of their of their goals (and the fulfilment of their psychological needs).
If a person is successful in their pursuit in their goal/need fulfilment, they will experience one of many positive affects, depending on the significance of that goal and who/what they believe is responsible for their goal/need fulfilment.
- If they perceive that they’re about to fulfil a goal/need, they will experience excitement
- If they believe they were responsible for their goal/need fulfilment, they may experience pride or joy
- If they believe others were responsible for their goal/need fulfilment, they may experience gratitude or thankfulness or support or significance
- If they believe they were responsible for their failure to fulfil their goal/need, they may experience internally directed disappointment or frustration or anger
- If they believe they were not responsible for their failure to fulfil their goal/need, they may experience externally directed disappointment or frustration or anger
Foundation 7. People take action because…
Not really sure. Haven’t worked this out yet. It has something to do with motivation, energy, importance of the goal, desire, and ownership, but I haven’t worked out how it fits into the UTHP framework yet.
UTHP Therapeutic Process
The third PNST foundation is that the problems that people face in their life are not created by the core need they’re attempting to satisfy, but by the pathway through which they’re trying to satisfy that need.
Trying to feel powerful does not cause any issues in of itself. Trying to feel powerful by putting other people below you or make people do what you want can cause problems.
Trying to feel connected does not cause any issues in of itself. Trying to feel connected through engaging in risky sexual behaviour can cause issues.
Trying to experience freedom does not cause any issues in of itself. Trying to experience freedom through consuming large quantities of drugs and alcohol can cause issues.
The problem is never the desired experience. It is always the pathway through which people attempt to satisfy their needs that is responsible for the challenges they face.
You can read a full breakdown of Foundation 3, including the two element in a pathway and how they relate, here.
Foundation 4. The Solution is EESI
If the pathway is the root cause of the issues that people face, then the solution is to find a new pathway, specifically, a more efficient, effective, sustainable, and independent (EESI, pronounced EASY) pathway.
Instead of trying to feel powerful by putting other people down, feel powerful by overcoming limiting beliefs.
Instead of experiencing connection through sexually risky behaviour, experience connection through sharing emotionally-significant stories with willing listeners.
Instead of experiencing freedom through drugs and alcohol, experience freedom through meditation and mindfulness.
Changing the pathway for satisfying the psychological needs creates a intrinsically-motivated solution for not dealing with the challenges of the old pathway, but simply side-stepping them.
*While the theory of utility maximisation has a number of valid criticisms due to observed contradictions within scientific studies (Speekenbrinks & Shanks, 2012), these criticisms are not valid in the way that this theory has been applied in UTHP due to one significant change: the definition of ‘utility’.
Speekenbrink, M., & Shanks, D. R. (2013). Decision making. In D. Reisberg (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of cognitive psychology (pp. 682–703). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195376746.013.0043