Feeling unmotivated? Are you experiencing psychological hunger?

Have you found yourself feeling fed up, bored and unstimulated recently? If so, you may be experiencing 'psychological hunger'. We all know that if we haven’t eaten enough food for a while, our energy levels drop, and our mood quite often takes a hit. We may find ourselves feeling lethargic and lacking in motivation. If we are hungry, we eat some food to help give us energy and satisfy our needs. But, what do we do when it comes to our psychological needs?


To help us maintain our well-being, it is important that we both recognise and feed our psychological hungers. But, how do we identify our hungers? And, once we have identified them, what can we do to feed them?

What are psychological hungers?

According to Berne (1961), the original developer of transactional analysis, there are six hungers that are the key drivers to mental well-being.

1. Stimulus hunger

We need different types of stimulation, including:

  • Sensory – If we don’t use our five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch enough), we may feel distressed or emotionless. Examples of what we might do to fulfil this hunger include being out in nature and observing bright colours, smells and sounds.
  • Intellectual – This encourages us to think creatively, and problem solve. Taking on new projects, learning new things and creating new ideas can help provide intellectual stimulation.
  • Emotional – Sharing our authentic thoughts and feelings with close friends and family helps to promote our emotional development and to feel connected.

2. Recognition hunger

As humans, we have a need to be noticed, and receive attention and acknowledgment from others. If we ever find ourselves nodding hello to somebody and this not being reciprocated, we may feel ignored, leaving us feeling like we don’t exist or belong. This can be a scary prospect for us humans who are wired to connect with others. Recognition provides us with a sense of identity and belonging in society. 

Ways to feed this hunger include a simple nod, someone saying hello to us or giving us a compliment. It may be recognition for something we have done well at work or home, for example, a completed work project or a sporting achievement. 

3. Incident hunger

We crave the need for anything unusual, challenging or exciting to happen to spice up our lives and make them less routine. When we are feeling bored or feel life is dull, we may experience a lack of incidents in our lives. 

Feeding this hunger could include taking a holiday break, meeting new people, exploring a new place or area, or having a new experience (bungee jumping perhaps – although this may be a bit too extreme for many!).

We can also experience negative unplanned incidents, for example, any major incident reported on the news or incident in your local area. 

4. Contact hunger

From birth, we need physical contact from our primary care giver/s to enable us to survive in the world. This desire continues throughout life and contact creates a sense of connectedness and comfort. Touching another person boosts our sense of identity as it acknowledges that we are both separate from and connected with others.

Contact can be received by the way we greet and meet each other, perhaps shaking a hand, a kiss on the cheek or a hug (things which many of us missed during the lockdown period).

5. Sexual hunger

This hunger is related to passion, love and romance. It doesn’t have to be purely sexual in nature and extends beyond basic copulation.
It can be satisfied from anything that ignites passion in us. For example, watching or participating in sports, dancing, physical intimacy or supporting an important cause that we care about.

6. Time structure hunger

We all know we only have a certain amount of time in which to live our lives and have a desire to structure our time satisfactorily, filling it with purposeful and meaningful experiences.

We often find comfort in everyday routines such as getting out of bed at the same time, showering, eating regularly, going to work and/or participating in regular activities. During the lockdown period, many of us found our usual time structure was thrown into disarray and found ourselves challenged into re-structuring our time by creating new routines.

We also notice the regular passing of the years, marked by celebration days such as birthdays and the new year which provide a sense of time passing. We worry about wasting time and not having enough time. We plan and want to know what is going to happen, and when, all of which give us a sense of personal control.

Ways of satisfying this need may include keeping a calendar, having work and personal goals, attending classes or participating in a sport or hobby. It is important to remember, as much as we plan our work time, it is just as important to plan relaxation and fun time.

How do we know what psychological hungers we are deficient in?

The first step is to look back at the description given for each hunger and ask yourself, for each one, using a scale of zero to five (with zero being completely unsatisfied and five being fully satisfied), how would I rate myself now on how well I am getting my needs met in this area?

A reminder of the hungers are:

  • stimulus
  • recognition
  • incident
  • contact
  • sexual
  • time structure

Once completed, ask yourself, which areas stand out for me and where do I feel I wish to make improvements? For example, we may have a real desire for intellectual stimulation, but find we are scoring ourselves a one or two when we need a five to feel fully satisfied. Of course, all of us will have different needs for each hunger to be fulfilled so this will be individual for each one of us.

Once we identify where our deficits lie, we can begin to choose to do things to help fulfil any unmet needs. For instance, using the example of intellectual stimulation, we might plan a new project at work, look for a new job or book onto a training course to develop our skills. If it’s more of a sensory stimulation we are desiring, we might listen to more music or walk more in nature.

It may take time and be challenging to identify what will help us improve our lives and mood. However, once, we understand and make changes to satisfy our psychological hungers, we should find ourselves feeling more stimulated and happier with an improved sense of well-being.

In the same way we eat regularly to satisfy our physical hunger, it’s important to apply the same principle to our psychological hunger, and to check in with ourselves regularly, asking ourselves if the changes we’ve made are still satisfying our needs.

If, after considering your psychological hungers, you are still feeling stuck and finding it difficult to identify the changes you want to make to improve your well-being, you may want to consider working with a therapist or life coach. They will be able to help you explore where your deficits lie and support you through making the changes you want.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bromley, Kent, BR1 3AA
Written by Jane Cooper, Dip. Couns. MNCPS (Accred) / Postgrad Cert. Coaching
Bromley, Kent, BR1 3AA

Jane Cooper, Dip. Counselling, (MNCS) is a qualified and accredited Counsellor and Life Coach trained in Transactional Analysis (TA) and uses TA theories and tools in her therapy and coaching work. Jane runs a private therapy practice in Bromley, Kent, where she is passionate about supporting people to improve their mental well-being.

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