The Delta Δ Theory

The Delta Δ Theory

Delta is a three-sided shape, more commonly referred to as a triangle. In the Greek language, Delta has the numeric value four; a three-sided shape with a value of four, hmmm…

I digress.

When you think of a triangle, do you think of the Equilateral, Isosceles, or Scalene? Most people think of the Equilateral, where all three sides are the same length and the angles of intersection are the same. An Isosceles resembles Delta with two equal sides and one shorter side. [Scalene has no equal sides.]


In 1943, Abraham Maslow published “A Theory of Human Motivationin Psychological Review, one of the most prominent and influential scientific journals in North America [now the American Psychological Association]. That article was where he first introduced what became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, fully expressed later in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. Maslow uses an Equilateral triangle to express such hierarchy.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you need a refresher, goes like this: you, me, we, are all motivated to act or behave in a certain order, i.e., the order necessary to meet our needs so as to “step up” to the next level of needs. His theory was that survival, or physiological needs had to be met first in order to “step up” to the next level, safety needs. After survival and safety needs were met, love and connection came next, followed by self-esteem, and finally self-actualization. Maslow used an Equilateral triangle to visually demonstrate the hierarchy:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Three decades later, Clayton Alderfer proposed further development of Maslow’s theory, calling it ERG [Existence, Relatedness, Growth] theory. Alderfer challenged that, unlike Maslow’s theory, there is no hierarchy. Alderfer groups physiological and safety needs into one motivating factor [existence]; love, belonging and self-esteem into another motivating factor [relatedness]; and self-actualization into the last factor [growth].

A major difference between the theories is that in ERG, Alderfer posits that you will not pursue the upper level of needs [love, self-esteem, self-actualization] once the lower levels [survival and safety] have been satisfied. Rather, you will pursue all needs simultaneously because attainment of one at a time doesn’t motivate you, but pursuit of all three does.

Enter what I call the Delta theory.

There are really only three ‘things’ in your life requiring consistent care and attention; how you make money [$], your personal relationships [R], and your health [H]. In a perfect world, your life would be represented by an Equilateral triangle, with all three sides balanced and receiving equal amounts of attentiveness. Nothing would keep you up at night or worry you, you’re in good health, your relationships are healthy, and your business or career is healthy. Your life would be an Equilateral triangle.

The Delta Δ Theory

But if your life looks or feels more like an Isosceles triangle than an Equilateral triangle, you have one side out of balance, causing you stress. In my Delta theory, the one side that is out of balance, because it is connected to the other two sides, proportionately affects those sides.


The short side of the Delta represents the part of your life that’s out of balance. Perhaps you’re experiencing a rift in a personal relationship with your spouse, a child, or family member. Because the [R] side of your Delta touches your money side [$] and your health side [H], guess what happens to your health and your performance at work? If you are stressed about a relationship, you may binge eat, slack off on going to the gym, and snap at someone at work for no apparent reason.

If the short side of the Delta is strife at work or your business is struggling, again, because all three sides are connected, your personal relationships are being affected as is your health. Your partner, family, or friends are on the receiving end of your short temper. Allowing the stress of your work to continue could cause you to end up with an ulcer, high blood pressure [or worse] and a rift in your relationships.

Let’s say you’re life has been clicking along great, and then out of nowhere you have a medical crisis. Health issues put a lot of strain on relationships and your ability to earn a living to provide for yourself and your family.

So what if all three sides of your Delta are in a tailspin?

You are officially a hot mess. And you better do something fast. Ask yourself which one of the three sides of the Delta you worry about most and you’ll know it’s the one you need to start working on right away.

If it’s your money side; how you provide for yourself and your family, begin by noticing your internal dialogue when you are in that worrisome state. Are you muttering under your breath about the incompetent idiot you report to, or the ass-kissing colleague who left footprints on your back? Are you stressed out about not making payroll again this month? Or are you agonizing about having to possibly fire your sales person/neighbor who made big promises but still hasn’t landed any new business in six months?

No matter what ‘it’ is, you need to do something about it. As you can see from the Delta, the three ‘things,’ money, relationships, and health are all connected. There is no hierarchy. Equal attainment of satisfaction in all three areas is necessary for a balanced, harmonious life. Balance will come and go, but at least you will have a better understanding of why life seems unbalanced and have a simple way to evaluate what needs your attention right now.

So, which one will you begin to work on today, to have a positive impact on all three tomorrow?

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