In order to understand what a personal value is, it is important to first define what a belief is.
A belief can come from different sources, including:
A potential belief sits with the person until they accept it as truth, and adopt it as part of their individual belief system.
The extent to which each person evaluates and seeks sound reasons or evidence for these potential beliefs is very individual.
Once a person accepts a belief as truth and is willing to defend it, it can then be said to form part of their belief system.
Values are stable long-lasting beliefs about what is important to a person. They become standards by which people order their lives and guide how people make choices.
A belief will evolve into a value when the person’s commitment to it develops and they see it as being important.
It is possible to categorise beliefs into different types of values - examples of this include values that relate to happiness, wealth, career success or family.
As values are a subset of beliefs, it follows that a person must be able to articulate their values in order to make clear rational, responsible and consistent decisions.
Attitudes are the mental dispositions people adopt towards others and the circumstances before decision-making that result in behaviour. People primarily form their attitudes from underlying values and beliefs.
However, factors which may not have been internalised as beliefs and values can still influence a person’s attitudes at the point of decision-making. Typical influences include the desire to please, political correctness, expediency, peer pressure, and psychological stressors.
The potential for these influences to sway attitudes will be greater if the person has not clearly thought through their beliefs and values. This includes the principles by which they might reconcile or prioritise competing values.
A lack of self-awareness or critical insight, or the presence of ambivalence or uncertainty about values can all lead to a less rational attitude to choice, and ultimately undesirable behaviour.
The diagram below outlines the relationships between the sources of a belief and the belief; and the belief and values to a person’s attitudes and behaviours.