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Belief or value? Learn the difference and set yourself free

July 30, 2022 - 14 min read

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The importance of knowing our place

What are beliefs?

So what are values?

The connection between beliefs and values

Making beliefs and values work for us

Embracing your beliefs

As human beings, we make judgments every day about how to behave. We leave room on the escalator for hurried people to race by, we hold the door open for strangers at the store, and we give our bus seat to a person having difficulty standing. 

As small as they might seem, all of these are reflections of our personal beliefs, values, and attitudes — guiding principles that govern how we experience and interact with the world. Both beliefs and values influence our decision-making, impacting both how we perceive others and how they perceive us.

If those expectations were handed down to us, we might feel trapped by them or stuck in a certain role. But we don’t have to be. We’re allowed to break free of expectations and set goals based on our own beliefs and core values.

The first step is to understand how beliefs and values work. Then we can ask ourselves: where do we fit in the equation?

Let’s review what beliefs versus values are, and some beliefs and values examples.

The importance of knowing our place

Knowing the difference between values and beliefs is essential to our personal growth. As we’ll see, these concepts influence us in invisible ways. When we peel back the curtain, we can choose whether we accept the beliefs prescribed to us or whether our personal values align with our environment. 

Having a clear understanding of the beliefs and values that guide you offers a level of self-awareness that helps you organize your life in a way that benefits you. If you’ve ever tried to work with a leader who didn’t have clear values, you know that it’s hard to follow their example or identify what they’re trying to accomplish.

If you’re trying to be a leader but don’t know what values you follow, you might not be as effective.

To honor your beliefs and values, you could change careers to pursue something more purposeful, make time for the important people in your life, and live with a new sense of meaning.

All of this can improve your mental health and overall wellbeing. It can also make it clearer to your team what matters to you, making you a more compelling leader. When managing others, your actions speak much louder than your words.

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What are beliefs?

Beliefs are things that we believe to be true, regardless of the evidence. They’re the assumptions we make about the world. They influence our thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes in significant ways.

For example, let’s consider dogs. Some people believe that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Others might believe that not all dogs are inherently good. These belief systems dictate how you navigate the world — or in this case, how you approach dogs. 

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We often make these assumptions based on what we see, hear, read, and experience growing up. Many of our beliefs are rooted in our religious or cultural background.

Types of beliefs

Each set of beliefs measures how a specific behavior benefits us or others within our society, culture, or community. Here is a list of common types of beliefs:

  • Political beliefs: How we think power should be distributed and controlled within a society

  • Social beliefs: How we think people’s personal lives should be structured in relation to the rest of society

  • Religious beliefs: We’re likely all familiar with several dominant religions, but w can categorize religious beliefs in two ways. Monotheistic religions believe in a singular deity. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism fall into this category. Polytheistic religions believe in multiple deities, like Hinduism, Taoism (or Daoism), and Confucianism.

So what are values?

Value systems dictate how we judge what’s considered “good” or “bad” in our community, culture, or society. They’re unwritten rules that set the standards of behavior in our daily life.

Everyone has their own core values. But we’re heavily influenced by our environment. 

For example, someone who grew up in a small town might place a higher value on their neighborhood community than someone who grew up in a city. The small-town person grew up in an environment where they knew all of their neighbors and could turn to them for help.

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The city person still has a community, but it might be made up of people from other areas of their life — not the people living down the block.

We learn values through a combination of background, experience, and our sense of self. We might start with our culture’s or religion's values, but we can adjust them as we experience more. 

When we become aware of our values, we can apply them to all facets of our life.

The types of values

There are four types of values we can find in our environment. Each measures how a behavior benefits us or others within our society, culture, or community.

Here are some examples of values that fall into different categories:

  1. Functional value: Does this behavior or item provide a useful service?
  2. Monetary value: Is this behavior capable of generating money?
  3. Social value: Does this behavior help us connect with others, or help others connect?
  4. Psychological value: Does this behavior allow us to express ourselves more clearly?
  5. Cultural value: Do people in my community share this value with me? Does it share a custom or ritual with the people in my group?

The connection between beliefs and values

What you believe guides your values and how you conduct yourself. Remaining committed to your beliefs can lead them to form values in your life. Strong beliefs can turn into values, but not all values translate into beliefs. Things like integrity or honesty are values that guide our decision-making. However, honesty isn’t a belief system.

Our values often don’t influence our beliefs, since they’re more tangible. In actuality, our beliefs tend to inform our values. If we believe that all people are inherently good, our values are more likely to center around kindness and altruism.

happy-man-while-doing-volunteer-work-beliefs-vs-values

How does culture affect our beliefs and values?

We often acquire our beliefs and values through our culture’s reward and punishment system. 

When we go against a society’s values, we’re ostracized for misbehaving or not adhering to what’s considered “good.” As long as we behave in accordance with societal values, we’re rewarded, praised, or left alone.

Similarities and differences

Here are the main similarities and differences between beliefs and values.

Differences:

  1. Beliefs are our assumptions about the world. Values are how we attribute worth to objects and behaviors. 
  2. Beliefs stem from our life experiences, spiritual learnings, and culture. Our beliefs heavily influence our values.
  3. Beliefs can teeter into prejudice, and values can manifest that prejudice.
  4. Beliefs affect our morals. Values are how we live our morals through behavior, character, and personality.

Similarities:

  1. External environments influence both beliefs and values.
  2. Beliefs and values influence our behavior and how we experience the world
  3. Both provide a shared sense of identity and community
  4. Beliefs and values can change over time

Making beliefs and values work for us

We acquire beliefs and values from the day we’re born. We learn to treat others in a certain way. We might be encouraged to go to college or told to live a certain lifestyle.

But in reality, we don’t have to follow all the rules prescribed to us. As we meet people and gain new experiences, we might find a better path. 

Unfortunately, as we go through life, we might also pick up limiting beliefs about ourselves. We think we're not good enough, incapable, or unloveable. But we don't have to accept these thoughts.

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Here’s how we can live life per our own values and beliefs.

  • Identify our core beliefs and values. Identifying what moral values are important to us compared to the people around us can help us find our purpose and guide our life plans. 
  • Make a plan. What would our lives look like if we were in tune with our beliefs and values? When we have our answer, we can plan how to get there.
  • Evaluate the consequences. If we make this change, how will others react? What will people in my community think? Some changes will elicit a stronger reaction than others. We should decide if it’s worth it to hold firm to this value.

Embracing your beliefs

It’s not easy going against the grain, but it’s possible. We can change careers, prioritize our loved ones, or travel for a year before college. As long as we have a realistic plan, we can set goals that are right for us — and no one else. 

If you need help setting goals that balance your beliefs vs. values, BetterUp can help you be the person you want to be.

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Published July 30, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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