Research Paper By Donna Horn
(Executive Coach, CANADA)
My Tagline: People finding their power.
My Mantra: Creating a space for people to see who they are and what they are capable of.
In this paper, I will explore the concepts of beliefs, values, actions, and self-esteem and the relationships between them.
First, I will provide an overview of each of the key concepts in this paper. Then I will provide an analysis that will examine the relationship that beliefs, values, and actions have to an individual’s self-esteem.
Personal Values, are defined by Physio-pedia as “broad, desirable goals that motivate people’s actions and serve as guiding principles in their lives”.
As described by the Barrett Values Centre, values are not based on information from the past and they are not specific to the context. They are based on what is important to each of us. They arise from the experience of being human. Values tend to encapsulate what we need or what is important to us, or potentially also what is important but missing. Values form during our early years and can shift as we live our lives, have experienced, and/or develop psychologically along with the self-awareness and self-actualization continuum. They eventually become fairly much part of who we are and who others expect us to be.
Shalom H. Schwartz et al, in an analysis of personal values presented ten distinct types of values as follows:
- Self-direction e.g., freedom, creativity
- Stimulation e.g., exciting life, daring
- Hedonism e.g., pleasure, self-indulgent
- Achievement e.g., ambitious, successful
- Power e.g., wealth, authority
- Security e.g., social order, family security, cleanliness
- Conformity e.g., politeness, self-discipline, respect
- Tradition e.g., respect for traditions, modest, humble, devout
- Benevolence e.g., loyal, responsible, helpful, forgiving
- Universalism e.g., equality, wisdom, the world of peace, social justice, protecting the environment
Personal or individual values have been shown by research to fit into one of these ten distinct categories.
Each of us has a set of individual values and we attach unique importance to each one. We hold our values dear as principles, ideals, or standards of behavior.
Our innate sense of values is not automatically known to us. As well, they may be buried under external demands and expectations, such as the influence of others in our life (parents, partners, workplaces, societal ‘norms’). Part of our journey as human beings includes the gradual discovery and rediscovery of these innate and highly personal desires which are what has us feel most ourselves.
Beliefs differ from values, in that they are assumptions that we make about the world and that we hold to be true, even in the absence of evidence. Beliefs are often convictions we generally accept to be true, and they are often formed from past experiences. Beliefs can be very strongly held and affect our behaviors, thoughts, and attitude. When we make decisions or take actions based on our beliefs there is an underlying and sometimes unconscious assumption that what we learned in the past also applies to the future.
We can also form beliefs about ourselves. Beliefs can be enabling (positive) or limiting (negative). Examples of an enabling belief might be “I am smart” or “I am resilient”, whereas examples of a limiting belief might be “I am not smart” or “I am not a runner”. Sometimes a belief might seem to be enabling (e.g., I am hardworking) and help us with achieving certain goals, but could also become limiting in a certain context, such as if a person lives into the belief so strongly they become exhausted or burned out through the hard work. Beliefs, therefore, sometimes do not serve us well but can exist subconsciously and affect our behaviors and enjoyment of life unless we have an opportunity to examine them. We also hold beliefs about others that can be enabling or limiting, such as ‘People are generally good’ (enabling) or ‘People are generally evil’ (limiting). The latter limiting belief might result in an appropriate level of caution in certain circumstances, such as an active war zone, but in general, would limit one’s ability to engage with and trust others.
We each hold a set of beliefs that are enabling and a set that may be limiting. As we grow as human beings, we ideally become increasingly aware of the set of beliefs we have and able to examine them and shift them as necessary to live the life we want for ourselves.
The actions we take are dictated by life circumstances –work, life, dependents, other people. We take them, every day, to both meet our basic needs or survival requirements, and also, if circumstances allow them to meet other requirements on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Nathaniel Branden was a Canadian-American psychotherapist (1930-2014) whose work and writings on the psychology of self-esteem were and continue to be transformative for many people. Nathaniel Branden’s writings include The Art of Living Consciously, Taking Responsibility, and his pinnacle volume The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.
The Six Pillars of Self Esteem, as defined by Nathaniel, are as follows:
- The Practice of Living Consciously
- The Practice of Self-Acceptance
- The Practice of Self Responsibility
- The Practice of Living Purposefully
- The Practice of Personal Integrity
Nathaniel characterizes self-esteem as a consequence or a product of these six internally generated practices, rather than something that can be worked on directly. Through understanding fully what the practices are and integrating them into our daily life, we can increase our self-esteem and therefore our sense of self-efficacy and self-respect. Likewise, we can support others (such as through the practice of coaching) to understand for themselves the practices and integrate them into their own life practice.
The actions we are likely to take are affected by the beliefs we hold, both our enabling and limiting beliefs. Our actions are a correlate to our beliefs, in that we do not act in a way that is inconsistent with our beliefs. If we believe we are not an efficacious person, for example, we will act in ways that continue to keep that belief in place.
The pathway towards having the life we want and to self-actualization then is supported by increasing awareness of the beliefs we hold and intentional work to shift those that do not support us. Goals we set for ourselves can only be achieved through this intentional work on beliefs to eliminate those holding us back.
Complicating this interplay is that making decisions and taking actions that are aligned with our values is important to our sense of well-being. Actions that are not aligned with our set of values will be extremely difficult to take, and if taken will not result in a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
There is a direct relationship to the key tenets of self-esteem and living a life that is both aligned with one’s values and unconstrained by limiting beliefs. Achievement of fullest self-esteem is a life long journey of exploration and awareness, much as is the journey to self-actualization (and the latter would require the former to be realized). Self-esteem includes living consciously, a life that is aligned to one’s values and correlated to a belief system that supports moving towards goals and fulfillment. It includes accepting oneself and the journey one is on through life, including acceptance of mistakes and misalignments that occur, learning from them, and continuing to develop. It includes having a level of personal integrity to be a stand for the values and enabling beliefs that one has and working within one’s sphere of influence to realize a life that is aligned. It follows that if one is unable to take actions that are congruent with one’s values, or if one’s beliefs dictate incongruent actions, self-esteem suffers.
Since our actions are correlated to our beliefs, what do we do if our beliefs are out of alignment or even opposed to our values? We need support from either ourselves or others to surface our beliefs to consciously choose those that serve us and work to discard those that do not.
Elsewise, the likely outcome of having misalignment between beliefs and values is an eroded sense of well-being or a continual, deep-rooted sense of unrest. A person may hold a value that is important to them that they are unaware of and they are not living their life in a manner that is congruent with it. This misalignment would cause a sense of unsettlement, depression, and increasingly low self-esteem.
Beliefs as mentioned can exist in the absence of evidence and can be altered through self-reflection, self-awareness, and intentional choice. We can examine the beliefs that we hold and choose beliefs that support who we want to be and what we want to do. This process will help ensure that our actions are aligned with both our values and supported by the beliefs that we hold.
To feel good about oneself and live your best life as a human being, one must be able to commit to taking those actions that are aligned with your values.
As coaches, it is valuable for us to understand the relationship between values, beliefs, actions, and self-esteem. Part of our work with our clients supports them in surfacing their values and their beliefs and examining them in the context of the actions that they want to take. As Nathaniel Branden’s work highlights, self-esteem is not something one works on directly but rather is a result of their ability to integrate practices into their life. The degree to which we can support clients to examine beliefs that do not serve them, choose beliefs that do, and live a life that is congruent with their values will positively influence their sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Personal Values and Beliefs, Physio-pedia
Personal Values in Human Life, Shalom Schwartz, Jan Cieciuch, et al, ResearchGate, August 2017
Difference Between Values and Beliefs, Hasa, PEDIAA, July 2016
Values vs. Beliefs, Barrett Values Centre
Values and Morals Clarification, Values Changes, MentalHelp.net
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden, Bantam Books, 1994
Nathaniel Branden, Wikipedia
Cambridge Dictionary, English
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Saul McLeod, March 20, 2020, SimplyPsychology