Attitudes, Beliefs and Values | The Coaching Institute

Attitudes, Beliefs and Values - Do They Serve Us Well?

By Wendy Wicks, Chief Executive, Empowerment Services

We often hear about attitudes, beliefs and values but what really are they? The answer is that attitudes, beliefs and values comprise a "system" of thinking, whether conscious or unconscious, which drives our behaviours.

So what are attitudes? I used to hold a pilot's licence and it is common aviation terminology to discuss the attitude of the aeroplane. For example, at take off, the attitude meant that the nose of the plane would be pointing upwards rather than straight ahead at the horizon. The attitude enabled you only to see what was ahead of you. Initially I found that extreme attitude, looking straight up into the sky, quite frightening because I was unable to see or connect with anything except the vast void above me through the front window. My focus was in just one place and I was unable to take in anything else. That is so with our attitudes, we have a particular perspective or position on something which limits our ability to take in the whole picture.

And beliefs? I find beliefs particularly interesting because people will go to extremes... even die for their beliefs. Religion and politics are beautiful examples with which most of us can identify, where individuals will surrender their lives or willingly take the lives of others in the belief or conviction that they are doing something for the good of either their god, their country or mankind.

Then we have values. Values are usually societal expectations or rules to which we attribute importance and esteem such as cleanliness, education, punishment, blasphemy and morals.

Our attitudes, beliefs and values create a "system" of thinking which guides our lives, but the questions I would ask are: Is this system a useful one? Is it fixed or fluid? Does it serve us well? The focus of my work as a coach and a facilitator is to assist individuals in their exploration of these questions. Most people find that they are holding onto old, outdated beliefs about themselves and the world in which they live. I support individuals in the process of creating choices and strategies which enable them to move forward towards new goals whilst leaving outmoded attitudes, beliefs and values behind them.

My psychology and sociology background has taught me to constantly ask myself these questions: What is it that I am not seeing right now? What am I filtering out? Filters are a very important part of our experience, however, most people don't even know that they have a filter. We all have a filter and it is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) which is where the brain stem joins the spinal chord. There is so much stimulus in the world around us that we are unable to take it all in at one particular time and still be able to function, so our RAS filters out what information we don't need. An example of this is, have you ever bought a new car? Say it's a brand new purple Barina. You may never have seen a purple Barina on the road until you buy yours. What happens the day you drive yours out of the showroom? Yes, you see them everywhere. Did they release all the purple Barinas on the same day? No, of course, they were always there but because you didn't need to know about purple Barinas. You saw them but the information was filtered out of your conscious awareness.

This is true of our relationships with others. If we believe something to be true about someone, our RAS will filter out any information to the contrary. An example of this is when you first fall in love and you can't see any negative behaviours in the other person, they are simply perfect! You filter out the things you don't like because you simply don't want to see them. Conversely, if you have someone in your life that you don't like you will filter out anything and everything positive, loving and kind about them and let in only the negative aspects. Thus, we allow in to our conscious thought information which validates what we believe to be true.

If you would like to challenge yourself to a new way of thinking, seeing the world differently, you may wish to contemplate the following questions: What is it that I am not seeing right now? What is it that I am taking an "arrogant fixed position" on? What am I filtering out?

Once you make a decision about what you would like to see, you allow your RAS to open up and allow in a plethora of other information. Try it, you will be amazed at what you have been missing.

Although it is the behaviour of a person that we see and we react to, the behaviour comes from the values that the person holds and which are often driven by guilt, fear and anger.

While behaviours are contextual it is also true for most of us that under pressure we do have a preference for behaving, acting and reacting in one particular way. The behaviours we choose are tried and tested by us and we rarely engage in behaviour unless we know that it works for us personally.

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