How do your values influence your attitude and behaviour?

I’ve been revisiting values and trying to define exactly what my personal values are. I think if you ask most people what their values are they won’t know right off the top of their head. They’ll be some hesitation or they’ll give you a quick listing of a few values they wrote down from a previous exercise. I had such a list myself, but this time around I wanted to go deep to truly understand the values that drive my attitude and behaviour.

A good place to start is defining what we mean by personal values. I picked up a few definitions and this one worked for me as a place to begin my initial self-inquiry:

Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of actions or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be.

For example:

“Equal rights for all.”
“Excellence deserves admiration.”
“People should be treated with dignity and respect.”

Aside: that last example is one that I have embraced wholeheartedly for many years now in dealing with people, something I picked up from my time in the military.

Values tend to influence our attitudes and behaviours, which is why it’s super important to know what those values are and how they play themselves out in your day to day life. I think a lot of times we just use a list of words to articulate what our values are like honesty or compassion, or trust. These are good words and good values, but do we truly understand how we derived those values and how they affect the way we organise and run our daily lives?

I found this piece from Morris Massey very helpful in my search to find an answer. He states:

Values form during three significant periods in our lives:

Imprint period: birth to 7 yrs
Modelling period: 8 to 13 yrs
Socialisation period: 13 to 21 yrs

That made me question what values did I pick up during those periods and how do they perhaps still influence me today?

I worked out the answer to this in my notebook:

Imprint Period

Values Imprint

To set the context, my mom had the biggest influence on me during the imprint period as my dad was largely absent due to being in the Navy on sea tours both in Vietnam and the Middle East.

I listed ‘Independence’ in my notes, but on reflection I would say my mother began imprinting me with a strong sense of ‘Self-Reliance’. And I believe largely the reason for that is she lost her mother when she was young and was forced into being the surrogate mom for her two younger sisters and younger brother.

Education was the other strong imprint, which probably stems from the fact that my mom had to leave the education system early.

Modelling Period

Modelling Period

During the Modelling period self-reliance/independence and education continued to be reinforced which reflected in my ‘lone wolf cub’ mentality and my love of books. Also during this period physicality/athleticism were important to me because through them I gained the respect of my peers and older kids as well as praise from adults.. I also picked up a reputation as a ‘good fighter.’ I wasn’t a violent kid, but my mother instilled in me that it was important to standup for myself and if that meant getting physical then so be it. She only approved of fighting if it was in self-defence.  She frowned on being the aggressor.  She was fond of saying, “Don’t go looking for trouble, but if trouble finds you, deal with it.”

Socialisation Period

I divided the socialisation period into two parts ages 13-16 and ages 17-21. The reason for that is I left home just shy of my 18th birthday and entered into the military socialisation process.

13 – 16

social period I

13 – 16 saw the emergence of the value I place on adventure, this was born largely out of my reading and my desire to see the places I was reading about.  It was during this period that I developed a passion for history and literature.  My sense of adventure also had a major impacted on my decision to join the military.  Also during this period, self-reliance became the value upon which all my other values hinged. Self-reliance was my chief value. I dropped out of team sports to exclusively pursue individual sports because I didn’t like the fact that my winning or losing a game could be influenced by someone else on the team. Self-education was massively important. I excelled beyond the curriculum in high school.  Luckily my teachers recognised my thirst for knowledge and decided to put me on an independent study program for my last two years of high school.  It meant that I attended class with my peers, but my lessons and assignments were exclusively tailored to me.

As soon as I graduated high school, I left home have been self-sufficient from the day I walked out the door. My mother had succeed in raising me to be self-reliant!

Socialisation Period Part II

Then the army got a hold of me and during the final half of my socialisation process I learned the values conducive to being a commissioned officer:

social II

What I learned from self-inquiry on personal values

I learned that my real values are different from my adopted values, the ones that have previously showed up on my list when asked what my values are.

But through this self-inquiry, I learned that my real values are:

Athleticism/Physical Fitness
Treating others with dignity and respect

Yes I know, it’s another list, but this time I know the story behind each of my values and why and how they influence my attitude and behaviour and why they are important to me.  And on reflection, I can see that during periods of turmoil in my life, these values were not being met.

I would also say that self-reliance, self-education, athleticism, and strength sit at the core.

How about you?

For your own self-inquiry start here:

Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of actions or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be.

With that definition in mind, what are your real core values?

As always, I’d love to hear your comments, either below on the link that brought you here i.e. Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. Or if you prefer, drop me an email.

Or if you are a blogger and plan to answer this in a blogpost of your own, send me a link to the post.

Vires Et Decus,


  • […] means. One of the things that draws me to practice stoicism is that it completely supports many of my core values, especially self-reliance, which is what Epictetus is partly talking about in the opening passage […]

  • It is the stories behind the values that work for me. In readiness for a “talk” with the A Man, I have found difficulty in establishing what my values are and why they are so. I seemed to be on a gentle waterway smiling in the sun just being somebody. Refocussing values will help the world to be a better place. For me I worry that perhaps we lose track of our own values. Do we spend too much time wanting to be a TOWIE star or a C List celebrity? Sometimes I notice people being a particular way, that some may feel is the right way. They imitate others rather well but I do wonder where is the substance? When the curtains are drawn, and the stars are giggling what thoughts do people have? Is it I must be more “attractive” I must go to the gym more, I must get better shoes, I must get better hair extensions, I need more drugs. do people just want material stuff”? These things could be great but they may not be, the issue is why do people want things that are simply “things” and do they really know why? Great article Mr Lowe. Thank you

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I think you hit the nail on the head about people imitating what they see or read in the media. People have accepted the default philosophy of life known as “enlightened hedonism” which is exactly what you have described. And sometime this conflicts with their default values.

      Vires Et Decus,