by Paul Matthews

Values and beliefs

Values and beliefs play a pivotal role in motivation.


Values can be thought of as what is important to us and, clearly, if something is important to us, we will be motivated to achieve it. Our values are also what we use to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong; again, these distinctions will greatly influence our motivation.

People’s values form a hierarchy – that is, some are more important than others – and this will dictate what they are motivated to do. An example would be a person who values relationships more than achievement. Such a person would tend to put their relationships first. They would structure their life around maintaining good relationships in preference to completing tasks and outcomes.

Appealing to people’s values is, if you get it right, an incredibly strong way to influence their motivation. In order to do this, you need a good understanding, both of what values are and also how to find out what values you and others hold. You will find all this in the pages on Values.

Appealing to people’s values is simply couching the description of an activity in terms that will ‘light up’ their values. You could describe an activity several ways, all of which are true, but only one of which will ‘turn on’ the person you are speaking to.


It is important that we make these changes to our product because

  1. It will reduce manufacturing costs by ten per cent and so will increase profits
  2. It will become biodegradable and is therefore good for the environment
  3. It will appeal to a wider customer base and so be easier to sell in greater quantities
  4. It will use less dangerous chemicals in our manufacturing plant and so will be safer for our workers
  5. It will allow us to close down our old factory that is separate from the main plant, and then we can get rid of the workers there and that will solve that ongoing union problem
  6. It will mean we can outsource the manufacturing overseas, which means lots of overseas trips for senior people.

You can also get much more specific than in the above example. If you have a decision maker who is keen on helping the environment and has a particular interest in recycling, you could appeal directly to this specific aspect of being environmentally friendly.


Beliefs have a major impact on motivation because we use our beliefs about how the world works in order to predict the consequences of an activity. It is these anticipated consequences that then dictate our level of motivation to do the activity. See What makes you want to do something? for more on consequences.

Our beliefs are built up over time, particularly in our younger years, as the result of our experiences. We attribute meaning to the experiences and draw conclusions. We then use this information the next time a similar situation occurs. As the belief grows, we actually start ignoring any evidence that would contravene that belief, and it becomes self reinforcing. Despite this, beliefs can be changed.

We all have different beliefs about things. To each of us, our own beliefs are ‘true’ and any contrary belief held by another person is ‘false’. This can often lead to great misunderstandings and, where motivation is concerned, puzzlement as to why an activity you really want to do generates apathy in someone else.

If motivation is low, look to the beliefs in play. If someone is not motivated to do something and you think any right-minded person would be, then that person has a belief about the anticipated consequences that is different to yours. And remember that they will think that their belief is true and yours false.

You need to ask questions about consequences to find out where your beliefs differ. Until you do this, you have no basis for a discussion, as each of you will be assuming things that to you are self evident, and the other person thinks are not true.

You can use these questions as a way to discuss the consequences of an activity.

  • What would happen if I did the activity?
  • What would not happen if I did the activity?
  • What would happen if I did not do the activity?
  • What would not happen if I did not do the activity?

Once you have found out more about anticipated consequences, you can then begin finding out what beliefs are in place that mean those particular consequences are predicted. If a person has a belief that they are not capable of doing a good job and hence imagines poor consequences, this will lead to low motivation to do it. This kind of limiting belief is common in cases of low motivation.