The One Thing That Could Be Stopping Your Progress

Have you ever wondered why you seem to be taking two steps forward and one step back in your language learning?

The answer could lie with your values.

Values are the compass that guide and shape our lives as Tony Robbins poetically says in his popular book “Awaken The Giant Within”.


Because they enable us to consistently take action based on what we believe gives our life meaning. Many people know what they want to have, but have no idea of who they want to be.

For example, if I asked you to name your top 10 values in order of priority, would you be able to?

What can knowing and living our values bring us?

Knowing our own values helps us to understand why we do what we do. They create a sense of certainty and inner peace and make it easier for us to make decisions.

Knowing the values of others, such as the people we’re in personal or business relationships with, is also important so that we understand how they make their decisions.

Ignoring our values can lead to a deep feeling of dissatisfaction or emptiness; we’re left asking “is this all there is”?

The problem is that most of the time, we haven’t consciously chosen our values. We’ve automatically adopted them based on what we’ve learned from our parents, teachers, friends, employers, mentors, role models etc.

What do values look like?

There are two types:

  • means values: wealth, friendship, success…
  • end values: security, love, growth, freedom…


It’s important to realize that means values are not the ultimate goal, they are simply a way of accessing the end values, i.e. the emotional states we really want. This is the reason why we often still feel unfulfilled after achieving certain goals. But that’s the subject of another article…

The hierarchy of values

We all have different values because we’re drawn towards certain emotional states more so than others. Tony Robbins calls these values “moving towards” values.

On the other hand, we have states that we will do anything to avoid: “moving away” values (rejection, fear, anger, conflict, loneliness…).

What’s more, due to how our brain is wired, our desire to avoid pain can be stronger than our desire to achieve pleasure.

What does this mean?

Before we make any decisions, our brain immediately weighs up whether the action could lead to pleasure or pain, based on our hierarchy of values.

So, when you’re learning a language, it’s important to be aware of how your brain is evaluating the pain or pleasure factor of this process.

Are you sabotaging your language learning?

There are two ways:

a) When the painvalue overrides the “pleasure” value

Let’s imagine that your top “moving towards” value, the value you seek the most, is success and your top “moving away” value, the emotion you try to avoid at all costs, is humiliation. In this case, you may well sabotage yourself in your rise to success so as to avoid any risk of humiliation.

Example: If, as your boss, I asked you to do an important presentation in a language you had been studying for a while, such as Spanish, you would probably refuse (or unknowingly self sabotage) to avoid any risk of feeling embarrassed or looking silly. In short, your “pain” value of humiliation would crush your “pleasure” value of success.

On the other hand, if your top pain value was rejection and you thought that I would reject you as an employee if you didn’t do it, then you would probably accept the challenge.

Can you see how the level of pain we associate with certain emotions will be the driving force behind our decisions?

b) When there is a conflict between “pleasure” values

Let’s imagine your top pleasure values are growth & security.

You may well encounter a constant inner battle between making the most of opportunities to speak up in the language and improve your fluency versus staying quietly in your comfort zone and not taking risks.

And what if your top values were security & passion?

You might feel torn about whether to continue following the same type of language course you’ve always done or change to resources you feel more passionate about. The same could be said if you were hesitating about changing career/taking your business in a new direction or sticking with what you know already.

You see how we can easily be our own obstacle! Part of your brain is telling you to run towards something and the other half is telling you to run away from it… fast!

So what’s the answer?

  1. become aware of what your current pain and pleasure values are in order to understand how they’ve shaped your life so far (there is a test you can do here to find out your main values and their possible flip side);
  2. decide what you really want and consciously choose the values that will lead you in that direction. For example, how do you think your ability to deal with fear or rejection would change if you decided to put the values of courage or commitment in the top 3 of your hierarchy list? What if you added curiosity or playfulness to your top values? What if you changed the hierarchy of your pain values so that the top emotions pushed you towards your goal instead of pulling you away?

This is what I call designing your language learning on purpose.

So, if you’re feeling:

  • unfulfilled and stuck
  • continually overthinking decisions
  • not managing to move forward with your goals

perhaps you need to check your values…

Need help clarifying what you really want, who you need to become, how to reinforce your belief & choose values that serve you in your language learning or your business?

I have a program that is perfect for you! Contact me.


Photos courtesy of Unsplash: Ciel Cheng, Chirag Dulyan, Chris Lawton, Daoudi Aissa

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