TN50#131, So Don’t Go Balls to the Wall, Wait, What? 18 September 2023

Hi Team,

Have you ever used a phrase for 40 years without really knowing where the term originated and what it actually means?

My answer is, of course, YES.

Happy Monday and welcome to The Next 50 #131.  I like to think of personal performance in 3 components: physical, mental and emotional.  My frameworks focus on 4 Buckets: Eat, Sleep, Move and Think.  This blog is my sandbox for sharing information that you might find useful for your personal performance.

I estimate that I heard the term, “balls to the wall” sometime in the mid-1980’s.  In a recent conversation with a client about the effort I was looking for on a workout, I said something like: “I want you to push it hard for the entire AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) but I also want you to keep moving, so don’t go balls to the wall.”  The client said, “Got it”, and I’m sure they did; everyone knows going balls to the wall means going all out.  Much, much, much later it hit me that I had no idea what the term, “balls to the wall” was actually referring to.

I’m sure back in the 1980’s, for reference I was 13 in 1984, I assumed it had something to do with anatomy which made it really funny (don’t judge, I bet you Peter Attia and Andrew Huberman would absolutely agree with me on this point) I never bothered to consider that this anatomy-based thought makes NO sense.

Fast forward back to 2023 and look at me being wiser at 52 and taking the time to look this term and its origin up!

To be completely honest I secretly held out hope that it was actually going to be an anatomy reference and I’d spend the rest of the week on some adolescent-humor-high that only I was in on but, I digress…

Balls to the wall: First attested in the 1960s in the context of aviation, in reference to ball-shaped grips on an aircraft’s engine controls (typically throttle, prop pitch and fuel mixture). Pushing these “balls to the wall” would put the engine at maximum power

Not related to the term balls-out, which refers to steam engine machinery.[3]

Not related to the vulgar sense of balls (“testicles”).” (All links from Wikipedia)

Why does this matter enough to write about?  Well, allow me to answer my question (maybe yours too) with another question: How many 1000’s of times a day do thoughts float through our brain or words come out of our mouth that we don’t question?

I’ve caught myself questioning some reflexive/automated thoughts recently – I believe this is a good thing.

And I’ve had some recent interactions with individuals who never seem to question their thoughts – I believe this is/can be a bad thing.

Here’s the Call To Action: Give it a try: catch some reflexive thoughts (look for the crappy ones) for example, “I’m so stupid” or “He’s such a pain in the butt”.  Then take time to investigate them, yup think about your thoughts, crazy right.  Are they true?  Are they useful?


Catch yourself using a phrase you have used forever that you have no context regarding the origin and look it up!  Maybe you’ll realize that adolescent-humor-high I unfortunately missed out on in my example.


Shoot me a note on what you figure out or find, I’d love to hear some specific feedback on this one.  ACTUALLY, I’d love specific feedback every time, so keep that in mind.

As always share the post with your team and anyone who might find it useful and let me know what you think!

Have a good one, Alex

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