Successful People Have Bigger Balls Than You And That May be All That Matters

by Alexander Heyne · 14 comments

nut up shut up

“Nut up or Shut up”


Most people have such an innate fear of vulnerability — the fear of failure, the fear of trying new things, the fear of quitting a job they dislike just because it’s uncomfortable and the unknown is scary, the fear of doing something new for the first time when you don’t know anyone else who has done it.

But the truth is that vulnerability is the single most important characteristic in learning -- intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically.

The most successful people in the world constantly, consciously expose themselves to criticism, failure, and rejection.

They make themselves vulnerable as much as possible, which is the primary reason why they learn so quickly.

So here are 5 food-for-thought ways to maximize how quickly you learn, how quickly you fail, and how quickly you ultimately succeed: all by being vulnerable. 

5 ways to learn insanely quickly and achieve success in 1/10th the time 

The following 5 principles are very closely related — but I’ve attempted to split some hairs to highlight the most important factors in learning quickly and (almost by default) succeeding in any pursuit in a fraction of the time.

*** Recommended watching before, during, after: The Power of Vulnerability on TED ***

#1 DO more of the things that scare the shit out of you

This is the single best way to learn quickly. I can’t even describe how biologically averse most of us are to doing things we are afraid of – I mean, discomfort is by definition, um, un-comfortable.  So we tend to avoid it.

But the paradox of comfort is that it’s not conducive to growth and learning.

So the longer you stay comfortable the harder it is to actually be comfortable over time because you’re going to encounter too many novel situations (that you’ve avoided previously, because they’re uncomfortable)

This is one of the key principles of Dr. C’s research on flow: stay in-between boredom (too easy, predictable) and anxiety (too hard, unpredictable) and you’ll be in the optimal spot for accelerated learning.

Refer to the 3 part series on How to Learn Any Skill 2x as Fast in Half the Time.

Fear is your best friend when it comes to learning.  If you haven’t felt fear in a while, you’re life is proof that you aren’t trying enough new things.

Comfort is seductive… Don’t give in.  It’ll screw you in the end.

#2 ASK out more attractive women (Seriously – consciously make more vulnerable decisions on a daily basis)

Do something with no guarantees, just because of how it’ll train you to deal with risk and discomfort.

For guys it’s easy — start asking out random women and getting their numbers.

This is scarier than death for most dudes (and most guys avoid it like the plague) and at the start, most of the conversations will probably be a little awkward and will result in rejections.

It sucks. Both uncertainty & rejection.

But if you’ve ever met an incredibly bold and fearless person — and you’ve seen the kind of life they live and love — and then you compare it to a timid friend of yours, you’ll know it’s worth it. It’s way worth it.

You can’t even compare the two.

But remember that you’re doing this just to be vulnerable, not because you actually want the phone number. Don’t mistake the results – an event – for the process, which is where you learn everything.

What makes you really feel exposed?

#3 REMEMBER that no risk = no gain

“I have never met anyone who really likes losing money. And in all my years, I have never met a rich person who has never lost money. But I have met a lot of poor people who have never lost a dime.”

-Robert Kiyosaki

The above quote is so quintessentially true about wealth and life — literally and figuratively — that I’m surprised I forget it so much.

When you first learn something, it sucks. It’s slow, it’s painful, you fail a lot, you fall a lot, and you want to quit every other day.

Thinking back to when I was learning Chinese in the classroom, we were forced to speak in Chinese from day 1 and the classes were only in Chinese.

So everyday I pretty much walked into class with this “WTF” feeling, and left with a sweat-soaked tshirt from how anxiety-ridden I was during those classes.

But that’s how learning works, you scrape your knees a bunch of time riding your bike and eventually you can get both wheels balanced and you can ride a bike.

Eventually, you will stop improving if you don’t try harder maneuvers on your bike.  If, however, you start trying to pop wheelies, or do tricks, or go off jumps, you’ll still improve. That’s the learning curve.

And the only way to optimize that learning curve (aka waste the least amount of your time and learn the most, the quickest), is by doing the stuff that scares the shit out of you, and doing it anyway. 

Do the stuff that’s a little bit too difficult, a little bit out of reach, a little bit confusing — and do it often. Once that gets comfortable, find the next challenge.

If you aren’t doing something with the potential to scrape your knees, you aren’t pushing yourself enough and are not learning as quickly as you could be.

#4 LEARN to live uncomfortably 

One of the most interesting parts of watching Brené’s talk on TED was when she mentioned this: “Numbing the negative aspects of life makes you numb to the positive aspects too.”

So when we go home after work and self medicate by using alcohol, drugs, sex, or other means to dull the parts of life we hate, we are by default also blocking out the good ones:

“And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.  I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”

Most of us live too comfortably or don’t quite hate our lives enough to make a big decision.

That’s the reason why most of us never sit down and say “My life needs huge changes. I need to quit my job, move across the world, and go on an adventure.

Most of us never say that.  And I realize there are certain constraints depending on your age like your family & employment — but there’s a reason why most of us never make the big decision to change our lives for the better.

We’re not quite miserable enough yet. We’re at the point where things could be a lot better, but they don’t suck enough that we sit down and find time to make a drastic change.

It’s easier to just watch tv or go out with friends and pretend it didn’t happen.

But successful people are obsessed with the unknown. And they’re possessed by curiosity.

And they’re addicted to success — so no matter how much they fail, it doesn’t matter, because they’re winners and when winners encounter a momentary failure, they say “just watch me do it.”

They’re obsessed with the struggle that comes as part of the process. They’re obsessed with the discomfort they get during training and testing in the unknown. But out somewhere in that unknown they know the holy grail is waiting.

#5 MAKE uncertainty your best friend and your bitch

I have never met someone who was successful and a real renaissance person that was afraid of making decisions.

But that’s exactly what most of us do.  We’re terrified of deciding. We thrive in being comfortable. We’d rather miss out on life and be comfortable, then embrace the uncertain and learn a shit ton and attain massive success.

Why that is, I have no idea.

Maybe we see the long (uncertain) road ahead and think: “Well, there’s no guarantees, why am I bothering even taking that road? What if I work 5 years and get nothing out of it? What if I spend that much of my life and don’t succeed? I’d rather just watch Family Guy and enjoy my time and know what I’m going to get out of it.”

If most of your days are spent doing predictable activities with predictable outcomes, chances are that you’re not growing or learning anything.

The scary thing is that 6 months of focused intent on learning — and structuring your life around uncertainty and discomfort — is worth more than 10 years of comfortable learning.  Literally.

In 5 years you can literally learn more than most people learn in their entire lifetime. 


What if one of the secrets to success was simple?

Be braver and take more risks.

Do something that has the potential for failure.

Try something uncomfortable, for just a little bit longer than you usually would.

Because maybe that’s all it takes.



Photo by Mr.DMX


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh Hogg April 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Recently, I’ve started doing something you stated in this article: doing something that feels inherently wrong, or that I can’t necessarily justify (knowing what I know), just to see what happens. Often you learn that the assumptions you made around why it is wrong or won’t work, were in fact wrong themselves. This leads to a paradigm shift, and you learn something new. Love the read up.


afheyne April 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Josh ,

Yeah it can lead to a huge shift in thinking. Sometimes just making an extremely bold move is the fastest way to get yourself to learn. Just deliberately making oneself uncomfortable by doing something that stretches oneself is pretty much the hallmark quality in quick learners.


Tiela April 6, 2012 at 5:27 am


This article is sheer GENIUS! (I also like it because it’s the way I live my life, so it’s validating.) Currently, I’m way high up in a huge tree and I’ve climbed out really far on this skinny, little branch. It’s scary as hell, but, truthfully, I LOVE IT UP HERE! The view is great, for one thing, and I feel invigorated, empowered and proud of myself for exercising my courage. I will soon be returning to the ground (ie, Lakeville) where I will rest for a while and be comfortable, but I’m thinking of hang-gliding on the way down…

I posted this article on my wall, by the way.

Love you,



afheyne April 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Thanks Tiela,

It was definitely inspired by Brené’s talk on TED which my boss told me to check out. Vulnerability definitely is one of the hallmark traits of all people I admire, being able to take a risk, take on a new project, commit to something new — all while not knowing how things will turn out. That means LEGITIMATELY not knowing what will come, going in afraid, and like you said exercising your courage.

See you soon ! Are you still in Paris?


Shanna Mann April 6, 2012 at 8:47 am

Amazing article, Alexander.

I really think people fail to understand just how dangerous comfortable is. It kills your desire to be anything but comfortable. I dropped out of academia because I was good at it… too good at it. I knew that I would always be comfortable in the ivory tower– but what about the real world? I had no idea whether I could cope there or not.

My dad offered to help me get my trucker’s license, and for 3 years I was a blue collar worker in the oil & gas industry, learning way more stuff about the ways of the world than I ever did in academia.

My secret weapon is that I thrive off a steep learning curve, though, so that makes it easy for me to keep pushing into new territory. :)


afheyne April 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Thanks Shanna,

I agree with you, we don’t really realize how insidious comfortable can be. It sneaks up on us — insidious is the perfect word I think.

I have two good friends like you — school was too easy for them, so they just quit. In my opinion that’s how a lot of brilliant people fall by the wayside – they just don’t need to exercise their brains and the predictability of life get’s boring so they quit.

Haha I also like to just learn new stuff in general — literally, something new every 30/60/100 days. I don’t know if I get bored, if I just like the steep learning curve (like you said), or if it’s something else. But in any case I think it’s one of my best strengths, having a huge range of experience of so many random fields makes it pretty easy for me to relate to people – somethings I wouldn’t trade for anything.

What are you doing these days? You have a coaching biz, yeah?


Jeffrey April 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I love the idea of learning to live uncomfortably. To me, being comfortable leads to complacency and boringness. That’s easy, but it’s not the most exciting or rewarding path to take by any means.


afheyne April 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Yeah that to me is the big reason to never get too comfortable. Complacency and boredom.

Complacency just leads to unproductive work habits, and boredom? Well, a life the doesn’t feel exciting or worthwhile..

In any case it’s not easy! It takes real stones to live uncomfortably and deliberately forego comfort. But in my experience it’s totally worth it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


Pinoy Leonardo April 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

This hit me bull’s eye! I met up with a former boss with other colleagues and started getting into some news or “gossips”. It made me realize some people go around our industry messing one place to another and still survive! These people just have the connection and the shameless charm. I’m not saying I’m joining the bandwagon of a**holes. I’m just saying I can keep my integrity and all and add a bit of “power”. This post in blood-rigging- struck me ;)

Oh by the way I like #2. Hmm got to think about it in a different way since I’m married. lol.


afheyne April 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Hey Pinoy,

Hahah you can find a creative way to go about #2. I also think “bigger balls” may not necessarily mean shameless charm, but at the basic level this: the willingly to put yourself in a risky position.

That may mean a leadership position if you’re naturally a quiet introvert.
That may mean offering to help someone else with their project and affecting your reputation if you do a bad job.
That mean mean investing in a new startup and potentially losing a lot of money and ruining your reputation.

These kinds of willing periods of vulnerability definitely seem to follow successful people. And obviously, it’s because they create those circumstances.


Annie Andre April 12, 2012 at 7:27 am

All good point but the one that strikes me the most is learn to be uncomfortable. how many people in this world are complacent and because of that complacency they settle for a life that is less than amazing and down right uninspiring. It’s safe, it’s without risk and ordinary..
I’m sure you’ve heard this quote.
I love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about doing something scary everyday.


afheyne April 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Totally agree! I stole the uncomfortable one from you ;) you set my brain on fire when you mentioned that a couple weeks ago.

Choosing to be safe will definitely result in a comfortable life, but maybe not the adventurous sexy life that we’re dreaming of!

And I love that Roosevelt quote, i’m gonna have to steal it for another post soon haha.


Dan September 25, 2015 at 8:54 am

I’m no Ken Doll, But randomly running into exquisit Beautiful women and asking simple things like their name, out on a date ect. is super fun and exciting. For one, your nervous and scared of the response, rejection is a really good feeling as long as you smile afterwords and keep moving forward. Over time you get better and better and more confident (not cocky). Then someday the time comes where your not as nervous and your playing around with “You wanna get out of here?” to a very attractive woman and land the “YES” without a problem, thats when you say to yourself, It was worth the rejection all along. Now your messing with the good shit !


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