You’ve probably heard of David Goggins (@davidgoggins) by now, but if you haven’t, let’s quickly fill you in:
Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL; the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to have completed SEAL training, Army Ranger School and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. He is widely considered one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time, having completed over sixty ultra-marathons, triathlons and ultra-triathlons as well as, at one point, holding the Guinness World Record for the most pull-ups performed in under 24 hours – a staggering 4,030.
If this wasn’t crazy enough, he spent the first 34 years of his life with Atrial Septal Defect (i.e. a hole in his fucking heart); his childhood was plagued by an extremely abusive father; and his teenage years by relentless racism and poverty. However, rather than surrender, Goggins used his terrible upbringing as fuel to propel him into a journey of extreme self-mastery. He is, in his own words, the sum total of all the obstacles he has overcome.
Can’t Hurt Me is the brutally-honest account of his life to date. In the book, Goggins details his transformation from a depressed young kid to arguably the toughest man on the planet. Though his story paints an extreme picture, he is adamant in stating that he is not cut from a different cloth; his mindset is, instead, the result of an addiction to hard work and self-discipline.
“I never did anything for ten or twenty minutes. My entire mindset was ultra. It had to be.”
According to Goggins, the vast majority of us live with a ‘governor’ on our minds that caps our maximum effort at 40 percent. He refers to this as ‘The 40% Rule’; the idea that most of us give up when we’ve still got more to give. He writes, “I understand the temptation to sell short, but I also know that impulse is driven by your mind’s desire for comfort, and it’s not telling you the truth. It’s your identity trying to find sanctuary, not help you grow.”
Goggins describes physical training as the perfect place to practice managing this thought process; however, the governor is prevalent in all areas of life. The challenge is to remain present enough to disidentify with the mind’s internal chatter and push past our perceived limitations. To do this, he suggests neutralising our doubt by asking the simple question “what if?”
“It’s a reminder that you don’t really know what you’re capable of until you put everything you’ve got on the line.” This is the essence of the growth mindset; the idea that we can always improve with purposeful effort. Rather than allowing doubt to wash over your mind, ask yourself “what if?” What if I could pull this off? What if I could keep going? What if I do it anyway?
“The ticket to victory often comes down to bringing your very best when you feel your worst.”
Alongside The ‘What If’ Mentality, Goggins uses ‘The Cookie Jar’ as another tool to help push himself through adversity. The Cookie Jar is his energy bank. Composed of all his past victories, it serves as a reminder of all that he’s accomplished and overcome. It’s proof that he’s always got more in the tank; the process of “utilizing past successes to fuel you to new and bigger ones.”
Goggins always made a note to praise any small victory he could claim. In this way, he was creating a snowball of positive thought that he could add to and refer back to at any moment in time. For example, when he found himself beaten down in the midst of an excruciating endurance race, he’d use whatever mental strength he could muster to remind himself of all his prior accomplishments. This would give him the push he needed to keep going.
With each step further out of his comfort zone, Goggins was further callousing his own mind; he was strengthening the ‘can-do’ dialogue in his head. Importantly, he notes that this is a habit just like anything else. What’s more, with this attitude, challenges and setbacks became another opportunity to harden his psyche. “It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day.”
On ‘The Cookie Jar’:
“I knew that the confidence I’d managed to develop didn’t come from a perfect family or God-given talent. It came from personal accountability which brought me self respect, and self respect will always light a way forward.”
Achieving our goals means setting out specific time to work on them and Goggins may know this better than anyone. Depressed and overweight, he had to lose 106lbs (or 48kg) in 3 months when first qualifying for BUD/S (training for the Navy) – honestly, a mind-boggling achievement. To complete such a massive undertaking Goggins needed hard work. It also meant analysing his schedule, cutting out the empty habits and aggressively planning his time.
Each night, he would check in with ‘The Accountability Mirror’; a ritual where he’d become brutally honest with himself about where he was falling short and how he ought to improve. “Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realize you’re doing it to become better.” In essence, The Accountability Mirror served as a time for honest daily reflection, similar to journaling or meditation.
We often look at the big picture and fail to acknowledge and account for all the small steps that our goals require. Goggins notes, “this is not about changing your life instantly, it’s about moving the needle bit by bit and making those changes sustainable.” This is where it becomes important to evaluate your time and see which habits need replacing. Often, doing more of the things we’d like to do comes down to doing less of everything else.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
Preparation is key for success and, for Goggins, it comes down to a combination of research and visualisation. Know what you need to do in advance and, from there, visualise the process in its entirety. Goggins explains, “before I engage in any challenging activity, I start by painting a picture of what my success looks and feels like.”
He points out that, in visualising, he’s not solely focusing on the outcome but instead every aspect of the journey (i.e. any issues to be expected along the way). He writes, “You must also visualize the challenges that are likely to arise and determine how you will attack those problems when they do.” To do this, he creates a list of ‘backstops’ (i.e. alternative methods).
For Goggins it’s vital to have answers ready at his disposal. On the verge of defeat, your mind will do everything in its power to pull out of the battle – “Why am I here?” it might ask. “If you know that moment is coming and have your answer ready, you will be equipped to make the split second-decision to ignore your weakened mind and keep moving. Know why you’re in the fight to stay in the fight!”
It’s hard not to feel like an absolute bitch when reading Can’t Hurt Me – e.g. “In 1999, when I weighed 297 pounds, my first run was a quarter mile. Fast forward to 2007, I ran 205 miles in thirty-nine hours, nonstop.”
Goggins is the epitome of a self-made beast; someone who took the shit cards they were dealt and flipped over the whole fucking table. Though his achievements are insane, the veracious account of his early life serves as an important testimony to the transformative power of effort.
You don’t need to be a SEAL or an endurance athlete to take something away from his book. After all, he is a highly sought motivational speaker, inspiring everyone – from world-class athletes to high-performing business executives – to become their personal best. At his core, his message is to take full responsibility for your life situation and do everything in your power to get where you want to go.