Here are my key takeaways from David Goggins’ inspirational book – Can’t Hurt Me. Click on the arrows to read more on that takeaway!
1. Everyone has challenges – acknowledge the obstacles you have faced in life and make peace with them. Use them to fuel your success, not to become a victim.
Everyone gets challenged in life at some point. What was your bad hand? What did you contend with growing up? Were you abused? Bullied? Did you ever feel insecure? Maybe your limiting factor is that you grew up so comfortable, you never pushed yourself? What are the current factors limiting your growth and success? Is someone standing in your way at work or school? Are you underappreciated and overlooked for opportunities? What are the odds you’re up against right now? Write down all your dirty laundry. Use your story, this list of excuses, these very good reasons why you shouldn’t amount to anything, to fuel your ultimate success
2. Whatever your goal, you’ll need to hold yourself accountable for the small steps it will take to get there. Self-improvement takes dedication and self-discipline. The dirty mirror you see every day is going to reveal the truth. Be honest with yourself – don’t sugar coat your shortcomings (If you’re fat, say you’re fat!). Then, make small goals and hold yourself 100% accountable to yourself on a daily basis! It’s all on you – nobody else is coming to save you.
When you have no confidence it becomes easy to value other people’s opinions. You need to be 100% accountable to yourself. Look in the mirror – if you don’t like what you see and are disgusted by it, it’s time to get real. It’s on you. Nobody is coming to save your ass! The Accountability Mirror is a strategy that kept me on point and I’ve found it useful for people at any stage in life. You could be on the cusp of retirement, looking to reinvent yourself. Maybe you’re going through a bad break- up or have gained weight. Perhaps you’re permanently disabled, or are just coming to grips with how much of your life you’ve wasted, living without purpose. In each case, that negativity you’re feeling is your internal desire for change, but change doesn’t come easy. I wasn’t fluffy. I was raw because that was the only way to get myself right. I didn’t dance around and say, “Geez, David, you are not taking your education very seriously.” No, I had to own it in the raw because the only way we can change is to be real with ourselves. If you don’t know shit and have never taken school seriously, then say, “I’m dumb!” Tell yourself that you need to get your ass to work because you’re falling behind in life! If you look in the mirror and you see a fat person, don’t tell yourself that you need to lose a couple of pounds. Tell the truth. You’re fucking fat! It’s okay. Just say you’re fat if you’re fat. The dirty mirror that you see every day is going to tell you the truth every time, so why are you still lying to yourself? If you have worked for thirty years doing the same shit you’ve hated day in and day out because you were afraid to quit and take a risk, you’ve been living like a pussy. Period, point blank. Tell yourself the truth! Your life is not fucked up because of overt racists or hidden systemic racism. You aren’t missing out on opportunities, making shit money, and getting evicted because of politicians or because your ancestors were slaves or because some people hate immigrants or harass women. If any of that shit is stopping you from excelling in life, I’ve got some news. You are stopping you! You are giving up instead of getting hard! Tell the truth about the real reasons for your limitations and you will turn that negativity, which is real, into jet fuel. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway! It’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realize you’re doing it to become better. We all need thicker skin to improve in life. Being soft when you look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire the wholesale changes we need to shift our present and open up our future. I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your fucking running shoes on. Sometimes I wussed out and had to deal with it at the Accountability Mirror. But facing that mirror, facing myself, motivated me to fight through uncomfortable experiences, and, as a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals. 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.
3. The first step on the journey toward a strong (calloused) mind is stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. Write down all the things you don’t like to do or that make you uncomfortable. Especially those things you know are good for you. Now go do one of them, and do it again. If you already do all those things, find something you aren’t doing. Doing things—even small things—that make you uncomfortable will help make you strong. The more often you get uncomfortable the stronger you’ll become, and soon you’ll develop a more productive, can-do dialogue with yourself in stressful situations.
I was numb. Numb to my life, miserable in my marriage, and I’d accepted that reality. I was just another zombie selling his time on earth, going through the motions. One day, I happened to watch a show that followed Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/S) Training Class 224 through Hell Week: the most arduous series of tasks in the most physically demanding training in the military. I watched men sweat and suffer as they tore through muddy obstacle courses, ran on the soft sand holding logs overhead, and shivered in icy surf. They were swollen, chafed, sleep-deprived, and dead on their feet, and I was jealous of them. The longer I watched the more certain I became that there were answers buried in all that suffering. Answers that I needed. In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded, there is intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities. This is exactly the type of person BUD/S is meant to find. The man who finds a way to complete each and every task to the best of his ability. The man who will adapt and overcome any and all obstacles. I walked back to the bathroom, faced the mirror, and stared myself down. I looked every bit of 300 pounds. I was everything all the haters back home said I would be: uneducated, with no real world skills, zero discipline and dead end future. When was enough truly going to be enough? Was I willing to let my sorry present become a fucked-up future? How much longer would I wait, how many more years would I burn, wondering if there was some greater purpose out there waiting for me? I knew right then that if I didn’t make a stand and start walking the path of most resistance, I would end up in this mental hell forever. When depression smothers you, it blots out all light and leaves you with nothing to cling onto for hope. All you see is negativity. For me, the only way to make it through that was to feed off my depression. I had to flip it and convince myself that all that self-doubt and anxiety was confirmation that I was no longer living an aimless life. My task may turn out to be impossible but at least I was back on a motherfucking mission.
I had the Rocky soundtrack on cassette and I’d listen to Going the Distance for inspiration. On long bike rides and runs, with those horns blasting in my brain, I’d imagine myself going through BUD/S, diving into cold water, and crushing Hell Week. I was wishing, I was hoping, but by the time I was down to 250, my quest to qualify for the SEALs wasn’t a daydream anymore. I had a real chance to accomplish something most people, including myself, thought was impossible. Still, there were bad days. One morning not long after I dipped below 250,I weighed in and had only lost a pound from the day before. I had so much weight to lose I could not afford to plateau. That’s all I thought about while running six miles and swimming two. I was exhausted and sore when I arrived in the gym for my typical three-hour circuit. After rocking over 100 pull-ups in a series of sets, I was back on the bar for a max set with no ceiling. Going in, my goal was to get to twelve but my hands were burning fire as I stretched my chin over the bar for the tenth time. For weeks, the temptation to pull back had been ever present, and I always refused. That day, however, the pain was too much and after my eleventh pull-up, I gave in, dropped down, and finished my workout, one pull-up shy. That one rep stayed with me, along with that one pound. I tried to get them out of my head but they wouldn’t leave me the fuck alone. They taunted me on the drive home, and at my kitchen table while I ate a sliver of grilled chicken and a bland, baked potato. I knew I wouldn’t sleep that night unless I did something about it, so I grabbed my keys. “You cut corners and you are not gonna fucking make it,” I said out loud, as I drove back to the gym. “There are no shortcuts for you, Goggins!”I did my entire pull-up workout over again. One missed pull-up cost me an extra 250, and there would be similar episodes. Whenever I cut a run or swim short because I was hungry or tired, I’d always go back and beat myself down even harder. That was the only way I could manage the demons in my mind. Either way there would be suffering. I had to choose between physical suffering in the moment, and the mental anguish of wondering if that one missed pull-up, that last lap in the pool, the quarter mile I skipped on the road or trail, would end up costing me an opportunity of a lifetime. It was an easy choice.
4. There is one way to not only earn the respect of your opponents and turn the tables. Excellence. Whoever you’re dealing with, your goal is to make them watch you achieve what they could never have done themselves. You want them thinking how amazing you are. Take their negativity and use it to dominate their task with everything you’ve got. Take their soul!
Everything in life is a mind game! Whenever we get swept under by life’s dramas, large and small, we are forgetting that no matter how bad the pain gets, no matter how harrowing the torture, all bad things end. That forgetting happens the second we give control over our emotions and actions to other people, which can easily happen when pain is peaking. Taking Souls is a ticket to finding your own reserve power and riding a second wind. This is a tactic for you to be your best when duty calls. It’s a mind game you’re playing on yourself. Taking someone’s soul means you’ve gained a tactical advantage. Life is all about looking for tactical advantages, Once you’re in the heat of battle, it comes down to staying power. If it’s a difficult physical challenge you will probably have to defeat your own demons before you can take your opponent’s soul. That means rehearsing answers to the simple question that is sure to rise up like a thought bubble: “Why am I here?” 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! And never forget that all emotional and physical anguish is finite! It all ends eventually. Smile at pain and watch it fade for at least a second or two. If you can do that, you can string those seconds together and last longer than your opponent thinks you can, and that may be enough to catch a second wind. And once you have that second wind behind you it’s easy to break your opponent down and snatch a soul. The hard part is getting to that point, because the ticket to victory often comes down to bringing your very best when you feel your worst.
5. Until you experience hardships your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind. Remembering what you’ve been through and how that has strengthened your mindset can lift you out of a negative brain loop and help you bypass those weak, one-second impulses to give in so you can power through obstacles.
I remember my very first day in the gym back in Indiana. My palms were soft and quickly got torn up on the bars because they weren’t accustomed to gripping steel. But over time, after thousands of reps, my palms built up a thick callous as protection. The same principle works when it comes to mindset. Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind. But it’s up to you where that callous lines up. If you choose to see yourself as a victim of circumstance into adulthood, that callous will become resentment that protects you from the unfamiliar. It will make you too cautious and untrusting, and possibly too angry at the world. It will make you fearful of change and hard to reach, but not hard of mind. Similar to using an opponent’s energy to gain an advantage, leaning on your calloused mind in the heat of battle can shift your thinking as well. Remembering what you’ve been through and how that has strengthened your mindset can lift you out of a negative brain loop and help you bypass those weak, one-second impulses to give in so you can power through obstacles. And when you leverage a calloused mind and keep fighting through pain, it can help you push your limits because if you accept the pain as a natural process and refuse to give in and give up, you will engage the sympathetic nervous system which shifts your hormonal flow. The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. When you indulge in negative self-talk, the gifts of a sympathetic response will remain out of reach. However, if you can manage those moments of pain that come with maximum effort, by remembering what you’ve been through to get to that point in your life, you will be in a better position to persevere and choose fight over flight. That will allow you to use the adrenaline that comes with a sympathetic response to go even harder. The reason it’s important to push hardest when you want to quit the most is because it helps you callous your mind. It’s the same reason why you have to do your best work when you are the least motivated.
6. In the heat of battle, remember to reach into your cookie jar – a record of your past accomplishments, when you overcame the odds – no matter how small. In the heat of battle, at your lowest points, these cookies can reactivate your sympathetic nervous system and keep you going.
We all have a cookie jar inside us, because life, being what it is, has always tested us. Even if you’re feeling low and beat down by life right now, I guarantee you can think of a time or two when you overcame odds and tasted success. It doesn’t have to be a big victory either. It can be something small The engine in a rocket ship does not fire without a small spark first. We all need small sparks, small accomplishments in our lives to fuel the big ones. Think of your small accomplishments as kindling. When you want a bonfire, you don’t start by lighting a big log. But digging into the Cookie Jar when things are going south takes focus and determination because at first the brain doesn’t want to go there. It wants to remind you that you’re suffering and that your goal is impossible. It wants to stop you so it can stop the pain. When the pain hits and tries to stop you short of your goal, dunk your fist in, pull out a cookie, and let it fuel you! It’s not a hooray-for-me session. It’s to remember what a badass you are so you can use that energy to succeed again in the heat of battle!
7. Repeatedly reset your physical and mental baseline by pushing past your usual limits. The impulse to quit is universal – recognize your weaknesses and work on them repeatedly, moving your baseline for suffering higher every time.
We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. The threshold for suffering is different for everybody. What’s universal is the impulse to succumb. To feel like you’ve given everything you can, and that you are justified in leaving a job undone. You’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job! Your job is to push past your normal stopping point. Whether you are running on a treadmill or doing a set of pushups, get to the point where you are so tired and in pain that your mind is begging you to stop. Then push just 5 to 10 percent further. Your body and mind to slowly adapt to your new workload. Imagine you’re a boxer, and on your first day in the ring you take one on your chin. It’s gonna hurt like fucking hell, but at year ten of being a boxer, you won’t be stopped by one punch. You’ll be able to absorb twelve rounds of getting beat the fuck down and come back the very next day and fight again. It’s not that the punch has lost power. Your opponents will be even stronger. The change has happened within your brain. You’ve calloused your mind. Over a period of time, your tolerance for mental and physical suffering will have expanded. People make the decision to quit much before they actually quit. You need to be present enough to recognize when the body and mind are starting to fail in order to short circuit the impulse to look for a way out . You should catalog your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Don’t ignore them. Be prepared for them, because in any endurance event, in any high-stress environment, your weaknesses will surface like bad karma, build in volume, and overwhelm you. Unless you get ahead of them first.
8. Stop wasting time or looking for quick fix hacks to life. The only way to self mastery is via a strong work ethic. Become addicted to hard work and to pushing your limits – the positive effects will flow into all aspects of your life.
Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self mastery. If you want to master the mind, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up. Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullshit. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth you’d deactivate your Facebook account STAT, and cut your cable. When you find yourself having frivolous conversations or becoming ensnared in activities that don’t better you in any way, move the fuck on! If you audit your life, skip the bullshit, and use backstops, you’ll find time to do everything you need and want to do. The sole reason I work out like I do isn’t to prepare for and win ultra races. I don’t have an athletic motive at all. It’s to prepare my mind for life itself. Life will always be the most grueling endurance sport, and when you train hard, get uncomfortable, and callous your mind, you will become a more versatile competitor, trained to find a way forward no matter what.