Wow, what a fantastic book! The story of David Goggins journey from abuse and obesity to becoming the (perhaps) worlds hardest man is extraordinary. He describes the process he has gone through, starting with a very rough childhood with an abusive father, becoming fat and lazy, never working out, to joining the Navy SEALs, running ultra marathons and setting a world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours…
Notes & takeaways
To the unrelenting voice in my head that will never allow me to stop
Do you know who you really are and what you’re capable of? I’m sure you think so, but just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.
Motivation changes exactly nobody. The bad hand that was my life was mine, and mine alone to fix. So I sought out pain, fell in love with suffering, and eventually transformed myself from the weakest piece of shit on the planet into the hardest man god ever created, or so I tell myself.
Human beings change through study, habit, and stories. Through my story you will learn what the body and mind are capable of when they’re driven to maximum capacity, and how to get there.
The Accountability Mirror
“Look at you,” I said. “Why do you think the air force wants your punk ass? You stand for nothing. You are an embarrassment.” I reached for the shaving cream, smoothed a thin coat over my face, unwrapped a fresh razor and kept talking as I shaved.
“You are one dumb motherfucker. You read like a third grader. You’re a fucking joke! You’ve never tried hard at anything in your life besides basketball, and you have goals? That’s fucking hilarious.”
After shaving peach fuzz from my cheeks and chin, I lathered up my scalp. I was desperate for a change. I wanted to become someone new.
“You don’t see people in the military sagging their pants. You need to stop talking like a wanna-be-gangster. None of this shit is going to cut it! No more taking the easy way out. It’s time to grow the fuck up!”
A new ritual was born, one that stayed with me for years. It would help me get my grades up, whip my sorry ass into shape, and see me to graduation and into the Air Force. The ritual was simple. I’d shave my face and scalp every night, get loud, and get real. I set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to what I now call the Accountability Mirror, because each day I’d hold myself accountable to the goals I’d set. At first my goals involved shaping up my appearance and accomplishing all my chores without having to be asked.
Make your bed like you’re in the military every day!
Pull up your pants!
Shave your head every morning!
Cut the grass!
Wash all dishes!
The accountability mirror kept me on point from then on, and though I was still young when this strategy came through me, since then I’ve found it useful for people at any stage 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? So you can feel better for a few minutes and stay the fucking same? If you’re fat you need to change the fact that you’re fat because it’s very fucking unhealthy. I know because I’ve been there.
Tip: Can’t Hurt Me pair well with Born To Run
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! That you’ve wasted enough time, and that you have other dreams that will take courage to realize, so you don’t die a fucking pussy. Call yourself out!
Your life is not fucked up because of overt rascists or hidden systemic racism. You aren’t missing out on opportunities, making shit money, and getting evicted because of America or Donalf fucking Trump or some people hate immigrants or jews or harass women or believe gay people are going to hell. 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!
No time to waste
There is no more time to waste. 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. 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.
During my senior year in high school, all I cared about was working out, playing basketball, and studying, and it was the Accountability Mirror that kept me motivated to keep pushing toward something better. I woke up before dawn and started going to the gym most mornings at 5 a.m. before school to hit the weights. I ran all the damn time. One night I ran thirteen miles – the most I’d ever run in my entire life.
From that point, 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.
After my mother realized I was serious about joining the Air Force, she found me a tutor who helped me figure out a system I could use to learn. That system was memorization. I couldn’t learn just by scratching a few notes and memorizing those. I had to read a text book and write each page down in my notebook. Then do it again a second and third time. That’s how knowledge stuck to the mirror of my mind. Not through learning, but through transcription, memorization, and recall.
When you have no confidence it becomes easy to value other people’s opinions, and I was valuing everyone’s opinion without considering the minds that generated them
As soon as I realized that, being upset with them was not worth my time. Because if I was gonna kick their ass in life, and I was, I had way too much shit to do. Each insult or dismissive gesture became more fuel for the engine revving inside me.
Whether it’s a career goal (quit my job, start a business), a lifestyle goal (lose weight, get more active), or an athletic one (run my first 5k, 10k, or marathon), you need to be truthful with yourself about where you are and the necessary steps it will take to achieve those goals, day by day. Each step, each necessary point of self-improvement, should be written as its own note. That means you have to do some research and break it all down. For example, if you are trying to lose forty pounds, your first Post-It may be to lose two pounds in the first week. Once that goal is achieved, remove the note and post the next goal of two to five pounds until your ultimate goal is realized.
They say you like suffering, Goggins. That you think you’re a bad motherfucker. Enjoy your extended stay in Hell!
Just getting through Hell Week would be the biggest honor of my life so far. Even if I never graduated from BUD/S, surviving Hell Week alone would have meant something. But I didn’t just survive. I was about to finish Hell Week at the top of my class, and for the first time, I knew I was a bad motherfucker.
Once, I was so focused on failing, I was afraid to even try. Now I would take on any challenge. All my life, I was terrified of water, and especially cold water, but standing there in the final hour. I wished the ocean, wind, and mud were even colder! I was completely transformed physically, which was a big part of my success in BUD/S, but what saw me through Hell Week was my mind, and I was just starting to tap into its power.
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.
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.
Challenge: Taking souls
Choose any competitive situation you’re in right now. Who is your opponent? Is it your teacher or coach, your boss, an unruly client? No matter how they’re treating you there is one way to not only earn their respect, but turn the tables: Excellence.
That may mean acing an exam, or crafting an ideal proposal, or smashing a sales goal. Whatever it is, I want you to work harder on that project or in that class than you ever have before. Do everything exactly as they ask, and whatever standard they set as an ideal outcome, you should be aiming to surpass that.
If your coach doesn’t give you time in the games, dominate practice. Check the best guy on your squad and show the fuck out. That means putting time in off the field. Watching film so you can study your opponent’s tendencies, memorizing plays, and training in the gym. You need to make that coach pay attention. If it’s your teacher, then start doing work of high quality. Spend extra time on your assignments. Write papers for her that she didn’t even assign! Come early to class. Ask questions. Pay attention. Show her who you are and want to be.
If it’s a boss, work around the clock. Get to work before them. Leave after they go home. Make sure they see that shit, and when it’s time to deliver, surpass their maximum expectations.
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 everythin you’ve got. Take their motherfucking soul!
Time stood still as I realized for the first time that I’d always looked at my entire life, everything I’d been through, from the wrong perspective. Yes, all the abuse I’d experienced and the negativity I had to push through challenged me to the core, but in that moment I stopped seeing myself as the victim of bad circumstance, and saw my life as the ultimate training ground instead.
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.
Hell Week is designed to show you that a human is capable of much more than you know. It opens your mind to the true possibilities of human potential, and with that comes a change in your mentality. You no longer fear cold water or doing push-ups all day. You realize that no matter what they do to you, they will never break you.
Yes, it was miserable, but I fucking loved it. I thrived off of the barbaric beauty of seeing the soul of a man destroyed, only to rise again and overcome every obstacle in his path.
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, like I was when I was a down and lost kid, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. We’ve all tasted this feeling before. Those mornings when going on a run is the last thing you want to do, but then twenty minutes into it you feel energized, that’s the work of the sympathetic nervous system. What I’ve found is that you can tap into it on-call as long as you know how to manage your own mind.
Tip: read my notes on “The Compound Effect” which is also a great book on self improvement
No matter the task at hand, there is always opportunity for self-doubt. Whenever you decide to follow a dream or set a goal, you are just as likely to come up with all the reasons why likelihood of success is low. Blame it on the fucked-up evolutionary wiring of the human mind. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed.
Sounds simple, right? It isn’t. Very few people even bother to try to control the way their thoughts and doubts bubble up. The vast majority of us are slaves to our minds. Most don’t even make the first effort when it comes to mastering their thought process because it’s a never-ending chore and impossible to get right every time.
There is no shame in getting knocked out. The shame comes when you throw in the motherfucking towel, and if I was born to suffer, then I may as well take my medicine
After finishing Hell Week
“Mr. Skop is dead,” the captain said. He took stock of the room. His words had been a collective gut punch to men who were already on the knife’s edge after nearly a week with no sleep and no relief. The captain didn’t give a fuck. “This is the world you live in. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to die in your line of work.” He looked over at Mr. Skop’s roommate and said, “Mr. Moore, don’t steal any of his shit.” Then he left the room like it was just another fucked-up day.
I felt torn between grief, nausea, and relief. I was sad and sick to my stomach that Mr. Skop had died, but we were all relieved to have survived Hell Week, plus the way the captain handled it was straight ahead, no bullshit, and I remembered thinking if all SEALs were like him, this would definitely be the world for me. Talk about mixed emotions.
Was it possible to survive this, day after day? I thought about quitting. If failure was my future and I’d have to rethink my life completely, what was the point of this exercise? Why delay the inevitable? Was I fucked in the head? Each and every thought boiled down to the same old simple quistion: why?
“The only way to guarantee failure is to quit right now, motherfucker!” I was talking to myself now. “People have a hard time going through BUD/S healthy, and you’re going through it on broken legs! Who else would even think of this?” I asked. “Who else would be able to run even one minute on one broken leg, let alone two? Only Goggins! You are twenty minutes in the business, Goggins! You are a fucking machine! Each step you run from now until the end will only make you harder!”
No matter where we were stationed, we got after it every single morning. We’d meet up at 4 a.m. and get to it. Sometimes that meant running up the side of a mountain before hitting the O-Course at high speed and carrying logs up and over the berm and down the beach. In BUD/S, usually six men carried those logs. We did it with just the two of us. On another day we rocked a pull-up pyramid, hitting sets of one, all the way up to twenty, and back down to one again. After every other set we’d climb a rope forty feet high. One thousand pull-ups before breakfast became our new mantra. At first, Sledge struggled to rock one set of ten pull-ups. Within months he’d lost thirty-five pounds and was hitting one hundred sets of ten!
Warming up for a 100 mile race
Also, I didn’t exactly come in well-rested. The night before the race, I passed by the SEAL Team Five gym on my way off base after work, and peeked in like I always did, just to see who was getting after it. The captain was inside warming up, and called out. “Goggins, let’s jack some fucking steel!” I laughed. He stared me down. “You know, Goggins,” he said, stepping closer, “when the Vikings were getting ready to raid a fucking village, and they were camped out in the fucking woods in their goddam tents made out of fucking deer hides and shit, sitting around a campfire, do you think they said, “Hey, let’s have some herbal fucking tea” and call it an early night? Or were they more like, “Fuck that, we are going to drink some vodka made out of some mushrooms and get all drunked up”, so the next morning when they were all hung-over and pissed off they would be in the ideal mood to slaughter the shit out of some people?”
The captain could be a funny motherfucker when he wanted to be, and he could see me wavering, considering my options. On the one hand, that man would always be my BUD/S instructor and he was one of the few instructors who was still hard, putting out, and living the SEAL ethos every day. I’ll always want to impress him. Jacking weights the night before my firsts 100 mile race would definitely impress that masochistic motherfucker. Plus, his logic made some fucked-up sense to me. I needed to get my mind ready to go to war, and lifting heavy would be my way of saying, bring on all your pain and misery, I’m ready to go! But, honestly, who does that before running a hundred fucking miles?
Set ambitious goals before each workout and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests. If it’s a run or bike ride, include some time to do interval work and challenge yourself to beat your best mile split. Or simply maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. Do as many as possible in two minutes. Then try to beat your best. When the pain hits and tries to stop you, dunk your fist in and let it fuel you!
If you’re more focused on intellectual growth, train yourself to study harder and longer than ever before, or read a record number of books in a given month.
–before a race his girlfriend was going to run-
Kate was ready to go. Her goal was to break five hours, and for once, I was satisfied being a cheerleader. My mom had always planned on walking it, and I figured I’d stroll with her for as long as I could, then hail a cab to the finish line and cheer my ladies to the tape.
The three of us toed up with the masses as the clock struck 7 a.m., and someone got on the mic to begin the official count down. “Ten…nine…eight…” When he hit one, a horn sounded, and like Pavlov’s dog something clicked inside me. I still don’t know what it was. Perhaps I underestimated my competitive spirit. Maybe it was because I knew Navy SEALs were supposed to be the hardest motherfuckers in the world. We were supposed to run on broken legs and fractured feet. Or so went the legend I’d bought into long ago. Whatever it was, something triggered and the last thing I remember seeing as the horn echoed down the street was shock and real concern on the faces of Kate and my mother as I charged down the boulevard and out of sight.
What am I capable of?
I couldn’t answer that question, but as I looked around the finish line that day and considered what I’d accomplished, it became clear that we were all leaving a lot of money on the table without realizing it. We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole. We’re not talking some bad weekend in Vegas, no more cash at the ATM kind of loss either. In that moment, the cost of missing out on so much excellence in this eternally fucked-up world felt incalculable to me, and it still does. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
I ran that sixteen-mile stretch at least three times a week. Some days I ran home too, and on Fridays I added a ruck run. Inside the radio pouch of my standard issue ruck sack, I slid two twenty-five-pound weights and ran fully loaded for as many as twenty miles to build quad strength. I loved waking up at 5 a.m. and starting work with three hours of cardio already in the bank while most of my teammates hadn’t even finished their coffee. It gave me a mental edge, a better sense of self-awareness, and a ton of self-confidence, which made me a better SEAL instructor. That’s what getting up at the ass crack of dawn and putting out will do for you. It makes you better in all facets of your life.
By now, I’m sure you can tell that it doesn’t take much for me to become obsessed. Some criticize my level of passion, but I’m not down with the prevailing mentalities that tend to dominate American society these days; the ones that tell us to go with the flow or invite us to learn how to get more with less effort. Fuck that shortcut bullshit. The reason I embrace my own obsessions and demand and desire more of myself is because I’ve learned that it’s only when I push beyond pain and suffering, past my perceived limitations, that I’m capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally – in endurance races but also in life as a whole. And I believe the same is true for you.
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 and remove your internal governor, 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.
Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! 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. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!
Life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself. Stick with this process and soon what you thought was impossible will be something you do every fucking day of your life.
Over a period of time, your tolerance for mental and physical suffering will have expanded because your software will have learned that you can take a hell of a lot more than one punch, and if you stay with any task thay is trying to beat you down, you will reap rewards.
Our minds are fucking strong, they are our most powerful weapon, but we have stopped using them. We have access to so many more resources today than ever before and yet we are so much less capable than those who came before us. If you want to be one of the few to defy those trends in our ever-softening society, you will have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind.
If you are on the hunt for your 100 percent you should catalog your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Don’t ignore them. Be prepared for them.
I took the bike and logged over 1,000 miles in the three weeks prior to Ultraman. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. and get one hundred-mile rides in before work. On weekends I’d ride 125 miles, get off the bike and run a marathon, but I only did six training swims, just two in the open water, and in the ultra octagon all your weaknesses are revealed.
In one stretch in 2007, I ran an ultra almost every weekend. There were fifty-mile races, 100-kilometer races, 100-mile races, and longer ones too. I was all about spreading the Navy SEAL legend that I loved, and wanted to be true and living our ethos.
Maybe you think I’m a special case or an obsessive maniac. Fine, I won’t argue with you. But what about my friend Mike? He’s a big-time financial advisor in New York City. His job is high pressure and his work day is a hell of a lot longer than eight hours. He has a wife and two kids, and he’s a ultra runner. Here’s how he does it. He wakes up at 4 a.m. every weekday, runs sixty to ninety minutes each morning while his family is still snoozing, rides a bike to work and back and does a quick thirty minute treadmill run after he gets home. He goes out for longer runs on weekends, but he minimizes its impact on his family obligations. He’s high-powered, wealthy as fuck, and could easily maintain his status quo with less effort and enjoy the sweet fruits of his labors, but he finds a way to stay hard because his labors are his sweetest fruits. And he makes time to get it all in by minimizing the amount of bullshit clogging his schedule. His priorities are clear, and he remains dedicated to his priorities. I’m not talking about general priorities here either. Each hour of his week is dedicated to a particular task and when that hour shows up in real time, he focuses 100 percent on that task. That’s how I do it too, because that is the only way to minimize wasted hours.
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 ASAP, 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!
Perhaps you aren’t looking to get fit, but have been dreaming of starting a business of your own, or have always wanted to learn a language or an instrument you’re obsessed with. Fine, the same rule applies. Analyze your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bullshit, and see what’s left. Is it one hour per day? Three? Now maximize that shit. That means listing your prioritized tasks every hour of the day.
The 24 hour mission
The whole point of the twenty-four-hour mission is to keep up a championship pace, not for a season or a year, but for your entire life! That requires quality rest and recovery time. Because there is no finish line. There is always more to learn, and you will always have weaknesses to strengthen if you want to become as hard as woodpecker lips. Hard enough to hammer countless miles, and finish that shit strong!
Are you an experienced scuba diver? Great, shed your gear, take a deep breath and become a one-hundred-foot free diver. Are you a badass triathlete? Cool, learn how to rock climb. Are you enjoying a wildly successful career? Wonderful, learn a new language or skill. Get a second degree. Always be willing to embrace ignorance and become the dumb fuck in the classroom again, because that is the only way to expand your body of knowledge and body of work. It’s the only way to expand your mind.
In life, there is no gift as overlooked or inevitable as failure. I’ve had quite a few and have learned to relish them, because if you do the forensics you’ll find clues about where to make adjustments and how to eventually accomplish your task.
Breaking the world record for pull-ups
After seventeen hours of pain, around 3 a.m. on January 20, 2013, I did my 4021st pull-up, and the record was mine. Everyone in the gym cheered, but I stayed composed. After two more sets and 4030 total pull-ups, I took my headphones out, stared into the camera and said, “I tracked you down, Stephen Hyland!”
In one day, I’d lifted the equivalent of 846,030 punds, nearly three times the weight of the Space Shuttle! Cheers spread to laughter as I pulled off my gloves and disappeared into the back room, but much to everyone’s surprise, I was not in the mood to celebrate. Does that shock you too? You know that my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be because I live a mission-driven life, always on the hunt for the next challenge. That mindset is the reason I broke that record, finished Badwater, became a SEAL, rocked Ranger School, and on down the list. In my mind I’m that racehorse always chasing a carrot I’ll never catch, forever trying to prove myself to myself. And when you live that way and attain a goal, success feels anti-climactic.
At first, when you push beyond your perceived capability your mind won’t shut the fuck up about it. It wants you to stop so it sends you into a spin cycle of panic and doubt, which only amplifies your self-torture. But when you persist past that to the point that pain fully saturates the mind, you become single-pointed. The external world zeroes out. Boundaries dissolve and you feel connected to yourself, and to all things, in the depth of your soul. That’s what I was after.
The Buddha famously said that life is suffering. I’m not a Buddhist, but I know what he meant and so do you. To exist in this world, we must contend with humiliation, broken dreams, sadness, and loss. That’s just nature. Each specific life comes with its own personalized portion of pain. It’s coming for you. You can’t stop it. And you know it.
In response, most of us are programmed to seek comfort as a way to numb it all out and cushion the blows. We carve out safe spaces. We consume media that confirms our beliefs, we take up hobbies aligned with our talents, we try to spend as little time as possible doint the tasks we fucking loathe, and that makes us soft. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine and desire for ourselves because it’s comfortable as hell in that box. Not just for us, but for our closest family and friends. The limits we create and accept become the lens through which they see us. Through which they love and appreciate us.
The internal voice
But it’s not the external voice that will break you down. It’s what you tell yourself that matters. The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. You wake up with them, you walk around with them, you go to bed with them, and eventually you act on them. Whether they be good or bad.
We are all our worst haters and doubters because self doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. You can’t stop it from blooming in your brain, but you can neutralize it, and all the other external chatter by asking, what if?
What if is an exquisite fuck-you to anyone who has ever doubted your greatness or stood in your way.
We live in a world with a lot of insecure, jealous people. Some of them are our best friends. They are blood relatives. Failure terrifies them. So does our success. Because when we transcend what we once thought was possible, push our limits, and become more, our light reflects off all the walls they’ve built up around them. Your light enables them to see the countours of their own prison, their own self-limitations. But if they are truly the great people you always believed them to be, their jelousy will evolve, and soon their imagination might hop its fence, and it will be their turn to change for the better.
Unsure what to read next? The Obstacle Is The Way explores similar ideas and mindsets as Can’t Hurt Me.