Wearing running shoes and clutching energy gels, David Goggins doesn’t appear like the typical spiritual man.
But like the Buddha and other such types, he has put himself through the toughest of challenges, dived deep into the depths of his mind, and came out the other side to tell the tale.
He completed three Hell Weeks—one of the toughest military trainings in the world—over 60 ultra-endurance events—including a 241-mile race—and held the record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours (4030).
He even has his own mantra:
You could be fooled into thinking Goggins is just another endurance junkie chasing the next high.
But what Goggins is chasing is something much deeper.
He wants to find out who he really is and what he is capable of. And one of the most reliable ways to do this is to not turn away from discomfort and pretend it doesn’t exist — the most common reaction — but to head straight toward it.
Again. And again. And again.
Under different circumstances, this could be called asceticism—a 2500-year-old spiritual practice of voluntarily undergoing physical and mental challenges to gain insight into the nature of ourselves and existence.
By accepting the reality of suffering and even welcoming it, Goggins is discovering more about himself and the nature of existence than he could have ever imagined.
And becoming more and more the one who is in control of his life.
Here I’ve summed up what I think are his eight biggest lessons from his highly recommended and inspiring book, Can’t Hurt Me.
But not too much.
1. Acceptance is about getting real with yourself
“I was rejecting my past and therefore rejecting myself. My foundation, my character was defined by self-rejection. All my fears came from that deep-seated uneasiness I carried with being David Goggins because of what I’d gone through. Even after I’d reached a point where I no longer cared about what others thought of me, I still had trouble accepting me.”
Acceptance often leads to a passive resignation to whatever situation you find yourself in, as opposed to fuelling change and inspiring action.
To Goggins, acceptance is about getting real with yourself. It’s about being brutally honest with where you are and what hole you may have fallen into.
“Are you happy with how your life is panning out? No? Do something!”
It’s not about pretending things aren’t so bad. It‘s not about beating yourself up more. It’s also not about just not caring what other people think about you.
It’s about dropping all that crap and getting real with yourself.
Take a cold hard look at yourself and make an honest assessment of your situation. Are you in a hole? Admit it and start climbing. Are you stuck in life and need a hand? Admit it and find that person or people. Have you become soft? Admit it and toughen yourself up.
Only once you accept where you are, instead of denying it, imagining you’re somewhere else, or beating yourself up about it, then you can get to work.
2. Depression can be a powerful fuel for change
“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 mission.”
Most people know how depression can seem to color everything in a negative light.
But few people recognize how such suffocating negativity can be used as fuel for changing for the better.
Depression makes you lose sight of what’s important. It’s a dumpster fire of negative thoughts and bad habits that seems impossible to put out. No matter how much water you keep throwing on it.
But if you take away that fuel and use it toward something else, you can build a new fire and beat depression at its own game.
Decide self-doubt is a sign you’re on the right track. Make a habit of turning towards discomfort and find power from it. Reframe difficult emotions and situations and use them to your advantage. Take away depression’s fuel and build a new fire.
One that burns infinitely stronger and brighter.
3. Learn to crave discomfort
“From then on, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your 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”
By having to go through the toughest training in the world three times over, Goggins had to learn to crave discomfort.
He had no choice. He had to find a way or be a failure to himself.
Many of us don’t need to face hardcore SEAL training on a daily basis. On the contrary, life can be optimized for maximum comfort. As Goggins says, this can make us soft.
“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 doing the tasks we loathe, and that makes us soft.”
Anyone can do the activities they like doing. Anyone can get good at what they want to do. But life doesn’t care about what you like or what you want.
And neither do you. That’s comfort talking.
To show up for life on a daily basis, you have to consciously seek discomfort. You have to learn to recognize it as a fundamental part of life, even a sure sign of being alive.
You have to learn to crave it more than comfort.
4. Limitations are there to be broken
“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.”
If you don’t challenge yourself, you may never find out what your limits are—never mind what you are capable of.
Mental and physical challenges make your limits clear and show you where you stand. They give you the opportunity to see patterns and habits—if you choose to see them and don’t immediately fold—and find a way to work with them.
Goggins says our limits are like the governor in a stock racing car that’s used to limit its speed. The governer is the…
“software that delivers personalized feedback — in the form of pain and exhaustion, but also fear and insecurity, and it uses all of that to encourage us to stop before we risk it all. But, here’s the thing, it doesn’t have absolute control. Unlike the governor in an engine, ours can’t stop us unless we buy into it and agree to quit.”
If you don’t recognize the governor, when it kicks into action, you think you’ve reached your limit. You give up or stop.
But remember the initial onset of pain or fatigue is just your governor reacting to the discomfort, then you can remind yourself to stay calm and in control of the dialogue.
Then you begin to reprogram the governor—which is largely based on unfounded ideas—and continue to expose and surpass its perceived limits.
5. No one can tell you what’s possible
“Most of us are extremely motivated to do anything to pursue our dreams until those around us remind us of the danger, the downside, our own limitations, and all the people before us that didn’t make it. Sometimes the advice comes from a well-intentioned place. They really believe they are doing it for our own good but if you let them, these same people will talk you out of your dreams, and your governor will help them do it.”
We build lives and social structures based around our limits.
Whatever we settle for becomes the lens through which those closest to us see us, through which they love and appreciate us, and through which we see ourselves.
Before we know it, we’re a certain type of person living a certain type of life. And everything around us confirms and reinforces that.
The vulnerability and resistance from stepping out of this paradigm and going against the tide can feel like you’re throwing everything away.
But if the people around you really are the people you believed them to be, they will be there for you. They will overcome their jealously and evolve.
If not, then they’re maybe not the best people to be listening to. Even if they’re so-called experts in their fields, they can never be an expert in your potential.
No one is. Not least you.
We learn what’s possible from family, school, books, experts, the internet, and from watching others. We only find out what’s possible by actually encountering our limits and discovering we can go beyond them.
6. The only and toughest opponent is yourself
“I was my own worst enemy! It wasn’t the world, or God, or the Devil that was out to get me. It was me!”
When you don’t rely on anyone else to tell you who you are, you can be left with an empty, hollow space.
Initially, Goggins faced this space in his SEALS training. He’d long given up caring what other people think of him, but there was now a need for a new source to draw his motivation from.
He called it the why question:
Why bother? Why keep going? Why do this to yourself? Why suffer the pain? Why not stop now and get a ride home and take a hot bath?
If you can’t answer the why question, then you’ll inevitably give up when it appears.
For Goggins, his real motivation for coming face to face with extreme difficulty was to find out:
What am I capable of?
He wasn’t choosing to suffer for some other purpose until he felt he’d done all he could and was burnt out. He was doing it to come up against his biggest and only real opponent: himself.
Why do you suffer? Don’t just ask yourself this question and be satisfied with the first five or ten things that pop up. Imagine you are fighting for your life and you have reached your physical and mental limit. Then ask it.
7. Chasing death is the best way to prepare for life
“I had to accept the very real possibility that I might die because this time I wouldn’t quit, no matter how fast my heart raced and no matter how much pain I was in. Trouble was there was no battle plan to follow, no blueprint. I had to create one from scratch.”
How often do you consider the fact you could drop dead at any moment?
Even if driving a car, lifting heavy weights, or flying, we tend to be a few layers removed from the eventuality that we could die.
When you’re regularly challenging your body and choosing to push yourself beyond perceived limits, there’s no such layers.
All of a sudden death can feel all too real.
Anything could happen. You might uncover hidden qualities and potential. You might discover new fears. You might find out how brave you are. You might change your life. You might die.
Death is a reality of being alive. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t outsmart or avoid death.
But you can stay within your comfort bubble and act like you’re going to live forever.
Remove those protective layers and come face to face with death. Goggins didn’t run to win ultra races, he did it to prepare himself for life. Only when we see and feel the reality of death do we know we are really alive. We live knowing in our bones that this moment could be our last.
So you can bet we don’t waste or hide away from it.
8: Finally, you will be the only one. Get used to it.
“You will be made fun of. You will feel insecure. You may not be the best all the time. You may be the only black, white, Asian, Latino, female, male, gay, lesbian or [fill in your identity here] in a given situation. There will be times when you feel alone. Get over it!”
Often being the only one, whether it be due to gender, race, skill, age, or something else, is seen as a hindrance or a bad sign.
Everyone has times in their life when they feel like this.
It can happen with a big life choice or a momentary activity. Like going back to uni at 50 years old. Getting up at 5am to run. Giving the homeless guy money when everyone else is ignoring him.
Embrace the discomfort of being the only one. It’s a sign you’re not settling for mediocracy and are choosing to do something exceptional.
It’s not easy. It will be lonely. It will be confronting. It will feel like you’re doing the wrong thing and going backward.
The quicker you can accept this, the sooner you can get on with your life.
It’s easy to be a sheep. It is uncomfortable to be the only one.
Get used to it.