In every town, in every country, all over the world, millions roam the streets, dead-eyed as zombies, addicted to comfort, embracing a victim’s mentality and unaware of their true potential. I know this because I meet and hear from them all the time, and because just like you, I used to be one of them.
David Goggins was born in hell.
An abusive father. No mentors to guide him. An unstable home life. A target of repeated racism growing up in Indiana.
At 24, he weighed 297 pounds and worked the night shift as an exterminator. He wasn’t happy with his life and used food as a way to cope. Years of pain and trauma weighed him down and David had every excuse to succumb.
Instead, he rose.
He became a Navy SEAL1—earning many distinctions along the way—then an elite ultra marathoner.2 He broke the world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours.3 And to top it off, he wrote a best-selling book, Can’t Hurt Me—a mix between autobiography, self-help, and inspiration.
I read Can’t Hurt Me last month and was instantly drawn to David’s intensity, to his passion for achieving greatness, and to his epic quest to push himself to the brink and live with purpose.
David describes himself as the One Warrior and it’s hard to argue with him—the man is an absolute badass.
Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the One, one is a warrior…4
David’s main point is that our mind is our obstacle5, not our body or our circumstances or our (lack) of inborn talent. Our mind controls us and keeps us in our comfort zone, creating false limits we come to accept as truth.
I think we all share that goal. We all want to live a meaningful life and minimize regrets; we all want to meet our end with a heart overflowing with gratitude and a smile on our face.
The path we each take towards this ultimate goal will be different, but the overarching principles of all successful journeys will be similar.
David has managed to imbue his life with purpose and can teach from experience. In Can’t Hurt Me, he poses ten challenges that helped him strengthen his mind and thereby improve his life.
In this post, I’ll go over each of these challenges so that we too can start walking towards our own definition of greatness.
Challenge 1: Take inventory
The first challenge is to take inventory and explore the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Everyone deals with their own personal bullshit and fights their own inner demons. We have trauma from our past, obstacles in our present, and anxieties about our future.
David had to deal with an abusive father, a difficult childhood, and repeated racism.
You might’ve been beaten, bullied, or abused.
You might’ve dealt with divorce, the death of loved ones, or a difficult family life.
Maybe you’ve faced disease, physical complications, or chronic pain.
Maybe you’ve battled with depression, eating disorders, or other mental health issues.
Or, maybe, for whatever reason, you’ve struggled your whole life to find confidence and self-worth and have continuously come short of your dreams. Or worse, you’ve never even tried.
To complete this challenge, write out all the obstacles you’ve dealt with throughout your life.
Then bring this into the present: what obstacles are you facing now? What is standing in your way?
Tell the story in full—give your pain shape and remove its stranglehold on you.
Share this list with someone or acknowledge and accept it privately.
Challenge 2: The Accountability Mirror
David was flunking out of high school. He’d missed over a quarter of his junior year and had a D average.7 Without substantial improvement, he would not graduate.
His mom received the letter from the school explaining this but she too had been dealing for years with heavy baggage—she was exhausted. She handed David the letter as he made himself a sandwich. There was no fight, no screaming.
That night, David stood in front of the mirror after showering. He didn’t like what he saw. Rather than shattering the glass, he launched into a lecture.
“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.”
On he went, venting and lecturing, until a new ritual was born. Every night, he’d shave and face the Accountability Mirror. He set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to the mirror.
Make your bed! Pull up your pants! Cut the grass! Do the dishes!
Slowly, a new David emerged.
His reading level went from that of a fourth grader to that of a high school senior. He hit the gym and became a starter on the varsity basketball team. He passed the ASVAB8—Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery —and graduated high school.
The second challenge is about creating your own Accountability Mirror. Write your insecurities, goals, and dreams and tack them onto the mirror.
Be honest about where you are and the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goals. If you want to lose fifty pounds, your first note might say, Lose two pounds in a week.
Each step, each individual action should be its own note. Break down your goals into achievable bites.
Once the goal is achieved, replace the note with your new goal.
Look into the mirror every day and hold yourself accountable.
Challenge 3: Step out of your comfort zone
David was working the overnight shift as an exterminator. Every morning after his shift, he’d get a large chocolate milkshake and a box of mini chocolate doughnuts. Then he’d head over to his mother’s for a breakfast buffet.9
But after watching a TV special about the Navy SEALs one morning, David decided it was time to make a change.
He was done being an exterminator and ready to become a Navy SEAL.10
I was everything all the haters back home said I would be: uneducated, with no real world skills, zero discipline, and a dead-end future. Mediocrity would have been a major promotion. I was at the bottom of the barrel of life, pooling in the dregs, but, for the first time in way too long, I was awake.
The problem was he weighed 297 pounds and the maximum weight the Navy allowed for his height was 191. He’d also need to pass the ASVAB again and this time with a much higher score.
All of the Navy recruiting offices shrugged him off or laughed in his face. But he finally found one recruiter willing to take a chance on him.
David had three months to lose 106 pounds and meet the ASVAB requirements. This meant his days started at 4:30 a.m. By 5 he was on the stationary bike, studying the ASVAB books as he biked for two hours.
A two-hour swim at his local high school came next, then a circuit workout at the gym11, followed by another two hours on the stationary bike to end the day.
He ate little and weighed himself twice a day.
When his weight dropped below 250, he began running—two-, three-, and four-mile runs—and doing push-ups and pull-ups on top of his previous exercise.
The intensity of the schedule and the looming deadlines had him feeling anxious and depressed as well as constantly hungry. But he knew this was the only way he stood a chance, so he blasted the Rocky soundtrack and pushed on.
The third challenge is to write out the things you don’t like to do or which make you uncomfortable, especially those that are good for you.
Then go do them. Again and again.
We don’t all have to train like warriors to become Navy SEALs. Making your bed, doing the dishes, running every day, cutting out junk food, not blowing your lid at your partner for little things, reducing your social media or Internet time, spending less money—these are all worthy, and difficult, goals.
By doing hard things—no matter how small—and pushing through the discomfort every day, we become strong. We callous our mind and learn to push on as we slowly realize that what we thought were our limits were only self-imposed barriers.
Best of all, these tiny changes compound over time. If you get 1% better every week, you’ll be twice as good in only 16 months.12
Challenge 4: Taking Souls
For David, it was his second time around as he was pulled out from Class 230 during Hell Week after contracting double pneumonia.
By Wednesday we were all broke dick, chafed to holy Hell. Our whole body was one big raspberry, oozing puss and blood. Mentally we were zombies… My knee was the size of a grapefruit and every step I took torched my nerves.
The instructors drank coffee and reveled in the suffering of the SEAL candidates as they watched the men do boat raises on the beach. One of the instructors in particular—Psycho Pete—was the lightning rod for David’s exhaustion-fueled rage.
He turned to his crew and told them the instructors could go fuck themselves. For the next rep, they threw up the boat, caught it, brought it down to the sand, then threw it up again.
Suddenly, the crew had life again. The pain and exhaustion faded. The instructors watched with mouths agape—they had lost all power.
David calls this idea Taking Souls. It’s about gaining an advantage. It’s about finding your second wind and pushing through. It’s about figuring out what the obstacle is and how to remove its hold on you.
If someone insults you, for example, you can laugh at yourself with them and disarm them. If your boss is on your case, you can arrive at work before them and leave after them, until they’ve no choice but to accept your excellence.
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.
The fourth challenge is to work harder on your current goal or project than you’ve ever worked before. Surpass the maximum expectations, whether your own, your coach’s, your teacher’s, or your boss’.
Dominate the project. Take their soul!
Challenge 5: Visualize success
Hell Week doesn’t mark the end of Navy SEAL training, a.k.a, BUD/S15. It only marks the halfway point of First Phase. The final three weeks of First Phase remain, to be followed by Second and Third Phase—seven weeks each—and they’re just as difficult.
David had gotten through Hell Week and then some but his kneecap was fractured and he could now barely walk.16
Again, as in Class 230, he was sent home.
After two failed attempts, he considered becoming a firefighter, but a check-in with the Accountability Mirror revealed his ambivalence about this choice. Facing the mirror, he realized he was afraid of again facing the torture of BUD/S, of again having to start from zero.
Over the coming months, David would come to realize that not going back would become a lifelong regret. So he joined Class 235, knowing this would be his final chance.
All his demons rose to the surface. He was caught in a tornado of fear and doubt. Again he had to emerge, this time by learning how to live with the trauma of his past and use it as fuel.
Two broken shins were the price of First Phase. But this time, failure wasn’t an option.
“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!”
That last message cracked the code like a password. My calloused mind was my ticket forward, and at the forty-minute mark something remarkable happened. The pain receded to low tide…
The pain would come and go throughout the day, but it became much more manageable, and when the pain did show up, I told myself it was proof of how tough I was and how much tougher I was becoming.
Some long weeks later, David would become only the thirty-sixth African American BUD/S graduate in Navy SEAL history as part of Class 235.
The fifth challenge is to choose any obstacle in your way or a goal you want to achieve and visualize yourself overcoming or achieving it.
Paint a picture in your mind of what success looks and feels like. See yourself winning. But also visualize the challenges and pain. You’re looking to prepare yourself mentally, not boost your ego with daydreams.
Pain and tribulations are a certainty. When they rear their head, you must be able to answer the inevitable questions your mind will ask as it seeks to end the suffering: why are you doing this? Why does achieving this matter?
Having these answers ready ahead of time will allow you to push through the wall instead of succumbing to the pain.
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.
As David points out, though, you can’t visualize lies. Mind over matter only works if you’re putting in the work every day. You have to be disciplined, competent, and prepared. Only then does visualization give you the final edge.
Remember, the goal doesn’t have to be physical. And winning doesn’t always mean first place.
Challenge 6: The Cookie Jar
After the tragic Operation Red Wings17, an operation in Afghanistan in 2005 that led to the death of eight U.S. Navy SEALs and eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators, David decided to run the Badwater 135 to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation18.
The Badwater 135 is a vicious ultramarathon—held in California’s Death Valley, its 135 miles feature a change in elevation of 8,000 feet. Not to mention that it takes place in mid-July with temperatures reaching as high as 130 °F.
In order to qualify for Badwater, however, David needed to meet the prerequisites—completing at least one 100-mile race or one twenty-four-hour race, while covering at least one hundred miles—which is how he ended up at the San Diego One Day, a twenty-four-hour race, in November of 2005.19
David had run a marathon—26.2 miles—only once before and had not prepared for the race. He was powerlifting at the time and his only cardio workout consisted of twenty minutes on the elliptical once a week.
By mile fifty, David was in pain. His thighs were lead and his feet and toes were destroyed. His shins came next, then his lungs as he started to hock up brown mucus. Everything felt surreal and he was losing touch with reality.
Twelve hours and seventy miles in, he stopped to rest as his legs refused to move. He peed blood and pooped himself, then downed some Motrin, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a Gatorade. Twenty minutes after stopping, he began to walk at a crawling pace. The pain was unbearable.
Sixteen hours in, at 2.a.m, he reached eighty-one miles and realized that at his current pace, he wouldn’t reach the 100 miles he needed.
It was then that David understood that his philanthropic efforts were only one reason why he wanted to run Badwater—the stronger motive was that he wanted to push himself to the brink and see how much suffering he could withstand.
The pain was overwhelming and David knew he’d have to dig deep.
“Why?! Why are you still doing this to yourself, Goggins?!”
“Because you are one hard motherfucker,” I screamed.
The voices in my head were so penetrating, I had to bite back out loud… I felt an energy build immediately, as I realized that still being in the fight was a miracle in itself… I kept going when I should have quit five hours ago. I am the reason I still have a chance. And I remembered something else too. This wasn’t the first time I’d taken on a seemingly impossible task. I picked up my pace. I was still walking, but I wasn’t sleepwalking anymore. I had life! I kept digging into my past, into my own imaginary Cookie Jar.
Modeled after the cookie jar of his youth, David created a new Cookie Jar, this one packed full of his achievements—beating the odds to graduate high school, passing the ASVAB multiple times, dropping over a hundred pounds in three months, making it through Hell Week twice, becoming a SEAL, and many more.
As he went through each achievement, he tapped into the emotions he felt during those wins and managed to get the adrenaline going, enough to slightly fade the pain and pick up his pace.
From then on, the Cookie Jar became a concept I’ve employed whenever I need a reminder of who I am and what I’m capable of. We all have a cookie jar inside us, because life, being what it is, has always tested us.
After nineteen hours, David reached 101 miles and ended his race. He’d run at a pace of 6.33 miles per hour over the last three hours, over double his pre-Cookie Jar pace.
The sixth challenge is to create your own Cookie Jar. Think about all the obstacles you’ve overcome. Remember what the struggle and winning felt like. Write this down.
Every day, set ambitious goals and use your past wins as fuel. Beat your mile time. Do more push-ups or pull-ups than yesterday. Study harder. Keep a cool head when shit hits the fan. Be a loving, supportive partner even if you’re stressed and anxious.
When you hit a wall, when pain, boredom, or self-doubt try to knock you down, reach into the Cookie Jar and use your past as fuel, as a reminder that this obstacle too can be overcome.
Let your past wins remind you that you’re strong and capable so that you can short-circuit the negative thought loop and push on.
Challenge 7: Removing the governor
Finishing the San Diego One Day had been a big achievement, but David’s Badwater application would need to be stronger to guarantee his admission.
The HURT 10020 in mid-January would be his next test. Held in Honolulu, Hawaii, the race features 24,500 feet of elevation gain, along with countless mosquitoes, wild boars, and 20 rocky stream crossings.
The rocks and roots on the trail were the first thing that surprised David at the HURT 100. He’d been running on the flat streets of San Diego and his shoes had little tread. Then at mile six, his backpack broke, leaving him with no water, forcing him to rely on the aid stations which were spaced miles apart.
David completed the first of the five 20-mile laps in four and a half hours, well on pace for the thirty-six-hour time limit.
During his second lap, it started raining and the trail got so slippery it was like running on ice. Then it grew dark and cold.
The fourth lap was a slog. David had to sit down halfway up the first climb—a one-mile, 800-foot ascent into the mountains, essentially straight uphill—as he was too dizzy to even walk. After a while, he began to walk, telling himself there was no shame in quitting as long as he finished the climb.
When he reached the top, he decided the descent looked doable and started taking the race one step at a time—each individual step was manageable even if the race as a whole seemed insurmountable.
The human body is like a stock car… under the hood we all have huge reservoirs of potential and a governor impeding us from reaching our maximum velocity… the governor can easily be removed, and if you disable yours, watch your car rocket beyond 130 mph.
Our governor is buried deep in our minds, intertwined with our very identity… It’s 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 its bullshit and agree to quit.
David kept alternating between running and walking, making progress. He finished the fourth lap, then walked the entirety of the fifth—an eight-hour affair—finishing the race in 33 hours and 23 minutes, good enough for ninth place. Only twenty-three athletes finished the HURT 100 that day.21
Badwater was next and David kicked up his training to the next level.
To give his battered body a chance to recover, he replaced running with biking and the elliptical and rowing machines. He kept his heart rate at 170 for hours at a time and wore five layers of clothes to prepare for the Death Valley heat.
When spring rolled around, he began doing ten-mile runs in Death Valley while wearing a sauna suit and hiking for hours at a time while carrying a fifty-pound backpack.
By working through all this pain, David was ready when July 22, 2006 rolled around. At 6 a.m., he kicked off the race with the rookie runners—the contenders wouldn’t start until 10.
David’s Badwater run was every bit as epic as his HURT 100 and he finished in 33 hours, 18 minutes, and 54 seconds. He’d wanted to quit multiple times. His body was annihilated. Yet he pushed on.
It was another big accomplishment, but David’s mind was already in the future. He had watched the elite runners pass him by over the last couple of miles and knew he had more to give: There is no finish line, Goggins. There is no finish line.
Everyone can achieve feats they once thought impossible. In order to do that we must change our minds, be willing to scrap our identity, and make the extra effort to always find more in order to become more.
We must remove our governor.
The seventh challenge is to slowly make progress on removing the governor from our brain. This is not an overnight process; as David says, it takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience.
The key is to push yourself past your stopping point. Do 5% to 10% more each week. Go from one-hundred pushups in a workout to 105 or 110. If you ran twenty miles last week, run twenty-two this week.
The gradual build-up helps prevent injuries and gives your body and mind time to adapt to the new load.
Physical challenges are a terrific way to start to remove the governor because they provide clear feedback on how you’re doing as well as ample opportunity for pain. You get plenty of chances to work on maintaining a positive inner dialogue and callousing your mind.
As David says, life is one big mind game and going hard physically will improve your performance at work or in school too.
You’re only competing against yourself. Stick with it until the impossible becomes possible.
Challenge 8: Increase your productivity
If David was solely dedicated to achieving wild physical feats, his accomplishments would still be legendary.
And yet he accomplished all he did while holding a full-time job as a Navy SEAL—he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was tasked as a land warfare instructor for SEALs, and, from 2007 to 2009, recruited for the Navy by traveling throughout the country and speaking at schools and colleges.22
The only possible way for him to achieve this was a level of self-discipline that’s unimaginable for most of us, akin to the life of an “elite” monk.
My work ethic is the single most important factor in all of my accomplishments… Don’t settle for a forty-hour work week. There are 168 hours in a week! That means you have the hours to put in that extra time at work without skimping on your exercise. It means streamlining your nutrition, spending quality time with your wife and kids. It means scheduling your life like you’re on a twenty-four-hour mission every single day.
The emphasis in David’s quote is mine but that’s what it comes down to. We can all work hard and stay focused for a couple of hours, maybe for a full day. But living one’s life to the fullest requires us to do this each and every day.
David’s “secret” isn’t groundbreaking—win the morning, he says.
When I was full-time with the SEALs I maximized the dark hours before dawn. When my wife was sleeping, I would bang out a six- to ten-mile run. My gear was all laid out the night before, my lunch was packed, and my work clothes were in my locker at work where I’d shower before my day started at 7:30 a.m. On a typical day, I’d be out the door for my run just after 4 a.m. and back by 5:15 a.m… I rode my bike twenty-five miles to work. I’d work from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and eat at my desk before or after my lunch break.
During the lunch hour I’d hit the gym or do a four- to six-mile beach run, work the afternoon shift and hop on my bike for the twenty-five-mile ride home. By the time I was home at 7 p.m., I’d have run about fifteen miles, rocked fifty miles on the bike, and put in a full day at the office. I was always home for dinner and in bed by 10 p.m. so I could do it all over again the next day.
On Saturdays I’d sleep in until 7 a.m., hit a three-hour workout, and spend the rest of the weekend with Kate. If I didn’t have a race, Sundays were my active recovery days. I’d do an easy ride at a low heart rate, keeping my pulse below 110 beats per minute to stimulate healthy blood flow.23
That’s the commitment it takes to shatter our self-imposed limits and discover what we’re truly capable of.
We all have twenty-four hours in a day. It’s up to us to pack a whole lifetime into that time—each and every day.
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. You can even narrow it down to fifteen-minute windows… If one task bleeds into overtime, make sure you know it, and begin to transition into your next prioritized task straight away… Turn on your calendar alerts. Have those alarms set.
The eighth challenge is to reduce your time waste and increase your productivity.
David proposes a three-week method to do this.
During the first week, go about your normal day, but take notes on how you spend each hour. Be detailed and include timestamps. How long is your commute? How long do you spend eating lunch and dinner? How much time do you spend aimlessly surfing the web?24
During the second week, you build an optimal schedule by blocking out the day in fifteen- to thirty-minute blocks. A task can occupy multiple blocks but you’re only allowed to work on one thing at a time—no multitasking. Pursue each task with laser-like focus. Be sure to exercise, sleep, and eat well, but have a defined stopping time for your meal breaks. And when you’re resting, rest—don’t tire your brain with social media or Internet rabbit holes.
Track your schedule again this week and see how you did compared to the first week.
By week three, you should have a schedule that allows you to optimize your time while being sustainable for the long haul.
Challenge 9: Torch complacency; become uncommon amongst the uncommon
After becoming a SEAL in 2002, David was assigned to his first platoon and got shipped out to Malaysia where his training continued.
For the next two years, he would travel all over Asia—Indonesia, Guam, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea—continuing his training and forming part of his first missions, which included training elite military units in Malaysia as well as the Thai Navy SEALs.
Every morning the platoon would do SEAL-intense physical training. It was an all-out competition every day, which is exactly the environment David had been dreaming of when he decided to become a SEAL. Everyone was setting personal bests on the daily and David thrived.
When his two-year assignment ended, David asked to be sent to Army Ranger School, a 62-day course open to all U.S. military forces that’s known as one of the best leadership courses in the entire military.
As to be expected, Ranger School is brutal—a typical day involves twenty hours of training with only 2,200 calories and 3.5 hours of sleep as sustenance. Though Ranger students are experienced soldiers, the graduation rate is around 50%
In February 2004, David, now fifty-six pounds lighter, was one of only ninety-six men25 to graduate in a class of 308—a 31% graduation rate—and was given the Enlisted Honor Man award for his leadership and performance.
Not one to waste time, David flew to Coronado, California the day after graduating to meet up with his second platoon and was deployed in Iraq from October to December as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom where his performance earned him a commendation medal from the Navy.
After his second platoon assignment, David went to freefall school26 and was then made an assaults instructor.
During this time, he passed the screening for Delta Force—the Army’s most elite unit—and made it to the end of Selection27 when a bad ankle injury forced him to drop out. Due to his performance, he was invited to attempt Delta Selection again once he was healed.
After Delta, David was again made an instructor in Coronado, during which time he would kickstart his ultra career.
No matter what you or I achieve… we can’t be satisfied. Life is too dynamic a game. We’re either getting better or we’re getting worse. Yes, we need to celebrate our victories… but after our celebration we should dial it down, dream up new training regimens, new goals, and start at zero the very next day…
Starting at zero is a mindset that says my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be. We can always become stronger and more agile, mentally and physically. We can always become more capable and more reliable. Since that’s the case we should never feel that our work is done. There is always more to do.
The ninth challenge is to continue to challenge yourself. The goal is to become uncommon amongst the uncommon, a wolf among wolves, the One Warrior.
Greatness is not an action but a way of living. Glory fades and the only solution is to be ever on the lookout for new challenges to face and overcome.
It’s not about being the best—it’s about being the best you can be. We can always get better.
Challenge 10: After Action Report
In 2012, David Goggins decided to break the world record for most pull-ups in twenty-four-hours. He had replaced running with pull-ups after his second heart surgery28 in 2010 as running made him dizzy.
On September 27, he went on The Today Show where a makeshift gym had been set up to record the attempt.29 The plan was to do six pull-ups a minute, every minute, until he surpassed Stephen Hyland’s record of 4,020.
David felt ready to go but things quickly started to go sideways. The pull-up bar was much looser than he was used to which slowly sapped his energy and his carbohydrate drink wasn’t doing much to refuel him.
After six hours and 2,000 pull-ups, he took a ten-minute break. Another five hours later, he’d only managed 500 more. And pull-up number 2,501 would prove to be impossible when David found himself unable to even lift his arms to grab the bar.
It was a very public failure but wallowing wasn’t in the cards. Instead, David filed an After Action Report (AAR).
In the military, after every real-world mission or field exercise, we fill out After Action Reports (AARs), which serve as live autopsies. We do them no matter the outcome, and if you’re analyzing a failure like I was, the AAR is absolutely crucial.
Going on the show had been a mistake as it hurt his focus. The pull-up bar had been too loose. The ten-minute break had been too long as it stiffened his arms and he hadn’t had enough salt tablets to prevent cramping.
In November, David gave the record another go in a quiet gym in Nashville.
This time he would eat some protein and bananas along with the carb drink to add some substance and prevent cramping. Unlike in the previous attempt, the pull-up bar was solid, with no sway.
The plan was the same—six pull-ups per minute—and he knocked off 1,300 pull-ups in four hours, but by the 1,850th pull-up, his palms were destroyed. He reached 3,245 in twelve hours when the pain in his hands was too much to take.
Another AAR followed.
I was already doing my live autopsy and would run through a complete AAR on paper as soon as my bloody hands would allow. I knew there was treasure in this wreckage and leverage to be gained somewhere. I just had to piece it together like a puzzle.
The Nashville gym had been the perfect environment. He hadn’t wallowed after the failure on The Today Show and the no-sway pull-bar had gotten him 700 more pull-ups. These were the positives.
But there were also items to fix. There’d been a few too many people at the gym, affecting his focus. His break at the ten-hour mark had again been too long and the no-sway pull-up bar had torn up his hands.
Two months later, at 10 a.m. on January 19, 2013, David was back at the Nashville gym, ready for a third attempt. This time he’d be doing five pull-ups per minute and was using custom-designed foam pads to protect his palms.
At the ten-hour mark, he kept his break to only four minutes. His pace slowed to three pull-ups per minute, but he kept chugging along and after seventeen hours, around 3 a.m. on January 20, David broke the record with his 4,021st pull-up. He did two more sets, reaching 4,030 before stopping.
In one day, he’d lifted a cumulative 846,300 pounds of his own bodyweight, the equivalent of five Boeing 737’s.30
The tenth challenge is to dig up any recent failures as well the most heart-wrenching ones from your past and write your own After Action Report.
The first step is to write everything that went well. Even in failure there are things you did right—be compassionate with yourself as you list these items out in detail.
The second step is to analyze your mindset during and after the event. What were you thinking in the lead-up? What were your thoughts as the event unfolded? How did you handle the failure? Did you blame others or lose your temper? How long did it affect you for?
The third and final step is to go through the event again and list out all the things you can fix. Be honest and detailed. Then, if possible, schedule another attempt as soon as possible.
Don’t dwell on the failure. Use your AAR, the Accountability Mirror, and your Cookie Jar. Control your thoughts, prevent your mind from spinning out of control, and try again.
If you fail again, write another AAR and try again. Keep fighting—that’s what it’s all about.
David Goggins is not perfect. He’s open about his faults and shortcomings, like when his abrasive demeanor prevented him from being a good leader in his second platoon.
My job… was to help them become the best version of themselves. But I never listened, and I didn’t lead. Instead, I got angry and showed up my teammates… I had countless opportunities to bridge the gap I’d helped create, but I never did, and it cost me.
Given the time demanded by his pursuits, it’s possible that he falls short in some areas of his life.
No matter how well we optimize, time and energy are unavoidable limits. Perfection is unattainable and we’re all deeply flawed in countless ways. We’re like a fitted sheet that won’t stay put—one corner keeps coming loose despite our best efforts.
And yet, I admire the heck out of David Goggins for all he’s accomplished. He seizes each day and lives a life that’s bursting with purpose and meaning.
His vigor for life, his unceasing pursuit of excellence, his self-discipline, his ability to get up and keep fighting, his burning desire to squeeze every last drop of potential within him—these are the qualities that lit a fire within me as I read Can’t Hurt Me.
It’s not about becoming a SEAL or running 100 miles or breaking a record.
It’s about looking into the mirror each day and saying, Today I’m going to be better than yesterday. It’s about recognizing that most of our limits are self-imposed and that we’re capable of so much more than we think.
We’re the artist and life is the easel. Every day we get a chance to fix yesterday’s mistakes or to choose a blank area and start anew. The colors and materials available to us are endless. The rules are vague and open to interpretation. This is the ultimate game.
The only hard limit is time and so it’s up to each of us to decide what’s worth chasing in the limited amount we have. And then going after it like there’s no tomorrow.
Because one day, there won’t be.
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The Navy SEALs—United States Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) Teams—are the Navy’s primary special operations force and one of the U.S. military’s most elite special forces. Navy SEAL training is known for being absolutely brutal. ↩
An ultramarathon, or ultra for short, is any race longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon. Distance-based races range from 31 miles to over 200; time-based races range from 6 to 24 hours with the aim being to run as many miles as possible, generally following a one-mile loop. Check out Goggins’ ultra achievements. ↩
The subtitle for Can’t Hurt Me is Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds. ↩
In Can’t Hurt Me, David shares an image of his junior year transcript (1992-1993). He has a D+ in Geometry, a D in English, an F in U.S. History, a D+ in Electronics, and a C- in Physical Science. His GPA is 1.43 and he’s ranked 211 in a class of 255. ↩
David writes, “Think: eight Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, a half-dozen scrambled eggs, a half-pound of bacon, and two bowls of Fruity Pebbles… Food was my drug of choice and I always sucked up every last crumb.” ↩
David had previously served four years in the Air Force. He didn’t make it through Pararescue training—he received a medical discharge due to having the Sickle cell trait—and served out his four years in the Tactical Air Control Party in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. ↩
David writes, “From there I hit the gym for a circuit workout that included the bench press, the incline press, and lots of leg exercises. Bulk was the enemy. I needed reps, and I did five or six sets of 100–200 reps each.” ↩
1.0170 = 2 and 70 weeks ÷ 52 weeks/year x 12 months/year = 16.15 months.
You could, for example, improve a 20-minute mile to 10 minutes within these 16 months. The biggest cut you’d have to make would be 12 seconds—20 minutes down to 19:48—from week 1 to week 2. Every week after, your improvements would need to be smaller and smaller, until you cut the final 6 seconds in week 69. ↩
It’s hard to comprehend the savagery that is Hell Week—held on a beach, SEAL candidates run over 200 miles and swim dozens, all while being cold, wet, hungry, and sandy. Multiple SEAL candidates have died during Hell Week. ↩
David writes, “But no matter how well you deploy it, a calloused mind can’t heal broken bones.”
I love this line because it’s a good reminder that even Superman has limits. We need to have compassion for ourselves as we push to exceed our limits because even though those limits are much higher than we can imagine, they do exist. ↩
One of the SEALs in Operation Red Wings was Marcus Luttrell. Marcus was part of Class 230 with David and David later become close with Marcus’ twin brother, Morgan. David also knew three other SEALs—Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson, and Michael Murphy—in the operation. David had been with Danny in Class 231, with Michael in Class 235, and he met Matthew when Matthew started as part of Class 237. ↩
Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer set a new record at the HURT 100 that year, finishing the course in 22 hours and 16 minutes. The record has since been beaten many times. The current record—19 hours and 35 minutes—was established in 2013 by Gary Robbins. ↩
As a recruiter, David was tasked with increasing the number of recruits in the POC (people of color) category. He traveled 250 days a year and spoke to over 500,000 people by the time he was done. ↩
David also gives an example of a friend of his who works a “normal” job. He writes, “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 an 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.” ↩
David makes the claim that most people waste four to five hours a day. I think that’s mostly on point, myself included. ↩
David was again raising money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. ↩