Lessons Learned From The World’s Toughest Man

I have read many books on a wide range of subjects but if you ask to pick one that stands out from the rest, it will definitely be Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, written by David Goggins. I had probably re-read and re-listened this book/audiobook more than a dozen times over the past three years, especially during those tough times when I felt beat-up and was a victim of my circumstances.

As a retired Navy SEAL, an ultra-marathoner, an ultra-distance cyclist, and a triathlete competitor, Goggins has been known as the world’s toughest man who has completed over 60 ultra races and set some world records along the way including the Guinness World Record for completing 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours in 2013, and the Moab 240 in 2020, placing 2nd in the 241-mile super-ultra race with a time of 63 hours and 21 minutes.

But what really makes him stand out is not so much what he has accomplished but what he has overcome. His list of accomplishments is dwarfed by the obstacles he conquered. Goggins suffered from severe abuse as a child, obesity (once ballooned to 300 pounds), speech impediment, learning disorder, racial abuse, sickle cell anemia, and a congenital heart condition known as ASD — Atrial Septum Defect (this means he has a hole in his heart).

His path to self-realization and self-conquering included participating in nearly every American special forces toughest training — Navy SEAL’s most infamous “Hell Week” (three times), Army Ranger school, and Delta Force selection (twice).

What I love most is the unique way he tells his story – just like his personality – everything is so real, authentic, raw, fearless, and in-you-face along with zillions of fucks and curses in between. You may not like the language or the words Goggins uses, in fact, he doesn’t give a shit whether you like it or not, but everything he says strikes the chord, like a slap in the face, making you reflect on your own life, realizing that you leave so much on the table.

How does someone consistently push himself to his physical and mental limits all the time? Six lessons learned from the toughest man alive. Let’s hear the man’s own words.

1. Comfortable is your worst enemy

Comfortable is like fucking drug, once you get used to it, it becomes fucking addictive. And let’s say you don’t like to get up early in the morning to go running. I hated it. I still hate it. But you do that anyway. You live uncomfortably to gain growth physically, mentally and psychologically. And for a period of time your brain doesn’t like it, but it starts to realize: this is a new way of thinking. We are now doing things that we are uncomfortable doing. We are doing things that we don’t want to do. So the brain starts to slowly grow.

You have to have friction in your life to gain growth. And the only way to do that is to make yourself uncomfortable. And get to the point where instead of running from the things you don’t want to do, you actually face them and start to gain more and more growth in your life. That’s how I approach all those things.

Strengthen your mind and your resolve by voluntarily putting yourself through situations in which you struggle. Callus your mind the same way you do your hands. Take the path of most resistance every day of your life.

2. Motivation is crap. Get obsessed

Motivation is crap. Because once you’re in an extreme situation, motivation goes away. Right now it’s 69 degrees outside, it’s sunny, with a little bit of wind. I’ve got a nice TV in front of me. If you were to watch a motivational video in this environment, boy, you’re going to think you’re a badass. You’re motivated now. But what happens when you get out of this nice environment? Life has to be damn near perfect for you to be motivated all the time.

I realized that about the human mind. I had to be more than motivated. I had to be more than driven. I had to be literally obsessed. To the point where people thought I was fucking nuts.

You want to get to the point in your life when all these things that you’re supposed to do that you don’t do every day bother you they haunt you, they eat away at you throughout the day. If you miss something you said you’d do and if you think “you know, what it’s not a big deal, I’ll do it tomorrow” you’re not there yet. 

3. Self-talk is your best friend

Self-talk, for me, has been the biggest thing in my life. A lot of us have a dialogue that is crap. It’s a crappy dialogue. We live in a world right now that is very external. Everything is very on the surface. Superficial. Everything out there is you trying to keep up with somebody. You’re not trying to find your own self. So you have to clear away all the crap. And how you clear away the crap to even get to your self-talk is you have to get all of the noise of all the crap of the world out of your head. So I call it going to a dark place. You have to get the noise out. Quiet your mind down before you can even have a real conversation with yourself.

So all day long I’m putting the positive self-talk in my subconscious. I’m making sure that I’m walking around all day long giving myself the proper fuel to attack the world. That’s why I work out hard every day. I work out hard every day because I know the first thing in the morning, what I do is I clean my room, I clean my house, I go for a run, I work out. I want to win the war in the morning so I have the strength to face what I’m going to face in the world.

If you do something you don’t want to do every morning you’re already giving yourself the proper self-talk. You’re already giving yourself the proper dialogue to attack the people that don’t like you. To attack your insecurities. To attack what the world is going to give you. You have to put the work behind what you’re saying and believe what you’re saying to yourself for that self-talk to become a reality in your subconscious. So now no matter what anybody says to you, no matter what you hear, you know the truth and you’re living through the truth, and no one can penetrate that. No one.

4. Forget work-life balance. Attack life.

If you want to pull every ounce out of yourself, you will not be balanced. That’s a hard fact. It will take early mornings, late nights, weekends, and disappointing friends and family, for that matter. The key words here are “If you are looking to pull every ounce out of yourself.” Don’t wonder why you are not great if you are enjoying a balanced life.

What you need to understand is that there is a great sacrifice that comes with trying to go to the next level in any arena in your life.

Don’t allow the voices of those around you who are not as hungry as you to affect how you want to attack life! As you must know, we are all different people. Allow yourself to be different! Allow yourself to feel the way you feel! Allow yourself to go against the grain! People who don’t have the same want as you will never understand who you are and what you are trying to accomplish, most of all, the discipline it will take to accomplish it.

Too many people die with a fully preserved body which to me is a waste of a good body. Most people think a good body is one with tons of gifts and potential. To me a good body is one that is alive.

I don’t want to die until I’m broken, rotted, and have squeezed every ounce out of myself! I’ll rest when I’m dead. Make sure when you leave this earth, your body is not preserved but rather used and bruised!

5. You only reach 40% of your potential

The 40 percent rule is something I designed also when I was growing up. I realized, that when I was almost 300 pounds and I lost all the weight to become a Navy SEAL, I realized that I could have lived the rest of my life being a 300-pound person, never knowing what was truly inside of me. I could have been happy with that person. I was living at about 40 percent. Maybe not even 40 percent.

So in life—it’s like a car. A lot of cars have governors on them. A governor is something where let’s say the speedometer says 130 miles an hour. You put a governor on a car, it may only go 91 miles an hour because that governor stops that car from going 130. We do the same thing to our brains. When our brain starts to go through suffering, when our brain starts to go through pain or starts to go through insecurities, when we start to feel uncomfortable with ourselves, our brain gives us a way out. And that way out is usually quitting or taking the easier route.

If we’re able to look at ourselves and face whatever we’re running from, we start to gain more percent on top of that 40. You start to realize okay, you start to slowly take that governor off your brain. We can do a lot more than we think. So it’s all about having the courage and realizing that we have a governor. We have to push past that governor and past your own mind games.

6. The “What If” mentality

I hit that roadblock every time. I was 300 pounds. I’ll never forget, I was 300 pounds… I went from 175 to 300 pounds and my goal was to be a Navy SEAL…Impossible goal.

And every Navy recruiter that saw me said that, besides one. Every recruiter said: There’s no way, man. You’re 297 pounds and you’re going to lose so much weight so fast.

I said to myself, “But what if I could?” What if… I could pull up this miracle? How will I feel at the very end if I can defy all the odds?

The what if mentality is… this guy told me: I was a 36 African American Navy SEAL in Navy SEAL history, in over 70 years. This guy told me there are only 35 African Americans to ever be a Navy SEAL. He was pretty much telling me: You ain’t got what it takes.

I took that and said: “ What if I could be the 36th?”. Versus taking what he said… All the negativity he’s putting on me because he can’t imagine himself doing what I’m about to do.

So, most people who can’t imagine it, they reflect. It’s like a mirror. They put that right on you. If they can’t see themselves doing it: I can’t see you doing it, I take that mirror and I totally discard it. I said What if I could be the 36th person to ever do it? I use all their negativity as positivity and fuel to get me to where I need to go.

Closing thoughts

One of the most famous Navy SEAL’s mottos is, “THE ONLY EASY DAY WAS YESTERDAY.”

Mental toughness is a lifestyle. It’s something that you live every single day of your life by doing things that you hate to do, by being comfortable doing the uncomfortable, and by deliberately injecting pain and suffering into your life to gain growth.

Life is a never-ending mind game – things that you say to yourself, things that you dream or believe in – and you’re constantly playing against yourself by trying to control your own actions and emotions regardless of the circumstances. The ability to control your own mind is forged by a nearly inhuman capacity to endure hardship, pain, suffering and losing.

This is mindful living – a life that is filled with discipline, purpose and drive. While it takes infinitely more effort than mindless living, it certainly pays off in the long run. You decide who you are and where you end up a year or 10 years from now. Don’t go through life simply reacting to your emotions and circumstances.

One question that Goggins was frequently asked was, “How do you improve?”

“Suffering and grinding,” he said.

Be careful that your supposed limitations are not self-declared. Don’t use it as a cop-out and excuse for your lack of grit and persistence.

My legacy would be: That was one guy right there that if you told him he couldn’t do it, he is going to find a way through all the doubt, through all the throes. That’s my legacy. A man who didn’t stop trying to achieve more.

David Goggins

Published by Anthony Tsang

I’m a bookworm, a sports & fitness addict, an adventurer, and more than anything else, I’m a permanent work-in-progress, always learning and evolving till the day I die.

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