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The Profile Dossier: David Goggins, the Toughest Athlete on the Planet
“Sometimes you have to go to the darkness to find the light.”
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David Goggins grew up living in fear.
At school, he experienced incessant bullying and racism. At home, he suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his own father.
“The most important conversation you’ll ever have is the conversation you have with yourself — and my conversation was absolutely horrifying," Goggins says. "I thought I was dumb. I was a nobody. I was a loser.”
By the time Goggins was in his early 20s, he had asthma, a learning disability, a stutter, and crushingly low self-esteem. He was earning less than $1,000 a month spraying for cockroaches.
One night, he came home with a 42-ounce shake from Steak and Shake and sat down in front of the TV. He stumbled upon a documentary on the U.S. Navy SEALs that changed the trajectory of his entire life.
"I saw this show on the Discovery Channel, and it was just guys going through Hell Week. They were freezing, there was a lot of water, and it brought back memories of me going through para-rescue training,” Goggins says. “So at 297 pounds, I decided to try to be a Navy SEAL.”
Goggins, who did in fact weigh nearly 300 pounds, honored his word. Through relentless determination and grit, he has completed three Navy SEAL “hell weeks," more than 50 endurance races, and holds the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups (4,030) in 24 hours. (Here’s an exhaustive list of his super-human athletic achievements.)
Goggins believes that you must do something that sucks every single day because suffering begets growth.
"If you can get through doing things that you hate to do, on the other side is greatness,” he says.
On defying the odds: Goggins went through unimaginable suffering, and he used it as fuel to reach his full potential. In this memoir, he paints a bleak picture of his childhood, which was full of poverty, racism, and physical abuse. It details how he overcame a lifetime of struggle to become mentally and physically unshakeable. “You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft that you will die without ever realizing your true potential,” he writes.
On becoming mentally tough: In 2010, entrepreneur Jesse Itzler invited Goggins to live with him for a month after seeing him compete in a 24-hour ultramarathon. He completely upends Itzler’s routines, fitness, and life.
On gaining control of your life: Goggins participated in the Badwater 135, which requires participants to run 135 miles in 24 hours in the peak heat of Death Valley. To qualify, he had to first run a 100-mile race in San Diego, but he had never run long-distance before. Goggins peed blood, nearly passed out, and endured stress fractures — but he finished the race. This one is a must-watch.
On becoming immune to pain: Goggins has lived through the unthinkable to strengthen his mind and body. He opens up about his abusive childhood, reveals his belief in the dark power of suffering, and explains how to make yourself immune to pain.
On building mental toughness: How can you win the war in your mind? In this video, Goggins discusses why it’s important to double down on your weaknesses rather than your strengths and why he doesn’t think “positive self-talk” is effective.
On developing true confidence: Doing hard things and choosing the path of most resistance is what builds authentic confidence. Many of us, Goggins says, want the results without the process. We often forget that pain is necessary to make progress. "You’ve got to start diving into those things that you are afraid of," he says. "You don’t gain confidence by going to the spot that makes you feel good.”
On creating an alter ego: Goggins believes he was built, not born. He created a separate identity that distanced him from his past of bullying, fear, and abuse. He explains why he sometimes refers to himself in the third person: "I had to create 'Goggins,' because 'David Goggins' was a weak kid. So I created 'Goggins,'" he says. "I wanted to be proud of who I was."
TECHNIQUES TO TRY.
Follow the 40% rule: The 40% rule is the reason why even though most people hit a wall at mile 16 during a marathon, they’re still able to finish. The rule is simple: When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done. “A lot of cars have governors on them at, let’s say, 91 miles an hour. It may only go 91 miles an hour because the governor stops it from going 130. We do the same thing to our brain,” he says. “When we get uncomfortable, our brain gives us a way out — usually quitting or taking the easier route.” Face the task, keep going, and build on top of that 40%.
Don't wait for motivation to hit: Goggins doesn't believe in motivation. "Motivation is crap. Motivation comes and goes," he says. Drive and purpose are the only things that matter. "Because when you’re driven, whatever is in front of you, whether it’s racism, sexism, injuries, divorce, depression, obesity, tragedy, or poverty, it becomes fuel for your metamorphosis," he says.
Face the accountability mirror: When Goggins decided to become a Navy SEAL, he looked at his reflection in the mirror and said, "You’re fat, you’re lazy, and you’re a liar. What are you going to do about it?” This sounds harsh, but Goggins says that he needed to face the insecurities life gave him head on in order to overcome them. He created something he called the “Accountability Mirror.” He pasted sticky notes around the outside of the mirror outlining the practical steps he needed to take to achieve his goals. They would say things like, "Go one day without lying for external validation" and "Go on a 2-mile run." If you're not happy with your reflection, Goggins suggests asking yourself, "What am I going to do today to change what I see in the mirror?"
Do one thing every day that sucks: By doing something you don’t want to do, you “callous” the mind. Often, that means acting against your first instinct. It’s pouring rain outside? Go run anyway. Your house is a mess but you’re tired? Clean it anyway. “For a period of time, your brain doesn’t like it, but it starts to realize that this is a new way of thinking,” he says. That way of thinking, however, puts you on the offensive and gets you out of lazy, comfortable routines. "I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort," Goggins says.
Start over every day: When you're striving for a goal, you're all in and you're putting in every ounce of energy you have to achieve it. But once you've "arrived," that mentality begins to fade. “Everybody has these bars,” Goggins says, whether it's becoming the CEO or losing 25 pounds. “You have these bars and once you get there, you’ve made it. There’s a party. There’s a big celebration. There’s a trophy. Maybe there’s a bonus check. Who knows what it is, but it’s a completion of something.” Goggins doesn't have a bar. No matter how many races he wins, books he sells, or records he sets, he refuses to think he’s “made it.” Use every day as a blank slate to achieve something new and better yourself in some way.
Open the cookie jar: When you're in a stressful situation, grab something in your mind that was particularly challenging, and focus on the fact that you overcame it. It reminds you that you'll get through this too. “It helps you tackle what’s in front of you right now,” Goggins says. “And usually, what’s in front of you isn’t as big as you make it out to be.”
WORDS TO REMEMBER.
“You have to have friction in your life to gain growth. And the only way to do that is to make yourself uncomfortable.”
“Mindset is the great equalizer. I came from nothing special. What was different about me was that I wanted to figure myself out.”
“Nobody cares what you did yesterday. What have you done today to better yourself?”
“Sometimes you have to go to the darkness to find the light.”
"When you look in the mirror, that's the one person you can't lie to."
"Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit. But it's what you do at that moment that determines who you are."
“You can’t read somebody else’s book about some theory on how to do shit, some guy who sat up in their nice warm office and wrote some book with a nice cup of coffee in the fucking hand, no. I wanna see that guy who immersed himself in fucking hell… and found out a way to get through it.”
“Pain unlocks a secret doorway in the mind, one that leads to both peak performance and beautiful silence.”