Regardless of your upbringing or the cards that life dealt you, you have the capacity for greatness. David Goggins shares his story to illuminate a proven path to self-mastery and empower you to face reality, hold yourself accountable, push past pain, learn to love what you fear, relish failure, live to your fullest potential and find out who you really are.
Goggins was raised in Buffalo, New York in a nice, suburban neighborhood. On the surface, his life looked like the American Dream. But in reality, it was a nightmare. His father, Trunnis Goggins, built one of Buffalo’s first roller skating rinks and David spent every evening working the concession stand or renting out skates. When Skateland closed at 10pm, he would clean the rink with his brother and mother for a few hours before falling asleep on the office sofa.
Trunnis cheated on his mother frequently and was physically and emotionally abusive, but she had no independent means whatsoever, so she couldn’t leave him. He often beat David and his brother, too. Finally, a neighbor encouraged his mother to plan her escape. She got a credit card in her name and left Goggins. She took David and his brother to her parents’ house in Indiana, where they lived for the next six months.
He enrolled in second grade at a local Catholic school, where his teacher spent extra time with him because he was struggling with the lessons. David and his mother moved into their own place. His brother, Trunnis Jr., went back to Buffalo within a few months to live with his dad.
Challenge #1: Get a journal and write about the current factors that are limiting your growth and success.
When David was in fourth grade, his mom met Wilmoth, a successful carpenter. Soon, they got engaged. He became a healthy father figure, but a few weeks before they were supposed to move to Indianapolis with him, Wilmoth was tragically murdered. David and his mom decided to move anyway.
David cheated his way through his first year of high school and started playing on the freshman basketball team. He hung out with a bad crowd, and they soon moved back to Brazil, Indiana, where he experienced bullying and racism. One day, his notebook had a death threat written on it, but even the principal wouldn’t help him. When someone vandalized his car with racial slurs, the principal was, again, at a loss for words.
David decided to enlist in the Air Force after graduation, but he failed the ASVAB, the standardized test that the military uses to assess your knowledge and future potential. He almost failed out of high school, but he decided to get his act together. He set goals and held himself accountable. During his senior year, all he did was work out, play basketball and study. He failed the ASVAB again, but finally passed the third time he took it.
Challenge #2: Write all of your insecurities, dreams and goals on Post-Its and put them on your mirror.
David joined the Air Force, but struggled immensely with the swimming tests because he didn’t learn how to swim as a child. The Air Force doctors found the Sickle Cell Trait, which was believed at the time to increase the risk of sudden, exercise-related death due to cardiac arrest. They gave him the option to drop out and he took it. He served out his four years in the Tactical Air Control Party instead and always felt ashamed. He buried his shame in the gym and at the kitchen table and gained 125 pounds.
One day, he saw a Navy SEAL commercial and decided he wanted to join. He called all the active duty recruiting offices until he finally found a local unit of the Naval reserves that was willing to take him. He needed to lose 106 pounds and score at least a 50 on the ASVAB, and after months of training and studying, he did it.
Challenge #3: Write down all the things you don’t like to do or that make you uncomfortable. Now go do one of them.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training was six months long and divided into three phases. The first phase is physical training, the second phase is dive training, and the third phase is land warfare training. Hell Week is the third week of training and it tests your physical and mental endurance. It was one hundred and thirty straight hours of unimaginable pain and exhaustion. Above everything else, Hell Week was a mind game.
This is when David developed the Taking Souls concept, the idea that you can find your own reserve power to overcome every life obstacle. Take inventory of your mind and body. List out your insecurities and weaknesses, as well as your opponent’s. Master your weaknesses and use your competitor’s vulnerabilities to your advantage. Never forget that all emotional and physical anguish ends eventually.
Challenge #4: Choose any competitive situation that you’re in right now. Work harder on that project than you ever have before.
Hell Week is designed to show you that a human is capable of much more than you know. 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 weak impulses to give in so you can power through any obstacle.
But even the strongest mind can’t heal broken bones, and Goggins was eventually sent home from training due to a fractured knee. He spent the summer rehabbing his knee and decided to return to training for a third time. Before he left, he got his ex-wife pregnant.
He went back for his third training, committed to finishing for himself and his future family. His shins developed fractures and his knee was still healing, but he pushed himself and made it through and graduated.
Challenge #5: Choose any obstacle in your way and visualize overcoming or achieving it.
After Operation Red Wings went horribly wrong, Goggins wanted to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit to help surviving family members. He found a race called Badwater 135, an ultra marathon, and called Chris Kostman, the race director. Kostman said he had to run at least one 100-mile race as a prerequisite. That’s how Goggins ended up running the San Diego One Day with only three days’ notice and zero training.
After seventy miles, he collapsed. Covered in blood and diarrhea, he returned to the race, thinking of all of the times he overcame odds and tasted success. He pushed through, and even ran an extra mile. If he could run 101 miles with zero training, imagine what he could do with a little preparation.
Challenge #6: Write about the obstacles you’ve overcome in life and let your past victories carry you forward.
When Goggins told Kostman that he finished the race, he was unimpressed. So Goggins signed up for a second 100-mile race, the Hurt 100. It covered 24,500 vertical feet. It was brutal, but he finished that race too. And Kostman accepted his Badwater application.
Most people give up when we’re around 40% of our maximum effort. Goggins calls this the 40% Rule. There will always be challenges that will tempt us to give up. But you can slowly tap into your reserve 60 percent if you understand the power of your mind.
He trained hard for the Badwater race even though his body was worn down. He ran, hiked, sweat and suffered through 135 miles and completed in fifth place. After the race, he realized that there is always more to be done. Life doesn’t have a finish line.
Challenge #7: Push past your normal stopping point. Push beyond your 40%.
Ultra racing was all about heart and hard work, and Goggins became hooked. After Badwater, he entered an Ultraman triathlon in Kona, Hawaii – 6.2 miles of swimming, 261 miles of biking, and a double marathon.
He was two minutes behind first place when the front tire of his bike blew. He somersaulted over the handlebars and landed on his right shoulder. Nothing was broken except the bike. He didn’t have a spare tire, so he had to get the back up bike that he brought, which set him back 20 minutes. He planned to make up lost time during the running portion, but his body didn’t agree. Ultimately, he finished second place. He got good publicity because of the races, and thus, the Navy was getting good publicity. He joined the recruitment division in 2007 and started speaking on behalf of the Navy SEALs.
One day, he was called into a meeting with Admiral Ed Winters, a two-star Admiral and the top man at Naval Special Warfare Command. He asked for help enlisting more black people in Special Forces. He started traveling around the country, speaking to over 500,000 people at high schools and universities. Throughout, he continued running ultra races.
Suddenly, he started having heart problems. Doctors found that he had an Atrial Septal Defect, which meant that he had a hole in his heart. Three days later, he was in surgery, but it didn’t change much. He needed a second heart surgery.
Challenge #8: For one week, take detailed notes about how you spend your time. In week two, build an optimal schedule. By week three, you should have a working schedule that maximizes your effort without sacrificing sleep.
When Goggins was twenty-seven years old, he moved to Malaysia for SEAL Qualification Training. After his first evaluation, he started studying the other branches in the military and read up on their special forces. He went to Army Ranger School and was appointed first sergeant in command. He graduated from Ranger School in 2004.
He went straight from Ranger School to Coronado, California to meet up with his second platoon. He trained his men hard, but his Chief and OIC told him that he needed to give them a break. He eased up, except a guy named Sledge, who trained with Goggins every morning at 4am.
Challenge #9: Find a way to stand out, repeatedly, until you stand-alone. Continue to put obstacles in front of yourself, because that’s where you’ll find the friction that will help you grow even stronger.
After his heart issues finally got taken care of, Goggins went back to being a SEAL. He based in Honolulu in a unit called SDV, SEAL Delivery Vehicles. Then, in 2012, Goggins tried to break the world record for most pull-ups in a twenty-four-hour period. He went on The Today Show to raise publicity and money. After 2,500 pull-ups, he gave up. He had failed. Reflecting on what went wrong, he returned to Honolulu and began training again.
The second time he tried, he developed rhabdomyolysis, a phenomenon that happens when one muscle group is worked way too hard for way too long. His muscles were shutting down, and his skin was peeling off. He had failed again. But he was determined to try again. On January 20th, 2013, he broke the world record with 4,030 total pull-ups.
Challenge #10: Think about your most recent and most heart-wrenching failure. Write about the good things that happened. Write about the things you can fix.
At thirty-eight years old, his physical health was finally catching up to him. For reasons no doctor could figure out, he was dying. At his lowest point, he found clarity. All of the rage that he’d ever had at the world – for being teased, abused, and harassed – evaporated. He let it go.
When he noticed some knots in his neck, he remembered a fellow SEAL member who healed his injuries through stretching. So he decided to give it a shot. The more he stretched, the more his condition improved.
He retired from the military as a Chief in the Navy in 2015 and became a wildland firefighter in Montana. The most important conversations are the ones you have with yourself. When obstacles get in your way, challenge them with one simple question – what if?
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