“No one’s coming to save you.” –David Goggins
The ancient Greeks recognized that the world is a tough place. Given that it is constantly testing everyone, they also realized that character is destiny. The initial circumstances you find yourself in are often outside your control. However, whether you sink or swim is determined by your reaction to these conditions.
While Lady Fortuna’s strange ways can take away just as much as they give, fate is a conscious choice. Even if the world hasn’t dealt you a good hand, it is up to you to decide whether to fold or instead go down fighting.
For the ancient Stoics, Hercules was considered the model to follow. As a young man he was given a choice. Two goddesses appeared, telling him to pick a path in life. He could have taken the easy road. Instead, the hero chose the hard path, the one of struggle.
What the ancients taught, I learned on my own through life experiences. Growing up, I believed that fame, power and fortune were the things to aim at. As I got older, I realized that the real value is in internal growth.
It’s about building a strength of character. That’s what allows you to succeed, even if the road you head on is full of obstacles. Success in life is not just about the outcome, but also the journey that takes you there.
Ursula Le Guin, perhaps utilizing this wisdom as the basis of her novels, summarized the ultimate lesson well:
“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” — Ursula Le Guin
Peeking into Someone’s Soul
The books a person reads are a window into their soul. Here I will sneak a peek into mine. Recently, I picked up the autobiography of David Goggins “Can’t Hurt Me”.
Rarely does a book have such an impact on me. Reading it, I found myself full of motivation. My eyes having scanned through the pages, I became filled with a strange urge to get physical. I didn’t just want to read, but I wanted to do.
In an instant, I got off the chair and went outside to run, almost killing myself in the process. Despite not having done a sprint in half a year, I ran as hard as I could. Boy, does that make you want to throw up!
After coming back inside, I devoured anything I could find on David Goggins. Raised in tough family circumstances, a perpetual underachiever, one day he decided he has had enough. Almost overnight he turned from being a lazy slacker to an actual Navy SEAL. An overweight man constantly snacking on Twinkies became someone who runs ultramarathons for fun.
In order to uncover a bit more about his character, I searched on the internet. One of the first things I came across was his interview with Joe Rogan, a juggernaut of podcasting. Immediately I found myself drawn in, fascinated by the give and take between the two.
From the way he carries himself to the words he uses, there is only one adjective that completely describes Goggins: intense. The man is one walking massive “block of carbon steel”, as Jesse Itzler described him. Yet, in talking to Joe, David let it all hang out.
The Choice of David Goggins
Through his mild manners and curiosity to find out more about what makes someone tick, Joe Rogan has the ability to dig out all the small nuggets of wisdom. Every person’s experiences teach lessons, and David could write an entire textbook filled with them.
With a mischievous smile, Joe prodded David into opening up. Life is often like a hero’s journey where most people don’t get past the first stage. David perfectly epitomizes what it means to go from ordinary to extraordinary. Just like anyone, he too has an origin story.
“Boom and we are live,” Joe Rogan starts off with a bang. Sensing that he has a special person sitting in front of him, he shares something that surprised him.
“You are the only guy I’ve ever had in the studio where when I showed up you were working out.”
That remark puts David at ease. He smiles: “That’s what I do, man! That’s my life.”
Joe goes on laughing: “It’s pretty crazy though!”
Right off the bat, we catch a glimpse of what makes David Goggins David Goggins. The man is a legend.
Yet, he wasn’t always like this. When he was younger, his ordinary life routine consisted of going back and forth from a job he wasn’t too fond of, eating junk food, and watching TV. Later in the interview, David shares the moment where he decided enough was enough.
Munching on burgers and shakes, he was flipping through channels on TV. Suddenly, a show featuring a bunch of guys getting wet and sandy caught his attention. From the grins on their faces, it was obvious they were facing the hardest physical challenge of their lives. It was Navy SEAL selection time.
David was intrigued. He looked around and didn’t like what he saw. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, a fat, broken man was starring back at him. The cold, dark beach on the screen was where he wanted to be at.
Crossing the Threshold
Something stirred inside of David that night. He started calling different Navy recruiters, but nobody was biting. None of them believed that this 6’1 almost 300 pound guy was SEAL material. Luckily, one sailor headhunter gave him a chance.
Now he only had to shed 100 pounds and pass a knowledge test. In 3 months! Sounds impossible right? Turns out, David awakened a fire inside himself. He realized that up until that point he was just trying to do comfortable things, taking the easy road.
A cognitive dissonance set in, one that was eating away at him. Being lazy is a cope. The more comfortable he got, the more uncomfortable his mind was. The need to get rid of this bad mental feeling drove him.
“The more things I found comfortable, the more uncomfortable my mind was.” — David Goggins
David reflected on his fears and insecurities, and realized that no one was going to save him. It was up to him. The choice was simple. Either at the end of your life look back and regret the guy he never became, or work hard and try to achieve something.
There is no shame in failing, as long as you put all your effort into it.
During the interview with Joe Rogan, David reflected on what it took to finally get away from his old self. He had to invent a guy he wanted to be.
“I had to invent a guy. A guy that can take any pain, any suffering, any kind of judgment.” — David Goggins
Buddhists state that the world is a never-ending series of pains. David Goggins came to this realization by himself. That’s just the way reality is. Don’t complain, but embrace it.
According to Goggins, what you need to do is harden yourself. He calls it “callousing your mind”. Just like when you are working out with weights initially your hands are soft. However, after years of lifting weights, calluses form on your palms, and pushing barbells no longer hurts.
The same thing happens with your mind. Intentionally putting yourself through hard things strengthens it. The knowledge of having overcome these hard things is powerful. When down the line your mind faces challenges, it can draw upon this to pull through.
I can only concur. I used to be quite soft, giving up when the going got tough. Yet, at one point I started to put myself in front of doing hard things. I went to Thailand to train martial arts in the tropical heat. I started climbing mountains, huffing and puffing to get to the top of the likes of Mt. Kilimanjaro or Mt. Blanc.
While this has nothing on David’s achievements, personally it has given me great mental strength. Based on these successes, I have gained confidence. Things that appear out of reach at first glance are usually quite achievable if you put your mind to it. The impossible is perfectly possible for a person with a calloused mind.
Invent the person you want to be, and work hard on becoming that person. That’s what a successful life is all about.
Win Over Your Pain
At the core of Goggins’s life philosophy lies the need to face your pain and conquer it. Have a hunger inside of you. The lesson is to never be satisfied, but instead constantly be striving. Find out what you are made of.
Your fears merely reflect your past. They don’t define you. What defines you is how you face them. In his book “Can’t Hurt Me”, Goggins describes the greatest failing of modern culture.
“Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort.” — David Goggins
Everyone wants to find the easy road, the one of least resistance. People are hooked on magic thinking, wanting the universe to provide for them, always on the lookout for the quick fix. Sometimes luck intervenes, and people do find “success”. Yet, for Goggins this is not real. This type of success doesn’t lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery.
Only with a calloused mind, and real mastery over yourself can you put your mind at peace. This always requires hard work to achieve.
“If you want to master the mind and remove your governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.” — David Goggins
No one is coming to save you. You are the only one who can save yourself. This requires you to race you. As Luke found out in the dark cave on Dagobah, your greatest enemy is always the older version of you. A mindset shift is needed if you want to emerge on top.
Armed with a lifetime of experience, Goggins discovered that you are usually working on only 40% of your potential. It’s mind over matter. Running ultramarathons for 24 hours, sometimes 48 hours straight, David was able to muster all the hidden reserves that he found inside of him.
Science agrees. In a classic text of psychology, psychologist William James described the wonderful potential of all humans to tap their inner energy to accomplish great things. Everyone can find powers “we never dreamed ourselves to own”.
How to Apply
“Tell yourself the truth! That you’ve wasted enough time, and that you have other dreams that will take courage to realize, so you don’t die a fucking pussy.” — David Goggins
There are no nuances in David Goggins’s worldview. You either go hard, or go hard. There is no other option. Yet, he wasn’t always like this. Just like any hero, David Goggins had to undergo different steps in his life journey.
Step 1: Ordinary World. David had a troubled childhood. At 24 years of age, he was fat and working a job he hated.
Step 2: Call to Adventure. However one day, he saw a documentary on Navy Seal selection, which awakened an urge inside him.
Step 3: Refusal of the Call. At first he thought he didn’t have what it takes.
Step 4: Meeting with the Mentor. After getting rejected by many Navy recruiters, David finally met one who believed in him and gave him a chance.
Step 5: Crossing the Threshold. David started training, forcing himself to be self-disciplined.
Step 6: The Challenges. On the journey, David encountered many problems, setbacks, and failures. He ended up in the hospital several times with grave injuries, including once even needing a heart surgery.
Step 7: Approach to the Inner-Most Cave. David wanted to quit many times, but always managed to get his mind to force him not to.
Step 8: The Ordeal. David realized that his past didn’t define him, and that he could create a new future for himself.
Step 9: The Reward. Through his relentless drive, David became a Navy SEAL, an ultramarathon runner, and satisfied with his life.
Step 10: Road Back. He has learned many lessons on his way, and tries to inspire others to harden themselves up.
Step 11: The Resurrection. From a man almost down and out, David has become a legend.
Step 12: The Return with the Elixir. The hero, now enlightened, gives back to the community.
David perhaps only re-discovered something that the ancients have always known. Socrates said it best when he stated that it is self-discipline that is the most important component of pleasure.
“It is self-discipline, above all things, that causes pleasure.“ — Socrates
Acknowledging that life is suffering will allow you to take control of your existence. Don’t take the path of least resistance. Work on hardening your body. It will benefit your mind.
An earlier version of this article was originally published on “Medium” here.