Like so many who achieve and surpass their goals, David Goggins understands that it is often our minds, not our bodies that create obstacles and throw us off track.
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It is what the 41-year-old former navy SEAL and ultra-marathon runner refers to as the 40 per cent rule.
In a new book, entrepreneur Jesse Itzler describes how he hired Goggins to be his live-in trainer for one month ahead of a race.
David Goggins. Photo: Facebook
Goggins – known as the “SEAL” – explains to him that when our minds tell us we are finished, we are only at 40 per cent of our capacity. This is how so many people (as much as 99 per cent of starters) finish a marathon; they break through the inevitable mental barrier that hits them at some point during the race.
“The first day that ‘SEAL’ came to live with me he asked me to do – he said how many pull-ups can you do?,” writes Itzler in Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.
“I did about eight.
“And he said all right. Take 30 seconds and do it again. So 30 seconds later I got up on the bar and I did six, struggling. And he said all right, one more time. We waited 30 seconds and I barely got three or four and I was done. I mean couldn’t move my arms done.
David Goggins. Photo: Facebook
“And he said all right. We’re not leaving here until you do 100 more. And I thought there’s no – well we’re going to be here for quite a long time because there’s no way that I could do 100. But I ended up doing it one at a time and he showed me, proved to me right there that there was so much more, we’re all capable of so much more than we think we are. And it was just a great lesson.”
In a new interview, Goggins, who once held the World Record for most pull-ups done in 24-hours (4025), insists his message is about finding ways to challenge our beliefs about our capabilities, not to all become masochists.
“It’s not about pushing yourself until you die,” Goggins tells Rich Roll in a new podcast. “It’s about not giving up when something is uncomfortable – that’s what the message is.”
Goggins intimately understands how we hold ourselves back by telling ourselves we are incapable.
He grew up in an abusive home where his father beat him up, was bullied at school, stuttered and was, at one stage, obese. The first time he ran, he made it only 400 metres.
“I saw myself as the weakest man on the planet,” Goggins reveals, “and I wanted to change that.
“Instead of making it ‘woe is me’… I changed my thought process.”
As he challenged his perceived weakness, taking on physical challenges, he uncovered his self-doubt.
“Before you start a goal – let’s take care of our insecurities because they are going to surface when you put yourself in the crucible and you’re suffering,” says Goggins, who has been a top finisher in 10 of the world’s most difficult ultramarathons.
“What keeps the person in the fight is having a purpose – leave the ego at the door, because the ego will kill you every time, you will always quit.”
Every time he told himself he should quit, he reminded himself of the pain he had endured and how he had made it through.
“When you’re in hell, you forget how great you really are because you’re suffering and you forget the great things you’ve done,” he explains.
While Goggins believes he has now gained the insight into himself he needed from running ultramarathons (and doing 4025 pull-ups in one hit), he says it has taught him that even when he fails “20 times trying”, he is far more capable than he ever believed and he hopes to help others realise they are too.
“People think you need to have all this stuff [to achieve] and they have this thing like ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ – if I had that mindset one damn time in my life, I’d be a 400 pound man spraying for cockroaches still,” Goggins says.
“My whole thing now is I know how to think properly to be successful in all aspects of my life. It’s not about ultra running, or being a SEAL or pull-up records, it’s about if you want to be better you have to change your perceived limitations and take the barriers down.”
Breaking barriers in our minds to create breakthroughs
Many experts in mindset understand that growth and success in any area of our life starts with our minds.
“Big changes can come in small packages,” reminds author of Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss. “To dramatically change your life, you don’t need to run a 100-mile race, get a PhD, or completely reinvent yourself. It’s the small things, done consistently, that are the big things.”
Philanthropist and author Tony Robbins adds that we cultivate change with these small things by starting “at the root: a shift in perspective”.
“It’s these small changes that can lead to shifts in behaviour, and cumulate over time to create one massive transformation.”
To shift perspective and cultivate courage to change and grow in the face of challenge, Michaela Haas, author of Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs suggests many methods. These include anchoring with the breath, identifying unhelpful patterns, practicing compassion and daring to explore.