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How David Goggins Used Pain to Create an Unstoppable Mind

There’s tough – and then there’s David Goggins.

Running an ultramarathon is tough. Goggins ran his first one without even training, completing the last 30 miles of the 100-mile race with all of the metatarsal bones in both feet broken.

Going through Navy SEAL Hell Week is tough. Goggins did it three times, with a hole in his heart.

Doing 1,000 pull-ups is tough. Goggins did 4,025 in 19 hours, to break the record for most pull-ups in  a day.

Hey, there’s a reason most features on the guy start by referring to him as “the hardest man alive”. There’s certainly an argument to be made that he deserves the title.

What makes his tenacity even more impressive, however, is that he wasn’t always like this. Before he was the shredded Navy SEAL ultra-athlete, he was a 300-pound exterminator with an addiction to chocolate donuts and milkshakes.

So, how did David Goggins go from insecure and overweight to one of the fittest, toughest, most confident people on the planet? By changing his habits. Let’s look at some of those specific habits, and see how you can apply them to your own life.

How David Goggins Used Pain to Create an Unstoppable Mind

Many people are shocked to hear that David doesn’t actually like running, swimming, public speaking, jumping out of planes, shooting guns, or many of the other activities he does on a daily basis. In fact, according to him, he hates them.

But that, believe it or not, is exactly why he does them.

For instance, what better way to stop being afraid of your own shadow, as David describes his younger self, than to join one of the most high-speed special operations military units in the world? What better way to overcome a fear of water than to go through the grueling Navy SEALs water training, where trainees are thrown into a pool with their arms and legs tied?

While many of us avoid the things we fear, David Goggins runs towards them. While we seek comfort, he searches for suffering.

And he stresses the fact that these physical challenges he puts himself through aren’t about lifting the most weight, having the most impressive abs, or running the best marathon time – though he’s got quite a few top 5 finishes under his belt.

No, these physical challenges are not about the physical at all, but the mental toughness that they force him to build. David is a believer in “callousing the mind”, in training his mind by pushing his body.

Pain unlocks a secret doorway in the mind, one that leads to both peak performance, and beautiful silence.”

That’s why he almost always trains alone and never listens to music when he works out, whether he’s lifting weights at the gym or running 135 miles through Death Valley during the Badwater 135. It’s just him, his mind, his body, and his soul – each being pushed to their limits. There’s nowhere for him to hide and nothing to distract him from what’s in front of him.

But of course, there is something of a method to his madness, so let’s break down some of his smaller habits and look at how we can make them work for us.

Do Things That Hurt

David is a big believer in doing something uncomfortable every single day.

Do something that makes you uncomfortable every day. Get out of your comfort zone.”

Now, in his case, this “uncomfortable” thing may be running through a blizzard while wearing a weighted vest. But we’re not saying you have to go that extreme.

However, there’s still something we all can learn by this rather simple yet scary habit.

Maybe your uncomfortable thing is something social, like cold calling a couple clients or asking someone out to coffee. It could be something physical, like sticking to a diet or going for a run. Or perhaps it’s something mental, like studying harder.

But to be clear, though you don’t have to push it to the limits that Goggins does, it should still be something that “sucks”, that you “hate”, not just something that’s mildly inconvenient. And you have to do it every day.

There is no better way to grow as a person than to do something you hate every day.

Take a Long, Hard Look in the Mirror

David has a lot of wisdom to share. But as he’s quick to point out, most of it didn’t come from books.

Instead, his knowledge came from learning about himself, by going inside and figuring out who he was and is, his strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears. And to do this, you have to be accountable.

You have to stop living in denial, to learn to assess your life and your performance accurately and honestly.

Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.

That’s why Goggins developed his mirror routine. Each day, as he shaves his head, he looks at himself in the mirror, and asks some straightforward questions. How did I attack today/yesterday? Did I get the things accomplished that I set out to? Did I give my best effort?

If something is bothering him, if he feels he didn’t live up to some goal that he set, he writes it down on a sticky note. And then he sets out to fix that thing so that it’s no longer weighing on him.

When’s the last time you took a few minutes to look at yourself and your life and make an honest assessment? Take some time with your “Accountability Mirror” each day and you’ll learn more about yourself than you ever could from a book.

The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself.

Change the Way You Talk To Yourself

If you listen to David Goggins speak for more than a few minutes, you’ll likely pick up on another theme, which is how much he stresses self-talk.

“Self-talk” is how we talk to or about ourselves in our mind, and as David points out, it can be one of our biggest strengths – or our greatest weakness.

Let’s say you have a project to get done. You could convince yourself it’s a difficult project, that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you’re not going to get it done well or on time. Or you can tell yourself that it’s an easy project, that you’ve done work like this a thousand times, and that you’ll do whatever you have to to get it done.

Which version do you think will better help you complete the project successfully?

The first one, of course.

We have the ability to make very easy things seem impossible. Stop losing the mind game against yourself.”

Many of us have very toxic, negative self-talk. We tell ourselves that we’re stupid, that we’re ugly, that we never do anything right.

But if you want to be successful, that has to change. Start paying attention to your self-talk, then make the effort to replace your negative self-talk with a more positive conversation.

One of the best ways to become more aware of what we say to ourselves and how ridiculous and vicious it can be is to write it down. So, start today by writing down at least 3 things you said to yourself today. If they’re negative, think about how you could change them to something more empowering.

Add these daily habits to your list:

  1. Do at least one thing that makes you uncomfortable – embrace the suck and push your comfort zone by doing something that you dread
  2. Have a conversation with yourself in the mirror – hold yourself accountable by looking yourself in the face and assessing whether you’re giving your best effort
  3. Write down at least 3 instances of self-talk – pay attention to how you talk to yourself throughout the day and start using language that inspires you rather than discourages

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