Book Notes: Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

Reading Time: 19 minutes

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

Publisher : Lioncrest Publishing (2018)

ISBN-13 : 978-1544512280

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Per his author biography, David Goggins is a “retired Navy SEAL and the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces ever to complete SEAL training, U.S. Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training” .  Outside of the military, he is a world-class and record-setting athlete who’s competed in over 60 ultramarathons, triathlons, and ultra-triathlons. He is also a public speaker, author, and a Guiness World Record holder for most pull-ups in 24 hours.

None of this came easy. Goggins overcame a childhood full of trauma, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. Among other things, his father once pointed a loaded gun at Goggins, age eight. He developed severe anxiety that culminated in a stutter, and had learning disabilities in school that made it hard to keep up academically. At one point, he was severely overweight and with limited to no employment prospects. As he says, in addition to all these challenges, he was also African American, and in all likelihood, he should have become a statistic.

I grew up beat down and abused, filtered uneducated through a system that rejected me at every turn, until I took ownership and started to change. Since then I’d been obese. I was married and divorced. I had two heart surgeries, taught myself to swim, and learned to run on broken legs. I was terrified of heights, then took up high altitude sky diving. Water scared the living shit out of me, yet I became a technical diver and underwater navigator, which is several degrees of difficulty beyond scuba diving. I competed in more than sixty ultra distance races, winning several, and set a pull-up record. I stuttered through my early years in primary school and grew up to become the Navy SEALs’ most trusted public speaker. I’d served my country on the battlefield. Along the way I became driven to make sure that I could not be defined by the abuse I was born into or the bullying that I grew up with. I wouldn’t be defined by talent either, I didn’t have much, or my own fears and weaknesses. (271)

Goggins writes about the mindset and strategy that enabled him to overcome what should have been overwhelming odds. He lays a path for anyone who wants to excel to follow; for those who want to succeed, mentally and physically, and to turn their weaknesses into fuel for success.

Goggins writes that we all make habitual, self-limiting choices. Many of us are complacent and comfortable, content to live at probably about 40% of our true potential or capacity. However, we all have the potential to be so much more. We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and stretch ourselves to do so much more than we believe we ourselves are capable of. We can’t use our past or our present as an excuse for seeking comfort, or not challenging ourselves. We can all perform better than we believe.

We need to seek out challenges, learn to embrace pain and suffering, and master our mind, so that we can live a bold and accomplished life. If we are able to push past pain, learn to relish failure, face reality and hold ourselves accountable, we will be able to live life on our own terms, at our fullest potential, and find out who we really are.

Doing things—even small things—that make you uncomfortable will help make you strong. The more often you get uncomfortable the stronger you’ll become, and soon you’ll develop a more productive, can-do dialogue with yourself in stressful situations. (77)

It’s a compelling argument, one I largely agree with. A major downside of this mindset is that if you aren’t careful, it can lead to a life of eternal striving that leaves you constantly dissatisfied. He himself warns you that you will never be satisfied, and that he was rarely happy during this process.

I missed out on so much. I didn’t have a lot of fun. Happiness wasn’t my cocktail of choice. My brain had me on constant blast. I lived in fear and doubt, terrified of being a nobody and contributing nothing. I’d judged myself constantly and I’d judged everyone else around me, too (273)

However, happiness is not the only marker or goal in a meaningful life. One can strive for a meaningful or service-oriented life, and happiness may or may not be a by-product of these choices. If you’re clear on your values and your goals, embracing the mindset of developing yourself to your fullest potential can be very helpful to many people.

As long as you keep an open mind, let go of self-limiting beliefs about yourself, abandon the path of least resistance, and constantly seek out new challenges, you will have the ability to lead a meaningful and significant life.

3 Main Ideas

  • Many of us are complacent and comfortable, content to live at probably about 40% of our true potential or capacity. However, we all have the potential to be so much more. We need to discipline ourselves so that we get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and stretch ourselves to do so much more than we believe we ourselves are capable of.
  • Everyone gets challenged in life at some point, or experiences hardship and suffering. Use the things that hurt you, your weaknesses, your failures, your past, as inspiration to fuel your ultimate success. Don’t use your past as an excuse; use it as raw material to power your ultimate achievements. Your mind is your most powerful weapon, and if you are able to control your mindset and use it to power through obstacles and challenges, there is so much more you can accomplish than you would believe.
  • It’s important to hold yourself accountable. Take time to take inventory of your life. Look in the mirror and hold yourself accountable. Keep the promises that you make to yourself. Don’t lie to yourself. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and use the discomfort to develop strength and resilience. Holding yourself accountable means that you are responsible to yourself for keeping the promises you make, to others, but most importantly, to yourself.

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Challenge Yourself. You’re capable of more than you think. Many of us are not operating at our highest potential. We are drawn to comfort and safety. It feels safe to never risk anything or do anything that challenges us mentally, physically, or emotionally. What we don’t realize is that that sense of comfort and safety is a trap that leads to complacency. It encourages us to never seek out change, and to be comfortable in stasis. But life is dynamic, not static. Something will always happen to challenge us, and if we have not built up our resilience, we will succumb to life’s challenges.
  2. Your Mind is Your Most Powerful Weapon. Your mind provides the upper limit on your capabilities. If you give yourself excuses, or tell yourself you’re limited in your abilities, it has the potential to actually limit those same abilities. It becomes a self-reinforcing belief. If you are able to control your mindset, and slowly eliminate your negative or narrow beliefs about yourself, you’ll discover you have more potential and ability than even you had imagined. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine, desire, and create for ourselves. Because what you tell yourself matters, the most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones that you’ll have with yourself. And it starts with freeing your mind, and stretching beyond your own perceived limits.
  3. Hold Yourself Accountable. Keep the promises you make to yourself, and be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. To be accountable is to bear responsibility for what happens in your life, and to realize that you are in the driver’s seat. You are responsible for yourself, and the state of your own life; no one else. Everyone has challenges, or excuses that, if indulged, will allow you to stay safe and comfortable in complacency and mediocrity. Moving past excuses requires dedication and discipline. Once you decide to hold yourself accountable, you will make promises to yourself, and you will keep them, no matter what.
  4. Seek Out Discomfort. You need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You need to train your mind to crave suffering, pain, and challenge on a regular basis. You need to step outside your comfort zone on a regular basis, and constantly be on the lookout for challenge.That is the only way to grow and improve as a person. For instance, working out or going to the gym isn’t always the most fun or enjoyable experience. But you need to put your body under stress in order for your muscles to gain strength, resilience, and endurance. Neglecting your fitness, and never subjecting your body to the stress of physical exertion leads to multiple health problems. The same principle applies across your life. In life, you are either getting better or you are getting worse
  5. Don’t Quit. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to find your second wind. We so often quit right before the reward. We think we have done our best, but there is usually a little bit more that you can give. You must reach within yourself to find that inner strength that will propel you past the finish line. When you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to give up, that is usually when the reward is right around the corner. But it is only available for those who don’t give up.

Top Quotes

  • …sometimes the unexpected descends like chaos, and without warning even the bravest among us must be ready to take on risks and tasks that seem beyond our capabilities. — (96)
  • No matter what you or I achieve, in sports, business, or life, we can’t be satisfied. Life is too dynamic a game. We’re either getting better or we’re getting worse. (228)
  • We are all fighting the same battle. All of us are torn between comfort and performance, between settling for mediocrity or being willing to suffer in order to become our best self, all the damn time. (231)
  • it’s the small sparks, which start small fires, that eventually build enough heat to burn the whole fucking forest down. (152)
  • If you truly want to become uncommon amongst the uncommon, it will require sustaining greatness for a long period of time. It requires staying in constant pursuit and putting out unending effort. (237)
  • I hope you’re willing to change. You’ll feel pain, but if you accept it, endure it, and callous your mind, you’ll reach a point where not even pain can hurt you. There is a catch, however. When you live this way, there is no end to it. (283)


  1. 40% Rule. Challenge Yourself. We all have the potential to achieve or perform better than we think we are capable of. Many of us are drawn to a life of comfort and security, so we never challenge or stretch ourselves. We are comfortable and complacent. We live a life of unfulfilled potential, of mediocrity, content to live at around 40% of our actual capacity. By changing your mindset, and embracing pain and challenge, it is possible to go much further than what your mind tells you. Don’t quit. Never give up. Keep trying. You can always do more than you think. Following the 40% Rule will enable you to unlock your mind to new levels of performance and excellence.
    • Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! That’s the governor in action! Once you know that to be true, it’s simply a matter of stretching your pain tolerance, letting go of your identity and all your self-limiting stories, so you can get to 60 percent, then 80 percent and beyond without giving up. I call this The 40% Rule, (169)
    • I know how it feels to be approaching an energetic dead end. I’ve been there too many times to count. I understand the temptation to sell short, but I also know that impulse is driven by your mind’s desire for comfort, and it’s not telling you the truth. It’s your identity trying to find sanctuary, not help you grow. It’s looking for status quo, not reaching for greatness or seeking wholeness. (169)
    • Continue to put obstacles in front of yourself, because that’s where you’ll find the friction that will help you grow even stronger. (238)
  2. Hold yourself accountable. Set goals for yourself. Make promises to yourself. Keep those promises. Be honest to yourself about your strengths, weaknesses, and identify areas for improvement in your life. Make a plan to improve on those areas. Accountability is about creating the system of small steps required to enable you to deliver on the promises or goals you set out for yourself. That requires dedication, consistency, and self-discipline. Holding yourself accountable, ie. fulfilling your promises to yourself will give you self respect and confidence.
    • I set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to what I now call the Accountability Mirror, because each day I’d hold myself accountable to the goals I’d set. (48)
    • You are stopping you! You are giving up instead of getting hard! Tell the truth about the real reasons for your limitations and you will turn that negativity, which is real, into jet fuel. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway! (50)
    • We all need thicker skin to improve in life. Being soft when you look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire the wholesale changes we need to shift our present and open up our future. (50)
  3. Crave Discomfort. You need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The path to success arrives through embracing pain and suffering, not from trying to avoid it. You need to train your mind to crave suffering, pain, and challenge on a regular basis. You need to step outside your comfort zone on a regular basis, and constantly be on the lookout for challenge. The key to managing discomfort is realizing that pain is temporary. Nothing lasts forever, and everything has an end, including pain and suffering**.**
    • I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your fucking running shoes on. (51)
    • The first step on the journey toward a calloused mind is stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. (77)
    • That means digging down to the micro level and doing something that sucks every day. (77)
    • It takes relentless self-discipline to schedule suffering into your day, every day, but if you do, you’ll find that at the other end of that suffering is a whole other life just waiting for you. (130)
    • the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job! (170)
    • The first step is to remember that your initial blast of pain and fatigue is your governor talking. Once you do that, you are in control of the dialogue in your mind, and you can remind yourself that you are not as drained as you think. (170)
    • And never forget that all emotional and physical anguish is finite! It all ends eventually. Smile at pain and watch it fade for at least a second or two. (95)
    • …the ticket to victory often comes down to bringing your very best when you feel your worst. (95)
  4. Master Your Mind. Your mind is your most powerful weapon, and it provides the upper limit on your capabilities. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine and desire for ourselves. Life is a mind game, and if you’re able to control your mindset, and dominate your thought process, you’ll be released from your own preconceived notions or beliefs about your own abilities. Like a car with a governor that places a ceiling on the car’s maximum performance, the mind can generate self-limiting beliefs that handicap your full potential. If you have negative beliefs about yourself, they will have an impact on your mental and physical capabilities. It’s when you remove these self-limiting beliefs, your “governor”, that your full potential is expanded.
    • The main objective here is to slowly start to remove the governor from your brain. (185)
    • It is [the internal “governor” ] the software that delivers personalized feedback—in the form of pain and exhaustion, but also fear and insecurity, and it uses all of that to encourage us to stop before we risk it all. But, here’s the thing, it doesn’t have absolute control. Unlike the governor in an engine, ours can’t stop us unless we buy into its bullshit and agree to quit. (169)
    • Breaking the shackles and stretching beyond our own perceived limits takes hard fucking work—oftentimes physical work—and when you put yourself on the line, self doubt and pain will greet you with a stinging combination that will buckle your knees. (281)
    • Whenever you decide to follow a dream or set a goal, you are just as likely to come up with all the reasons why the likelihood of success is low. Blame it on the fucked-up evolutionary wiring of the human mind. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed. Remembering that you’ve been through difficulties before and have always survived to fight again shifts the conversation in your head. It will allow you to control and manage doubt, and keep you focused on taking each and every step necessary to achieve the task at hand. (110)
    • It’s what you tell yourself that matters. The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. (282)
    • We are all our own worst haters and doubters because self doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. (282)
    • What if is an exquisite fuck-you to anyone who has ever doubted your greatness or stood in your way. It silences negativity. It’s a reminder that you don’t really know what you’re capable of until you put everything you’ve got on the line. It makes the impossible feel at least a little more possible. (282)
  5. Don’t Quit. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to find your second wind.
    • Taking Souls is a ticket to finding your own reserve power and riding a second wind. It’s the tool you can call upon to win any competition or overcome every life obstacle. (93)
    • The reason it’s important to push hardest when you want to quit the most is because it helps you callous your mind. It’s the same reason why you have to do your best work when you are the least motivated. (111)
    • There is no shame in getting knocked out. The shame comes when you throw in the motherfucking towel, (113)
    • the threshold for suffering is different for everybody. What’s universal is the impulse to succumb. To feel like you’ve given everything you can, and that you are justified in leaving a job undone. (168)
    • we will all be tempted to walk away from commitments, give up on our goals and dreams, and sell our own happiness short at some point. Because we will feel empty, like we have no more to give, when we haven’t tapped even half of the treasure buried deep in our minds, hearts, and souls. (169)
    • And if you fail again, so the fuck be it. Take the pain. Repeat these steps and keep fighting. That’s what it’s all about. (264)
  6. Stay Hungry. Don’t become complacent, satisfied by coasting on your past accomplishments. Don’t be satisfied with what you have achieved and think there is no more to be done. There is always more to do, and there is always more to do. Entitlement and complacency is lazy and weak-minded. Operate with a beginner’s mind, open and hungry for success.
    • A true leader stays exhausted, abhors arrogance, and never looks down on the weakest link. He fights for his men and leads by example. That’s what it meant to be uncommon among uncommon. It meant being one of the best and helping your men find their best too. (225)
    • Starting at zero is a mindset that says my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be. We can always become stronger and more agile, mentally and physically. We can always become more capable and more reliable. Since that’s the case we should never feel that our work is done. There is always more to do. (228)
    • Most people in the world, if they ever push themselves at all, are willing to push themselves only so far. Once they reach a cushy plateau, they chill the fuck out and enjoy their rewards, but there’s another phrase for that mentality. It’s called getting soft, and that I could not abide. (229)
    • Your entitled mind is dead weight. Cut it loose. Don’t focus on what you think you deserve. Take aim on what you are willing to earn! (257)
  7. Be Excellent. Don’t be satisfied with being average. Strive for excellence. Surpass expectations. Overdeliver on your promises. That is the path to leading an exceptional life.
    • No matter who you are, life will present you similar opportunities where you can prove to be uncommon. (223)
    • whatever standard they set as an ideal outcome, you should be aiming to surpass that. (101)
    • If it’s a boss, work around the clock. Get to work before them. Leave after they go home. Make sure they see that shit, and when it’s time to deliver, surpass their maximum expectations. (101)
    • Whoever you’re dealing with, your goal is to make them watch you achieve what they could never have done themselves. You want them thinking how amazing you are. (101)
    • It’s about wanting it like there’s no tomorrow—because there might not be. It’s about thinking of everybody else before yourself and developing your own code of ethics that sets you apart from others. (223)
  8. There Are No Shortcuts. There is only hard work and self-discipline. Just as you can’t pay someone to exercise on your behalf, so it is with the rest of life. Taking shortcuts, or looking for the easy way out reduces your own ability to build resilience, and to learn how to persevere. In order to accomplish great and difficult things, you simply have to do the work.
    • 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. (200)
    • 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. (200)
    • My work ethic is the single most important factor in all of my accomplishments. Everything else is secondary, and when it comes to hard work, whether in the gym or on the job, The 40% Rule applies. To me, a forty-hour work week is a 40 percent effort. It may be satisfactory, but that’s another word for mediocrity. Don’t settle for a forty-hour work week. There are 168 hours in a week! That means you have the hours to put in that extra time at work without skimping on your exercise. It means streamlining your nutrition, spending quality time with your wife and kids. It means scheduling your life like you’re on a twenty-four-hour mission every single day. (200)
  9. Embrace your Past. Use your painful past as fuel to inspire you to overcome and achieve. Use your wins as fuel. You’ve managed to overcome everything that has happened to you in your past, and you’re still standing. Use the highs and the lows as fuel to inspire you to overcome.
    • 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 those weak, one-second impulses to give in so you can power through obstacles. (109)
    • If you can manage those moments of pain that come with maximum effort, by remembering what you’ve been through to get to that point in your life, you will be in a better position to persevere and choose fight over flight. (110)
    • Even if you’re feeling low and beat down by life right now, I guarantee you can think of a time or two when you overcame odds and tasted success. It doesn’t have to be a big victory either. It can be something small. (151)
    • it’s the small sparks, which start small fires, that eventually build enough heat to burn the whole fucking forest down. (152)
    • I’m talking about utilizing past successes to fuel you to new and bigger ones. Because in the heat of battle, when shit gets real, we need to draw inspiration to push through our own exhaustion, depression, pain, and misery. We need to spark a bunch of small fires to become the motherfucking inferno. (152)
    • remember what a badass you are so you can use that energy to succeed again in the heat of battle! (155)
    • We must create a system that constantly reminds us who the fuck we are when we are at our best, because life is not going to pick us up when we fall. (176)
  10. No Excuses. Everyone’s got challenges or experienced hardships. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Don’t make yourself a victim.
    • Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind. But it’s up to you where that callous lines up. If you choose to see yourself as a victim of circumstance into adulthood, that callous will become resentment that protects you from the unfamiliar. It will make you too cautious and untrusting, and possibly too angry at the world. It will make you fearful of change and hard to reach, but not hard of mind. (106)
    • We can’t control all the variables in our lives. It’s about what we do with opportunities revoked or presented to us that determine how a story ends. (233)
    • …prejudice is everywhere. There is a piece of it in every person and each and every organization, and if you are the only in any given situation, it’s on you to decide how you’re going to handle it because you can’t make it go away. (236)
  11. Happiness/Ease is Not the Point. It’s good to have fun and seek happiness in life. But, having fun is not the only worthy goal in life. Neither is happiness. Neither is safety, security, or comfort. A life of growth and personal development can be meaningful. A life of service can be meaningful. Other values besides solely chasing happiness can be meaningful and significant. We shouldn’t not do things simply because they aren’t fun or easy to do.
    • …achieving goals or overcoming obstacles doesn’t have to be fun. Seeds burst from the inside out in a self-destructive ritual of new life. Does that sound like fucking fun? Like it feels good? (260)
    • It was one thing to enjoy the peace of self-acceptance, and my acceptance of the fucked-up world as it is, but that didn’t mean I was going to lie down and wait to die without at least trying to save myself. It didn’t mean then, and it doesn’t mean now, that I will accept the imperfect or just plain wrong without fighting to change things for the better. (260)
    • To exist in this world, we must contend with humiliation, broken dreams, sadness, and loss. That’s just nature. Each specific life comes with its own personalized portion of pain. It’s coming for you. You can’t stop it. And you know it. (281)
  12. Embrace Failure and Setbacks. Learn from failure. Failing at something is a learning experience, a gift. Look for a way to transform your failures, challenges, or setbacks into a learning opportunity.
    • The point is not to allow a setback to shatter our focus, or our detours to dictate our mindset. Always be ready to adjust, recalibrate, and stay after it to become better, somehow. (206)
    • Life will always be the most grueling endurance sport, and when you train hard, get uncomfortable, and callous your mind, you will become a more versatile competitor, trained to find a way forward no matter what. Because there will be times when the shit life throws at you isn’t minor at all. Sometimes life hits you dead in the fucking heart. (206)
    • In life, there is no gift as overlooked or inevitable as failure. (257)
    • You can’t let a simple failure derail your mission, or let it worm so far up your ass it takes over your brain and sabotages your relationships with people who are close to you. Everyone fails sometimes and life isn’t supposed to be fair, much less bend to your every whim. (257)
  13. Schedule Your Priorities. As Stephen Covey says, “Put First Things First”. Figure out what’s important to you (your values and goals), and schedule a time to do it. Proper time management is essential. If you’re careful about using your time, you will be able to accomplish a lot. Stay focused on one task at a time, because multitasking is less efficient. By focusing on what’s important, and creating a plan to execute, you will spend less time on useless activities, and more time on achieving your goals and desires. Also remember to schedule in time to rest, recover, and recharge.
    • …you must win the morning. (201)
    • Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullshit. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. (202)
    • Block everything into windows of time, and once your day is scheduled out, you’ll know how much flexibility you have to exercise on a given day and how to maximize it. (203)
    • When you work, only work on one thing at a time, think about the task in front of you and pursue it relentlessly. When it comes time for the next task on your schedule, place that first one aside, and apply the same focus. (212)
    • If you audit your life, skip the bullshit, and use backstops, you’ll find time to do everything you need and want to do. But remember that you also need rest, so schedule that in. (203)
    • Make sure your meal breaks are adequate but not open-ended, and schedule in exercise and rest too. But when it’s time to rest, actually rest. No checking email or bullshitting on social media. If you are going to work hard you must also rest your brain. (212)
  14. Visualize Your Desired Outcomes. Plan ahead. Imagine the end result of a desired goal or outcome, and work backwards to derive the steps required to achieve that outcome. This is what Stephen Covey talks about when he says to “Begin with the End in Mind”.
    • Before I engage in any challenging activity, I start by painting a picture of what my success looks and feels like. I’ll think about it every day and that feeling propels me forward when I’m training, competing, or taking on any task I choose. (129)
    • Choose any obstacle in your way, or set a new goal, and visualize overcoming or achieving it. (129)
    • You must also visualize the challenges that are likely to arise and determine how you will attack those problems when they do. That way you can be as prepared as possible on the journey. (129)
    • You can’t prepare for everything but if you engage in strategic visualization ahead of time, you’ll be as prepared as you possibly can be. (129)

Recommended Reading

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear


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