Summary of Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

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  • Post last modified:February 1, 2024

Chapter 5: Armored Mind

Goggins was tough during his SEAL training.

His supervisors, whose task was to break the recruits, didn’t like that. They often tested him, and Goggins, to gain a mental advantage over them, often accepted their challenges.

He had an epiphany during one of these challenges.

His whole life, he had seen his past as sh*tty. But these rough experiences had made him who he had become.

If he saw them as challenges in training ground instead, the pain he had endured would not only make sense, but propel him too. After all, he wasn’t going to quit after having endured so much!

He called this technique the “calloused mind”. The calloused mind enables the brain to tap into the sympathetic nervous system which energizes you.

You can’t use it if you’re negative so you have to get rid of negativity and push through.

You should push the hardest when you want to quit the hardest. This is how you train your calloused mind.

Same with doubt. You can tolerate it in your mind, but you can never allow it to drive you!

After pushing through a bit too much, Goggins had broken his knee.

He was sent home from the SEALs for the second time.

Now, he was hesitant about going back a third time. He had become tougher already and had learned a lot. He realized he was afraid of doing it again.

So he signed up for a third time.

Meanwhile, he had seen his ex-wife, which got pregnant. That led him to a deep crisis. He realized that while he had had many successes, he hadn’t dealt with the bunch of traumas he had had as a child (abuse from his dad, racism, etc).

He understood that a strong mind on a fragile foundation would remain fragile in situations of deep stress.

He understood he had to take care of all of the feelings he had buried to his core as they were the source of his insecurities.

He rejected his past, hence he rejected himself.

The only way to accept yourself fully is to go back to your past and identify all of the moments of weakness, and label them as just that: weakness. Only when you recognize you were weak, can you then accept it and move forward.

His third SEAL training eventually started.

His legs were still broken, so he duct-taped them. He eventually healed, and he made it all the way to graduation.

He was a SEAL.

The end of the training made Goggins sad. He had been accustomed to the pain and learned to love it.

Now he needed to find a new way to defy the odds!

Challenge #5

Visualize an obstacle, and imagine overcoming it.

Before Goggins accepts a challenge, he always imagines how it would be to succeed at it. He imagines the difficulties of the challenge, and sees himself succeeding.

While visualization is great, it cannot be used without work and preparation.

Chapter 6: It’s Not About a Trophy

Goggins decided to apply to Badwater, one of the hardest races in the world. But the organizer wanted him to run an ultra marathon of hundred miles over 24 hours first. It was Thursday. Saturday, Goggins was on the starting line – without any training.

A quarter into the race, he wondered why he was getting himself into these situations.

He ran into physical problems at mile 50, but he kept going.

At the seventieth mile, he took a break, his body on the verge of collapse.

He healed his wounds, then went back…walking.

To help, he remembered all the pain he went through in his life, tapped into his sympathetic nervous system, and went back running.

He also understood that the only way to run 100 miles, was to run one at a time.

Remembering all of these small efforts and victories that led you where you are is a great motivation in the heat of a tough battle.

You need all of the hope you can have. David calls his memories of pain and victory, his “Cookie Jar”.

Each memory is a cookie he takes, which helps him sustain.

And so David finished the hundred-mile race without any training. His kidneys were failing, he couldn’t control his bowel movement, and seven of his toes were broken.

His girlfriend wanted to get him to the ER, but he didn’t want to go.

For the first time, he had accomplished something no one had ever accomplished before. He didn’t want to mask the pain.

The race helped him understand that human potential is much bigger than we think, and that it all starts in the mind.

If he could run 100 miles without prep…what else could he do?

Challenge #6

Fill up your own Cookie Jar.

Write down all of the obstacles you have overcome, all of the small and big victories, and the pain you had to go through to succeed.

Set ambition goals, and use your past victories as fuel to reach new heights.

Chapter 7: The Most Powerful Weapon

Goggins eventually called the organizer of Badwater to say he had run the hundred miles and was ready to compete.

The organizer told him he wasn’t supposed to stop during a 24h race, so he needed to complete another one.

Some weeks later, while his body was still broken and he couldn’t walk, he could not resist running the Las Vegas marathon. He completed it in 3h08.

He was in total disbelief of himself. How could that have happened? What else could he do?

Each time he pushed the boundaries, he was surprised to see how far he could go.

Five weeks later, he was set to run another 100-mile marathon, the Hurt 100.

So he trained for it despite his broken bones.

He obviously suffered in the race because he wasn’t prepared at all. He didn’t have any lamps for the night, nor bags, and his CamelBack had broken.

He stopped shortly after his fourth lap. After a short break, he walked to a certain point he could see on the horizon. Then when he got there, he chose another point to walk to.

He eventually finished the 100-mile race in 33 hours, and came in ninth place.

A couple of days later, he learned he was accepted in Badwater. Since it was one of the hardest races in the world, he decided he would study it and prepare this time.

He ran Badwater and finished in fifth place out of ninety.

However, it still wasn’t enough. Looking at the four ahead of him, he knew they had something he didn’t.

He needed to raise up to their levels.

Goggins believes that shortcuts to pain are nonsense. The only way to do more and better is to go beyond your perceived limitations.

The human body is like a stock car. We can go very fast, but there is a governor preventing us from reaching peak potential.

Remove the governor and access the remaining 60% of your life.

Our governor is in our mind, and if we remove it, we can achieve anything.

The only way to remove it is not to listen to the voice telling you to quit.

Most people quit at 40% of their capacities.

In order to avoid that, you need to:

  • Stretch your pain tolerance
  • Let go of your identity
  • Let go of your self-limiting beliefs

This is the 40% Rule, and it can be applied to anything.

Your mind is wired to tend towards comfort, not performance.

The way to change that is to callous your mind, meaning, chasing pain!

When you’re tired, acknowledge that this is your governor of pain talking.

You are not as tired as you think you are.

Keeping this in mind will help you keep going.

Keeping an open mind will help you keep going. Of course, it’s easier to keep an open mind when you are chilling on your couch than when you’re suffering.

Another obstacle is friends and family. Often, they drag us down, which is why you should use your Cookie Jar when this happens – it is a great system to remind yourself who you are.

Challenge #7

Remove your governor. To do so, reach a point when you are super tired, and push just 5 or 10% further. Then repeat.

Life is a mind game. The only person you are competing against is yourself.

Chapter 8: Talent Not Required

The next race David decided to run was the Ultraman World Championship, a triathlon.

He finished second.

His success made him famous in the press, so he was tasked by the army to recruit more Black people for the SEALs.

He went on the road and spoke in a lot of universities, high schools, etc.

He would also run an ultramarathon each week to show everyone he wasn’t kidding.

When students asked him if they could one day run 100 miles like him, this is what Goggins would tell them.

Western culture has become addicted to shortcuts, quick fixes, and life hacks.

Everyone is looking for maximum results with minimum effort.

This attitude won’t lead to mastery, or to the calloused mind.

The only way to master your mind and kill the governor is to get addicted to hard work.

When something goes wrong in your life (like an injury), don’t just stop. Adapt. If you play piano and hurt your right hand, practice with your left hand meanwhile.

After two years, David was done recruiting and wanted to be back on the battlefield.

But before, he wanted to ride a bike from California to San Diego, so he trained like crazy…until one day, he got heart problems.

Any exercise would send it beating to 150 beats per minute. He found out he had a hole in his heart, and had to do surgery. But the surgery wasn’t enough, so he needed a second one. He got it 14 months later, and it worked.

Challenge #8

This is a three-week challenge during which you will take control of your schedule.

During the first week, observe when you work, how many times you check your phone, how long is your commute, when do you talk to your friends, etc. Be as detailed as possible!

Identify where you wasted time and trim it.

For week two, build a schedule by blocks of 15 minutes. Do one thing at a time, and focus on it recklessly.

When it’s time to rest, rest. That means no emails, etc.

Optimize and refine in week three.

Chapter 9: Uncommon Amongst Uncommon

After David graduated from the SEAL training, he was sent to Malaysia, Guam, Thailand etc for training with his first platoon.

He was bored, so he decided to train and read for DEVGRU. DEVGRU is an elite team within the SEALs.

The Army Ranger School was one of the best training academies, so after seven applications, he got in.

He learned there that a true leader is often exhausted, does not like arrogance, and never looks down on the weakest in the team. A true leader always does his best and helps others become their best.

Goggins understood that the best look for opportunities to be their best when everyone is their worst; to uphold perfect ethics and values in the toughest moments. When everyone rests, he was working.

He graduated from Ranger School (96 out of 308 did) and entered his second platoon as leader.

He trained his men like no one did before. That was too much, so his superior told him to chill a bit.

He was disappointed and lost a bit of respect for the SEALs.

Goggins lived the ethos of the SEALs constantly.

Every day, he started back to zero.

This mindset helped him keep on soaking knowledge because it meant that nothing was ever finished. There was always more to do, and further to go. You whether move forward, or backward. But you never stagnate.

Most people don’t push themselves at all. Among those that do, most stop pushing when they reach their goals. Only the very few never stop pushing.

Because he was the only one in his platoon to live the SEAL ethos every day, he became a very bad leader, bullying his teammates into workouts. That lasted for two years.

Eventually he learned that you shouldn’t complain that others don’t do like you, and you shouldn’t see yourself as better. Instead, you should help them come with you.

Meanwhile, he still hadn’t received any calls for DEVGRU. He found out that was because he had failed the interview which had been plainly racist.

So he applied to the equivalent of DEVGRU, but in the army: Delta Force. He joined the selection shortly after but failed due to an injury.

NB: the book wasn’t told chronologically. After his first failure at Delta, David got his heart problems.

Challenge #9

If you want to become uncommon among uncommon, you will have to stay great – meaning, never rest.

Chapter 10: The Empowerment of Failure

His second heart surgery had worked, and his heart was now back to normal. Five years after failing Delta, he wanted to go back to succeed, but he failed again because he was too arrogant.

So, he decided to do something else, and set out his mind to break the records of pull-ups in 24h (4020) to raise money for a military NGO.

He succeeded on the third attempt. He did 4030 pull-ups, but somehow he wasn’t in the mood to celebrate after that.

Goggins learned that failures are great, because they contain the data you need to succeed.

Challenge #10

Think about your last/biggest failure. Write everything that went right from your failures, then write about how it affected you.

Then write about the things you can fix to avoid failing again.

Then prepare better, and make another attempt.

If your failure happened 25 years ago, that doesn’t change anything. Write that report.

Chapter 11: What If?

David went back to running and in 2014, won the Frozen Hotter, a 100 miles race in a freezing environment.

Then his body felt really bad again, a few weeks before yet another session of Badwater.

He ran 50 miles then quit.

Despite all doctors telling him he was physically fit, David felt bad – really bad.

One day, he called in sick as he couldn’t get out of bed.

He was 38 years old. His body had given up. He realized that all these years, he had never appreciated any of his victories. He kept working towards the next goal no matter what. While that attitude won him plenty of ultra marathons and recognition everywhere – he was dying because of it.

Thinking about all he had achieved in his bed, he finally felt like he was done fighting. He felt grateful.

He understood that rage had gotten him to fight like he did. That all of the suffering and pain of his past had pushed him this far.

His rage had now been extinguished, and he forgave everyone that ever did wrong to him.

After fighting all his life, he had found peace.

He understood that pain had unlocked in his mind a doorway to “a beautiful silence”.

Thinking about what may be the cause of his exhaustion, he remembered a training he did where he was told he was way too tense.

He had never taken this seriously – up to then.

So he started stretching. He felt better and got into a stretching routine. At some point, he stretched 12 hours per day.

He eventually retired from the Navy SEAL in 2015.

His stretching helped him go back to running and he completed a few ultra marathons. Then he became a certified EMT, and a firefighter. At 43, he is in much better condition than in his twenties – thanks to the stretching.

The reason why he got all of these bone fractures was that he was always stiff, always stressed. It put a lot of pressure on his body.

The last piece of advice from Goggins is What if. When you attempt to do something difficult, a lot of people will discourage you from it.

But what if you could pull it off? What if is the ultimate answer to anyone that had ever doubted you.

It’s a reminder that the only way to know if you can do it is to try.

Did you like the summary? Get the book here!


What exactly is David Goggins’ message?

That you should push your body to the brink of exhaustion? That you should keep your rage and trauma inside, and use it as motivation?

Can’t Hurt Me is not a life manual. It is a book that shows you the exact opposite of what you should do.

Forcing yourself like Goggins did is admirable, but it’s unscalable. Very, very few people have the mental toughness to do it, and Goggins himself admitted it took him 20 years.

With what result? None.

Absolutely none. His obsession led his body to the brink of collapse.

Only in the end did he understand that his willingness to suffer came from the pain and suffering he endured in his childhood. In a way, he was punishing himself.

Two or three years of cognitive-behavioral therapy would have brought him peace and would have avoided him to go through all he did in the first place.

Honestly, I don’t know why people liked this book.

To be more specific, I think I know exactly why people liked this book: they recognized their own frustration and rage in Goggins’ and enjoyed seeing they weren’t alone to suffer.

In a way, Goggins gave all these people a reason to fight, and a path to take – the path of pain.

This is troubling. While pain is part of the journey of any hero, pain without purpose is useless.

And “becoming the hardest motherf*cker the earth has ever seen” isn’t a purpose.

It’s an escape.

Look, I am not advocating laziness. I work 10-14 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But the difference between Goggins and I is that I am pulled to my job. I like it, I do it because it provides me pleasure, not pain.

I don’t need to “go through the pain” because I genuinely enjoy it, and I never force myself because what I do is meaningful.

Goggins looks at work from a very unhealthy place. Suffering for its own sake is the dumbest thing anyone could ever do.

If you want to suffer, how about building a company that solves a worldwide problem? How about becoming rich AF and donating all your money?

In conclusion, this book was a disappointment. It was too long, often boring, and the life lessons aren’t exactly the ones you should take with you.

Nonetheless, I recognize the book motivated and helped a lot of people get out of a rut, and David should be praised for his power to inspire.

If the book can help people to work harder, good! But if the takeaway is that suffering for its own sake is “great”, then there’s a problem.

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