One of the first things David Goggins tells readers of his autobiography Can’t Hurt Me is that motivation is crap. But take one look at this retired Navy SEAL’s lengthy list of achievements, and you’ll see that the guy can’t help but be motivating.
Most of us may never even aspire to match those incredible achievements, but in Can’t Hurt Me, Goggins proves that regardless of your circumstances, no goal is too big if you can learn to master your mind.
Summary in 3 Sentences
Can’t Hurt Me is the autobiography of David Goggins, in which he traces his incredible personal transformation from an overweight and depressed young man to a Navy SEAL and the “Fittest Man in America.”
The book explores Goggins’s remarkable self-discipline, dedication, and mental toughness that helped him achieve these feats despite a challenging and traumatic upbringing.
Through his own personal story, and using 5 key concepts, Goggins motivates readers to overcome their own obstacles, reach their fullest potential, and get what they really want.
Key Takeaways from Can’t Hurt Me
Can’t Hurt Me uses David Goggins’s incredible achievements as examples of what humans are capable of when we push our limits and give 100% effort to reaching our goals.
Having grown up in very challenging circumstances, Goggins’s story serves as a reminder that no matter what kind of adversity you’ve faced, you can use those experiences to grow stronger and better.
Here are the main takeaways from this inspiring read.
You can grow from every experience and obstacle.
You may have heard that every obstacle or setback is an opportunity for growth, or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But perhaps no one proves this better than David Goggins.
As a child, Goggins experienced poverty and abuse, and as a teenager he was practically illiterate. In his 20’s, he turned to food as a way to cope with his depression, and his weight eventually neared 300 pounds.
Upon seeing a documentary about the Navy SEALs, Goggins grew determined to join them—and that determination is what led him to lose 109 pounds in only 3 months, in order to meet the 191 pound limit.
But his amazing physical achievements didn’t stop there—he would go on to set a world record for pull-ups, complete ultramarathons, and cycle 261 miles in 2 days, among many other feats.
The point here—besides the fact that Goggins is basically unbreakable—is that he never let his circumstances hold him, and never got caught up in feeling like a victim. Instead, he began to view life as “the ultimate training ground.”
The Cookie Jar
Reminding himself of what he’s grateful for and everything that he’s overcome is a concept Goggins calls “the cookie jar.” He recalls how as a child, before eating a cookie, he would always take the time to look at it and appreciate it.
According to Goggins, remembering all that you have overcome is one of the best motivators when you feel like throwing in the towel.
The Accountability Mirror
Throughout his mission to get fit, Goggins would tag Post-it notes with his goal to what he calls his “accountability mirror.”
He would have to be honest with himself and take full accountability if he didn’t reach those goals, with zero excuses.
The idea of the accountability mirror is something that each of us can practice, regardless of whether we’re trying to get fit, improve our relationships, or stop harmful habits.
Learn to push past your limits.
To say that Goggins pushed through what would be the “limit” for most of us feels like quite an understatement.
Whereas I get winded running around my block a few times, he’s completed 100-mile races and ultramarathons.
But what we think are our limits aren’t actually set in stone—they’re just what he calls the “governors” in our minds, telling us not to take risks and reminding us of our insecurities.
Our internal governor can stop us from reaching our full potential, and it reacts to pain and exhaustion by encouraging us to stop our efforts before we risk too much. Its goal is to never let us stray too far from our comfort zones. But there’s good news.
In Goggins’s own words, the governor “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.”
Which brings us to our next lesson: There’s almost always more that we can give.
Give 100% effort.
When it comes to your work, goals, or other things you truly care about, like a relationship, you probably think you’re giving them your all—because to give anything else would imply a degree of laziness, right?
Well, you might find what Goggins calls “The 40% Rule” a bit unnerving.
The 40% Rule
According to Goggins, most of us are living at only 40% of our true capabilities. That means that when you return home from your morning run, exhausted and dripping with sweat, you most likely still have 60% left to give!
“Impossible!” you mutter, as you throw the book across the floor in defiance.
It’s not easy to hear that what you really feel was your best effort, what you felt was your breaking point, would actually translate to a failing grade.
Now, I haven’t been able to find any hard science behind the 40% rule, or how you can know what percentage you’re ever giving.
But as with many things, it might just be the thought that really counts. If you put aside simple math, and simply remember that no matter how much you’ve given, you can probably still push yourself a little more, just image how much growth you can experience over months or years of this practice.
Much like the 40% Rule, “taking souls” is a term that Goggins coined to push his team harder and harder.
He writes, “Taking Souls is a ticket to finding your own reserve power and riding a second wind… It’s a mind game you’re playing on yourself. Taking someone’s soul means you’ve gained a tactical advantage. Life is all about looking for tactical advantages.”
Review of Can’t Hurt Me
In an era where self care and “treating yourself” rule, I have to say that I found Can’t Hurt Me‘s take-no-prisoners tone very refreshing.
That’s not to say that I think self care and self-love are unimportant or unuseful, and it’s also not to say that I think Goggins’s approach is the only way to reach your goals or improve yourself.
Just because Goggins lost 109 pounds in 3 months doesn’t mean you’re a failure if you don’t, and just because he pushed his limits to that extent doesn’t mean you’re not significantly pushing your own.
So while I’d caution anyone reading this book to always keep a bit of perspective and not compare their progress directly to Goggins’s, I don’t think the almost superhuman scale of his achievements makes this book unrelatable to the average person.
Rather, I think his incredible story can serve as a powerful, motivating reminder of what humans are capable of, so even if you’re facing a challenge that seems less significant than what Goggins took on, you can use his strategies and attitudes to achieve your own, equally remarkable victory.
We’d recommend Can’t Hurt Me to:
- Athletes, or aspiring athletes
- Survivors of abuse or trauma
- Anyone training for a new career
- People striving to reclaim their physical fitness
- People who are tired of making excuses and want to see results
- Anyone in need of some inspiration and motivation to fight toward their goals
More Inspiring Reads
Books like Can’t Hurt Me can help you to gain perspective about life’s obstacles and motivate you to give your all to the things you care about.
For more motivational and inspiring reads, check out our list of the best books on self improvement to read now or share with your team.
Have you read Can’t Hurt Me? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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- 20 Best Presidential Biographies to Read This President’s Day
- How to Find a Mentor: 7 Steps to Achieving Big Goals
As a blog writer for TCK Publishing, Kaelyn loves crafting fun and helpful content for writers, readers, and creative minds alike. She has a degree in International Affairs with a minor in Italian Studies, but her true passion has always been writing. Working from home allows her to do even more of the things she loves, like traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.