Book Review: Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins is part memoir part motivational. Goggins a retired Navy SEAL and ultra-marathon runner, begins the book with an account of his very unhappy and disturbing childhood.  He then goes on to chronicle his time in the military from his start in the Air Force, through his Navy SEAL training and career as a SEAL Team 5 member. Along with his completion of Army Ranger School. During this time, he also became an ultra-marathon runner and completed in several grueling races, and he set a Guinness World Record for completing 4,030 pull ups in seventeen hours.

In the book Goggins describes how he was able to use the setbacks in his life to develop a mental toughness that helped him overcome adversities and accomplish feats that seemed unachievable. There are a lot of ways that Goggins uses self-talk and self-evaluation to push himself that are described in the book. There are three key ideas that stuck with me after reading the book. The first one is his use of the “Accountability Mirror”.  This is when he looked at himself in the mirror and got honest with his himself. He used the mirror to evaluate his goals and assess his triumphs and failures.  He put post it notes on his mirror as visual reminders of his goals.  As I’m writing this, my vision keeps going to an old computer monitor on my desk that is currently covered in post it notes with some goals and affirmations that I put there after reading Atomic Habits.  For the most part they are still relevant goals, but I may need to have a new accountability talk with myself and see if I need to revise some of these old posts it notes. 

The next idea that Goggins talks a lot about in the book is to “callous your mind”.  Simply put this is means that “you have to intentionally expose yourself to discomfort and pain”. Over time, a callous will develop on your mind and then the discomfort will lesson and the pain will fade away. To go along with this, he also talks about spending too much time in comfort zones.  “If you live in one (comfort zone) too long, that becomes your norm.  Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”   For me this is a powerful message.  We need to keep finding challenges for ourselves. They don’t have to be physical challenges they can be finding ways to challenge yourself in any area of your life.  So “callousing your mind” is a way to help you achieve that next goal that you want to achieve.  It helps you push past that comfort zone that you might find yourself in so that you can reach that next achievement that awaits you.

The third idea that Goggins imparts to help you push past those comfort zones is the 40% rule. Goggins says that when your brain tells your body to quit, you have only reached 40% of your capacity. The way to “callous your mind” is to push past that 40%.  While I think that there is validity to this thought, I also personally think that Goggins just arbitrarily chose 40%. But, from personal experience I know that most of the time when my brain starts telling me it’s time to quit, I can and need to push past that initial thought and keep going.  He also talks about not relying on motivation.  It’s more about having goals and doing the work to achieve those goals.

Goggins gives the reader 10 challenges to complete in the book.  They build on each other and are meant to get you out of your comfort zone and complete challenges. They are also reflective and have you look honestly at your successes and failures.

I read the print version of this book while I listened to the audio version.  The audio book is narrated by Adam Skolnick who is the ghost writer that worked with Goggins to write Can’t Hurt Me.  While he is reading the book he will stop at points and have Goggins go into further details about what he is reading.  At the end of each chapter the two discuss key points from the chapter.  They describe it as part audio book, part podcast and I did enjoy the extra elements the audio version had to offer.  

So that is a basic overview of the book.  I read this book because Mike recommended it to me and I knew that he, Cati and Suzanne had read it.  This is a great motivational read and there are some good take aways from the book.  But like any book there were parts of that that I didn’t love.  I am having a really hard time with my overall opinion of the book because I had some very polarizing opinions while reading this book.  

My first disclaimer is if you have a problem with cursing (this didn’t bother me) this might not be the book for you, although you can get a “clean” version of the book which I assume would also take care of that problem.  I get the sense from the book that David Goggins is pretty impressed with himself, and I sometimes found myself wondering if everything really happened the way that he said it did.  That being said, I did enjoy the parts of the book where he talks about his military training and the things he had to endure.  I also found myself questioning why anyone would take on some of the physical challenges that he did without better preparation.  He does finally address that in the book when he cautions the reader not to what he did. If you read the book, you will find that he does everything to the extreme and that does eventually take a physical toll on his body.  While I think while there is validity in pushing yourself past that initial point when your mind tells you stop, you need to do so with an awareness of your own personal physical capabilities in order to avoid injury. There are some underlying attitudes in the book that bothered me a little but overall, this is a book about someone who found a way to overcome what seemed like unbeatable odds. 

For me the key take away from this book is that we are all capable of so much more than we think we are. We need to continually find ways to challenge ourselves so that we push past our comfort zones.  We need to learn to harness that voice in her head that says “I can’t” and turn it into “I can”.  

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