Can’t Hurt Me Summary (David Goggins)

The Can’t Hurt Me summary (and indeed entire book) is a must-read for one simple reason:

It will help you devour obstacles as you conquer your life goals.

David Goggins, the man/the legend, is a beast with superhuman abilities.

From losing 106 pounds in three months for Navy Seal selection, to setting a pull-up world record and running 100 miles in one go…

You’re going to want to know his secrets – and then apply them to your own life.

But first, a little background.

Who is David Goggins?

I first encountered David Goggins in the Impact Theory interview shown below, which absolutely blew me away in its intensity.

The power of the man is plain, with a presence seldom seen in interviews:

I mean, let’s face it, Chuck Norris probably has a poster of Goggins on his wall.

Can’t Hurt Me, like the interview, starts with a Goggins talking about his upbringing, which was extremely tough.

However, in the book, it goes into much more detail, to the point that you feel like you’re there with him, living it.

It’s no stretch to say that this was the forge in which the eventual David Goggins would emerge, as tough as steel.

His father was abusive and he suffered regular mental and physical abuse, along with his mother and older brother.

After escaping the clutches of his father, he and his mother settled in Brazil, Indiana. However, it wasn’t to be a fairytale ending…

As a fallout from his abusive upbringing and anxiety, he struggled to keep up in class and was routinely picked on by his teacher.

This caused school to be a waking nightmare for him, where he struggled to keep up academically and emotionally.

During his adolescence in an almost all-white community, he also suffered open racism on a daily basis, openly acknowledged but not acted upon by his headteacher.

He became angry, transforming himself into the stereotype that his community feared “to get a reaction out of the people that hated me most, because everyone’s opinion of me mattered to me.”

While most people would have given up in the face of all the abuse and hardship, however, David Goggins had other plans. He hadn’t given up hope of turning his life around, with one dream lef…to join the airforce.

“I knew I would enlist in the Air Force after graduation, which only made school seem more irrelevant.”

That was, until he failed the Air Force entry test in his junior year. After getting a letter from his school saying his was flunking out, he knew it was time to get real.

The Accountability Mirror

“That night, after taking a shower, I wiped the steam away from our corroded bathroom mirror and took a good look. I didn’t like who I saw staring back”.

After receiving the letter from his school, he got brutally honest with himself. In his words, “It was time to get real.”

That night he started shaving his face and scalp…

“I was desperate for a change. I wanted to become someone new.”

He knew no-one was coming to save him and if he wanted to gain admission to the Airforce and Pararescue it was on him. It was time to level up and get serious.

But how could he begin the painful process of change without first truly holding himself to account?

This sparked a transformation, not just in mindset, but more importantly, behaviour.

He went from the kid who was trying to impress everyone to the most disciplined version of himself possible.

“I looked different, and for the first time, I’d held myself accountable.”

Every night he looked in his accountability mirror and faced his demons, telling himself where he’d fallen down that day. He used Post-It notes, tagged to the mirror, outlining his goals, to keep him on track.

“The ritual was simple. I’d shave my face and scalp every night, get loud, and get real.”

Every day he shaved his head. no longer seeking to fit in, but rather be the best version of himself.

And his advice for the accountability mirror?

Don’t go easy on yourself. Get tough. “Call yourself out!”

If not, “you’re 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.”

Getting up early every day, he went to work…

At first, he started small, improving his appearance and completing his chores before being asked. But then he ramped it up…

“During my entire senior year, all I cared about, was working out, playing basketball and studying.”

The accountability mirror and the transformation that year taught David Goggins a serious lesson…

Embracing Discomfort

“From then on, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort.”

If he didn’t live up to his own high standards, he had to suffer the consequences in the accountability mirror. But this kept him on track.

“Facing that mirror, facing myself, motivated me to fight through the uncomfortable experiences, and, as a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals.”

He knew he needed to escape Brazil, Indiana, to have a fresh start and be the person he aspired to be.

He poured his energy into his studies, and a result of his new-found discipline, on the third try, met the minimum standard to join the Air Force.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing, and he didn’t escape clean.

david goggins running

Going Backwards

His stint in the Air Force taught him that he still suffered from insecurity. When David Goggins entered the Air Force, he was 19 years old and 175 pounds.

“By the time I was discharged four years later, I had ballooned to nearly 300 pounds.”

That started a spell of working in pest control, on the graveyard shift, where his demons well and truly came back to haunt him.

“Darkness was a friend indeed. I worked in the dark, hid myself from friends and strangers.”

He stopped exercising, was “mainlining sugar”  and was in the midst of relationship problems.

But then serendipity struck – he saw an advert for Navy Seals training on TV.

“The longer I watched the more certain I became that there were answers buried in all that suffering. Answers that I needed.”

A new desire to join the Special Forces burned within him and so he started contacting recruiters. The problem? At his height, the maximum allowable weight for the Navy was 191 pounds.

According to Goggins, “I had less than three months to lose 106 pounds.”

Needless to say, this part of the Can’t Hurt Me could have been filmed as a Rocky Balboa montage. Not only did David Goggins lose the weight, but he also passed the entry test to qualify for Navy Seals training.

He was back on the mission.

Callousing Our Minds

“The first step on the journey toward a calloused mind is stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. […] write down all the things you don’t like to do or that make you uncomfortable. Especially those things you know are good for you. Now go do one of them, and then do it again.

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.”

Can’t Hurt Me goes on to catalogue David Goggins’ BUD/S examination for acceptance into the Navy Seals, a mammoth six months of mental and physical endurance, including the notorious Hell Week, 130 hours of pain.

Through these stressful times, David Goggins had ample time to consider the primary question everyone who goes through ‘voluntary’ suffering has to ask themselves: ‘Why am I here.’

According to Goggins, if you don’t have a good answer prepared in advance, you’ve prepared to fail.

The Goggins philosophy is that “Everything in life is a mind game”, and that game is the most important battle you’ll ever fight.

Throughout his training, Goggins employed a concept called ‘Taking Souls’, where he looked to gain the tactical and psychological advantage over his instructors at every opportunity.

But, he, says, it’s a method that you can use on yourself off the battlefield in everyday life, forming an important part of the mind-callousing process:

“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.”

On a personal level, this is a process I like to practice when I really don’t feel like doing my morning routine, when I’m working out or taking a cold shower – embracing the pain and discomfort to callous my mind and gain credibility with myself.

Through the pain and suffering of the training, Goggins had an epiphany that would go on to shape his life philosophy:

“ […] I realised for the first time that I’d always looked at my life, everything I’d been through, from the wrong perspective. […] In that moment I stopped seeing myself as the victim of bad circumstance, and saw my life as the ultimate training ground instead. My disadvantages had been callousing my mind all along […]”

“ Life experience, especially negative experience, helps 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, the 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 heard of mind.”

According to David Goggins, remembering where you have come from in life and the obstacles you have surmounted is a wellspring of motivation when the feeling to quit really kicks in.

And it will. Doubts assail us constantly. We can allow them to be present, but never dominate us, or else failure is guaranteed.

It’s essential we try to master out thought process, to allow us to keep taking positive actions to achieve our goals. One excellent way to learn to deal with our thoughts, according to Goggins, is via physical exercise.

Get Knocked Down and Get up Again

After two attempts at going through Navy Seals training and having to withdraw on medical grounds, David Goggins had a lot of time to reflect.

He knew he’d come a long way, but this was a tough time and knew he only had one shot left at becoming a Navy Seal (on his third and final try.)

After entering the cauldron once more, he admittedly went full caveman and due to the crazy physical “beat downs” on the program, developed stress fractures in his legs.

Determined to get through or die trying, Goggins taped up his legs with duct tape every day as makeshift splints, to ensure he could continue with the assessments.

Unsurprisingly, the beast-man made it through, partly by exploiting the darker sides of his personality and also due to his uncanny visualisation abilities:

“Before I engage in any challenging behaviour, I start by painting a picture of what my success looks and feels like.”

Similar to other top performers, such mental exercises help propel him through the tough times and towards his goals.

The Ultramarathon Man and the Cookie Jar

From the crucible of the Special Forces, Can’t Hurt Me goes on to talk about David Goggins’ ultramarathon career.

By this point, he had learnt to understand pain, and to befriend it. However, nothing would prepare him for the trials he would have to face when running distances of 100 miles and more.

With the body shape of a weight-lifter, no prior experience and very little preparation, Goggins set out to run 100 miles into order to raise money for the families of his fallen comrades.

During his first race, a 24-hour endurance test in San Diego, everything Goggins had learnt about pain was put to the test, forcing him to create yet another mental weapon to get him through.

By visualising all of his past successes as cookies that he could bite into in desperate times, he was able to find the strength reserves to keep persisting when all seemed lost.

“The Cookie Jar became my energy bank. Whenever the pain got to be too much, I dug into it and took a bite.”

Using a tactic like the Cookie Jar allows us to excel when things get tough. Instead, many of us choose the easy option, running away from pain and discomfort.

“We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing fields or race course.

If Can’t Hurt Me is a testament to anything, it’s levelling up and bringing the best version of yourself to bear.

David Goggins displays this, and more, with a stellar ultra-endurance career and the completion of a myriad of the most gruelling events on Earth.

David Goggins Badwater Ultramarathon

Passion and the Governor

Throughout the book, it’s clear that David Goggins is a man on a mission, embracing his obsessions to push himself past his limitations.

While other people take the comfortable option, he’s trying to squeeze more out of himself and his life, which tastes even sweeter for it.

Goggins believes that, like a governor on a car which creates an artificial speed limit, so too we possess an internal governor, preventing us from reaching our full potential.

It’s what he calls the 40% rule, meaning that most of us, when we think we’re maxed out, actually have another 60% of effort to give!

And the way to tap into the remaining potential?

“[…] you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!”

But not everyone on your journey will be an enabler. Can’t Hurt Me cautions us about well-intentioned friends and family, who might not share the vision we hold for ourselves or understand the importance of our mission.

According to Goggins…

“[…] you will have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind.”

This high road, he cautions, can be lonely, but is a vital preparation ground for the tough times we’ll undoubtedly face.

“The bottom line is that life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing is yourself. Stick with this process and soon what you thought was impossible will be something you do every f&^%ing day of your life.”

While no patch on the physical feats that David Goggins routinely performs, I’m discovering this with writing. One of my recent goals was to crank more words per day, whether I feel like it or not.

Just like increasing the weights in the gym until they feel normal, I know it’s simply a matter of pushing myself and acclimatising to my new output.

Talent Not Required

Perhaps the most inspiring part of Can’t Hurt Me is that Goggins thinks that with an open mind, abandoning the path of least resistance and seeking out as many challenges as possible, anyone can begin to thrive.

And Goggins calls out our obsession with the quick fix and life hack, which he says, will never sharpen our minds or lead to life mastery.

Any success he’s had, he admits, is really down to his insatiable work ethic.

Indeed, to ensure he got his ultra-training in when he was a SEAL, he’d be up at 4am for a run, cycle 25 miles to work, push out more exercise at lunch, before another 25-mile ride home!

Such hard work takes ruthless discipline and prioritisation, and according to David Goggins, we need to decide what’s important and schedule it.

So what are you working towards, and why? Cut out all wasted time, stop making excuses and get to work.

“Analyse your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bulls%@t and see what’s left.”

Uncommon Amongst Uncommon

Goggins stories throughout Can’t Hurt Me really demonstrate his desire to be uncommon amongst uncommon.

Obviously, David Goggins was dealing with the elite of the elite every day, and he pushed himself more than ever to stand out.

So, how can you set yourself apart in your own life?

“It’s about thinking of everyone else before yourself and developing your own code of ethics that sets you apart from others.”

This really reminds me of ‘Leaders Eat Last’ by Simon Sinek. The person leading from the front is usually standing alone.

It’s the person you can rely on when things get tough. They don’t complain and just get on the with the job.

“A true leader stays exhausted, abhors arrogance, and never looks down on the weakest link.”

Remember, that when you’re trying to be uncommon, often no-one is watching,

“[…] when it comes to mindset, it doesn’t matter where other people’s attention lies. I had my own uncommon standards to live up to.”

Don’t do it for fame or glory, but because you hold yourself personally accountable for maintaining your supreme standards.

Keep Pushing Yourself to Greater Heights

“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 getting worse.”

In this way, we need to maintain a zero mindset that says,

“Our refrigerator is never full, and never will be. […] we should never feel that our work is done. There is always more to do.”

We’re all torn between comfort and performance, and we have to make the hard decision to embrace discomfort every day – we have to make the same tough decision to show up repeatedly throughout our lives.

Greatness, according to Goggins, evaporates quickly. To be truly uncommon requires sustaining greatness over a long period of time, which in turn requires unending work,

“Continue to put obstacles in front of yourself, because that’s where you’ll find the friction that will help you grow even stronger. Before you know it, you will stand alone.”

david goggins navy seals

The Importance of Failure

Not only has David Goggins been a dominant force in the military and ultra-endurance, but he also set an incredible pull-up world record, and he did it after two failed attempts.

He had this to say about his setbacks:

“In life, there is no gift as overlooked or inevitable as failure. I’ve had quite a few and have learned to relish them because if you do the forensics you’ll find clues about where to make adjustments and how to eventually accomplish your task.”

We all face failure in life. It’s inevitable. But how can we reframe those failures to learn and draw strength from them?

David Goggins reframed his failures, drew from their power and went on to set a new, mind-boggling record of 4, 030 pull-ups.


This book is about living life hard, and for most of Can’t Hurt Me, this is exactly what David Goggins does, scanning for the next challenge to be undertaken.

But after some serious health issues, which went undiagnosed by the doctors, he was forced to take bed rest, giving him a chance to reflect on his life.

“I don’t know if you could call what I felt on that bed ‘enlightenment’, but I do know that pain unlocks a secret doorway in the mind. One that leads to both peak performance and beautiful silence.”

From meditating on all that he had achieved came a new level of peace and calm – “with that acceptance came deep appreciation.”

“One of my mottos these days is peaceful but never satisfied.”

Along with these epiphanies, stretching helped Goggins rediscover his health, and ultimately his athletic abilities.

There Is No Finish Line

David Goggins has a Stoic-like philosophy in how he approaches perceived setbacks.

“We can’t control all the variables in our lives. It’s about what we do with opportunities revoked or presented to us that determines how the story ends.”

Living like a true Spartan, he embodies that sentiment that if you stick to the process and work extremely hard, results take care of themselves.

“I would remain in constant pursuit. I wouldn’t leave anything on the table. I wanted to earn my final resting place.”

“Because life is one long imaginary game that has no scoreboard, no referee, and isn’t over until we’re dead and buried.”

Buddhism proposes that life is suffering.

Many of us run to the comfort zone to escape it. We play it safe to avoid getting hurt. We listen to the naysayers who, due to their own insecurities and doubts, enable us to settle for less than we’re worth.

Well, in response, you need to ask yourself one simple question,

“What if?”

“What if […] 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.”

Can’t Hurt Me Book Summary

  • The importance of a calloused mind
  • The Cookie Jar
  • The 40% rule
  • Dominate your thought process
  • Remember life is just a game to be mastered
  • And if you fail…so what? Take the pain and start again

This Can’t Hurt Me summary is no substitute for reading the real book – make sure you pick yourself up a copy!

Or alternatively, click here to see similar book recommendations.

Bonus: For an extra treat, watch David Goggins’ interview on the Joe Rogan podcast (in aid of the Can’t Hurt Me release). It’s a relaxed chat that takes a deep dive on some great topics:

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