Photo by Marcel Ardivan on Unsplash

David Goggins Broke Me, and Now I Break Myself

I was a 14-year freshman walking into a high school football meeting after our morning summer workouts. I remember this being a random meeting. We had already finished our lift for the day, and we usually would be heading home. We filed into the board room and took a seat. I noticed a stranger at the front of the board room. He stood tall and at attention in his U.S. Navy uniform. Once we all got into the room, the meeting started.

“This is David Goggins. He is a Navy Seal, and he is here to talk to you guys today, “said our coach. As he was finishing his sentence, a couple of our offensive lineman caught the attention of Mr. Goggins. They had not completed their conversation and, for lack of a better term, were giggling about something. Mr. Goggins did not waste another second. “You guys think this is some kind of a joke?! Show some respect. Get on the ground!! Now you guys are going to do push-ups until I tell you, you can stop. On my cadence. DOWN. UP… “

I don’t remember how many we ended up doing. I just remember my scrawny ass arms could barely hold myself up after just finishing the morning workout. At some point, Mr. Goggins got at least some satisfaction out of making us do push-ups, and we were able to return to our seats. Arms screaming from our fraction of a glimpse of what SEAL training might be like, he started his presentation. I honestly could not tell you what most of the speech was about. Then he hit us with one line that hit me like a freight train. “You guys have so much potential. You don’t even know the full potential of the human body. I went through BUDs training 3 times, served as an active-duty Navy Seal, and ran a 100-mile 24-hour race with a hole in my heart. My heart was operating at 60%.” Chills.

My 14-year-old brain couldn’t connect the dots. I had just struggled to do a handful of push-ups when real-life Superman just admitted he has a faulty heart and still hasn’t reached his pinnacle. He went through the hardest physical training in the U.S. military, 3 times. Then supplemented that with a 100-mile 24-hour race with a half good heart. L.O.L. That line broke me. At 14, I wasn’t yet strong enough in mind and body to see the positive in that. I immediately felt like I would never match up to anything close to that level of accomplishment. I went home that day discouraged, shocked, and confused.

Few things in life have stayed with me as long as that story has. At random points in my adolescence, I would remember what he said, and it would shake me to the core. How was that humanly possible? Why am I struggling to run 10 110 yard sprints to pass my condition test? How do you ever get to be that mentally tough? As a teen, I didn’t have any decent answers. I was still trying to figure out life, let alone how to use my brain as a tool. My mind was a governor. Any time something hurts, I stopped. I just knew that pain was “bad.” It wasn’t until I was in my late teens and early 20’s that I learned that pain is just the beginning.

I began to understand the relationship between growth and pain early in my 20’s. At the time, that meant continuing to push myself in the weight room and on the ball field to improve. I was finally starting to flip the script from, “I’m good just doing 4 sets of 10 push-ups today” to “I am going to do 4 sets of push-ups until failure.” I started to see improvements in all aspects of my physical life. The physical relationship with pain is much easier to feel and comprehend. You know that the last couple of reps of that lift are going to hurt. You know you are going to be sore in the morning after a hard work out. But you also know that you are making progress.

Each time you break yourself down physically, you are actually building yourself back up. It’s a strange concept. I am going to willingly cause myself discomfort and pain to progress in some way. What is even more bizarre is that knowing that not only does the physical suffering lead to growth, but so does mental pain and suffering. When an experience or moment in your life causes you mental pain, it seems like there is nothing you can do to shelter yourself from it. When a loved one dies or a relationship dissolves, all you feel in that moment is sadness and suffering. “Why me? Why now? Why…?”

It’s not like a physical injury that you can just take a couple of Advil and ice it until it’s better. That mental pain can last for years. It can change how you approach similar situations in life. It can change your outlook on life. At its worst, it can derail your entire life.

It wasn’t until recently that I entirely made the connection between mental pain, suffering, and growth. In all honesty, I lived a pretty sheltered life growing up. I didn’t have to deal with abusive parents, bullies, or going hungry. I always had what I needed, and it was more than enough. It wasn’t until I had a couple of relationships in my late teens and early 20’s and lost a sense of self after quitting baseball that I really started to understand what it felt like to lose someone or something. Truthfully, I wasn’t ready. I did not handle it well. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I truly learned how to handle, process, and learn from my mental mistakes.

Throughout the pandemic, I have been able to spend a lot of time reflecting on my life. At first, it was all involuntary. I would find myself waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares that were always metaphors for previous experiences in life. There’s something about being isolated from everyone else that makes your brain go crazy. I picture my voice in my head saying, “Lol watch this, I’m going to make him relive all of his worst mistakes. The best part is he won’t be able to escape them during quarantine!

I was faced with a decision, deal with it, or put it off and face the same result in the future. I could continue to feel sorry for myself, blame my environment, and others, or I could deal with it. Learn from it. And move on. This was when it all came full circle for me.

A few months ago, I came across the Joe Rogan Podcast with David Goggins. I listened to it, again, thinking, this guy is a psychopath. Ordinary people just don’t do this shit. It’s just not normal. Fast forward a couple of months, while scrolling Audible, and I came across Can’t Hurt Me” by, you guessed it, David Goggins. Fine. I’ll listen to it. Then it all clicked.

Once I got the full story, I was able to understand that there is more to this guy than meets the eye. In the book, he talks about being over 300 pounds at 24, absolutely hating his life, and working a shit pest control job. Oh. Ok. So this guy is actually somewhat human. If he can go from 300 pounds to a Navy Seal to an elite ultra runner, inevitably, I can get over whatever “problems” I think I have.

As he is going through and telling his story, he describes how he was able to “motivate” himself to complete each of the tasks. The difference between David Goggins and self-help authors is he is brutally honest with himself. He would look in the “accountability mirror” and tell himself, “you are fat.” Brutal. But for me, that struck a chord. From everything else I had read, other authors weren’t as blunt. Most actually encourage positive self-talk. But for me, that took the uncertainty out of it. Instead of “I kinda hate my job,” it’s “I hate my job’ or “I could be a better communicator” to “I must be a better communicator.” This method kept me from indecision. “Great, you’ve established you are not where you want to be in life, now what are you going to do about it.”

Enter the next phase of my “epiphany.” The “what are you going to do about it phase.” Through his story, Goggins explained how he was able to accomplish his long list of accolades, through pain and suffering. He understands that the only way to grow in life is through pain and suffering. So, Goggins would put himself in situations to purposely be uncomfortable. He would seek it out. So naturally, I had to follow suit.

Now I didn’t go sign up for Navy Seal BUDs training, but I did start to put myself in situations that made me uncomfortable. Before December, I have never run more than 2 miles consecutively. Now, 340 miles of training in, I am running a marathon in 2 weeks. I used to be ashamed of my writing. Now I post it all over the internet for everyone to see. Used to be dependent on others for my income and career path. Now I am finalizing the paperwork for my L.L.C. and actively seeking clients. I used to be embarrassed to journal or talk about my feelings. Now I journal regularly. ~ This one is going to make over 30 throw their phone at the wall. ~ I used to be dependent on social media for attention and entertainment. Now I have deleted all of the apps and guess what, my friends are still my friends, any anxiety I had has disappeared, and the world still turns. Shocker.

In all honesty, most of these changes have all happened in the past couple of months. I can hardly say that I am an expert in this field. But, I noticed the changes in my life right away. Even though, in theory, I am forcing myself into uncomfortable or painful situations both physically and mentally on a more regular basis, I’m actually much happier. I know that I am growing. I understand that each experience is a stepping stone for the rest of my life. I know that every time I break myself down, I am actually preparing to build myself back up stronger than before.

Through these experiences, I have started to get a grasp on how to turn physical or mental pain into growth. Truthfully, all of life is some form of suffering. It’s what you do with that suffering that matters. Are you going to sit back and feel sorry for yourself? Or are you going to look into the mirror, honestly address the problem, and make moves to fix it? Every moment of pain is an opportunity for growth. I wish it didn’t take 24 years for me to figure that out, but I am at peace knowing that I can use that knowledge in the future.

David Goggins broke me as a 14-year-old. Now I break myself every day. I am grateful that David Goggins came into our boardroom all of those years ago. It only took me 10 years to realize his message. Now I am better because of it. I have always known that at the end of every valley is a mountain top. Now I know that there is another valley on the other side of that mountain. And, well, you can’t stay at the top for long. So you better get going.

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I didn’t expand on a lot of David Goggins’ stories on purpose because the book does a much better job of explaining those situations in detail. I recommend picking up, “Can’t Hurt Me.” You never know, it might just change your life.

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Jacob Wells

Business Professional. Writer. Athlete. Dog-Lover. Occasional Disc-Jockey. | Twitter @jacobrwells | Instagram @jacob.r.wells