Book notes: Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins book summary review and key ideas.

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins


“For David Goggins, childhood was a nightmare – poverty, prejudice, and physical abuse colored his days and haunted his nights. But through self-discipline, mental toughness, and hard work, Goggins transformed himself from a depressed, overweight young man with no future into a US Armed Forces icon and one of the world’s top endurance athletes. The only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, he went on to set records in numerous endurance events, inspiring Outside magazine to name him The Fittest (Real) Man in America. 

In Can’t Hurt Me, he shares his astonishing life story and reveals that most of us tap into only 40% of our capabilities. Goggins calls this The 40% Rule, and his story illuminates a path that anyone can follow to push past pain, demolish fear, and reach their full potential. ” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

This audiobook was recommended to my by my friend Sam whom has been listening to a lot of audiobooks recently. He highly recommended this one so I figured why not?

I’ve mentioned this before but I take personal recommendations from fellow readers very seriously so this one got bumped to the top of the list. Other key factors were that it had a lot of reviews and a very high average rating.

The synopsis seems very intriguing and from what my friend told me, it’s very inspirational.

Key notes:

  • Life is not fair, it’s not supposed to be. Life is not biased to anyone
  • Once you accept the fact that life is going to fuck you up, in one way or another you could start preparing for it
    • The right mindset is everything
    • It will be the only thing that will get you through life
      • Having a “can’t hurt me” mentality will always keep you in the fight
  • Your mind has a tactical advantage over you because it knows your vulnerabilities and insecurities
  • Situation: you are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft that you will die without ever realizing your true potential
    • Mission: to unshackle your mind, ditch your victim mentality forever, on all aspects of your life completely
      • Build and unbreakable foundation
    • Execution: read this cover to cover and study the techniques within
      • Accept all 10 challenges. Repeat
        • Repetition will callous your mind
        • If you do it right, it’ll hurt
    • This mission isn’t about making you feel better, it is about being better
  • Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done
  • Motivation is crap
    • Even the best pep-talk or self-help hack is nothing but a temporary fix
  • A philosopher born in the Persian empire in the fifth century BC once said that out of 100 men on the battlefield:
    • 10 shouldn’t even be there
    • 80 are just targets
    • 9 are the real warriors and we’re lucky to have them for they make the battle
    • 1 is the warrior

Chapter 1: I Should Have Been a Statistic

  • His father was manipulative and abusive towards their family, especially their mom 
  • His dad was emotional and violent and beat them all frequently
    • He also didn’t believe in spending money on anything that didn’t benefit himself, so none of them ever went to the doctor or dentist
  • The Sister who taught him his kindergarten education also taught him the lesson that you shouldn’t judge a smile or a scowl
    • Because his father smiled a lot but didn’t care about them, while this sister scowled but cared so much about him
  • Toxic stress from constant emotional and physical abuse will inhibit learning in children and has a lot of mental and physical problems while in development
  • Challenge #1: What was your bad hand?
    • What did you contend with growing up? Were you beaten, abused, bullied? Were you ever insecure? What are the current factors limiting your growth and success? What are the long odds you’re up against right now? Are you standing in your own way? 
  • You have to find power in everything negative in your life
    • You can’t go through life with a poor and negative attitude all the time
  • His story and the heroes story is meant to inspire you to see the hero in yourself
    • Be your own hero

Chapter 2: Truth Hurts

  • He remembered one time he went on a school bus and a six-year-old little boy carrying cookies for the bus driver was accidentally run over by the bus I was mutilated underneath it
  • Story about a paratrooper named Scott Garand who survived a fall after a parachute accident and made a full recovery 18 months later
    • Coincidentally, two of the guys he parachuted with he taught them how to open an airway in someone’s throat which ultimately saved his own life because they performed the procedure on him
  • He started a new ritual using his accountability mirror where he would shave his entire face and write his goal on sticky notes
  • It’s OK to be cruel to yourself as long as you realize you’re doing it to become better
    • We all need thicker skin to improve in life
    • Being soft when we look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire change that we need to shift our present and open up the future 
  • He eventually realized that the people at school who are making him uncomfortable are actually uncomfortable in their own skin
    • To make fun of or trying to intimidate someone they don’t even know based on race or skin color what is a clear indication that something was wrong with them, not him

Reader’s note: It’s like what my pastor always says, “hurt people hurt people”. People who discriminate and put down others only do so because they are insecure and hurting about themselves.

  • When you have no confidence, it’s very easy to value other peoples opinions
  • Challenge #2: Get eyeball to eyeball with yourself
    • Post it notes on your accountability mirror. Needs to be written down
  • The truth is everybody is fucked up, especially the people who are judging you
    • The only thing they’re doing better is hiding

Chapter 3: The Impossible Task

  • For two months straight, his entire life purpose was to pass the military test and become physically ready
    • He eventually learned to embrace the pain and struggle and was ready for SEAL training
  • Because he knows so strongly how it feels to be judged, he would never judge another person 
  • Challenge #3: Write down all the things that make you uncomfortable and that you don’t want to do
    • Especially the things you know that are good for you
    • Now go do it, and then do it again
  • He says the only way to callous your mind and become mentally strong is do the things that you don’t want to do over and over again
    • Tripling down on your strengths is good for some things, but he’s a firm believer in tripling down on your weaknesses to make you mentally tougher

Reader’s note: I love this point because he’s completely right. I think tripling down on your strengths is something a lot of successful people have done, and what people say is the path to achieving a high level of success in something you’re made to do. However, this wouldn’t necessarily lead to a “calloused mind” or build your mental toughness. There are definitely merits to both paths, but I personally think it should be a balance based on your goals.

If you want to build the mental fortitude like David Goggins, which I believe will serve you well in life no matter what, then you need to embrace and fight through your weaknesses. At the same time, it’s important to also do what you know you’re made to do, triple down on your strengths to create success and fulfillment.

  • Most of us don’t have the courage to put ourselves in a position to win because we are scared of failure and anything that isn’t guaranteed
  • It always comes back to one thing: mindset
    • It’s your mindset and how you speak to yourself 
  • We have to be great in a situation that’s not always perfect

Reader’s note: This point of being your best when the situation isn’t perfect reminds me of the main point in Chapter 8 of Make Your Bed, which is: “If you want to change the world, be your very best in the darkest moments

Chapter 4: Taking Souls

  • Everything in life is a mind game
    • Whenever we get swept under by life’s dramas, large and small, we are forgetting that no matter how bad the pain gets, all bad things end
    • That forgetting happens the second we give control over our emotions and actions to other people, which can easily happen when pain is peaking
  • Taking souls is the ticket to finding your own reserve power and riding a 2nd wind
    • Taking someone’s soul mean you’ve gained a tactical advantage
      • Life is all about looking for tactical advantages
  • You must do your own homework. Know the terrain you’re operating in, when and where you can push boundaries, and when you should fall in line
    • Next take inventory of your body and mind on the eve of battle
  • People who are secure with themselves don’t bully other people. They look out for other people
    • If you’re dealing with a bully, you’re dealing with someone who has problem areas you can either exploit or soothe
    • Sometimes the best way to defeat a bully is to help them
  • Know why you’re in the fight to stay in the fight
  • By the end of Hawaii, he finished at the top of his class and boat crew to which he lead was the only crew that didn’t lose a single person by the end
  • Leaders can’t show weakness. Weakness is infectious

Reader’s note: This also reminds me of points made in Dare to Lead and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team regarding leadership and vulnerability. They both say that vulnerability is essential to building trust, but I think one of them makes the distinction and draws the line between too much vulnerability/transparency, and enough to be an effective leader.

In this case, I don’t think this point about vulnerability is mutually exclusive to what David Goggins is talking about. Leaders showing strength and not exposing their hurts can be essential in certain situations, especially during military training where leaders really need to bring the best out in their team by leading from the front. It’s a different environment and outcome, which necessitates a different approach.

  • A strong mindset is also infectious, which played a huge role in his teams success because he brought that energy 
  • The more you think about yourself when going through hell, the harder hell is going to be
    • The second you start looking after everybody else and start being concerned about them, you’re no longer trapped in your own thoughts and your own hell 
  • Challenge #4: Look at any competitive environment you’re in
    • There is one way to not only earn the respect of your enemy but turn the tables: excellence
      • Work even harder and exceed every standard and expectation
      • Surpass their maximum expectations
      • Make them watch you achieve what they could’ve never done themselves
      • Make them think how amazing you are and take their negativity to dominate their task with everything you got
        • Take their motherfucking soul

Chapter 5: Armored Mind

  • Leaning on your calloused mine in the heat of battle can shift your thinking as well
    • Remembering what you’ve been through and how it strengthened your mindset can lift you out of a negative brain loop and help you bypass those weak, one second impulses to give in so that you can power through obstacles
  • If you accept the pain as a natural process and refuse to give in and give up, you’ll engage the sympathetic nervous system which shifts your hormonal flow
  • You have to put effort, work, and friction in anything you want to change and improve in life
    • Your disadvantages will make your story even better
  • You want to get to the point in life where everything you should’ve done will bother you if you don’t do it 
  • To develop an armored mind, you need to go to the source of all your fears and insecurities
    • Only when you identify and accept your weaknesses will you finally stop running from your past
    • Then those incidents can be used more efficiently as fuel to become better and grow stronger
  • There’s power in being able to tell people your entire story
  • What attracts people to his story is that it isn’t about being strong and macho, it’s actually about being vulnerable which is true strength
    • When you allow yourself to be weak, then you can become so much stronger 

Reader’s note: ^See? Told ya. Vulnerability is strength.

“Those who know don’t speak and those who speak don’t know

  • He got to the point where his instructors would exclude him from the beat downs because they knew he loved it
    • He took it as a point of pride that he had broken the will of the entire buds staff, but he did miss the beat downs because he say them as opportunities to callous his mind (LOL wtf xD)

Reader’s note: I love his mindset and how he says he loves it when the heat is turned up. Especially when things are tough, his perspective is that he WANTS that and THRIVES on it. I think that’s the takeaway the readers should take from it. That no matter the circumstance, your mindset and approach to the situation is so important to how you get through it. His performance stood above many others because he saw challenges as something he wanted. I think that’s the mark of a leader and a person who makes a dent in whatever they’re doing.

  • He was only the 36th African American BUD/S graduate in Navy SEAL history. But he felt like now it was up to him to keep hunting for impossible tasks.
  • Challenge #5: Imagine visualizing the things you can change
    • Set a goal and visualize overcoming or achieving it

Chapter 6: It’s Not About a Trophy

  • His 100 mile race in 19hrs showed him the power of the human mind and how once your mind knows it’s not gonna quit, your body starts to push its limit and figure out how to succeed
    • He’s able to tap into more of his potential 
  • Challenge #6: Take inventory of your cookie jar, your past wins and successes, no matter how big or small
    • Not just achievements, but also obstacles you’ve overcome
  • The most powerful tool we have is our mind
    • Some of us are too busy multitasking that we don’t do shit

Chapter 7: The Most Powerful Weapon 

  • We habitually settle for less than our best
    • This is in context with him running a marathon at an elite pace with two broken and messed up legs
    • The 40% Rule
  • Everyone can achieve feats they once thought impossible
    • In order to do that, we must change our minds, be willing to scrap our identity, and make the extra effort to always find more in order to become more
      • We must remove our governor
  • Accept the following as Goggins’ Law of Nature:
    • You will be made fun of. You will feel insecure. You may not be the best all the time. You may be the only (fill in your own identity here) in a given situation. There will be times when you’ll feel alone
      • Get over it. Our minds are fucking strong. They are our most powerful weapon but we’ve stopped using them
  • He knew that the Bad Water Competition would be hell, so he had to invent barbaric PT in order to prepare for it
    • It takes a lot of will to push yourself when you’re all alone, and he never looked forward to the day ahead when he woke up in the morning because of what he would put himself through
  • He knew he had to dissect and stifle the quitting mind before it gained any traction at all
    • People don’t make the decision to quit hell week or an ultra race in a split second. People make the decision to quit hours before they ring the bell
    • He knew he had to be present enough to recognize when his body and mind were starting to fail in order to short-circuit the impulse to want to look for a way out long before he went down that spiral
  • He finished the 135 mile Blackwater race in fifth place out of 90. His reward wasn’t a medal or a speech, but a new bar
  • Challenge #7: When you’re running or training, get to the point where you’re so tired that your mind is begging you to stop
    • Then push just 5 to 10% further
    • This gradual ramp up will prevent injury and help your body get acclimated to a greater workload
      • It also resets your baseline

Chapter 8: Talent Not Required

  • Backstops is a terms for an alternative route or plan if things don’t go as planned in a route
  • If you want to mask your mind or remove the governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work
    • Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up
    • He says his work ethic is the single most important factor in all of his accomplishments
  • You need to schedule your life like a 24 hour mission every single day
    • If your situation is so crazy you don’t think you have time, his advice is to win the morning
  • It’s all about prioritizing the important things in your life and removing everything else
    • And when that time comes, to give your 100% focus to that priority 
  • If you are at your life, skip the bullshit, and use backstops, you’ll find time to do everything you need and want to do
    • But remember to schedule in rest because it is just as important
  • Even when life seems to be going well, shit storms will appear. When it happens there won’t be anything you can do to stop it
    • If you’re fortunate, the issues and injuries are relatively minor. It’s on you to adjust and stay on top of it
    • If complications arise that prevent you from working on your primary passion, refocus your energy elsewhere 
      • Use these opportunities to work on your weaknesses
    • Don’t allow a step back to shatter your focus or your detours to dictate your mindset
      • Always be ready to adjust, re-calibrate, and stay after it to become better somehow
  • His medical issue with the hole in his heart that he was born with was further proof that you don’t need luck or talent to achieve all he has
    • It was proof at what was possible when someone harnesses full potential of the human mind
  • We can have so many good things in our life, but we tend to focus on the one bad thing or the small things that affect us
  • Challenge #8: Schedule it in
    • Compartmentalize your day instead of being a multitasker
    • Week 1: document your week in full detail of what you spend your time on. Week 2: build an optimal schedule and lock everything into place in 15 to 30 minute blocks
      • Put your full focus into each thing. Make note of timestamps
    • Week 3: you should have a working schedule that maximizes your effort without sacrificing your sleep

Chapter 9: Uncommon Against Uncommon

  • A true leader stays exhausted, abhors arrogance, and never looks down on the weakest link
    • He fights for his men and leads by example
    • That’s what he means when he says to be uncommon among the uncommon
      • It meant being one of the best and helping your men find their best too
  • He loved going to Ranger school because no matter who you were in the outside world, you started from the beginning all over again
    • No matter what we achieved in life, we can’t be satisfied
    • Life is too dynamic of a game, we are either getting better or worse
    • We should celebrate our victories, but once it dies down, we need to make new goals and new regimens and start at zero the very next day 
      • Always be willing to embrace ignorance and become the dumb fuck in the classroom again because that the only way to expand your body of knowledge and body of work
        • It is the only way to expand your mind
  • No matter how high your standards, you’re supposed superiority is just a figment of your ego
    • Don’t lord this over your team as it won’t help you individually or as a team
    • Instead of getting angry at them, help pick them up and bring them with you
  • He fed off of being “the only” in every room
    • That increased difficulty made every victory sweeter
    • He brought the war to people and watched his excellence explode small minds
  • Challenge #9: if you truly want to be uncommon among the uncommon, it will require sustaining greatness for a long time. Torch the complacency gathering around you. Continue to put obstacles in front of yourself because that is where you’ll find the friction that will help you grow even stronger

Chapter 10: The Empowerment of Failure

  • He was about to pass Delta training but blew it because he was unfocused for a little bit
  • After his failed world record pull up attempt, he did and After Action Report (AAR)
    • This is crucial to doing an autopsy no matter how the mission went to see what went well and what can be improved upon
  • We need to surround ourselves with people who are tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear
    • But at the same time, not make us feel like we’re up against the impossible
  • In regards to all the haters, he says don’t listen to anyone who isn’t trying what you’re trying to do
    • Sometimes there is truth in the hate comments and there’s value in finding those and not running away from criticism
  • Failure is one of the biggest gifts of all
    • If you can get failure and dissect it, you can find out exactly how to succeed
  • He broke the world record pull up attempt on his third try, but it was anti-climactic because he’s always going straight to the next goal
    • Self talk is so important but it is not easy
  • Challenge #10: Think about your most recent and heart wrenching failures
    • Write out all the good things that went well from your failures. Then note how you handle your failure
    • Note how you were thinking during each step so you can analyze your mindset
    • Now go back through and make a list of things you can fix. Be brutally honest and write them all out
    • Study them and then schedule another attempt in your calendar if possible

Chapter 11: What If?

  • He retired as a chief in the Navy in November 2015. The only military man to be part of Air Force tag B, three Navy SEAL hell weeks in one year, completing two of them, and graduate of BUD/S and Army Ranger School
  • He reconnected with his brother after 15 years when they found out that his brothers 18-year-old daughter was shot and killed

“Life is suffering. To exist in this world, we must contend with many forms of suffering”

The Buddha
  • It’s not the external voice that will break you down
    • It’s what you tell yourself that matters
    • The most important conversation you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself 
  • You can externalize doubts and other internal chatter by asking yourself what if?
    • It silences your negativity and is a reminder that you don’t really know what you’re capable of until you put everything you’ve got on the line
  • When we transcend the limits and push yourself beyond what we thought was possible, our success terrifies the people around us
    • Our light reflects off all the walls they built around themselves
    • However, if they are also great people that you seen them, your light will transform them and inspire them to jump their own walls
  • There is peace on the other end of confession and acceptance of your life
  • He realized all he ever wanted was peace
    • He learned that you can’t find peace until you go to war with yourself
    • You have to figure out who you are.
  • Peace isn’t a look on your face, it’s a feeling in your heart
    • Never judge a book by its cover
    • You’ll find peace when you’re constantly challenging yourself at every turn and continuously breaking down barriers and getting back up
      • At the end of that you’ll find peace
  • Him getting sick was a blessing because it forced him to sit and think and reflect
  • His biggest fear that pushed him forward was not living to his full potential
  • He has his visualization for when he goes to heaven, God has a chart that lists all the things he could have or should have been in his life
    • Not living up to that and missing the mark is a fear that pushes him to keep reaching into a soul and move through suffering to find his true self and fulfill his potential
  • The David Goggins mindset that he believes we should all adopt is we should always shoot for more than what we think it’s possible

Main ideas / Themes:

  • Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done
  • Be your own hero
  • We all need thicker skin to improve in life
  • When you have no confidence, it’s very easy to value other peoples opinions
  • The only way to callous your mind and become mentally strong is do the things that you don’t want to do over and over again
  • Triple down on your weaknesses to make you mentally tougher
  • Most of us don’t have the courage to put ourselves in a position to win because we are scared of failure and anything that isn’t guaranteed
  • Success always comes back to one thing: Mindset & how you speak to yourself. Everything in life is a mind game. The most powerful tool we have is our mind
  • Know why you’re in the fight to stay in the fight
  • Secure people don’t bully others, they look out for others
  • Excellence is the one way to earn the respect of your enemy and turn the tables
  • Your disadvantages will make your story even better
  • Work ethic is the single most important factor in all of his accomplishments
  • It’s all about prioritizing the important things in your life and removing everything else
  • In life, we are either getting better or worse
  • Be willing to embrace ignorance and become the beginner again
  • Don’t listen to anyone who isn’t trying what you’re trying to do
  • Failure is one of the biggest gifts of all
  • You’ll find peace when you’re constantly challenging yourself at every turn and continuously breaking down barriers and getting back up
  • David Goggins Mindset: always shoot for more than what we think it’s possible

Closing thoughts:

I absolutely loved this book. Easily one of my favorite books of the year. It checks all of the boxes of what I consider a fantastic book: captivating narrative, applicable insight/advice, and an element of inspiration.

I also really enjoyed how this was a part-audiobook, part-podcast sort of audio experience. I think the commentary that David gives in between chapters is so much of a value add because it allows him to give clarification and insight into the lessons and principles discussed in the book and his story.

In general, David has such an awe-inspiring story. He came from one of the least privileged households you can think of. He grew up poor with an abusive father, he was discriminated against by his peers and teachers, he had a learning disability, and overcame a lot of physical/health-related obstacles. Despite all of that, he calloused his mind and pushed himself to accomplish these superhuman feats.

Moreover, you can tell that while he has crazy high standards, he also is far along in removing his ego. He knows he’s not perfect, but you can tell by the way he speaks and what he says that he’s a good person who cares about others and wants to help others live their best life.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s a long read but definitely worth it.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

This book has so many good takeaways, but one key point is one I know I need to focus on for this next year in 2020:

  • Embrace ignorance and failure as a means to grow and improve

I combined two separate ideas into one point because I know I have to adopt this mindset of a beginner and not being afraid of failure in order to achieve all that I want this year.

My two big initiatives this year (which I’m going to cover in my 2019 Year in Review mega blog post), are 1) to hone my craft of standup comedy by performing consistently and 2) launch my podcast and produce episodes consistently. I think my theme for 2020 will be “To Develop My Voice” since that will encompass both of my initiatives. 2021 might be to develop income by providing value via those avenues, but we’ll see. I really just need to focus on my artistry.

If I can adopt this mindset from the takeaway, it’ll be very helpful this next year.


U.S. Navy SEAL and high performance athlete David Goggins shares the secret to his achievements, which revolves around his mindset, work ethic, high standards, and ability to create a calloused mind.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.


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