Over the past week or so I've been reading a book while hitting the gym, expanding the mind while exercising the body. Before this month, books were something that I would enjoy either in the living room with coffee or in bed right before falling asleep. While neither of these two habits will disappear anytime soon, I've found that engrossing myself in words while sweating on a 10km+ simulated bike trail has allowed me to ignore that internal voice that insists on living a sedentary lifestyle. Mind you, this discovery could be due to the content of the book, Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins.
A lot of people probably skip over titles like this, thinking that it's a "self help" book or a collection of truisms that many feel are self-evident. This is generally what people have said about such books for decades. However, this particular book is more of an autobiography of someone who could have been yet another statistic but went on to accomplish great things. Some of those accomplishments were quantifiable, such as getting into the U.S. Armed Forces or earning a Guinness World Record, but the most important accomplishments are the ones that he recounts over the course of 11 chapters: he conquered his inner voice to do things that were said to be impossible.
Chapters two through eleven follow the exact same formula: life got better, he grew complacent, a challenge arose, then another, and another, and another, then he persevered to overcome the obstacles and reach his goal. At every step along this path he struggled with defeatism and that inner voice saying "Why are you doing this to yourself?". A valid question that we can ask ourselves whenever life throws us a curveball.
Around the mid-point of every chapter, there's a paragraph written in a manner that only someone who has spent most of their adult life in a military could pen. It speaks to that self-defeating voice that hinders the vast majority of us when the going gets tough. Here's one of the better ones:
Our minds are f···ing strong, they are our most powerful weapon, but we have stopped using them. We have access to so many more resourced today than ever before and yet we are so much less capable than those who came before us. If you want to be one of the few to defy those trends in our ever-softening society, you will have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind. It's funny, being open minded is often tagged as new age or soft. F··· that. Being open minded enough to find a way is old school. It's what knuckle draggers do. And that's exactly what I did.
– Boggins, David (2018). Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds (https://www.amzn.com/B07H453KGH)
These words are quite rough but cannot be disputed. David Goggins came from "nothing" and, over the course of decades, put his head down and worked hard to overcome every obstacle that arose in his life. Like most people, he made mistakes along the way and faced consequences as a result. But he kept his eyes on whatever prize he sought, whether it was being part of a specific military unit or conquering an extreme marathon, and went for it.
One of the things that I found interesting about the book was the formula that exists for each of the chapters after the first. In every one of them there is an admission of ill-preparedness, which is something that seemed odd by the middle of the book. Because this is a consistent pattern, it would seem logical for a person to recognise the failure and work towards fixing it. Rather than go into every competition without first researching how others succeed, he would show up with little more than the clothes on his back, only to be beaten down. Again and again and again this pattern appears, right up to the last chapter where he's roughly the same age as me.
But this admission gives the book more authenticity. We all get into these similar patterns where there is one thing we consistently fail to do over and over and over only to have it hold us back. To make matters worse, we're probably blind – wilfully or otherwise – to the fact, which will ensure we continue to defeat ourselves before the world even takes notice of our existence.
We all know that there are things we can do to improve our lives today but postpone indefinitely because of one or more reasons that voice inside our head might give. However, if we take stock of what we're doing and what we're not, then there is a greater chance that we might make a small change today that can help tomorrow. Then another small change tomorrow to help the next day. Then another small change. Then another. Like compound interest, these small changes will accumulate and turn something that once seemed impossible into something tangible and attainable.
It's a slog. It's hard as heck to maintain momentum and motivation day after day, month after month, year after year. Particularly when it feels as though the world is out to get you. However, if David Goggins could overcome everything he did to reach the vast majority of the goals he set out to accomplish despite his background and the prejudices of people around him, then who knows what the rest of us could do if we just put our minds to it a little bit more.