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Highlights: Can't Hurt Me

Continued from Book Review: Can’t Hurt Me.

You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft that you will die without ever realizing your true potential.

Repetition will callous your mind.

So I sought out pain, fell in love with suffering, and eventually transformed myself from the weakest piece of shit on the planet into the hardest man God ever created, or so I tell myself. Odds are you have had a much better childhood than I did, and even now might have a damn decent life, but no matter who you are, who your parents are or were, where you live, what you do for a living, or how much money you have, you’re probably living at about 40 percent of your true capability.

You aren’t missing out on opportunities, making shit money, and getting evicted because of America or Donald fucking Trump or because your ancestors were slaves or because some people hate immigrants or Jews or harass women or believe gay people are going to hell. If any of that shit is stopping you from excelling in life, I’ve got some news. You are stopping you! You are 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. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway! There is no more time to waste. Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay 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 you look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire the wholesale changes we need to shift our present and open up our future.

From then on, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your fucking running shoes on. Sometimes I wussed out and had to deal with it at the Accountability Mirror. But facing that mirror, facing myself, motivated me to fight through uncomfortable experiences, and, as a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals.

Living with purpose changed everything for me—at least in the short term. During my senior year in high school, studying and working out gave my mind so much energy that hate flaked from my soul like used-up snake skin. The resentment I held toward the racists in Brazil, the emotion that had dominated me and was burning me up inside, dissipated because I’d finally considered the fucking source. I looked at the people who were making me feel uncomfortable and realized how uncomfortable they were in their own skin. To make fun of or try to intimidate someone they didn’t even know based on race alone was a clear indication that something was very wrong with them, not me. But when you have no confidence it becomes easy to value other people’s opinions, and I was valuing everyone’s opinion without considering the minds that generated them. That sounds silly, but it’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when you are insecure on top of being the only. As soon as I made that connection, being upset with them was not worth my time. Because if I was gonna kick their ass in life, and I was, I had way too much shit to do. Each insult or dismissive gesture became more fuel for the engine revving inside me.

Only one-third of the men who begin BUD/S make it through Hell Week, and in all of my time in Pararescue training, I couldn’t remember feeling as awful as these men looked. They were swollen, chafed, sleep-deprived, and dead on their feet, and I was jealous of them. The longer I watched the more certain I became that there were answers buried in all that suffering. Answers that I needed. More than once the camera panned over the endless frothing ocean, and each time I felt pathetic. The SEALs were everything I wasn’t. They were about pride, dignity, and the type of excellence that came from bathing in the fire, getting beat the fuck down, and going back for more, again and again. They were the human equivalent of the hardest, sharpest sword you could imagine. They sought out the flame, took the pounding for as long as necessary, longer even, until they were fearless and deadly. They weren’t motivated. They were driven. The show ended with graduation. Twenty-two proud men stood shoulder to shoulder in their dress whites before the camera pushed in on their Commanding Officer.

. . .

“In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded,” he said, “there is intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities. This is exactly the type of person BUD/S is meant to find. The man who finds a way to complete each and every task to the best of his ability. The man who will adapt and overcome any and all obstacles.”

When depression smothers you, it blots out all light and leaves you with nothing to cling onto for hope. All you see is negativity. For me, the only way to make it through that was to feed off my depression. I had to flip it and convince myself that all that self-doubt and anxiety was confirmation that I was no longer living an aimless life. My task may turn out to be impossible but at least I was back on a motherfucking mission.

When I was done, I’d swim a mile or two, then head to a pond near my mother’s home. Remember, this was Indiana—the American Midwest—in December. The trees were naked. Icicles hung like crystals from the eaves of houses and snow blanketed the earth in all directions, but the pond wasn’t completely frozen yet. I waded into the icy water, dressed in camo pants, a brown short sleeved t-shirt, and boots, laid back and looked into the gray sky. The hypothermic water washed over me, the pain was excruciating, and I fucking loved it. After a few minutes I got out and started running, water sloshing in my boots, sand in my underwear. Within seconds my t-shirt was frozen to my chest, my pants iced at the cuffs. I hit the Monon trail. Steam poured from my nose and mouth as I grunted and slalomed speed-walkers and joggers. Civilians. Their heads turned as I picked up speed and began sprinting, like Rocky in downtown Philly. I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could, from a past that no longer defined me, toward a future undetermined. All I knew was that there would be pain and there would be purpose.

The first step on the journey toward a calloused mind is stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. Dig out your journal again and 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 do it again.

. . .

This is not about changing your life instantly, it’s about moving the needle bit by bit and making those changes sustainable. That means digging down to the micro level and doing something that sucks every day. Even if it’s as simple as making your bed, doing the dishes, ironing your clothes, or getting up before dawn and running two miles each day. Once that becomes comfortable, take it to five, then ten miles. If you already do all those things, find something you aren’t doing.

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, no matter how harrowing the torture, 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. During Hell Week, the men who quit felt like they were running on a treadmill turned way the fuck up with no dashboard within reach. But, whether they ever figured it out or not, that was an illusion they fell for.

I was running with a log on my shoulders, vomiting blood. Bloody snot streamed from my nose and mouth, and the instructors periodically grabbed me and sat me down nearby because they thought I might drop fucking dead. But every time they turned around I was back in the mix. Back on that log. Kenny kept hearing the same refrain over the radio that night. “We need to get Goggins out of there,” one voice said. “Roger that, sir. Goggins is sitting down,” another voice crackled. Then after a beat, Kenny would hear that radio chirp again. “Oh shit, Goggins is back on the log. I repeat, Goggins is back on the log!”

So I deployed a process that I now call “Taking Souls.” I turned to Brown. “You know why I call you Freak?” I asked. He looked over as we lowered the boat, then lifted it up overhead like creaky robots on reserve battery power. “Because you are one of the baddest men I’ve ever seen in my damn life!” He cracked a smile. “And you know what I say to these motherfuckers right here?” I tipped my elbow at the nine instructors gathered on the beach, drinking coffee and talking bullshit. “I say, they can go fuck themselves!” Bill nodded and narrowed his eyes on our tormentors, while I turned to the rest of the crew. “Now let’s throw this shit up high and show them who we are!” “Fucking beautiful,” Bill said. “Let’s do it!” Within seconds my whole team had life. We didn’t just lift the boat overhead and set it down hard, we threw it up, caught it overhead, tapped the sand with it and threw it up high again. The results were immediate and undeniable. Our pain and exhaustion faded. Each rep made us stronger and faster, and each time we threw the boat up we all chanted. “YOU CAN’T HURT BOAT CREW TWO!” That was our fuck you to the instructors, and we had their full attention as we soared on a second wind. On the toughest day of the hardest week in the world’s toughest training, Boat Crew Two was moving at lightning speed and making a mockery of Hell Week.

Nine months earlier, I had topped out at 297 pounds and couldn’t even run a quarter mile. Back then, when I was dreaming of a different life, I remember thinking that just getting through Hell Week would be the biggest honor of my life so far. Even if I never graduated from BUD/S, surviving Hell Week alone would have meant something. But I didn’t just survive. I was about to finish Hell Week at the top of my class, and for the first time, I knew I was a bad motherfucker.

Time stood still as I realized for the first time that I’d always looked at my entire life, everything I’d been through, from the wrong perspective. Yes, all the abuse I’d experienced and the negativity I had to push through challenged me to the core, but 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 and had prepared me for that moment in that pool with Psycho Pete.

You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed. Remembering that you’ve been through difficulties before and have always survived to fight again shifts the conversation in your head.

Physical training is the perfect crucible to learn how to manage your thought process because when you’re working out, your focus is more likely to be single pointed, and your response to stress and pain is immediate and measurable. Do you hammer hard and snag that personal best like you said you would, or do you crumble? That decision rarely comes down to physical ability, it’s almost always a test of how well you are managing your own mind.

. . .

The reason it’s important to push hardest when you want to quit the most is because it helps you callous your mind. It’s the same reason why you have to do your best work when you are the least motivated. That’s why I loved PT in BUD/S and why I still love it today. Physical challenges strengthen my mind so I’m ready for whatever life throws at me, and it will do the same for you.

I was rejecting my past and therefore rejecting myself. My foundation, my character was defined by self-rejection. All my fears came from that deep-seated uneasiness I carried with being David Goggins because of what I’d gone through. Even after I’d reached a point where I no longer cared about what others thought of me, I still had trouble accepting me. Anyone who is of sound mind and body can sit down and think of twenty things in their life that could have gone differently. Where maybe they didn’t get a fair shake and where they took the path of least resistance. If you’re one of the few who acknowledge that, want to callous those wounds, and strengthen your character, its up to you to go back through your past and make peace with yourself by facing those incidents and all of your negative influences, and accepting them as weak spots in your own character. 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.

Yes, it was miserable, but I fucking loved it. I thrived off of the barbaric beauty of seeing the soul of a man destroyed, only to rise again and overcome every obstacle in his path.

“People have a hard time going through BUD/S healthy, and you’re going through it on broken legs! Who else would even think of this?” I asked. “Who else would be able to run even one minute on one broken leg, let alone two? Only Goggins! You are twenty minutes in the business, Goggins! You are a fucking machine! Each step you run from now until the end will only make you harder!”

Again, the average person thinks 2,000–3,000 thoughts per hour. Rather than focusing on bullshit you cannot change, imagine visualizing the things you can. Choose any obstacle in your way, or set a new goal, and visualize overcoming or achieving it. Before I engage in any challenging activity, I start by painting a picture of what my success looks and feels like. I’ll think about it every day and that feeling propels me forward when I’m training, competing, or taking on any task I choose. But visualization isn’t simply about daydreaming of some trophy ceremony—real or metaphorical. You must also visualize the challenges that are likely to arise and determine how you will attack those problems when they do. That way you can be as prepared as possible on the journey.

. . .

You can’t prepare for everything but if you engage in strategic visualization ahead of time, you’ll be as prepared as you possibly can be. That also means being prepared to answer the simple questions. Why are you doing this? What is driving you toward this achievement? Where does the darkness you’re using as fuel come from? What has calloused your mind? You’ll need to have those answers at your fingertips when you hit a wall of pain and doubt. To push through, you’ll need to channel your darkness, feed off it, and lean on your calloused mind.

. . .

It takes relentless self-discipline to schedule suffering into your day, every day, but if you do, you’ll find that at the other end of that suffering is a whole other life just waiting for you.

I asked Kate to grab some Motrin and anything she thought might be helpful from John Metz. And when she was gone, my body continued to decline. My stomach rumbled and when I looked down I saw bloody piss leak down my leg. I shit myself too. Liquefied diarrhea rose in the space between my ass and a lawn chair that would never be quite the same again. Worse, I had to hide it because I knew if Kate saw how bad off I really was she would beg me to pull out of the race. I’d run seventy miles in twelve hours with no training, and this was my reward.

I remembered as a kid, no matter how fucked up our life was, my mother always figured out a way to stock our damn cookie jar. She’d buy wafers and Oreos, Pepperidge Farm Milanos and Chips Ahoy!, and whenever she showed up with a new batch of cookies, she dumped them into one jar. With her permission we’d get to pick one or two out at a time. It was like a mini treasure hunt. I remember the joy of dropping my fist into that jar, wondering what I’d find, and before I crammed the cookie in my mouth I always took the time to admire it first, especially when we were broke in Brazil. I’d turn it around in my hand and say my own little prayer of thanks. The feeling of being that kid, locked in a moment of gratitude for a simple gift like a cookie, came back to me. I felt it viscerally, and I used that concept to stuff a new kind of Cookie Jar. Inside it were all my past victories. Like the time when I had to study three times as hard as anybody else during my senior year in high school just to graduate. That was a cookie. Or when I passed the ASVAB test as a senior and then again to get into BUD/S. Two more cookies. I remembered dropping over a hundred pounds in under three months, conquering my fear of water, graduating BUD/S at the top of my class, and being named Enlisted Honor Man in Army Ranger School (more on that soon). All those were cookies loaded with chocolate chunks.

. . .

From then on, the Cookie Jar became a concept I’ve employed whenever I need a reminder of who I am and what I’m capable of. We all have a cookie jar inside us, because life, being what it is, has always tested us. Even if you’re feeling low and beat down by life right now, I guarantee you can think of a time or two when you overcame odds and tasted success.

. . .

If you don’t have any big accomplishments to draw on yet, so be it. Your small victories are your cookies to savor, and make sure you do savor them. Yeah, I was hard on myself when I looked in the Accountability Mirror, but I also praised myself whenever I could claim a small victory, because we all need that, and very few of us take the time to celebrate our successes. Sure, in the moment, we might enjoy them, but do we ever look back on them and feel that win again and again?

. . .

The Cookie Jar became my energy bank. Whenever the pain got to be too much, I dug into it and took a bite. The pain was never gone, but I only felt it in waves because my brain was otherwise occupied, which allowed me to drown out the simple questions and shrink time. Each lap became a victory lap, celebrating a different cookie, another small fire. Mile eighty-one became eighty-two, and an hour and a half later, I was in the nineties. I’d run ninety fucking miles with no training! Who does that shit? An hour later I was at ninety-five, and after nearly nineteen hours of running almost non-stop, I’d done it! I’d hit one hundred miles! Or had I? I couldn’t remember, so I ran one more lap just to make sure. After running 101 miles, my race finally over, I staggered to my lawn chair and Kate placed a camouflaged poncho liner over my body as I shivered in the fog. Steam poured off me. My vision was blurred. I remember feeling something warm on my leg, looked down and saw I was pissing blood again. I knew what was coming next, but the port-a-potties were about forty feet away, which may as well have been forty miles, or 4,000. I tried to get up but I was way too dizzy and collapsed back into that chair, an immovable object ready to accept the inevitable truth that I was about to shit myself. It was much worse this time. My entire backside and lower back were smeared with warm feces.

. . .

I came to, on the kitchen floor, a few minutes later. My back was still smeared with shit, my thighs caked in blood and urine. My feet were blistered up and bleeding in twelve places. Seven of my ten toenails were dangling loose, connected only by tabs of dead skin. We had a combination tub and shower and she got the shower going before helping me crawl toward the bathroom and climb into the tub. I remember lying there, naked, with the shower pouring down upon me. I shivered, felt and looked like death, and then I started peeing again. But instead of blood or urine, what came out of me looked like thick brown bile.

What am I capable of? I couldn’t answer that question, but as I looked around the finish line that day and considered what I’d accomplished, it became clear that we are all leaving a lot of money on the table without realizing it. We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole. We’re not talking some bad weekend in Vegas, no more cash at the ATM kind of loss either. In that moment, the cost of missing out on so much excellence in this eternally fucked-up world felt incalculable to me, and it still does. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

I loved waking up at 5 a.m. and starting work with three hours of cardio already in the bank while most of my teammates hadn’t even finished their coffee. It gave me a mental edge, a better sense of self-awareness, and a ton of self-confidence, which made me a better SEAL instructor. That’s what getting up at the ass crack of dawn and putting out will do for you. It makes you better in all facets of your life.

This being my second race, I was starting to understand the rhythm of ultra. It’s a constant dance between competition and camaraderie, which reminded me of BUD/S. Luis and I were both racing the clock and each other, but we wanted one another to make it. We were in it alone, together, and he was right. We were a couple of fucking idiots.

By now, I’m sure you can tell that it doesn’t take much for me to become obsessed. Some criticize my level of passion, but I’m not down with the prevailing mentalities that tend to dominate American society these days; the ones that tell us to go with the flow or invite us to learn how to get more with less effort. Fuck that shortcut bullshit.

Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! That’s the governor in action! Once you know that to be true, it’s simply a matter of stretching your pain tolerance, letting go of your identity and all your self-limiting stories, so you can get to 60 percent, then 80 percent and beyond without giving up. I call this The 40% Rule, and the reason it’s so powerful is that if you follow it, you will unlock your mind to new levels of performance and excellence in sports and in life, and your rewards will run far deeper than mere material success.

I understand the temptation to sell short, but I also know that impulse is driven by your mind’s desire for comfort, and it’s not telling you the truth. It’s your identity trying to find sanctuary, not help you grow. It’s looking for status quo, not reaching for greatness or seeking wholeness. But the software update that you need to shut your governor down is no supersonic download. It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!

First, a quick reminder of how this process works. In 1999, when I weighed 297 pounds, my first run was a quarter mile. Fast forward to 2007, I ran 205 miles in thirty-nine hours, nonstop. I didn’t get there overnight, and I don’t expect you to either. Your job is to push past your normal stopping point. Whether you are running on a treadmill or doing a set of push-ups, get to the point where you are so tired and in pain that your mind is begging you to stop. Then push just 5 to 10 percent further. If the most push-ups you have ever done is one hundred in a workout, do 105 or 110. If you normally run thirty miles each week, run 10 percent more next week.

The race started at 4 a.m. on a Saturday, departing from the city of Leadville, a working-class ski town with frontier roots, and traversing a network of beautiful and harsh Rocky Mountain trails that range from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet in elevation. When I finished at 2 a.m. on Sunday, a teenager from Denver who attended a school I’d visited a few days earlier was waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t have a great race (I came in 14th place, rather than my typical top five), but I always made sure to finish strong, and when I sprinted home he approached me with a wide smile and said, “I drove two hours just to see you finish!” The lesson: you never know who you’re affecting. My poor race results meant less than nothing to that young man because I’d helped open his eyes to a new world of possibility and capability that he sensed within himself. He’d followed me from his high school auditorium to Leadville because he was looking for absolute proof—my finishing the race—that it was possible to transcend the typical and become more, and as I cooled down and toweled off he asked me for tips so he could one day run all day and night through the mountains in his backyard. I have several stories like that. More than a dozen kids came out to pace and crew for me at the McNaughton Park Trail Race, a 150-miler held outside of Peoria, Illinois. Two dozen students trained with me in Minot, North Dakota. Together we ran the frozen tundra before sunrise in January when it was twenty below zero!

. . .

Wherever I went, whether the students were interested in a military career or not, they always asked if they had the same hardware I had. Could they run a hundred miles in one day? What would it take to reach their full potential? This is what I’d tell them: Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your 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.

Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullshit. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth you’d deactivate your Facebook account STAT, and cut your cable. When you find yourself having frivolous conversations or becoming ensnared in activities that don’t better you in any way, move the fuck on!

“Goggins,” my OIC said after giving me the good news, “you are the type of motherfucker who wishes you were a POW just to see if you have what it takes to last.”

In BUD/S I’d always lead my boat crews, often with tough love, but in general I didn’t care how the guys in the other boat crews were doing or if they quit. This time, I wasn’t just putting out, I was also looking after everybody. If I saw someone having trouble with navigation, patrolling, keeping up on a run, or staying awake all night, I made sure we all rallied together to help. Not everybody wanted to. The training was so difficult that when some guys weren’t on the clock being graded, they did the bare minimum and found opportunities to rest and hide. In my sixty-nine days at Ranger School I didn’t coast for a single second. I was becoming a true leader.

No matter who you are, life will present you similar opportunities where you can prove to be uncommon. There are people in all walks of life who relish those moments, and when I see them I recognize them immediately because they are usually that motherfucker who’s all by himself. It’s the suit who’s still at the office at midnight while everyone else is at the bar, or the badass who hits the gym directly after coming off a forty-eight-hour op. She’s the wildland firefighter who instead of hitting her bedroll, sharpens her chainsaw after working a fire for twenty-four hours. That mentality is there for all of us. Man, woman, straight, gay, black, white, or purple fucking polkadot. All of us can be the person who flies all day and night only to arrive home to a filthy house, and instead of blaming family or roommates, cleans it up right then because they refuse to ignore duties undone. All over the world amazing human beings like that exist. It doesn’t take wearing a uniform. It’s not about all the hard schools they graduated from, all their patches and medals. It’s about wanting it like there’s no tomorrow—because there might not be. It’s about thinking of everybody else before yourself and developing your own code of ethics that sets you apart from others. One of those ethics is the drive to turn every negative into a positive, and then when shit starts flying, being prepared to lead from the front.

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 it meant to be uncommon among uncommon. It meant being one of the best and helping your men find their best too.

Sure, all the guys I worked with over the years were relatively hard guys and highly skilled. They enjoyed the challenges of the job, the brotherhood, and being treated like superstars. They all loved being SEALs, but some weren’t interested in starting at zero because just by qualifying to breathe rare air they were already satisfied. Now, that is a very common way of thinking. Most people in the world, if they ever push themselves at all, are willing to push themselves only so far. Once they reach a cushy plateau, they chill the fuck out and enjoy their rewards, but there’s another phrase for that mentality. It’s called getting soft, and that I could not abide.

“We are a bunch of good ol’ boys,” one of them said, “and we need to know how you’re gonna handle hearing black jokes, bro.” Most of their questions were a variation on that one theme and through it all, I smiled and thought, How are you white boys gonna feel when I’m the baddest motherfucker in here?

After seventeen hours of pain, around 3 a.m. on January 20, 2013, I did my 4,020th and 4,021st pull-up, and the record was mine. Everyone in the gym cheered, but I stayed composed. After two more sets and 4,030 total pull-ups, I took my headphones out, stared into the camera and said, “I tracked you down, Stephen Hyland!” In one day, I’d lifted the equivalent of 846,030 pounds, nearly three times the weight of the Space Shuttle! Cheers spread to laughter as I pulled off my gloves and disappeared into the back room, but much to everyone’s surprise, I was not in the mood to celebrate. Does that shock you too? You know that my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be because I live a mission-driven life, always on the hunt for the next challenge. That mindset is the reason I broke that record, finished Badwater, became a SEAL, rocked Ranger School, and on down the list. In my mind I’m that racehorse always chasing a carrot I’ll never catch, forever trying to prove myself to myself. And when you live that way and attain a goal, success feels anti-climactic.

Think about your most recent and your most heart-wrenching failures. Break out that journal one last time. Log off the digital version and write them out long-hand. I want you to feel this process because you are about to file your own, belated After Action Reports. First off, write out all the good things, everything that went well, from your failures. Be detailed and generous with yourself. A lot of good things will have happened. It’s rarely all bad. Then note how you handled your failure. Did it affect your life and your relationships? How so? How did you think throughout the preparation for and during the execution stage of your failure? You have to know how you were thinking at each step because it’s all about mindset, and that’s where most people fall short. Now go back through and make a list of things you can fix. This isn’t time to be soft or generous. Be brutally honest, write them all out. Study them. Then look at your calendar and schedule another attempt as soon as possible.

. . .

And if you fail again, so the fuck be it. Take the pain. Repeat these steps and keep fighting. That’s what it’s all about.

The Buddha famously said that life is suffering. I’m not a Buddhist, but I know what he meant and so do you. To exist in this world, we must contend with humiliation, broken dreams, sadness, and loss. That’s just nature. Each specific life comes with its own personalized portion of pain. It’s coming for you. You can’t stop it. And you know it.

In response, most of us are programmed to seek comfort as a way to numb it all out and cushion the blows. We carve out safe spaces. We consume media that confirms our beliefs, we take up hobbies aligned with our talents, we try to spend as little time as possible doing the tasks we fucking loathe, and that makes us soft. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine and desire for ourselves because it’s comfortable as hell in that box. Not just for us, but for our closest family and friends. The limits we create and accept become the lens through which they see us. Through which they love and appreciate us.

But for some, those limits start to feel like bondage, and when we least expect it, our imagination jumps those walls and hunts down dreams that in the immediate aftermath feel attainable. Because most dreams are. We are inspired to make changes little by little, and it hurts. Breaking the shackles and stretching beyond our own perceived limits takes hard fucking work—oftentimes physical work—and when you put yourself on the line, self doubt and pain will greet you with a stinging combination that will buckle your knees.

Most people who are merely inspired or motivated will quit at that point, and upon their return, their cells will feel that much smaller, their shackles even tighter. The few who remain outside their walls will encounter even more pain and much more doubt, courtesy of those who we thought were our biggest fans. When it was time for me to lose 106 pounds in less than three months, everyone I talked to told me there was no way I could do it. “Don’t expect too much,” they all said. Their weak-ass dialogue only fed my own self doubt.

But it’s not the external voice that will break you down. It’s what you tell yourself that matters. The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. You wake up with them, you walk around with them, you go to bed with them, and eventually you act on them. Whether they be good or bad.

We are all our own worst haters and doubters because self doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. You can’t stop it from blooming in your brain, but you can neutralize it, and all the other external chatter by asking, What if?

What if is an exquisite fuck-you to anyone who has ever doubted your greatness or stood in your way. It 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. What if is the power and permission to face down your darkest demons, your very worst memories, and accept them as part of your history. If and when you do that, you will be able to use them as fuel to envision the most audacious, outrageous achievement and go get it.

Whatever failures and accomplishments pile up in the years to come, and there will be plenty of both I’m sure, I know I’ll continue to give it my all and set goals that seem impossible to most. And when those motherfuckers say so, I’ll look them dead in the eye and respond with one simple question.

What if?