What Navy Seal David Goggins Taught Me About Setting Bigger Goals

January 11, 2016

by Ravi Raman

david goggins navy seal

David Goggins is a remarkable example of what’s possible when you learn to tap into the power of the mind to accomplish big goals. A Navy SEAL who transformed his body and mind to become an ultra-endurance athlete, Goggins displays a soft-spoken yet hard-as-nails attitude. While running 200+ mile races is clearly not for everyone, we can learn a lot from his attitude and forging of extreme mental toughness.

Meet David Goggins: Ultra-Endurance Athlete

Goggins is memorable for many reasons.

His endurance exploits are legendary:

2013 — 24 Hour Pullup World Record — 4,025 pull-ups in 17 hours
2013 — Badwater 135 mile run; 18th Overall — 32:44:10
2008 — McNaughton Park 150 mile run; 1st overall — 33:36:20
2008 — Kona Ironman World Championship — 11:24:01
2008 — MiWok 100k run — 9:55:19
2007 — Gold Rush 48 Hour run; 1st Overall — 203 miles
2007 — Leadville 100 mile run–22:15:36
2007 — Badwater 135 mile run; 3rd Overall — 25:49:40
2006 — Ultraman World Championship; 2nd Overall — 41:23:00
2006 — Badwater 135 mile run — 30:18:54
2006 — San Diego
One Day (24 Hours) run — 21:21:00 (100 miles)

He also completed countless other endurance races.

David Goggins from fat to fit

David Goggins. This is what it looks like to loose 100 pounds.

However, there is much more to David Goggins than his endurance accomplishments that captivate the imagination:

  • His size (over 6 feet tall and muscular).
  • His demeanor (a stoic look in all his photos, even when he is clearly in severe pain).
  • His background (13+ years in the military, most of it as a Navy SEAL).
  • His story (very tough childhood, losing 100 pounds in 60 days to qualify to join the SEALS).
  • His work ethic (waking at 3 AM, running 20+ miles a day, bike commuting to work 25 miles each way, a full-time job in the Navy).
  • His toughness (he set a world pull-up record, after attempting three times and suffering a ruptured bicep along the way, he also ran and finished a 100-mile run as his first ultramarathon — despite kidney failure and breaking all the small bones in his feet).
  • His motivation (uses his endurance activities to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation).
  • His humility (no sponsors support him, he is camera shy and prefers to stay out of the limelight aside from his Navy-sponsored speaking duties)

Most interesting to me is that he has overcome countless obstacles in the process. Here are a few of the notable ones he has discussed in interviews and his book with Jesse Itzler, “Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.”.

  • He has asthma.
  • He has sickle cell anemia.
  • He suffered severe psychological and physical abuse as a kid.
  • He barely graduates high school with a 1.6 GPA.
  • He was obese (100 pounds overweight), got fit to join the Navy SEALs, then gained the weight back and had to lose it all over again.
  • He suffered from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, a hole in his heart, meaning his heart was only able to function at about 75 percent capacity. He has since had surgery to repair the defect.

You might think that such a person would have an undying passion for exercise. Wrong! Ironically, David Goggins has a loathing for running and cycling! His wife has said the following:

“He hates running. He hates riding the bike. I’m here to tell you he’s angry every morning he has to do it” but “He realized that in order to gain the attention to raise money, he was going to have to suffer.”

The money he raises through his endurance activities goes to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Pushing Past Self-Imposed Limits

The most difficult part of training is training your mind. ~ David Goggins

Through his writing, endurance accomplishments, the few interviews and stories he has had featured in the press and the recent book detailing what is was like for a someone to have Goggins move in with his family for a month, a general picture emerges for what it takes to achieve such feats of endurance.

Goggins underlying philosophy is one of setting higher standards than you think could ever be possible. Even when you push yourself to the limit, you are nowhere close to your full capacity.

Our mind can be our biggest motivator to help us achieve more, or it can be our greatest limiter that keeps us stuck within the realm of normal.

Once you recognize that your limits are self-imposed, you can reframe your ordeal to realize your untapped potential and keep going further.

No doubt a high pain tolerance helps!

Goggins is famous for making the following claim:

When you think you are done, you’re only 40% of what your body is capable of doing.

That’s just the limit we put on ourselves. ~ David Goggins

In other words, when you think you are toast, you can still do 150% more!

Is there any scientific backing for this? Can we all tap into a hidden reservoir of energy and drive?

I cannot find any scientific research backing up this assertion. However, there are plenty of examples of the role self-imposed limitations play on achievement, as well as how widely-held beliefs can massively influence individual and collective achievement.

Breaking Through Barriers

The 4 minute mile:

In the world of sports, the 4-minute mile was one such example.

Nobody believed it was possible for a human to run that fast for so long. For years, Medical doctors claimed that even attempting such a feat would cause the athlete’s heart to explode! The prevailing belief of impossibility kept the 4-minute mile out of reach until Roger Bannister bested the mark on May 6th, 1954.

In the two months that followed, two other athletes did the same! Since that time countless professional runners have done it and it has become a standard benchmark for the elite middle distance runner. Whereas it was once deemed impossible, it is now viewed as an elite performance, but nothing exceptional.

It just took one person to shatter the prevailing belief and open the floodgates for others.

100 mile ultramarathons:

The same can be said of humans running 100-mile running races. Gordy Ainsleigh did it first (in modern times) on a dare, and since then 100 milers have popped up everywhere. http://www.wser.org/how-it-all-began/

Some 100-mile races are so popular that you need to enter a lottery just to have a chance to run! In North America alone there are over 140 running races of 100 miles or more!

Stories of extreme endurance:

The stories of how enduring the human body are endless.

Ernest Shackleton surviving an epic ordeal in Antarctica.

Steven Callahan survived 76 days lost at sea. His book is one of my all time favorites.

Uli Steck, “The Swiss Machine,” solo climbed 82 peaks in the Alps in 61 daysusing only human power (running and biking between climbs). RIP Uli.

Scott Jurek ran and hiked the Appalachian Trail in 46 days (averaging 50 miles a day!).

A cynic might say that we cannot possibly accomplish 150% more when we think we are at out limit. Perhaps the cynic is right, but even if they are, there is definitely some degree of untapped potential.

What if, instead of being able to accomplish 150% more than we think is possible, the number is really a little less, like 20% further, or 50% further or 80% further than we thought possible? This still demonstrates a massive amount of untapped possibility. We can do more than we believe we can.

On the flip side, and more likely, what if we are selling ourselves short. What if we are capable of achieving 200% or even 500% more than we have thought possible?

We may never know for sure what the actual capacity of the human body and mind are. However what is certain is that we can do a heck of a lot more

The Power of The Mind

If you can see yourself doing something, you can do it.

If you can’t see yourself doing it, usually you can’t achieve it. ~ David Goggins

What I’ve learned from David Goggins and other endurance athletes is that we can all do much more than we have ever thought possible, not just physically but in other areas of life as well.

This means that when we set goals, we must set our standards high. We would be well served to must make our goals big, hairy and audacious (BHAG).

If we want to achieve more, and we all are capable of it, we first need to believe it and focus on something that seems to be far out of our reach and beyond our comfort zone.

Setting bigger goals is the first step to making the impossible possible. Who knows, you might not only achieve your audacious goal but surpass it!

It’s also worth noting that by mentally setting a goal and believing that it is possible, your chances of achieving it instantly go up. That alone makes setting bigger goals a worthwhile endeavor.

What if you don’t succeed? There is a lot learned in striving for something great, even if you don’t end up getting it.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

What are you reaching and striving for? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Raja Hireker

    Hi Ravi,

    “In other words, when you think you are toast, you can still do 150% more!

    I cannot find any scientific research backing up this assertion. Do we have that amount of untapped potential?”

    You probably don’t need to look for any scientific research to give you validation to the assertion.

    The scientific research, is ourselves.

    When we do something that we conceive as being ‘impossible; and we do it, then no external scientific research is needed to validate what’s possible.

    For example; Navy Seal Comm Mark Divine, put a challenge to do 1000 sit ups and 1000 press ups, in one session, to a ‘brain trust’ group I belong to. And, to hold a plank for 17 minutes.

    Now when I heard the challenge, my mind wanted to run out the door. I was like… WHAT!!!… have you gone MAD?

    But, when Mark gave a systematised process to accomplish it, I got it done.

    I surprised myself.

    And yet, there were several times my mind was ready to quit and give up.

    It played the stories of…” you can do it later, go rest, no need to prove anything, pick it up again tomorrow, the pain you’re feeling will get worse…”

    Now I’m not a serial exerciser. (I play 5-a-side football every Wednesday for around 80-90 minutes, but have no specific formalised exercise program that I follow)

    So the challenge was all the more remarkable for me, to pull out from inside of me what I didn’t think possible.

    There’s another goal I’ve recently set. A financial one. Can it be achieved?


    With the right process, system, strategy and, the necessary thinking and reason-why for the goal in the first place, I think it’ll be achieved.

    And when Neil Patel’s recent blog post about 6-figure consulting strategies came into my inbox – which is where I got to know about you because of your comment on his blog about a value proposition – I’ve a hybrid way to make what I want to make happen, happen.

    I’m curious; what big goal have you set for yourself Ravi, based on what you’ve written about what David Goggins taught you about setting setting bigger goals?



    • Ravi Raman

      Hi Raja, Thanks for visiting and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

      Your accomplishment of Mark Divine’s challenge is a big deal! Congratulations! My longest plank is 3 minutes 🙂

      As for my own big goals – yes, I have set a few very big, hairy and audacious goals for myself. I’ve always been a fan of goal setting, but this year my goals are going to bigger than before. On the fitness side, I’m running a very tough 100-mile mountain race (running) this summer. It will challenge me physically and mentally. I’m up for the challenge!


      • Raja Hireker

        Wow… good going Ravi.

        I’d be interested to know about your specific work out plan, how you map things out in order to reach your physical running goal.

        The 17 minutes plank deal with Mark D, wasn’t a hold for 17 minutes in one stretch. It was broken down into 17, one minute segments.

        The 1000 press ups and sit ups, were also broken down into manageable bite-sized portions, though all carried out in one session lasting a few hours.

        And that’s the key – breaking the BHAG into manageable chunks.

        In that way, most ‘goals’ can be conquered and achieved.

        Cheers Ravi.


        • Ravi Raman

          One of these days I’ll write a blog post about my running plan. I’ve run many ultras before (never 100 miles though, and never on this tough of a course) so I have a general sense of what to do.

          I agree that “chunking” (up and down) is the key to achieving goals. I teach this approach to my Advanced Coaching Clients and it works well.

          Thanks for the comments!


    • Davis, Adrian

      To qualify for the Pararescue program(Air Force) and school. I’ll be switching from the Army. ??????


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