What is your limit? When you think you’re done, you may only be at 40% of your capability.

I’ve stepped up exercising lately, particularly home-based exercises such as using a portable abdominal crunch, power twister bar, portable step machine, rowing machine and kettle bells. I don’t know if it’s a sign of aging, but the workouts are tougher than they used to be – it would certainly be easy to do a minimal amount of reps before stopping. It’s at times like these when I remember the words of David Goggins.

For those of you not familiar with him, Goggins is widely regarded to be one of the fittest men on the planet. A retired US Navy SEAL, he is an ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, public speaker, and author. In 2013, he broke the Guinness 24-hour pull-up world record with 4030 pull-ups within a 24-hr period. That isn’t a typo – he really did achieve 4030 pull-ups in a single day – and whilst the record has since been broken, it is still a formidable achievement from a formidable man. I heartily recommend the Jessie Itzler book ‘Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet’, in which Itzler chronicles his month of living with, and extreme fitness training with, a Navy SEAL. The SEAL is unnamed in the book but it is Goggins. It is a very easy read and is hugely entertaining. Follow that with Goggins’ brilliant autobiography ‘Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds’ and you have a massive injection of motivation. I’d also suggest following Goggins on social media – his posts are inspirational and quite often mind-boggling, though they are littered with profanities (he is very much a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy) so approach with caution if that kind of things offends you.

Anyway, back to his words. You can find ‘The 40 Percent Rule’ on YouTube but in that interview, Goggins says the following:

“I believe that most human beings are only living at about 40% of their capability. So, the mind has a governor, like a car. If you’re driving a car and the car has a governor on it, the car may say 130mph but the governor is set for 91. Once that governor sets in and you get to 91, the car starts jerking. The car wants to go but that factory is saying no – we’re not going past 91. We have a factory – a nice governor – in our brain and it’s a survival mechanism. It protects us from pain and suffering. The second we feel that, our mind says ‘oh no – this isn’t fun. We should back off, We should sit down and find something more comfortable.’ There is something about the mind – the mind has the tactical advantage over you at all times. At all times of your life, the mind has a tactical advantage over you – why is that? It knows what you’re afraid of; it knows your insecurities; it knows your deep dark lies; and it starts to push you away from that. It pushes you in a direction that is comfortable. The mind controls everything. So, what I realised was that when I was growing up and I was 300lbs and I got all fat and I got all insecure, I realised that my mind kept taking me in this direction when things got uncomfortable for me, when I was facing my insecurities, I was facing my fears, my mind said ‘oh no – we have a tactical advantage. We can separate you from this feeling.’ Life is all about feelings. We want the happy feeling. We don’t want that feeling of ‘this sucks; why am I here?’ You can’t answer those questions so you leave. I started realising that if in that moment, you can answer those questions and you are now in charge of your brain versus your brain ruling you, that’s where all that stuff comes from, so the 40% rule is all of that. You get to 40% and your brain says ‘We’re done. Let’s roll, man – this is starting to get painful. This is uncomfortable.’ So you sit down. It’s a habit. So if you know that at 40% I’m feeling pain, that’s where the 40% rule kicks in. Now it starts. I’m feeling pain. My mind’s saying get out of here; run; flee. The fight or flight kicks in. ‘We’re done. We’re not good enough.’ It starts telling you all these things – you start to believe it, because the mind controls all. This is the time where you have to gain control back of your mind. Let me see if I can go 45%. Once you start giving yourself more and more hope, you start realising okay – the mind starts to think ‘What are you doing? We’re supposed to be going right and you’re going left.’ You then start controlling your mind; start finding more in yourself and it goes from 40% to a lot further than that, but that’s the start of it though. Get to the spot where your mind is saying stop. Wherever that is, get there first and then that’s when that starts to work for you. You got to control yourself in that moment.”

I thought of this yesterday when the annual Ironman UK event took place in Bolton once again. The cycling route passes the top of the street where I live and seeing these athletes always amazes me. The Ironman event consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). This is a huge feat of endurance yet surely it isn’t simply a case of physical fitness that gets every competitor through it? Many of these athletes must possess a similar mindset to David Goggins, in that they realise there is much more left in the tank when their brain starts to tell them they’re at their limit? I can see no other way how they can get through such an event, especially when it takes the elite athletes just under 9 hours and the remaining competitors anything up to 16 hours to complete. It makes my paltry home exercise habits laughable in comparison but no matter to what extent you are trying, remembering Goggins’ words could prove to be really beneficial. They’re certainly making me push harder during every workout.

If you think about it, the same logic can also apply to many other areas than just physical exertion. At work, are you just giving 40% or pushing yourself further? How about in our relationships as a spouse / partner / parent / son / daughter / brother / sister? Are we just giving 40% to ourselves when we know we have much to do but can’t really be bothered? What about those hobbies many of us have and want to improve at? 100% is quite an ask but is there more we can do to help lead a better life?

As always, thanks for reading, stay safe, and please do try to be kind to others and to yourself.

Best wishes and take care.


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