8 Reasons Why “Can’t Hurt Me” May Harm You: Book Review

can't hurt me david goggins

Can’t Hurt Me (2018) is David Goggins autobiography in which the author shares his personal life and what drives him to pursue grueling physical feats.


Quick Review

Can’t Hurt Me is a wonderful real-life example of how a man turned pain and anger into motivation and drive.

We called it here “leveraging your dark side” here in the past, and it can be extremely useful.
It’s also most certainly better than wallowing in pain without reacting.

But I personally largely moved past that stage of being driven by anger, pain, and a will to vengeance.
And I find that it’s both more fulfilling and at least as equally effective to be driven by a willingness to build and do good things.

So I dont’ recommend to most readers to be anger or pain driven if they can instead go for better alternatives such as buind driven by a willigness to build, complete a mission, or do good.
Call it a “pull” approach, being pulled by a drive to build, rather than a “push” approach, as in being pushed by pain and anger.

And I wouldn’t recommend going nearly as extreme as Goggins does because extremes are very costly, tend to be low ROI because of the law of dimishing returns, and are rarely the most effective ways to achieve goals (law of optimum balance).
Extremes feel sexy and “badass”, but even if you want to focus on effectiveness only at the detriment of your life, more thought-through strategies that include rest and breaks are often superior over the longer term.

david goggins motivation chart

Bullet Summary

  • When you’re thinking of quitting: accept the pain and refuse to quit as a possibility
  • Push yourself daily to do what you don’t want to do
  • Week after week expand the limits of your comfort zone little by little
  • Use enemies and hardships as fuel for your motivation

Full Summary

David Goggins opens “Can’t Hurt Me” saying that life is unfair and the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can prepare for it.
The best way to approach it is with a “Can’t Hurt Me” mentality.

Goggins says he was the ultimate underdog and the weakest man. And to survive, he had to develop his own mindset.
He wasn’t looking for money, fame or even a pat on the back. He was looking for fulfillment. And the only way to find was within himself -by going to war with himself-.

Unshackle Your Mind

David Goggins says:

You are in danger of living a life that is so soft and comfortable that you will never realize your true potential.

David Goggins

“Can’t Hurt Me” is David Goggins’ solution to push your boundaries and help you meet your true potential.

Mission 1: Write Down All Your Difficulties

David Goggins tells the story of his abusive father –general style of abusive by my own estimations-.
And he exhorts readers to do the same: take stock of all the difficulties and hardships you faced -and face- in life. Including, he says if you had too easy a life so far and never had to push yourself..

Because, as he says, “you are going to flip that shit” (ie.: use your limiting factors to fuel your hunger and success).

I also particularly liked this quote of Goggins as he tells the story of his “solution” to school problems by cheating:

I started cheating my ass off (…).

It worked. (…)

I thought I solved the problem while I created new ones by taking the path of least resistance

David Goggins

Mission 2: Own The Truth of Your Shortcomings

Goggins talks about moving out with his mother to escape his abusive father.
He talks about racial hatred, money problems and the “mask of coolness” he wore as a teenager to hide his insecurities.

The author says that our mind will always follow the path of least resistance and unless you learn to beat your own mind, it will always keep you “safe and stationary in life”.

In this chapter, he says you must be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t tell yourself you’re “plumb” and that it’s OK to be overweight if deep down you’d like to be slim.
Tell yourself you’re fat.
Any self-improvement starts with brutal honesty.

Mission 3: Do All The Things That Make You Uncomfortable

In this chapter, David Goggins talks about pulling out of military training for medical reasons.
Diagnosed with sickle cells, he had a choice of staying in the training or quitting. And, faced with the first obstacle, he used the excuse to quit.

Officially, he didn’t quit, but deep down, he knew the truth. And that bothered him and undermined his confidence.
If that would reply today, when he learned to control his mind, he says that “he wouldn’t give two f*cks about sickle cells”.

This is the chapter where Goggins sees an advertisement for Navy SEALs and realizes that there can be answers in suffering.
That was the first time in a long time that he was alive.

Goggins says you must do something that makes you uncomfortable and something that you don’t want to do every day.
Even if that’s doing your bed, ironing your clothes or waking up early and going for a run.
Start small, then slowly build up.
That’s how you callous your mind.

can't hurt me book quote
-David Goggins

Mission 4: Choose Any Competitive Situation, Pick Your Opponent & Beat Them With Excellence

Here Goggins talks about BUD and SEAL training.

He says that everything is a mind game. SEAL training is a mind game and people don’t realize the gaming part in it until it’s too late and they quit.

What’s the mind game?
The mind game is that all pain eventually ends. And when you can understand that, it then becomes only a matter of enduring long enough.

Beating them with excellence delivering what they thought was impossible and showing yourself at your best while they are at their worst is what Goggins refers to as “taking their soul”.

My Note: Stealing the Schedule
here is where Goggins steals the schedule file for hell week. Not cool in my opinion. And he does it with the other only black guy in the crew, definitely not helping the stereotypes he will later complain about.

Mission 5: Visualize & Include Challenges, Why You’re Doing It, What’s The Fuel

Goggins says that SEAL training is about showing that you can handle much more than you think you can, and with that comes a change in mentality.

Goggins says that the callous mind can help you overcome the toughest moments.
Remembering what you’ve been through and how that strengthened your mindset can help you bypass the negative thought loops that kick in when you want to give in.
But when you accept the pain and refuse to give in or give up you engage the sympathetic nervous system -your fight or flight response- to change the hormonal flow. It’s similar to when you don’t want to run but then you go anyway and you enjoy it, and the author says that you can tap on that switch on call.

The reason why you want to push the hardest when you want to quit the most is to help you callous your mind.

You want to get to a point where not doing the things that you know you should do haunts you.
If you didn’t go for a run on a given day, you want in the evening to be bothered by it. If you skip what you were supposed to be doing and it doesn’t bother you, you’re not there yet.

When you visualize you might want to visualize the final success, but it’s important you also include the challenges, the reason why you’re doing it, the darkness which is fueling you.
You need to have those answers to be ready when difficulties will inevitably arise.

David Goggins says that to answer those questions you might want to slow down during intense exercise to think more clearly and then re-accelerate again.

Mission 6: Build Your Cookie Jar of Accomplishments & Use For Motivation

In this chapter, Goggins talks about pain as his reward for finishing the race. The pain was the reminder that he had done it, and he was proving to himself how strong and callous he was becoming.

He says:

In the most painful time of my life, I saw the most beauty.

David Goggins

He introduces his concept of “cookie jar”, which is the place where you put all of your victories and all the times when you show resilience and mental callousness.
When you need motivation, you can open the bookie jar and remind yourself of all the great things you have accomplished.
The cookie jar is not to make yourself feel good, it’s to remind yourself what a badass you are so that you can use that energy when you need it.

Mission 7: Remove the Governor From Your Brain With Constant Incremental Growth

Goggins introduces here the 40% rule. It means that when most of us feel like we are hitting our limits we are only at around 40%.
But unless we learn to stay in the pain and push beyond the discomfort we will always fall very short of our true potential.

My Note Mathematical mistake here
Goggins says that once we hit 40% we still have 60% to go. That might be true in very nominal terms but it’s mathematically wrong.
From 40% to the whole (100%), it’s not 60% because it’s more than double.

Mission 8: Schedule Your Life to Make The Most Out of Your Life

This chapter and the next were extremely interesting for a critical look into special operation groups.

Most people have a huge overblown image of special operations such as the Navy SEALs.
Goggins says that SEALs are more normal than most people would guess. They were living rather mainstream, Goggins says, a bit like the “accomplished Harvard” of the military.
Most of them after BUDs didn’t want to test themselves by starting from zero. They’d rather hit the gym to get big instead of pushing themselves to the limit.
The author also implies some racism in the forces, reflecting that people are just people in whichever organization they are -he says he met Michael Jordan in his prime and it was a huge revelation when he realized he was just another human being-.

David Goggins was not interested in being the “aristocracy of the military”. Settling down comfortably was not what he was looking for and that’s why he went into ultra-marathons.
His stories are quite crazy here and the author encourages the readers to squeeze as much as possible from their day.
A 40h workweek is a 40% effort he says, and that’s mediocrity.

The best way to overcome anything in life is to become a master of what you’re afraid of.
Become a master of your insecurities.

David Goggins

The message in this chapter is similar to “The One Thing” and Deep Work as it exhorts the reader to do one thing and do it well.

Mission 9: Sustain Greatness by Staying in Constant Pursuit

Goggins here shows the mindset of the underdog in the military. When his feedback said he could have been more gregarious he reflects that indeed he was not “one of the boys”.
“Of course I wasn’t”, he says, “I came from nothing”.

He thought that because he made it anyway, he was part of the group. But he realized he was part of the teams, not the brotherhood.

But Goggins uses the evaluation to swing in the opposite direction; if he was uncommon also among the uncommons, “so the f*ck be it”.

My Note: to me, this shows the strength and the drive that comes from the undergo, “not belonging” mindset.

Goggins goes to ranger school here and compares it with the SEALs, which makes it mandatory reading for anyone interested in special operations in the US.

Finally, he talks about the overachiever mindset. He says that the over-achievers focus on what they didn’t win, what they didn’t manage and what they missed. Even when they won hugely in their careers.

It’s easy to stand out among everyday people and be a big fish in a small pond. It’s much more difficult when you’re a wolf, surrounded by wolves.

Torch the complacency you feel gathering around you, continue to put obstacles in front of yourself because that’s where you will find the friction that will help you grow even stronger.

Before you know it, you will stand alone.

#Can’tHurtMe #UncommonAmongstUncommon

David Goggins

Mission 10: Write All Failures, Learn From Them & Go At It Again

This chapter describes Goggins’ quest to beat the pull-up world record, including the description of his failures.
And it’s to failures that this chapter is dedicated to.

In the last chapter, Goggins talks about naysayers and jealousy from friends and family –frenemies-.
Your successes are dangerous to them. Only if they are good, they will use it as motivation to move forward.
And he wants to exceed even God’s expectations of what he thought Goggins was capable of.

David Goggins & God

Finally, Goggins talks about his view of life, including spirituality. He believes in a God who knows everything and holds everyone accountable.

His biggest fear was not living to his full potential when he will meet his creator.

can't hurt me david goggins

Real Life Applications

Here are a few ideas:

  • Take Pride in Suffering

Goggins, like Mel Robbins, says that motivation is cr@p. I mostly agree with it. Much better instead is building your whole ego and self-esteem around proven strategies that help you move forward.
Taking pride in your ability to suffer and endure is one such great technique.
Also read: the antifragile ego.

  • Triple Down On Your Weaknesses

Now, this is a counter-intuitive recommendation as most authors these days recommend people to focus on your strength.
And that’s the best approach from a point of view of maximizing your effort and output. But if you want to callous your mind and strengthen your resolve, then focusing on weaknesses is best.

  • The Mind Game of Endurance: All Pain Ends

David Goggins says that people who quit the BUD training for SEALs fell for the illusion that pain would never stop.
But it does. It always does. It’s difficult to realize it though during the peak of pain. And that’s the mind game of endurance: taking yourself out of the pain experience in itself until you can outlast it.

  • Leaders Shouldn’t Show Weakness

David Goggins says that leaders can’t show weakness.
I don’t think that’s always true, but it’s often true. And it’s a good reminder after the concept of “vulnerability” has become so popular and venerated with the work of Brene Brown (Daring Greatly & The Gifts of Imperfection).
Also read: vulnerability is not (always) power.

  • Admit Your Fears & Insecurities to Get Stronger

We go back to the positive elements of vulnerability here.
Admitting your fears and weaknesses allows you to gain more strength and confidence.

  • Leverage Pain For Your Goals

This is something I actually used myself. Both in my life and to launch The Power Moves.
See “leveraging pain“, the disappointment that drove me as an entrepreneur, or watch this video:


I really liked Can’t Hurt Me.
And I used a similar strategy to motivate myself (see video above).

But there are also many points I didn’t agree with.

Most of all, it’s that Can’t Hurt Me fails the law of optimum balance:

1. Potentially Unhealthy (& Potentially Ineffective)

The first and main criticism is that David Goggins’ approach to life can be unhealthy.

The law of balance states that many positive traits are only good within certain levels.
After a certain point, there is a “threshold effect” above which “too much of a good thing becomes bad”.

David Goggins, in my opinion, isn’t necessarily an example of driven, but enters into obsession and, potentially, self-loathing.
See this chart:

Consider the possibility that Goggins might have not truly worked out his pain and abuse.
He might not be driven by pain and abuse, but David Goggins might be at the mercy of his dark side.

If you’re in a similar position, I invite you to consider resolving your past issues before you emulate him.

1.2. Motivation On Top of Deep-Seated Issues: Example

While Goggins mostly runs, Liver King mostly lifts.

Both are quite extreme.
And Liver King seems to have some good introspection into himself:

Liver King: When I talk about the 85% of the population that suffers from self-esteem issues, that’s me. This is why I work myself to death in the gym, this is why I do 12 to 15 blood-burning workouts a week. Just to feel like I’m OK

There you are: thrashing his own body around “just to feel like he’s OK”.

1.3. Marrying The (Wrong?) Girl Just To Make A Point

Speaking of the thin line between being motivated or at the mercy of others, Goggins asks:

I married the daughter of the man who called me a nigger, what does that say about me?

Well, it can say that you “showed” it to him and had your revenge.
Or… It can say that you let that person decide for you who to marry.

Since Goggins never spends a second talking about his wife and relationship, it may be a fair assumption that it’s the latter, and that he’s not thrilled about his choice.

2. Accepting This “You’re Being Lazy” Teacher’s Frame Disempowers You

Some people can gain from (Goggins’) motivation.

If that’s you: great.

I personally don’t because I’m intrinsically motivated.

And to listen to someone constantly yell that you need to be more is disempowering.
It’s disempowering because they take a teacher’s “I know better” frame, and assume -and frame you- that you’re being too lazy, or that you need their yelling to make the most out of your life.

It’s a mental covert power move that empowered individuals tend to reject.

Also read more on teachers’ frames:

3. You Can NOT Immunize Against Emotional Pain With With An Overload Of Physical Pain

David Goggins says he “prepares” for that “call that his mother is dead”:

David Goggins: I’m training for the time when I get that two o’clock in the morning call that my mom is dead. Or something happens tragic in life I don’t fall apart

But I’m afraid there is no amount of running that’ll let you run away from that emotional pain in life.
You just gotta accept it, go through it.

Running Away From Pain?

I gotta wonder:

Is David Goggins running for something, or is David Goggins running away from his pain?

Because Goggins’ biggest challenge may be NOT to run more or longer, but to sit down and process his pain instead.
And I don’t know you, but it may be worth considering it may be the same for you.

3.2. Courage is having fear and doing it anyway, not removing fear

You can also see that much in the book, if you read between the lines.

At a certain point, Goggins admits that he was afraid of going through BUDs again.
And it’s normal. No matter how often you do something painful, you gotta accept there is no way to “callousize your mind”. There will always be some fear and reticence in doing it again.

Courage is in pushing through that fear, not removing it.

And confidence is in knowing that, if push comes to show, you can do it again if you must.
Not in doing it over and over again and still then having to face the fact that you’re still afraid.

3. You May Gain With Less “Dark Motivation” And More Positive One

Goggins comes from a dark place and his coping mechanism is more darkness.

Similar to what Robert Greene says in The Laws of Human Nature I believe we need to learn and embrace our dark side. I believe it’s necessary in the world (to be good you must first be bad) and helpful in life.

But I also think that when darkness and anger are your only drivers, then you are not using darkness but you are being used by them.

And there are other options in life, even for people with Goggins’ background. Tony Robbins had similar abusive experiences as a child but turned super successful with a much more positive view on life. Forced to choose, I’d recommend the Robbins way.

Also see Darryl Strawberry talk about this:

Pain can lead you into greatness. But then, what comes after that? You’re still in pain..

4. You Main Gain With A Less (Self-)Aggressive Approach to Life & Self-Development

Even when talking about his own mind, David Goggins makes it into an enemy. He says that “our mind has a tactical advantage” and he had to “go to war with himself”.

Of course that makes sense in some ways… Yet, the metaphors you choose and the way you look at things will shape how you feel. And I am not convinced of the “war with yourself” approach.

  • Life As War Metaphor

Similar to the above, David Goggins uses bellicose, war-life references for everything.
He refers to life as “winning the game of war”.
Is life a war? Are we in a war? I don’t think so.
It can be a helpful mindset to use in specific and time-limited situations, but not forever.

  • Becoming The Best is Shallow… Is It?

In the discussion during the audiobook production Goggins and the (excellent) reader say that “becoming the best at something is shallow”.
What they meant is that it doesn’t necessarily help you become a better and more rounded person.
Yet I need to make it a note that becoming the best at one of your strengths is not shallow. It’s smart.

  • Life Will F*ck You Up – Says Goggins-

In the first opening statement, David Goggins says that life is unfair and it will “f*ck you up”. And the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can start preparing for it.
I disagree with that attitude.

5. The Bellicose Approach to Others Can Make You More Enemies Than You Need

Many other SEALs don’t like David Goggins.

Part of is jealousy, I’m sure.
Part of it might even be racism.
And part of it is because Goggins believed none of that BS nationalistic, militarist, and leadership manipulation.

But part of it is also Goggins’ approach.

Goggins talks about BUD instructors as his enemies and “taking their souls”.

I believe that mindset can be helpful but, as Goggins himself will admit, can also put you on a collision path with the people around. Exactly what happened to Goggins when he antagonized his instructor.
To be effective in life, it’s much better to have a good relationship with your boss.

And that, as Goggins realizes with good self-awareness, also cost him dearly at times.

In another instance, Goggins was sitting at a doctor’s office talking about his diagnosis.
Goggins says he didn’t want to show fear to avoid “showing his cards”. I know that feeling, and I’ve been through it as well. But it’s not a healthy approach: the doctor is supposed to help, you can only lose by thinking of him as an enemy.
The best you can do for yourself is to think of your doctor’s appointments as opportunities to get healthier, and to do your best to get the best support.

Or just look at this video: Goggins rages at the haters without realizing he is making his own haters.

Goggins: (ranting at the “haters”) bitch you don’t fucking know me (…) maybe it’s a fat motherf*cker at home, lazy, with no distance or dedication. Maybe you’re jealous. Who knows. But I’ll guarantee you this: I’ll be back better than ever

Frankly, it’s an awesome video.
I truly like it, and it’s a valid response and attitude toward haters.

On the other hand, as for everything, there are pros and cons.

That attitude is far more likely to grow your haters -and give them even more control over your life-.

And then, there’s another issue with that approach:

6. Building Your Ego Around Strength Inevitably Makes You A Loser Because Time Guarantees You’ll Get Weaker

Listen to the video above.

Goggins says: I will be back better than ever.

The problem with that is that it’s a lie.
It’s simply a fact of life, and pretty much unavoidable that you cannot always come back better.
If you trash your body like Goggins you’re almost bound to get injuries. Some of them, will be serious.
And even if you avoid injuries, you’ll get older and weaker. Even less smart… And you’ll eventually die.

And that’s OK… As long as you don’t have a fragile ego built around “always being better and stronger and “more”.

Because, if you do, you’ll be ill-equipped with coping with any setback.

7. Don’t Confuse Drive With Masochism, Because In This Book The Line Is Blurred At Times

At a certain point, as Goggins describes in detail all his body punishments and his reveling in pain, I had to wonder if it wasn’t just too much.

I see pain as a necessity to achieve something bigger, but at times it felt that it was pain for pain’s sake.
Sure, building a callous mind, but… I’d rather go through pain for as many benefits as possible, not just for the sake of pain.

8. Cheating to Cut Corners: Should This Behavior Be An Example?

David Goggins earned my respect when he said that by cheating in school he was actually hurting himself.

But he lost it later on when he rather proudly tells the story of him and his other buddy stealing the schedule of hell week from the instructors.

A little later in the 6th chapter, he shares the story of two friends of his who cheated by impersonating each other.
For a man who presents himself as an example to follow, that wasn’t cool in my opinion.


  • Using pain for fuel

“Can’t Hurt Me” is one of the best books on turning pain and difficulties into fire and fuel to forge ahead.

  • Example and showing the way to operate at the limit of human suffering

Also one of the best books for operating at the limits of our capabilities and, ultimately, a great book to understand the mindset and psychology of the people who never stop and always ache for more.
In that sense, it’s a great read back to back with Relentless.

Goggins is bigger -and smarter- than a SEAL

Some former SEALs never leave the military and make their former life their new ego and identity.

Those guys didn’t enter the military, the military entered their minds.

Some others are stuck selling the SEAL brand and the war experience to push to books and courses on leadership.

Goggins instead entered the SEAL as a job, did it, learned, and then moved on.
He didn’t fall for the traps of nationalism, projecting his ego into the group, or developing his pride around “being part of special ops”.

Finally, and most importantly, contrary to guys like Jocko Willink, Goggins never feel for the military manipulation and “great leader manipulation” -be that leader a man, or the image of a flag-.

I respect and appreciated that.


Can’t Hurt Me is a captivating and entertaining book on pushing one’s limits.

However, at times it becomes “unhealthy pushing”.
To make a parallel:

Imagine you own a car you love, and you land it to a friend.
He starts driving and keeps it stuck in 1st gear, full RPMs. Knowing that’s not good for the engine, how would you react?
You’d tell him to knock it off because you care about your car and don’t want to take it to the mechanics.
The same goes for yourself and your body: you also want to take care of your body and not push yourself to the hospital type of “limit” because that’s stupid.

So sometimes I had to wonder where “drive” ends and “mental issues” may begin, as the line seems to blur at times in Can’t Hurt Me.
The book may as well be title “Can’t Hurt Me, Cause I’m Hurting Myself to Death Already”.

That is the reason why I warn the readers that this is a path that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to most people -and not to the ones I care the most about-.
There is a lot of darkness and demons. And yes, darkness is an important fuel to achieve big in life, but it should not take over your life.
Also, you don’t want to take over that combative mindset of “you against the world”, since it’s often not the most effective stance to influence people and get things done.
Use 20% darkness to give you a boost and for the rest be motivated by beauty.

Keep that in mind and enjoy Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.

Check the best books collection or get the book on Amazon.

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