In his book Living With a SEAL: 31 Days Training With the Toughest Man on the Planet entrepreneur Jesse Itzler recounts 31 days he spent living and training with David Goggins (here’s the first part of my notes from David’s book Can’t Hurt Me).
While for most readers David Goggins is of most interest in this book, Jesse’s background is also fascinating. I mentioned it briefly in the first part of my notes. It’s fitting considering the topic of today’s notes to add a few more details on the author of the book.
These days, Jesse is a very successful entrepreneur but he started in the music industry as a rapper. Some of his most notable achievements include New York Knicks theme song “Go NY Go” and NBA’s Emmy Award-winning song “I Love This Game.”
After his career in music, he shifted his focus to business and investing. He co-founded a record company, a private jet company, and a brand incubator. If you’ve ever attended any of NBA’s Atlanta Hawks games, Jesse Itzler is one of the owners. Jesse is also a successful public speaker and ultra-marathon runner.
While Jesse is worlds apart from David Goggins in physical fitness and mental toughness, he’s still been getting things done and striving for more his entire life.
In the first part of the notes we talked about developing mental and physical toughness. Today we’ll explore what Jesse learned from David Goggins about self-discipline, efficiency and ambition.
(Side note: if you want to learn more from David Goggins, I created a list of the best podcast interviews featuring David Goggins.)
Do Your Job With 120% Effort
He went on to lecture me about my naiveté when it comes to insubordination of the people who work for me. The only thing he ever said about anyone was they should be fired. SEAL didn’t think anyone who worked for the Itzlers cared enough or did their job like they should. He was really mad or suspicious of everyone he came into contact with except for Sara [Jesse’s wife], Lazer [Jesse’s son], and me. According to SEAL, if my driver, Smith, was a minute late, it was because he didn’t study the routes correctly. If there was traffic, Smith should have anticipated the accident.
In looking back on it now, I’m not sure SEAL was wrong. He was taught that if you have a job to do, you do it with 120 percent effort. I have been operating under the assumption that if someone that works for me does something 80 percent of the way I would do it, that’s enough. SEAL is teaching me that we can all do so much more.
The quote above may portrait David as a harsh man who’s critical of everyone. But as Jesse explains, in David’s mind you either do your job well or you don’t deserve it. If you have high standards for yourself, you also expect the same from other people.
This mentality comes from David’s Navy SEAL background. If you make a mistake as a special operator, lives are at stake. 80% effort, or even 100% effort, doesn’t cut it. You need to do better than 100% to plan for potential obstacles, prevent mistakes, and raise the bar for everyone.
Overdelivering, or always aiming to do more than is expected of you, is one of the greatest habits a man can develop.
In business, always adding that little extra will separate you from the competition as you’ll build your reputation as a person who cares more than others.
In relationships, you can overdeliver by surprising people with little gifts, remembering details, or organizing fun get-togethers that create lasting memories.
In fitness, putting in 120% effort doesn’t mean always training to failure. It can also mean adhering to strict form, optimizing how you breathe, or testing yourself in harder variations of exercises you already do.
We all know well in what areas of our lives we can do so much more. What is the first thing that comes to your mind right now? How could you turn your 80% effort into a 120% one?
Treat Your Workout as a Mission
SEAL and I put on our gear to run six miles outside. Maybe it’s from the flight or maybe I’m just not drinking enough, but I feel a little dehydrated before the run. This is confirmed by the fact my urine is almost brown. So, before heading out, I drink two full glasses of water. Then we’re off.
About one mile into the run, I have to pee so bad it hurts. If I could cross my legs, I would. I ask SEAL if we can pull over.
“SEAL, man, I gotta pee… BAD.”
“NOW? In the middle of the fucking run? On my time? Why didn’t you plan your piss BEFORE the run? What the fuck do you think you’re doing pissing now when this is run time? This isn’t piss time.”
SEAL is genuinely mad. I offended him by having to urinate on our run. So, after his thirty-second rant on the subject, I decide that I no longer have to piss anymore. I hold it in. For the next five miles of the run, all I’m thinking about is not peeing.
When we complete the run, I ask SEAL politely if I can urinate. “It’s your time now. Do whatever the fuck you want.”
This hilarious interaction demonstrates yet another aspect of David’s devotion to excellence. He treats every workout as a mission. Even a simple run is important enough to plan ahead. When you’re running, you’re running, not pissing.
Replace pissing with anything else people do in the middle of a workout. Texting someone. Browsing the Internet. Checking out other people. You wouldn’t do any of that if you were to train with David Goggins. You’d respect the workout time.
Why don’t we respect our workout time when we’re accountable to ourselves only?
Focus on the Task at Hand
I’ve spent countless hours with SEAL running by now, and we haven’t spoken a word pounding the pavement for days. Complete radio silence when we run. Nothing ever said.
“Hey, SEAL, what do you think about when you run?”
And he does. It’s like he is able to block out all the clutter in his head and the world, for that matter, and just focus on the task at hand. Say what you want, but the dude has mastered the art of being present. There is something really cool about that.
As for me, I have a million things running through my brain… Sara, Lazer, work, meetings, Zico/Coke, training, the pipes freezing, blah blah blah. It’s like there’s a six-lane express highway running through my brain, and traffic is coming both ways. It’s very hard for me to get my thoughts, worries, and ideas out my mind. It’s a bit overwhelming and stressful.
However, with SEAL around, I am learning how to be more present. It’s primarily because I have to. If I don’t, there is no way I will be able to finish the tasks at hand. I just go one step at a time. One rep at a time. And when I’m done, I worry about the next step or rep. I’m finding that there’s some crossover to my life as well. Now I finish the first thing on my list with 100 percent focus and then attack the next.
Getting through tough stuff requires focusing only on the next rep, next minute, next test question, or next mile. When you think too much, you lose focus and risk getting overwhelmed by the challenge.
Imagine David Goggins running one of his crazy hard ultra-long races. If you’re going to run for the next 24 or 48 hours, you can’t afford to lose even the tiniest sliver of energy.
To complete the run, you need to enter a trance. The only thought that should occupy your mind is taking one step after another. When you start worrying about how many more miles are ahead of you, you’ll lose control and risk failure.
The ability to stay present is a skill like any other. We learn it by doing it—and so it happens that the best way to learn it is to do hard or uncomfortable stuff.
For example, when you’re freediving it’s impossible to daydream. To dive safely, you have to be completely attuned to your body and state of mind.
In the same way, when rock climbing, you can’t worry about the next meeting, a jerk at work, or a problem in a relationship. If you lose focus, you’ll spend too much energy, if not fall.
Or take public speaking. Unless you’re a seasoned veteran, you can’t let your mind wander or you’ll lose your train of thought.
Some men may see mindfulness as “being soft.” But mindfulness is nothing else but cultivating mental self-discipline.
To stay tough physically, we need to learn how to stay tough mentally, too—and that involves staying present when distractions want to rob our attention.
Get to Know Yourself
If you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t know yourself.
An extreme personal transformation can happen only when we challenge ourselves.
When we go beyond what we think we’re capable of doing, we discover who we are. We uncover hidden potential and realize there’s way more to us than we thought.
Voluntary discomfort is the best tool we can use for self-discovery.
In difficult, uncomfortable, or outright extreme situations we’re reduced to the bare essentials of who we are. We learn about our fears. We discover hidden strengths. We see where our limitations lie and how we can go past them.
A man who goes through life avoiding every challenge is a man who never realizes his full potential. Such a man will never experience extreme personal transformation. He will never know what he could have forged out of himself.
Regular challenges should form the basis of every man’s life. Without testing your mettle, you’ll never know how far you can go and how much more there’s hidden inside you.
There’s Always the Next Goal
My body is inflated from all the push-ups. I feel like I’m wearing a wetsuit and someone has pumped air into it. I’m jacked up. But to SEAL, victories are short-lived. He tells me he never celebrates an accomplishment. Once his goal is done, it’s time for his next goal. Our work is not done. It’s time for our next goal.
For David Goggins, his work is never done because he’s in a continuous pursuit of excellence. Accomplishing a goal is not a reason to celebrate because he doesn’t better himself for the sake of meeting arbitrary goals. He does so because it’s his life.
If you’re eating healthy, you don’t celebrate each day you eat healthy. It’s your lifestyle. In the same way, David Goggins doesn’t celebrate finishing a tough workout. It’s just a part of his routine.
Does it mean that celebrating your achievements is always wrong? I don’t think we need to look at it in such a black and white way. The main takeaway is that David never rests on his laurels. If he achieves one goal, he always has another to pursue.
There’s no “I deserve time off because I achieved my goal” in the same way as for a healthy person there’s no “I deserve a donut because I ate broccoli today.”
How many men set a goal, accomplish it, and give themselves a long “celebratory” break that sabotages their progress?
Our work is never done. The pursuit of excellence is a lifelong challenge. The reward is a life well-lived—and not the events along the way.
Fitness Enables You to Make the Most Out of Your Life
With fitness there’s never a finish line. You can always do better. For me personally, I guess I probably have thirty or forty years left on earth. And how many of those am I going to be young enough and healthy enough to do things? I want to experience the best stuff I can. I’ve never jumped off a cliff—I should just jump off a cliff because I’m only here once. That’s how I approach things now. That’s how I feel about things. That’s how I live my life.
David Goggins inspired Jesse Itzler to make the most out of his life. One of the enablers of a rich life is our fitness. Regardless of the state of our health, we can always do better.
By taking care of ourselves, we extend the time we’re healthy enough to experience all that life has to offer. This includes hard, scary, and uncomfortable things, too: running long distances, strenuous hikes, all-out lifting sessions, jumping off cliffs, or climbing big mountains.
Isn’t it sad how many modern men spend their youth in front of devices, never experiencing the marvelous things their bodies are capable of? Isn’t it sad how many will never get even a tenth of the way to exploring their physical limits? Isn’t it sad how many at the age of 20-30 are already weak, soft, and physically incapable?
Even when we aren’t that young anymore, we can still embrace the attitude that with fitness there’s never a finish line. Even with deteriorating health, we can still push our limits.
On a recent bike ride I passed an elderly woman on a power walk. Her pace would be slow compared to that of a young person. But it wasn’t her pace that impressed me. It was the resolve in her eyes and the expression that said “I’m pushing my limits. It hurts but I’m not going to stop.” Her body might have been weaker than in her youth but her mind was strong.
Despite her age and frailty, she didn’t give up. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she kept pushing herself more than many healthy, young men today.
Physical fitness is one of the greatest assets in our lives. Pushing our limits is one of the keys to strengthening our bodies and making them more durable. Remind yourself of this the next time you feel like skipping a workout.
Get It Done
Pre-SEAL I sometimes would be on the couch and not want to do whatever needed to be done and I’d be like “Fuck it,” and blow it off. Procrastinate. I don’t think like that anymore. Just get off the couch and do it is what I remind myself. SEAL would never say, “Fuck it.” He’d get off the couch and do it. Regardless of the time, the temperature, or how tired he was. I absorbed some of that just-get-it-done and there-are-no-excuses attitude. I’m grateful for that.
Procrastination is the world’s biggest killer of dreams. Sadly, among modern men putting everything off is more of a standard than an exception. Everyone is either guilty of that or knows a guy who keeps talking about all the things he’s going to do only to never do them.
David Goggins doesn’t let excuses make him procrastinate. He knows that doing whatever needs to be done, regardless of how you feel about it, is a key to elite performance.
We have limited time on Earth to experience life. Sitting on the couch putting things off isn’t the greatest use of this gift.
Jesse Itzler, after spending 31 days with David, adopted this attitude as well. When he feels like putting things off, he imagines what Goggins would do.
This simple technique can work for everyone. Pretend, as Stoics suggested, that a man you admire observes you. Would you still procrastinate if David Goggins was in the same room as you were?
But maybe the most important thing I learned from SEAL was the level of appreciation he has for difficulty. The harder the training, the more courage it took to do and the more satisfaction was derived from it. SEAL taught me that you only get one shot at life and you should find out what’s in your reserve tank. Coasting is for “pussies” as SEAL would say and it’s when you dig deep that you feel the most alive. He lives his life that way. And some of that rubbed off on me.
During his 31 days with Goggins, Jesse has plenty of moments to find out what was in his reserve tank. While he struggled during many of the workouts, ultimately the harder the training was, the more satisfied he was after getting it done.
Most things we do in life are like that. We don’t value things that come easy because they don’t teach us much. It’s only when we find what’s in our reserve tanks that we transform. And it’s that transformation that gives us fulfillment, not the reward we get.
How often do modern men dig deep? Rarely. Our lives revolve around making things as easy as possible. As a result, while we do get more convenience, we lose the appreciation for difficulty. It’s no wonder that so many men feel apathy and frustration. Because they never dig deep, they never feel truly alive.
David Goggins showed Jesse that the harder we go, the more fulfillment we get in our lives. We get only one shot: why not see how far we can go?
SEAL would laugh at how simple his life was and how complicated mine was. I would have a call list for the day, a schedule, my bag, appointments, calendars, and such, and he would literally grab his military card and $50, and that was all he needed for the day. That was his whole existence. He didn’t have a car, a house, or anything to tie him down. If I fly someplace for a weekend, I always have to check my bag. He showed up at my house with a backpack. For thirty-plus days. One backpack. We have closets full of shit we never use, millions of pictures we took that we never look at, stacks of files that collect dust. He’s a master at keeping it simple, and I have to say his simplicity looks attractive to me. I sort of want what he has, but I still want what I have.
David Goggins’s life was diametrically opposed to Jesse Itzler’s life.
Jesse was a busy entrepreneur with a team of people and hundreds of tasks to complete. David lived a disciplined, simple life that allowed him to focus on what he loved the most. Jesse had closets full of junk he never used. David had only what he needed and little more.
As an entrepreneur myself, I long debated how to structure my life. I had an ambition to build a big business but I didn’t want to identify myself as an entrepreneur only. I wanted to have free time for other pursuits, too.
In the end, I realized that choosing the path of a solopreneur (a one-man company) was more fitting as it gave me more flexibility and freedom.
The choice to embrace a simple life or not is a personal decision. But one thing is universal: we can all benefit from simplifying at least some aspects of our lives.
Perhaps you can cut out that weekly tennis match with a co-worker you play to be considered “cool” in your company. Instead, you’d get more time with your family or time to practice a sport you love.
Perhaps you can remove some apps from your phone to reduce the number of notifications and potential distractions as you work. As a result, you’d achieve more in less time.
Perhaps you can throw out stuff you don’t use or maybe even downsize your house to lower your bills and optimize your finances. This way, you’d remove some financial worries.
There’s often more value in removing things from our lives rather than adding new ones.
Questions to Ponder
1. Do you do your job at 120% effort or are you satisfied with just 80% of effort? If you have employees, do you set high standards for them as well or tolerate performance that’s “good enough”?
2. Do you respect the workout time or use it for other things as well?
3. Are you able to focus on the task at hand or does your attention always wander?
4. What are the next three challenges you’re planning to take up?
5. If you’re close to achieving one goal, do you have another goal ready to take its place when you accomplish the original objective?
6. Do you take advantage of your fitness to create lasting memories and experience various things life has to offer?
7. How often do you procrastinate? Are you aware how it’s killing your dreams?
8. Do you take on difficult projects to find out what’s in your reserve tank or avoid stuff that’s hard? Are you aware that the harder the job is, the more satisfaction you’ll draw out of it when you complete it?
9. Is there any aspect of your life that could benefit from simplifying it to make more time for what you love?
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