In the fourth part of my notes based on David Goggins’s autobiography Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds we’ll talk about overcoming the weak mind.
It’s that inner bitch voice that tells you to stop, to be comfortable, to stay away from anything hard or painful. If you heed its advice, you’ll never push your limits.
Here are four lessons from David’s book on how we can overcome this voice.
(Side note: if you want even more lessons from David, I created a list of the best David Goggins podcast interviews.)
Denial Is the Ultimate Comfort Zone
Do you know who you really are and what you’re capable of?
I’m sure you think so, but just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.
Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. In every town, in every country, all over the world, millions roam the streets, dead-eyed as zombies, addicted to comfort, embracing a victim’s mentality and unaware of their true potential. I know this because I meet and hear from them all the time, and because just like you, I used to be one of them.
David’s core message is to see how far we can go. Unfortunately, most people not only don’t push their limits—they’re also actively avoiding any opportunities to see what they’re capable of.
If they have an opportunity to travel to an exotic country, they’ll find an excuse not to go on the trip so they can stay in their familiar surroundings.
If they have an opportunity to learn a new skill, they’ll find a reason why they don’t need it or make excuses that they don’t have time.
If they have an opportunity to push their physical limits well beyond what they think they’re capable of, they’ll be gone before you finish reading this sentence.
Our inner bitch wants us to stay away from the unsafe and unfamiliar. That’s how it can protect us from the pain and struggle. But discomfort and hurdles aren’t always bad. They can help us get stronger and create better lives.
To overcome the weak mind, we need to become aware of how often we resort to comfort and weakness instead of tapping into our strength. Or in other words, we need to become aware of when our inner bitch makes decisions for us.
For example, if you go on a run and never go past a few miles or never try to increase your pace because “that’s too much,” are you really incapable or are you in denial about your true potential, obediently listening to your weak mind?
If you’ve been thinking about starting your business for a few years but always conclude “you aren’t ready yet,” are you really not ready (if so, how can you get ready?) or are you using it as a justification for your lack of self-confidence?
If you’ve been dreaming of asking out that hot girl but never do it because it’ll be weird if she says no, are you aware that you’re letting fear dictate your life?
Tap Into Your Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, like I was when I was a down and out kid, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. We’ve all tasted this feeling before. Those mornings when going on a run is the last thing you want to do, but then twenty minutes into it you feel energized, that’s the work of the sympathetic nervous system. What I’ve found is that you can tap into it on-call as long as you know how to manage your own mind.
When you indulge in negative self-talk, the gifts of a sympathetic response will remain out of reach. However, if you can manage those moments of pain that come with maximum effort, by remembering what you’ve been through to get to that point in your life, you will be in a better position to persevere and choose fight over flight. That will allow you to use the adrenaline that comes with a sympathetic response to go even harder.
In today’s world full of conveniences, our default is to choose flight over fight.
We’d rather sleep in than go for a run in bad weather.
We’d rather ask our coach to take it easy than challenge us and help us tap into our hidden potential.
When we’re in doubt, we’d rather hear from our friends to give up on our hard goals than have them call us out and pressure into persevering.
Yet, no excellence awaits you if you default to escaping from your problems as soon as possible instead of trying to keep going for as long as necessary.
During my MMA classes, I’m sometimes already tired during the warm-up. I’m out of breath, drenched in sweat, with my legs and arms heavy and slow.
Yet, sometime later, merely through choosing to keep going even when I’m exhausted, my body taps into deeper stores of energy. Curiously, I often finish the workout stronger than when I started it. I assume that’s the sympathetic nervous system that David talks about in this quote. And if so, I can attest to its power.
Indulging in negative self-talk is nothing else but letting your inner bitch take the podium and give a presentation on why you suck ass so much. Don’t let it sabotage your goals.
Instead, reach into your Cookie Jar, remind yourself of your past victories, and unleash your inner warrior.
Learn to Manage Your Mind Through Physical Training
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. If you push yourself through each split and use that energy to maintain a strong pace, you have a great chance of recording a faster time. Granted, some days it’s easier to do that than others. And the clock, or the score, doesn’t matter anyway. 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.
Overcoming your inner bitch and mastering your mind through physical challenges comes down to constant improvement.
As long as you’re improving in your chosen discipline, you’re expanding your comfort zone. And this also means you’re learning to ignore your weak voice and embracing inner strength.
Anyone can find at least one type of physical activity that they can use to become a harder human being. There are countless options to choose from. It can be something as simple as running or swimming but it can also be rock climbing, calisthenics, skiing, tennis, gymnastics, BJJ, or surfing.
Pick one or more activities and aim to get good at it through consistent, dedicated training. You’ll improve not only your body but also your mind.
Don’t Let Setbacks Dictate Your Mindset
If you get injured or other complications arise that prevent you from working on your primary passion, refocus your energy elsewhere. The activities we pursue tend to be our strengths because it’s fun to do what we’re great at. Very few people enjoy working on their weaknesses, so if you’re a terrific runner with a knee injury that will prevent you from running for twelve weeks, that is a great time to get into yoga, increasing your flexibility and your overall strength, which will make you a better and less injury-prone athlete. If you’re a guitar player with a broken hand, sit down at the keys and use your one good hand to become a more versatile musician. The point is not to allow a setback to shatter our focus, or our detours to dictate our mindset. Always be ready to adjust, recalibrate, and stay after it to become better, somehow.
That negative inner voice, when facing a setback such as an injury, will come up with reasons why you can’t improve yourself anymore until the setback is resolved. But in reality, there’s always something you can do. The question is whether you’re willing to adapt.
As someone who has experienced over the last year a string of injuries, I’ve learned quite a bit about setbacks and refocusing my energy elsewhere. For example, due to a rotator cuff injury I started barefoot running (after not running longer distances for over a decade). While practicing MMA, I had to refocus my energy on kicks and technical punches (without using too much power that could make my injury worse).
When because of a setback you can’t work on your primary goal, don’t be afraid to look beyond it for other opportunities to grow. If, for example, you can’t work out at all due to, say, broken ribs, learn how to quiet your mind, learn a foreign language, make new inspiring friends, or use the time to clarify your future goals.
Questions to Ponder
1. Are you aware when your inner bitch is in the driver’s seat?
2. Are you aware that indulging in negative self-talk prevents you from accessing hidden reserves of energy?
3. What are the greatest lessons you learned from physical challenges?
4. Do you use setbacks as excuses to stop or do you look for a way to adjust and keep working on getting better?
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