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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Ashby

No One Is Going To Save You But Yourself

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

You can read all the self-help books in the library, and download all the lifestyle apps in the app store. But when it comes to making a change to your lifestyle, you're the only one that can do it. Retired Navy SEAL and ultra-endurance athlete David Goggins knows a thing or two about how to turn your health and fitness around, and he has a saying: When your brain says that you're done, you're only 40 per cent done.”

Here’s what we can learn from a man who pushed himself so hard he broke the metatarsals in both his feet during a 162-kilometre ultramarathon he was determined to finish. It’s time to ask yourself, how far are you prepared to push yourself?

Meet One of The Best Ultra-Endurance Athletes in The World

It’s fair to say that David Goggins knows a bit about pushing your body harder, harder than you might think physically possible of yourself, and harder than your body and brain tell you you can.

When he decided to compete in the “world’s toughest foot race”, the Badwater Ultramarathon, he hadn’t run more than about 30 kilometres in over a year. The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 217-kilometre course covering three mountain ranges in Death Valley in the northern Mojave Desert in California.

Not only that, Death Valley is one of the hottest places on Earth and during the race, temperatures soar to over 49ºC.

In order to qualify, Goggins ran a 24-hour ultramarathon in San Diego and completed 162 kilometres. The race put him through the worst pain he had ever gone through in his entire life and left him with broken metatarsals in both feet and a case of kidney failure.

After that, he ran another five ultramarathons before entering the Badwater race seven months later, and when he did, he finished in fifth place.

Still only 47 years old, Goggins has competed in more than 60 endurance races, and held the Guinness World Record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours, completing 4,030 in 17 hours.

How does he do it?

He puts it down to mental toughness.

David Goggins had a difficult start in life; he stuttered, was overweight, and his father was abusive. At school, he was bullied and diagnosed with a learning disability. When he joined the United States Air Force at 19, he found out he had Sickle Cell trait. He gained weight, and he was unhappy. But he turned his life and fitness around.

Only you can do it, he says, and you have all the tools you need inside your own mind.

Now it’s time to ask yourself: How far do you push yourself?

When you’re tired, and your legs ache, do you stop?

"Your mind has the ultimate tactical advantage over you,” Goggins says. ”It knows your insecurities, it knows your fears, it knows your self-doubts, it knows all those creepy spots that we want to steer clear of.” And because of that, he said, most people only use 40 per cent of their true potential.

Goggins compares the impact of people's insecurities and fears to a car's built-in governors, which regulate speed and prevent the driver from pushing the engine to its full potential. Our brain has a governor also, he says. The governor comes on, and we can't go past it.

Goggins says the motivation to go on has to come from inside. You have to be driven almost to the point where you’re obsessed.

Motivation will not come from some magical external force, he says. You are the only one who can change your life. And you have to go outside your comfort zone.

"The only way you gain mental toughness is to do things you're not happy doing. If you continue doing things that you're satisfied with and make you happy, you're not getting stronger. You're staying where you're at," Goggins said. "Either you're getting better, or you're getting worse. You're not staying the same.”

Why Your Brain Tells You To Stop

From the point of view of a psychologist, it’s the limbic, or threat system that stops us from pushing on when we’re done. This is the part of the brain that helps to protect us and keep us safe. All information passes through the limbic system, including information from our five senses and all of the information generated internally in our minds. The limbic system keeps us safe by evaluating whether or not something is threatening.

If your limbic system perceives something as a threat, it has the power to reorganise the mind and body by triggering a cascade of neurophysiological responses. These physiological processes are to protect you from harm.

However, your threat system does not know the difference between real threats, such as when you are in imminent danger, and perceived threats, which are threats created by our minds. This is why we can suffer from anxiety.

Only you can decide when to stop and when to push harder. But it’s worth bearing in mind that your body tells you to stop to keep you safe. And those people that go on to achieve are those that choose to push harder.

“You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft that you will die without ever realising your true potential.” David Goggins.

How much do you want to be the best version of you?

Stay strong.


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