Note: The following are excerpts from Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War Within by David Goggins. Passages marked 'MV' are my comments for context, clarity, or readability.
Learn more about Never Finished on Amazon.
When a half-assed job doesn’t bother you, it speaks volumes about the kind of person you are. And until you start feeling a sense of pride and self-respect in the work you do, no matter how small or overlooked those jobs might be, you will continue to half-ass your life.
Every single one of us is just another frog in the soon-to-be-boiling water that is our soft-ass culture. We take unforeseen obstacles personally. We are ready to be outraged at all times by the evil bullshit of the world. Believe me, I know all about evil and have dealt with more bullshit than most, but if you catalog your scars to use them as excuses or a bargaining chip to make life easier for yourself, you’ve missed an opportunity to become better and grow stronger.
That’s the beauty of discipline. It trumps everything. A lot of us are born with minimal talent, unhappy in our own skin and with the genetic makeup with which we were born. We have fucked-up parents, grow up bullied and abused, or are diagnosed with learning disabilities. We hate our hometown, our teachers, our families, and damn near everything about ourselves. We wish we could be born again as some other motherfucker in some other time and place. Well, I am proof that rebirth is possible through discipline, which is the only thing capable of altering your DNA. It is the skeleton key that can get you past all the gatekeepers and into each and every room you wish to enter. Even the ones built to keep you the fuck out! It’s so easy to be great nowadays because so many people are focused on efficiency: getting the most for themselves with the least amount of time and effort. Let all of them leave the gym early, skip school, take sick days. Commit to becoming the motherfucker with a never-ending task list. This is where you make up the difference in potential. By learning to maximize what you do have, you will not only level the playing field but also surpass those born with more natural ability and advantages than you. Let your hours become days, then weeks, then years of effort. Allow discipline to seep into your cells until work becomes a reflex as automatic as breathing. With discipline as your medium, your life will become a work of art. Discipline builds mental endurance because when effort is your main priority, you stop looking for everything to be enjoyable. Our phones and social media have turned too many of us inside out with envy and greed as we get inundated with other people’s success, their new cars and houses, big contracts, resort vacations, and romantic getaways. We see how much fun everyone else is having and feel like the world is passing us by, so we bitch about it and then wonder why we are not where we want to be.
When you become disciplined, you don’t have time for that bullshit. Your insecurities become alarm bells reminding you that doing your chores or homework to the utmost of your ability and putting in extra time on the job or in the gym are requirements for a life well-lived. A drive for self-optimization and daily repetition will build your capacity for work and give you confidence that you can take on more. With discipline as your engine, your workload and output will double, then triple. What you won’t see, at least not at first, is the fact that your own personal evolution has begun to bear fruit. You won’t see it because you’ll be too busy taking action. Discipline does not have a belief system. It transcends class, color, and gender. It cuts through all the noise and strife. If you think that you are behind the eight ball for whatever reason, discipline is the great equalizer. It erases all disadvantages. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter where you are from or who you are; if you are disciplined, there will be no stopping you.
The only thing more infectious than a good attitude is a bad one. The more you dwell on the negative, the weaker you feel, and that weakness infects those around you. However, the reverse is also true. I knew that if I could control my attitude and redirect my attention, I’d gain control of the entire situation. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised that my knee gave out. Now, it was on me to learn what I could from the setback, adapt, and move forward. It’s an unwritten natural law of the universe that you will be tested. You will get smacked in the fucking face. A hurricane will land on your head. It’s inevitable for all of us. Yet, we are not formally taught how to handle unexpected adversity. We have sex education, fire drills, active-shooter drills, and curriculum on the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but there is no rug-just-got-pulled-out-from-under-you class. Nobody teaches how to think, act, and move when disappointment, bad news, malfunction, and disaster inevitably strike. All the advice floods in only after we are already lying dazed on the canvas. Which means it’s up to you to cultivate your own strategy and have the discipline to practice it.
Mine is simple. No matter what life serves me, I say, “Roger that.” Most people think “Roger that,” simply means, “Order received.” However, in the military, some people infuse ROGER with a bit more intention and define it as, “Received, order given, expect results.” When used that way, it is so much more than an acknowledgment. It’s an accelerant. It bypasses the over-analytical brain and stimulates action because, in some situations, thinking is the enemy. I’m not suggesting that you should follow every order like a robot. After you’ve been knocked down, it’s important to take some time to understand what happened and strategize your way forward, but you also must act. If you stay stalled out, sifting through the wreckage, you may find that you’ve been swallowed by it. We all love comeback stories because they teach us that setbacks have the power to propel us forward to our greatest successes, but your fate depends on your approach. After an injury or failure, your mind wants to either spin out into overthinking or fall back into numbness and complacency, and it takes practice to short circuit that process. “Roger that” is a ticket back to your life, no matter what happens. You may be laid off, run down, flunked out, cut, or dumped. You could be a stressed-out, bullied young kid, an overweight veteran with no prospects, or simply handed a pair of crutches and told to sit tight on the sidelines for as long as it takes to heal. The answer is always “Roger-fucking-that.” Scream it out loud. Tell them all that you heard what they had to say and that they can expect your very best in return. And don’t forget to smile. A smile that reminds them that you are most dangerous when you’re cornered. That is how you respond to a setback. It’s the most efficient way to deal with adversity and come out clean.
But it’s important that your goal isn’t too readily attainable. I like to set audacious goals during dark times. Too often, motherfuckers are convinced that they are challenging themselves by aiming to accomplish something they’ve done countless times before. I hear it whenever someone comes to me for training advice, which is a lot. Spoiler alert: it rarely goes the way they’d hoped. Recently, someone asked how to best prepare for a half-marathon. “Why the fuck are you running a half-marathon?” I asked. “You’re already training, so why not a full marathon?” He tripped over his tongue trying to come up with a satisfying answer, but I already knew why. He was training for something he knew he could do. I’m not picking on him. That’s how most of the world operates. Very few individuals step outside the box and attempt to stretch their limits. They rule out the spectacular by default. They put a hard cap on their own performance way before game day. The fact that I’d put Moab out there would keep me dreaming big through the drudgery of rehab, and it also set me up for the possibility of doing something special.
MV: The story takes place in 1996, when Goggins was a twenty-one-year-old airman in the Tactical Air Control Party unit (TACP). During this time, Goggins was attending Air Assault School in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
I. The fun started with a physical test on Day Zero, when candidates must run two miles in under eighteen minutes before completing that motherfucker of an obstacle course made up of rib-crushing wall climbs, a rope climb, and a balance test on a network of beams that lead to platforms as high as thirty feet off the ground. There were so many people there that nobody really stood out, and a good chunk of them failed to achieve the basic benchmarks required to be admitted into the school, but I made it.
Before dawn on Day One, I approached the arches that formed the gateway to the Air Assault campus alongside a man I hadn’t noticed the day before. Though it was dark, I could tell he was about my height and not much older than me. Now that we officially belonged to the Air Assault class, whenever we crossed under the arches, we were required to perform a set of “five and dimes.” That’s five pull-ups and ten elevated push-ups. We would cross beneath those arches several times a day, and we always had to pay the same toll.
We grabbed the bar at the same time. I knocked out the standard five pull-ups, but by the time I’d hit the dirt and finished my push-ups, that guy was still on the bar. I stood and watched him perform far more than five pull-ups. Satisfied, he dropped to his feet, fell forward, and hammered a lot more than ten push-ups. Only then did he report to class. We had a hard day of PT ahead. It would include many more push-ups and pull-ups, and the rest of us were content to meet the standard, hoping we would have enough energy to survive the next ten days, yet this man was ready to smoke himself on the dark early morning of Day One. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone do more than what was required. I’d always thought my job was to meet the standard laid out by the brass, but he was clearly not concerned with what was expected of him or what was to come.
“Who the fuck is that guy?” I asked nobody in particular. “That’s Captain Connolly,” someone said. Okay, so he was an Army captain, but in the Air Assault class, he had no authority at all. He was one of us, just another student trying to earn his badge. At least, that’s what I assumed. A few minutes later, we lined up for a six-mile march loaded down with thirty-five-pound rucksacks. I was only a year and a half out from running six-minute miles and coming in close to the top in damn near every run in Pararescue training. In the run-up to Day One, I’d actually had delusions that once again, I’d be at the front of the pack on all the runs and might even win a few, but I had been measuring myself against the general population. My mind was set on that bell curve where 99.999 percent of the population operates, and when it came to getting after it, I figured I plotted out near the top compared to the rest of the class. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t 175 pounds anymore and that I’d gained thirty-five pounds from lifting heavy and eating like shit. I still looked strong and fit to most people, myself included. Oh, but I was softening up nicely.
When the instructors yelled, “Go,” not everybody went out hard. We had ninety minutes to complete the course, and at least half the class intended to walk a good chunk of it. I planned to run/walk the whole thing, knowing that I would bank time running, which would put me out front. For the first two-plus miles, I was in the lead group of five guys, including Captain Connolly. Most of us were smoking and joking. We were running fairly hard, but we were also ripping on each other, and within twenty-five minutes, I was gassed. The Captain, who had been silent the entire time, had barely started to sweat. While we were wasting valuable energy bullshitting, he was self-contained and dialed in, focused on kicking our collective ass.
Around mile three, the road pitched up into the limestone hills, and the whole group seemed to downshift at once and started to walk as if we shared a common mind. We were breathing heavily, and I knew walking the ups and running the flats and downs would be the best way to finish with a decent time and still have something left in the tank for the next several hours of physical training. Captain Connolly did not downshift. He ran on ahead of us, silent as a ghost. Some of the guys squawked about catching him when he inevitably blew up, but I was certain we wouldn’t see him again until the finish line. Captain Connolly was an entirely different animal. He was off the bell curve—an outlier. He was not one of us.
It does something to you when you are running close to what you perceive as your limit (back then, I still topped out at 40 percent) and there is someone else out there who makes the difficult look effortless. It was obvious that his preparedness was several levels above our own. Captain Connolly did not show up to simply get through the program and graduate so he could collect some wings for his uniform and belong to the unspoken fraternity of supposed badasses at Fort Campbell. He came to explore what he was made of and grow. That required a willingness to set a new standard wherever possible and make a statement, not necessarily to our dumb asses, but to himself. He was respectful of all the instructors and the school, but he was not there to be led.
The ruck march ended at the arches, and on our approach, we could all see Captain Connolly’s silhouette as he completed pull-up after pull-up after pull-up. Once again, he made a mockery of the standard as the rest of us were content to file our five and dimes. Compared to our peers, our performance was well above average, but after watching Captain Connolly flex, it didn’t feel like much. Because I knew that while I had been fine with just showing up, he’d prepared for the moment, attacked the opportunity, and showed out.
Most people love standards. It gives the brain something to focus on, which helps us reach a place of achievement. Organizational structure and atta’ boys from our instructors or bosses keep us motivated to perform and to move up on that bell curve. Captain Connolly did not require external motivation. He trained to his own standard and used the existing structure for his own purposes. Air Assault School became his own personal octagon, where he could test himself on a level even the instructors hadn’t imagined. For the next nine days, he put his head down and quietly went about the business of smashing every single standard at Air Assault School. He saw the bar that the instructors pointed to and the rest of us were trying to tap as a hurdle to leap over, and he did it time and again. He understood that his rank only meant something if he sought out a different certification: an invisible badge that says, “I am the example. Follow me, motherfuckers, and I will show you that there is more to this life than so-called authority and stripes or candy on a uniform. I’ll show you what true ambition looks like beyond all the external structure in a place of limitless mental growth. He didn’t say any of that. He didn’t run his mouth at all. I can’t recall him uttering word one in ten fucking days, but through his performance and extreme dedication, he dropped breadcrumbs for anybody who was awake and aware enough to follow him. He flashed his tool kit. He showed us what potent, silent, exemplary leadership looked like. He checked into every Gold Group run, which was led by the fastest instructor in that school, and volunteered to be the first to carry the flag.
II. I went on to beat Captain Connolly’s twelve-mile ruck-march time, which had been tattooed on my brain for six years, while doing an eighteen-mile ruck march at Delta Selection. I did it on a much harder course with a heavier pack, and for the first twelve miles, I imagined that he was still out there in front of me, dropping breadcrumbs, daring me to exceed the standard he set years ago. He was the first one to show me how to do more with less and that it was not just possible to dig deeper but mandatory if you are striving to be your best self. When I eclipsed his time, I realized I was no longer chasing Captain Connolly. From then on, every school, course, race, or record I took on became an arena for my own self-development. When you live like that, you are usually far beyond the influence of parents, teachers, coaches, or other traditional mentors and their philosophies. In order to stay humble, you’ll need to make sure you are living up to your own code. A lot of great organizations have inspiring mission statements. Elite military units are built around an ethos or creed that defines how their men and women are supposed to conduct themselves. Each time I arrived at a new school or endeavored to join a new Special Operations unit, I studied and memorized the ethos or creed, and those words never failed to move me and most of my peers, but it’s human nature to become complacent. No matter how powerful the organizational ideals, even well-meaning people who love what they do—especially those with seniority—will lack the mental endurance to live the creed on the day to day. And if most people within an organization don’t truly follow or adhere to the founding principles, then what are they really worth? So, I took my own oath to self: I live with a Day One, Week One mentality. This mentality is rooted in self-discipline, personal accountability, and humility. While most people stop when they’re tired, I stop when I am done. In a world where mediocrity is often the standard, my life’s mission is to become uncommon amongst the uncommon.
I’m still haunted, but I’ve traded in my demons for evil-ass angels, and now, it’s a good haunting. I’m haunted by my future goals, not my past failures. I’m haunted by what I may still become. I’m haunted by my own continued thirst for evolution.
I was always destined to be that one warrior. Content to be the motherfucker who sharpens his sword alone.
Mental toughness and resilience fade if they aren’t used consistently. I say it all the time: you are either getting better, or you’re getting worse. You’re not staying the same.
There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Losing just one of those seconds can change the outcome of your day and, potentially, your life.
I’d learned long ago that no matter what type of event or challenge I engage in, the only competition that ever matters is me against me.
Life is not pass/fail. It’s about impact and effort.
We can make any obstacle as big or small as we like. It’s all in the way we frame it.
I thought I deserved much better, oblivious to the fact that almost everybody starts at the bottom and, from there, it’s attitude and action that determine the future.
In a world where mediocrity is often the standard, my life’s mission is to become uncommon amongst the uncommon.
Learn more about Never Finished on Amazon.