Strengthen your willpower — 5 practical tips from the world’s toughest mind

Richard Reis
8 min readDec 18, 2018
By Richard Reis

“Out of every one hundred men [on the battlefield], ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior…” — Heraclitus

Yes, both photos show the same person! His name is David Goggins.

On the left we see a younger David weighing roughly 300lbs. He grew up with severe allergies, sickle cell trait, and a congenital heart disease that left him with a hole (the size of a poker chip!) in his heart.

On top of that, his childhood was a mix of an abusive household, poverty, and relentless bullying in high school (he was one of the few black kids in a town about 20 miles from where the KKK was founded… yikes).

Yes, he was dealt a bad hand.

Yet, nowadays he has achievements out the wazoo! He:

  • Is the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, Air Force TAC-P, and U.S. Army Ranger School.
  • Competed in more than sixty(!!) ultra-marathons, triathlons, and ultra-triathlons (regularly placing in the top five).
  • Held the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups (4,030!) in 24 hours.

And much, much more.

Today, many people consider him to be the world’s toughest man.

But hang on! That is a GIGANTIC difference from the man he used to be! How did that happen??

To answer this question, I read his autobiography, listened to his audiobook, and watched maaany of his interviews.

What did I learn?

I learned that although he is known for being the world’s toughest man, most importantly, he built the world’s toughest mind.

He’s been through hell and back (several times). To survive each trip, he needed something that went beyond “mental toughness” or “motivation.”

So he developed his own way. He calls it “a calloused mind.”

In this post, I will teach you that way.

Callous your mind

Have you ever done weightlifting? If so, you know what it’s like to see your weak palms develop strong callouses as protection.

Your mind works the same way. The more friction, the stronger it gets.

“Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind.” — David Goggins

Why is this important?

Think of a really hard phase you went through in your life (maybe you’re going through one right now).

Did you let it affect you? You know what I mean. Did you let it affect your job, your relationships, or even your health?

At that time, were you performing at your best? Or did you let the situation control you? Did you give up?

Unfortunately, sometimes life brings really bad moments.

And this is why we must callous our minds! It is our best way to prepare for those moments and stay strong instead of letting them drain us.

“Aim to be the person at your father’s funeral that everyone, in their grief and misery, can rely on. There’s a worthy and noble ambition: strength in the face of adversity. That is very different from the wish for a life free of trouble.” — Jordan Peterson

So… How do you callous your mind?

Here are five tips Goggins uses:

Tip #1: Flip your story

The first lesson is to ditch the victim’s mentality forever.

I know you’ve heard this before… But this is different. Here you must turn all negativity into fuel.

Sure, throughout life you’ll be discriminated against, made fun of, or feel insecure for countless reasons. Goggins knows this well (remember the intro?).

However, to overcome those difficulties he stopped blaming his childhood, poor health, the economy, racism, or anything/ anyone else.

Instead, he saw all those problems as the ultimate training ground to build strength.

The same goes for you. View every problem in your life as an opportunity to callous your mind.

“Every time you find you’re drifting into self pity, I don’t care what the cause (your child could be dying of cancer), self-pity is not going to improve the situation. […] It’s a ridiculous way to behave, and when you avoid it you get a great advantage over everybody else, almost everybody else, because self-pity is a standard condition and yet you can train yourself out of it.” — Charlie Munger

Tip #2: Crave discomfort

Let me warn you, you won’t callous your mind overnight.

Instead, you must train it by doing things that make you uncomfortable every day.

You can start simple (waking up early, making your bed, or washing the dishes), and build from there. Eventually, your mind will become used to the path of most resistance.

In fact, this is the reason Goggins works out every day. More than physical training, he sees it as mental training.

When you struggle with this (and you will), remember that all emotional and physical pain ends! Just get through the discomfort, and you’ll find that it always ends.

“There is no avoiding pain, especially if you’re going after ambitious goals. Believe it or not, you are lucky to feel that kind of pain if you approach it correctly, because it is a signal that you need to find solutions so you can progress.” — Ray Dalio

Tip #3: The accountability mirror

This one is my favorite.

What made Goggins decide to turn his life around? His reflection in the bathroom mirror.

The mirror never lies. He didn’t like what he saw and felt ashamed. So he decided to change.

This doesn’t just apply to what you see physically, but also what you know mentally. The only person you cannot lie to is yourself.

You know you didn’t wake up early today, you know you didn’t eat healthily, you know you procrastinated, etc…

So when you see your reflection, you know what’s wrong and what needs to change.

In fact, Goggins went as far as talking to his reflection. Saying things like “Look at you […] You stand for nothing. You are an embarrassment.” and “It’s on you. Yeah, I know s*** is f***ed up. I know what you’ve been through. I was there, b****! […] Nobody is coming to save your a**! Not your mommy […] Nobody! It’s up to you!”

This became his nightly ritual. He calls it the “accountability mirror.” Every night while shaving his face and scalp, he (i) gets loud and gets real, (ii) sets goals, (iii) writes them down on post-it notes, and (iv) tags them to the mirror so he’s reminded of them every day (the post-it only comes off once the goal is reached).

Try your own version of the accountability mirror. Being held accountable is incredibly useful (especially when you can’t lie to the person you’re accountable to 🙂).

Remember, it’s ok to be unkind to yourself, it will callous your mind.

“I go to the doctor’s office and say I have a cough. I don’t go and beat around the bush. I have to tell him what the problem is and then he can give me the medication. I say it’s the same thing in the gym, you come here because you’re f***ing fat. And so now let’s solve the problem.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Tip #4: The cookie jar

If the accountability mirror is the bad cop, this is the good cop.

When times get hard, we forget how strong we can be. But that’s when we need to remember it the most!

This is why Goggins developed a technique he calls “the cookie jar.”

The cookie jar in your brain contains all the difficulties you overcame, all the things you accomplished, and is a reminder of how awesome you are.

When you’re going through a hard time (mentally, physically, or emotionally), take a moment, dig into your mental cookie jar, and “have a cookie.”

Sidenote: To make it more fun, think of small accomplishments (e.g.: losings 2lbs) as normal cookies, and big accomplishments (e.g.: graduating college) as big cookies loaded with chocolate chunks 😋

By the way, these aren’t just quick flashbacks. You need to remember the way you felt during those moments.

This will fuel you beyond belief! Your past victories will carry you to new ones.

Also, this reminds me of a similar thing Tim Ferriss talked about it in his book, “Tools of Titans.” He calls it “the jar of awesome.” [see below]

“This was not my idea. It is thanks to an ex-girlfriend who is a real sweetheart. […]

There is a mason jar on my kitchen counter with ‘jar of awesome’ in glitter letters on the side. Anytime something really cool happens in a day, something that made me excited or joyful, doctor’s orders are to write it down on a slip of paper and put it in this mason jar.

When something great happens, you think you’ll remember it 3 months later, but you won’t.

The Jar of Awesome creates a record of great things that actually happened, all of which are easy to forget if you’re depressed or seeing the world through gray-colored glasses. I tend to celebrate very briefly, if at all, so this pays dividends for weeks, months, or years.” — Tim Ferriss

Tip #5: The 40% rule

Most of us have a habit of giving up way too soon.

However, Goggins noticed an interesting thing while working out… When he felt he “was done,” he tried pushing just liiiittle bit harder.

Once he made it past the initial pain, he could keep going for 60% longer!

This same principle applies to all of us in every area.

Whether you’re working out, studying, or doing anything challenging, if you feel like you’re done, push past the initial pain! (in fact, this is a good time to use the cookie jar).

Suddenly, you’ll tap into your reserve tank. It will keep you going much longer than you thought you could (I’m sure you have experienced this before).

We all have a reserve tank. So remember, when you think you’re done, you’re only at 40% of what you’re capable of doing.

“I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.” — David Goggins


This all sounds pretty simple, right?

It isn’t.

Everything looks simple when we are tucked into our comfort zones. This is why people can watch a sports game and think “I can do better than that!” from the comfort of their home, on their couch, after a warm shower.

As you’ll learn though, practicing these lessons is anything but simple. It’s super hard.

And that’s the point!

Challenges will callous your mind. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it.

Do this every day. In the future, you’ll look back and marvel at how far you’ve come (just look at Goggins’ story).

“I like to sit back and enjoy the pain. I earned it.” — David Goggins

P.S.: If you want more ways to practice all these strategies, buy Goggins’ book! (or listen to his audiobook, which has bonus commentary). Not only is it awesome, but each chapter ends with a challenge to help you callous your mind. This book can change your life.

P.P.S.: For more Goggins, follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Also, check out Jesse Itzler’s book “Living with a SEAL.” It’s a hilarious account of what happened when he invited Goggins to live with him and his wife, Sara Blakely, for a month.

Thanks for reading! 😊If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.You can follow me on Twitter at @richardreeze to find out whenever others just like it come out.📚 Do you like books? If so you might enjoy my latest obsession: 
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Richard Reis

"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus