David Goggins had run 70 miles of his 100-mile race when he began to pee blood.
It was 2005. Goggins, a 240-pound Navy SEAL, had entered the San Diego race to raise money for charity. It was his first ultra-marathon.
By the time his kidneys had failed around the 70-mile mark, he had broken all the small bones in his feet and suffered dual stress fractures in his lower legs. He had shin splints so bad that he wrapped his ankles in compression tape just to stave off the agony.
As he recalls now, it was the worst pain he’d ever been in. “I was, to me, on the brink of death,” Goggins recently told Impact Theory’s Tom Bilyeu.
But then Goggins remembered the two mental strategies he’s used throughout his Navy SEAL training, not to mention every subsequent test of his physical and mental toughness: visualisation and self-talk.
Visualisation means seeing yourself accomplishing your goals, Goggins said. It’s critical for pushing through intense pain and suffering because it recalls the reason for engaging in the task at all. It lets you see yourself as the kind of person who perseveres, not the kind who gives up.
Self-talk is the quiet, if silent, reminders you give yourself to stay assured the task can be completed. It’s the mantra you repeat to stay calm, or the adrenaline-pumping chant you use to get fired up.
Goggins began telling himself he was the toughest, strongest, most determined person on Earth. Whether it was true was irrelevant, he told Bilyeu. The point was it got him to visualise getting up from the chair, then taking one step, and then another.
“I believed it enough to where my body said ‘He’s not gonna stop,'” Goggins said. “And I took all the negative things — I need to go to the hospital, this and that — and I used it.” He ended up completing the final 30 miles nonstop.
The mindset has helped Goggin become arguably the best endurance athlete of all-time. He is the only person to have completed Navy SEAL training, Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. He has completed two Navy SEAL Hell Weeks, run 100 miles in 19 hours, run 135 miles in just under 26 hours, done over 4,000 pull-ups in 24 hours (a Guinness World Record), and completed the Ironman World Championships in just over 11 hours.
The list goes on.
Self-talk and visualisation work for Goggins because they let him hold himself accountable, he said. Even when he hits the dreaded “wall,” he reminds himself that most walls have doors. So in his mind he searches for that door, and when he finds it, he bashes it in.
“If you choose to do something, attack it,” Goggins said. “You can hate me, but there’s one thing you can’t say about me — that I didn’t attack it.”