Can’t Hurt Me Summary and Review

by David Goggins
Has Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Many of us struggle to do even the most basic fitness routine. We will always find excuses for why we should skip the gym after work or going on a weekend run. Imagine what it would be like to live your life with no excuses for not giving your 100 percent. In this summary, you will find out because that’s how the author, David Goggins lives his life. In this, we will go on a journey to discover this man’s incredible life story.  Learning about his traumatic childhood and how he was overweight in his twenties. To then an amazing transformation into one of the world's fittest soldiers, we will see what it takes to be one of the fittest people on the planet. We will find out how Goggins turned his life around to achieve the near-impossible, through his searing honesty and unbelievable anecdotes and how you can emulate his success. Continue reading to discover:
  • How the author's childhood shaped him;
  • Why he nearly quit the military altogether
  • What awaits you in Badwater 135.

Can't Hurt Me Key Idea #1 - Goggins early life was filled with violence by his demanding father.

For most American children, they live a carefree childhood, full of play, security, and parental love. But this wasn’t the case for David Goggins. Born in 1975 in New York, he didn’t know the small joys of childhood.  Instead, from the age of 6, he, his mother and older brother were slaves to his tyrannical father, who was a self-made businessman, owning a roller disco rink, and his workforce was his family. For almost every night of the week, his father took his wife and kids out to his skating rink where he made them work until midnight. When he was aged 6 to eight, David’s job was looking after the skating shoes. His mother would cook dinner over a hot plate in the ice rink’s office. Once the children had finished work at around midnight, she would put them to bed in the office, but the thumping music from the dancefloor meant sleep was almost impossible. This meant that Goggins regularly fell asleep in school and was unable to concentrate in lessons. This routine of school and late night work would be intolerable for any young child, but this was made even more brutal by Goggins father who made life all but unbearable. David was often witness to his father beating his mother with a belt if she disobeyed them. One time David contracted an ear infection and she dared take him to the hospital. Trunnis hated spending money on his family, even if his children were sick. On his mother's return from the hospital, Trunnis beat her senseless. If David tried to intervene and protect his mother, he would also be belted. Many times, he would have to hide the bruises and red welts from his father's belt. Luckily, when David was eight, he and his mother managed to escape from their tormentor. She sweet talked his father into letting her get a credit card in her name and a sympathetic neighbor helped her plan her escape. After quickly leaving the house, David and his mother then drove to a small town named Brazil, Indiana, where they began a new life, free from Trunnis. But this was bittersweet freedom as David’s older brother decided to stay with their father, despite his cruelty. This meant that David saw him a little after they had left. Unfortunately, David’s life wouldn’t be easy in Indiana either.

Can't Hurt Me Key Idea #2 - Goggins fled his father but couldn’t flee his suffering.

Although David had escaped his abusive father, this did not mean that the rest of his childhood would be easier. He would spend the rest of his formative years in poverty and grappling with the demons of his past in small-town Indiana. When the euphoria of leaving Trunnis had worn off, David and his mother had to face another harsh and new reality; they were now dirt poor. Trunnis had refused to give his wife and child more than a pittance to support themselves in their new lives. They ended up living in a public housing block where they paid seven dollars a month in rent, existing on a part-time job and a $123 monthly welfare check. If poverty wasn’t already challenging enough, the trauma of David’s early years began to raise it’s head when he was in the third grade. After years of suffering at the hands of Trunnis, David developed a nervous stutter. His hair also began to fall out, patches of his skin lost pigment and he turned a different color. This was all happening because David was suffering from toxic stress. This is a phenomenon in which young children who have undergone severe abuse experience long term changes in their brain chemistry. This results in a permanent state of ‘fight or flight,’ meaning that David was permanently on high alert for danger. One side effect of toxic stress is that it has a limiting effect on children's memories, and David soon figured this out. Even the most gifted child will struggle to remember things that they have previously learned at school if they are suffering from this condition. This meant that David was labeled as stupid by some of his teachers. He was already the only black kid in his class, and he was now being yelled at and ridiculed on a daily basis. As he was threatened with being thrown out of school and placed in a special needs facility, David began doing the only thing he could to get by. This meant cheating - on his homework and important tests. The result of this was that his oblivious teachers allowed him to stay in school, but this meant his education suffered. Unbeknownst to anyone, as David headed into his teenage years, he could barely read.

Can't Hurt Me Key Idea #3 - Disappointment and fear held him back from reaching his full potential.

In his teenage years, David still struggled with school and literacy. However, in his late teens, David finally found something to concentrate on, joining the United States Air Force. With the hopes of becoming a military man, David bucked down and taught himself to read, eventually getting accepted into Air Force training. But his path to success wasn’t going to be a smooth one. His dream was to become an Air Force pararescue, a soldier who specializes in parachuting in to war zones in order to rescue injured pilots. But to complete this training, David would have to complete his toughest test yet, learning to swim. David’s mother didn’t have the money to get him swimming lessons and he didn’t see a pool until he was 12 years old. This meant that he lacked the sort of swimming ability that was necessary to make the cut. After facing many tough swimming challenges and being paralyzed with fear, David took the easy way out, he quit. When a routine medical test showed that he had a predisposition to sickle cell anemia, a blood disease, he used it as an excuse to walk away from the military on medical grounds. Even when he was leaving, he knew that the best way would be to stay and fight through his challenges, but fear got the better of him. By 1999, his hopes of the military had disappeared and he was working in a dead end job, exterminating pests on a night shift and using food as a tool to numb his disappointment. After his discharge from the Air Force, he ballooned from 255 to almost 300 as his eating spiraled out of control. When his pest exterminator shift ended, the first thing that he would do was stop off on the way home and order a chocolate milkshake and a box of donuts, this would be breakfast number one. Once he had eaten this, he would then drive to his mother’s house where she would have prepared his usual meal. This would consist of eight cinnamon rolls, six eggs, ten bacon rashers and copious amounts of sugary cereal. Unfortunately, David was using food as a method to cope with the harsh realities of his life, that he was unskilled, uneducated and also heading towards a dead-end future. Luckily, the motivation that David would need to turn his mundane life around was just around the corner.  

Can't Hurt Me Key Idea #4 - He changed his life and his body to become a Navy SEAL.

One morning, after already binging on another huge breakfast, Goggins saw something on the television that would change his life forever. This was a documentary about Navy SEALS in training. SEALS are seen as the most elite fighting force in the world and the SEAL training is the toughest in the world, with only the best making it through. Watching the recruits struggle through mud, sweat, and tears, he was transfixed by their mental toughness, determination and their peak physical conditioning. All of a sudden, he wanted to join them more than he had ever wanted to do anything. Goggins then spent his next few weeks phoning the Navy recruitment offices across the US, begging them for the opportunity to train as a SEAL. Luckily, there was a training programme that was open to former military recruits, who now wanted to become active again by joining the Navy. He was told that he could use this programme in order to join the SEALS. However, there were two problems with this. The first was that this programme was about to be shut down in a couple of months. Secondly, Goggins was too heavy to join the Navy, the maximum weight that was allowed was 191 pounds, and he was 297 pounds. This meant that he would have less than three months to lose over 100 pounds in weight if he was going to be able to try out for the SEALS. He wasn’t deterred by this and got to work. Over the next three months, he set up a grueling fitness regiment. This involved waking up at 4.30 every day and immediately getting on an exercise bike for two hours. After he had done this, he would head to the pool and complete a two-hour swim. Once he had finished his swim, he would head to the gym and partake in an intensive workout, this included circuits and at least five sets of 200 reps for each of the major muscle groups. After the gym, he would then get back on the exercise bike for another couple of hours. After dinner, he would then get back on the bike for another two intense hours. Surprisingly, within two weeks of this, he had lost 25 pounds and within a month he had added an additional four-mile run into his daily routine. When the deadline for enrolling on the course came around, he was fighting fit. He joined the programme and underwent a grueling training period which included going five and a half nights with minimal sleep and completing tough exercise drills while he was soaked with water and covered in sand. He gritted his teeth and managed to graduate the training and eventually achieved his dream of becoming a Navy SEALS.

Can't Hurt Me Key Idea #5: Goggins most impressive achievement is becoming an ultra runner.

Goggins had now achieved his dreams to become a Navy SEAL, but after a while, he found himself longing for a new challenge. But what could test his physical limits, the way Navy SEAL training had? In 2005, he found the answer to this: extreme long-distance running, or ultra running. He began running to contribute to a good cause, as several of his fellow Navy SEALS were killed in a military operation in Afghanistan. It was this cause that he decided to run for and raise money for the families that they had left behind. This meant that he could combine charity with his quest to complete the hardest foot race on earth. The race that Goggins chose to do was Badwater 135, a 135-mile race that includes one of the most challenging elevations and the most sweltering heat of any other race in the world. This was known as the ultramarathon to end all ultramarathons. The race begins below sea level in California’s Death Valley and finishes at an elevation of 8,374 feet. If this wasn’t already bad, Badwater 135 is also run in July, this is when Death Valley is often the hottest place on the planet. The top competitors complete the course in under 48 hours, which is pretty incredible. Before he was able to compete in Badwater 135, the race’s organizers required him to qualify by competing in another 100 mile race. So, with this in mind, he set out to conquer the San Diego One Day - a 100 mile race that is in the heart of the city. Goggin’s completed his first race without any special training at all. In fact, the only cardio that he had been doing in the year to lead up to this race was 20 minutes a week on a cross trainer in the gym. Goggins suffered greatly in the race, experiencing loss of bowel and bladder control due to sheer exertion. However, he completed the race in just 19 hours, even running an extra mile, just to make sure he had actually finished. After his victory, Goggins was then accepted as a 2006 Badwater 135 competitor. This time he trained as hard as he was able to in preparation for the race. He carefully studied the terrain that he was running on, and also trained in the extreme heat that the race would be run in. When race day eventually came, all of Goggins training paid off, he completed Badwater 135 in just 30 hours, meaning he came in fifth place.

Can't Hurt Me Key Idea #6 - As long as you work hard, you can emulate Goggins success.

As Goggins is one of the United States’ only African-American SEALS and a prolific ultra runner. Many people ask him how they can be successful, and his first piece of advice comes down to one thing, that is work ethic. Our society is one that had become addicted to getting a quick fix. Goggins believes that if you want to master yourself and live to your full potential, then there is no quick fix - only hard work. Even if you have tons of passion and talent, without a work ethic to go alongside this, you are a bird without wings - you will never fly. His willingness to work hard is a huge factor in every one of Goggins accomplishments. Whether he is working out in the gym or working as a Navy SEAL, everything else in his life comes second. Working hard is Goggins biggest priority in life. What is interesting, is when he tells other people about the value of hard work, they often tell him they don’t have time to put in the long hours that are needed to achieve their goals. They say they focus on spending time with their family or working at their desk.  But to Goggins, this is not an excuse, in his opinion, all these doubters need to do is win the morning. The reason that Goggins has managed to achieve so much is that he gets up early to do it and to have a chance of similar success, you have to be an early bird too. A typical day for Goggins has a 4 am start, where he gets up and goes on a six to ten-mile run. As he has headed out this early, it means he is back home by 5.15am, ready to shower and eat breakfast. Goggins  then bikes 25 miles to work and arrives at his desk at 7.30am. This strict fitness regime doesn’t stop then, during his lunch break, he will either have a gym session or a six mile run to the nearest beach. Once work has finished, he will cycle home again and be back through the front door at 7pm, he has cycled 50 miles, run at least 10 more and worked a nine-to-five desk job. So all you need to do is to get up early and start pushing yourself, because if David Goggins can do it, then so can you.

Can’t Hurt Me: Final Summary

The key message in this book is that even though David Goggins came from a background of a violent, traumatic and impoverished childhood, he emerged from this with a dream, this was joining the army. He overcame his difficulties by swimming and losing a massive amount of weight, and emerged as a superfit Navy SEAL and a successful ultramarathon runner. Following his success is possible - but it will take a huge amount of hard work and getting up early in the morning. Advice to take away: Go beyond yourself with the 40 percent rule. Goggins stated that we give up and go home when we have actually only expended 40 percent of our potential effort. Why is this? There is a part of our mind that wants to keep and protect us from suffering and hardship, so it tricks us into thinking we have already given everything, when in fact we have 60 percent left in the tank! In order to master our minds, we have to push through suffering and ignore the voice that is in our head to give our true best every time.
Suggested further reading: Mastering your mind is only one step in reaching your full potential. We summarised this idea and many more in this piece on work ethic.