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Meeting David Goggins: Lessons on achieving greatness

I had the privilege of meeting David Goggins in November 2022, just moments before we were set to take the stage at OREA’s Reality+ Conference in Toronto.

Goggins, widely regarded as the world’s toughest athlete, is a former Navy SEAL and accomplished endurance runner known for his incredible mental toughness.

In addition to his athletic achievements, Goggins is a bestselling author and self-publishing pioneer, having penned two books on mental resilience.

His road to success has been far from easy, and he has inspired countless individuals along the way.

I was humbled to have the opportunity to interview Goggins at the conference, where he shared his insights on the incredible power of the human mind.


First impressions


When he first arrived backstage, Goggins exuded a “tough guy” mentality. He had an intense focus that seemed impervious to external distractions, appearing to be completely locked in on his objectives, with a level of concentration that was unwavering (if not slightly intimidating).

It was as if nothing could shake his ironclad resolve, not even a room filled with hundreds of people waiting to hear him speak.

But then we were introduced, and Goggins warmed immediately. His smile was wide, and he was kind, graciously laughing at my feeble attempt to make light of the situation.

I was nervous— he was not.

Goggins’ intensity is a testament to his extraordinary mental fortitude and discipline, qualities that have undoubtedly been instrumental in his remarkable success.


The conversation


I’ll preface this by saying this was by no means a motivational talk. Motivation is overrated, says Goggins, because it’s ultimately up to an individual to do the work themselves.

He argues that the best place to start is clearing your mind; if the mind is cluttered with negative thoughts and distractions, there’s no room for determination or drive.

Here are my top takeaways from my conversation with David Goggins:


1. Start the day with the right mindset.


While Goggins’ early morning routine may seem daunting, we can still take inspiration from it. He stresses the importance of starting the day with a positive mindset and a “fiery passion.”

By reminding ourselves of our goals and repeating them until we feel motivated, we can overcome the temptation to hit snooze and embrace the day ahead.

Goggins also emphasizes the benefits of morning exercise, even if it’s just a simple movement to get your body going.

Prioritizing physical activity improves our physical health and sets a positive tone for the day ahead. While we may not all be able to wake up at the ungodly hour Goggins is accustomed to, we can take steps to improve our morning routine and achieve our goals with a similar level of determination and passion.


2. It’s an attempt, not a failure.


Many of us are held back from pursuing our dreams by the fear of failure, but Goggins suggests that we’re approaching it the wrong way.

The former Navy SEAL argues that failure is an inevitable part of the journey to becoming the best in one’s field. Rather than fearing it, we should embrace it as a necessary step toward achieving greatness.

According to Goggins, the key is to strive for excellence and attempt what others are unwilling to do. He encourages us to reject mediocrity and not let the fear of failure hold us back.

Instead, we should view each failure as a valuable learning opportunity that will ultimately help us achieve our goals.

Goggins acknowledges that we live in a world that often celebrates mediocrity, and he challenges us to rise above it by pushing ourselves to be the best we can be. We shouldn’t be afraid to fail “too big” because the only true failure is never trying at all.


3. Perform without purpose and compartmentalize.


Goggins noted how life often feels directionless, and the search for a greater purpose can distract us from the true goal: self-improvement.

“The purpose is you,” he said. “There is no bigger purpose outside yourself.”

He emphasizes the importance of performing without a specific purpose, instead focusing on the individual’s own self-improvement.

While external goals like buying a bigger house or achieving professional success can provide temporary motivation, they do not provide the lasting sense of fulfillment that comes from personal growth.

Goggins likens this approach to his heart rate training, where he carefully monitors and controls his physical exertion to maximize his training without burning out.

Similarly, he compartmentalizes difficult situations into mental “zones.” By putting past hardships into a “zone one,” Goggins can keep them from consuming his thoughts and impacting his current performance.


4. It’s you against you.


The key to getting better is to focus on yourself and only on what you need to do.

Negative thoughts can seep into our minds from various external sources, such as television or social media, which bombard us with unrealistic expectations and beauty standards.

These toxic influences can quickly infect our thought patterns and derail our progress. To combat this, Goggins says it is crucial to distance oneself from these distractions and focus solely on what is necessary for personal growth.

By realizing it’s “you against you,” you eliminate the external noise and concentrate on your journey.

The ultramarathon runner recounted a conversation with someone who struggled with body image and constantly worried about the opinions of others. He advised him to shift his focus to his own goals and aspirations, disregarding any external judgments.

Easier said than done? Goggins affirms the shift in mindset can calm the mind and allow for a greater focus on self-improvement.


5. Self-doubt is normal.


Even when we’re successful, we have moments of self-doubt. Goggins shared that he still experiences self-doubt— but he has a technique for quieting that inner critic.

He calls it a “mental backstop”: When that negative voice starts to get too loud in his head, he repeats the negative self-talk out loud, records it, and listens back. Goggins says that’s enough to catch himself before he starts spiralling.

It’s important to have regular conversations with yourself and speak positively to yourself even when you are filled with self-doubt.


6. Adopt a “foxhole mentality.”


Goggins explains “foxhole mentality” as getting rid of people who don’t support your dreams and ambitions; their negative energy should not be allowed to affect your pursuit of success.

“Don’t ever let those people get you down because you’ll never meet a hater doing better than you,” he said.

Goggins advocates for channelling their negative energy and using it as ammunition. He doesn’t listen to the noise—but oh, does he hear it.

The former Navy SEAL notes the criticism, files it away in his mental Rolodex and pulls it out when he needs that extra fuel to get him through the task at hand.

He has a system for turning that once negative energy into power.


7. Know what you stand for.


Goggins believes that building one’s ethos and code is crucial. This involves knowing what you stand for and operating on a level others “can’t even fathom.”

He knows what he stands for, and he’s constantly reminding himself.

“I’m a disciplined, focused, driven man. And that’s how I operate.”


8. Practice trained humility


Goggins speaks about the importance of trained humility in order to achieve greatness. Despite his success, he spends every summer smoke-jumping in B.C.— fighting forest fires for $12/hour.

The athlete insists staying humble is key to achieving greatness because getting too comfortable at the top can impede progress.

He believes that true knowledge and discipline come from embracing the struggles and challenges of the journey toward success rather than simply enjoying the end result.




Goggins’ approach may not be suitable for everyone, but it’s working for me. Applying these lessons to my day-to-day routine has been a challenging yet rewarding journey.

The bestselling author tells us self-improvement is a continuous process that requires persistent effort. Mental toughness is not something that can be acquired overnight or ever fully mastered.

To cultivate a positive mindset, I start my day by waking up early and focusing on the good. Instead of succumbing to thoughts like “I’m exhausted,” I choose to celebrate the fact that it’s a new day. This positive attitude motivates me to get out of bed (as does keeping my alarm in a different room).

There is a lot more we can learn from David Goggins.

I highly recommend his book, Can’t Hurt Me. I doubled up with the paperback and the audiobook. In the audiobook, each chapter ends with Goggins sharing some insight into the chapter’s contents.

His latest book, Never Finished, is next on my reading list. Goggins promises this book is even better than the last (and he may have a third book in the pipeline).

A massive thank you to OREA for the opportunity; my conversation with David Goggins will stay with me for a long time.


Jordana Springgay (left) and David Goggins at OREA’s Reality+ Conference in November 2022


Images courtesy of the Ontario Real Estate Association.