Our Wise Guide: So you’re in your mid-twenties or thirties. You thought you’d finally cracked the code to life and are living exactly how you’d dreamed it years ago. But are you really? Is this really the pinnacle of your life? Or are you just getting started?
In this shortform for Never Finished by David Goggins, you’ll discover that life actually calls for never-ending progress. Your so-called pinnacle is just the beginning. What you’re truly capable of far exceeds your wildest expectations, and all it takes to realize that is building your belief through mental and physical resilience – and embracing the challenges that lie ahead.
Key idea 1
Stop wallowing in your misery, and start moving forward.
Whether or not you like it, life will be throwing you all sorts of lemons. There are small lemons in the form of a missing assignment or a broken laptop. And there are big lemons in the form of traumatic accidents or failed businesses. But no matter what size lemons are thrown at you, the important thing is knowing how to dodge their lasting impact – and to move forward.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Many people tend to dwell on their misfortune long after it has passed. They’re still miserable, years after getting out of an abusive relationship or recovering from a physical injury. They wallow in their misery and think about how unlucky they are to be suffering such a fate. Sometimes, they even use it to justify their weakness and stay exactly where they are.
You’ll never have full control over the things you experience. Most of the time, in fact, you'll get the short end of the stick. But what you can control is how you’ll respond to that situation. You are responsible for how you act after going through a negative experience. It’s your choice whether to pull yourself up and push yourself forward, or remain in that pit of despair and let it control your life.
You don’t have to make a big jump right away. You’re not expected to be 100 percent OK a day after a tragedy. The key is to make consistent improvement, even if it’s the smallest amount. Every day, you need to show yourself that you’re working on breaking free from the chains of your past. Baby steps are fine, but never stop making progress.
Sooner or later, you’ll grow into the person you never thought you’d be. All it really takes is focusing on the future rather than the past.
Key idea 2
Use your negative experiences as motivation to reach great heights.
If you say you haven’t gone through any negative experience in your life, you’re either lying or you’re the luckiest person in the world.
It’s more likely that you have at least one bad memory, whether that’s flunking high school or growing up in an abusive household. This memory has messed with your mind one way or another, and you’ve never felt completely safe or confident ever since.
Your first step to coping with that bad memory is probably to deny it. You might say that the experience wasn’t as bad as other people who witnessed it say it was. You might even get to a point where you say it didn’t really happen the way it did.
But the longer you don’t acknowledge this negative experience, the longer you’re keeping yourself in agony. You’ll never realize your true potential by hiding from the pain, so don’t tuck your bad memory away in a closet. Accept it, and face it with all your might.
Sure, it’s scary and unsettling to look pain in the eye, but doing so will not only free you – it’ll also propel you forward. You can use that pain to your advantage. You can hoard it and treat it as motivation to prove everyone wrong.
If you’re having trouble taking the first step to face your pain, journaling is a good place to start. Write down your experiences so you’ll have something to look back on once you’ve overcome your challenges.
An even better way is to record yourself. Every time you encounter a negative comment or a traumatic memory, get out your phone and say your story out loud. Explain what happened, down to the littlest detail. Then listen to it every day. This might be hard at first – you probably don’t want to relive the experience – but do it more often, and you’ll eventually notice how brave you’ve become. You’ll realize that you can now face your pain.
Key idea 3
A single second can make all the difference in your life.
What can you do in one second? You surely can’t eat a whole plate of salmon or write a long email or finish a 100-yard dash. But while one second is undeniably very short, you’ll be surprised to know that it just takes that much time to make all the difference in your life. This is what David Goggins calls the “One-Second Decision.”
When you go through the challenges of life, there will be instances when you’ll start to doubt yourself. Maybe you failed to close one deal, and now you think you can’t run a successful business. You failed to make it to Harvard, so you think you were never really smart in the first place. These instances are crucial – they can make or break you.
Most people will quit on the spot after experiencing moments like these. That sliver of doubt is all it takes to push their dreams out the window.
Don’t make the mistake of doing the same. Instead of reacting abruptly, take a second to pause and decide. Push away all those emotions for a second, and gain control of your thoughts. Then ask yourself whether you’re sure you need to quit – or whether you’re doubting yourself because of the stress and insecurity. If it’s the latter, you can take that one second to decide to fight. Don’t let a single moment of weakness drag all your dreams away.
There will be many such instances in your life. You need to win each one, every single time. Remind yourself of why you’re there. Stay hyper-focused on your goal.
Once you overcome that doubt, you can use your newfound power to overcome many more challenges in life. You’ll be stronger – all because you made the One-Second Decision.
Key idea 4
Focus on the task at hand instead of wondering whether the end to your suffering is near.
Imagine you’ve been hiking for days and haven’t reached the summit yet. You look at your trusty map and realize that you’re just a bend away from your goal – only a couple more steps until you can rest and put up your flag on top of the mountain. You round the bend and heave a sigh of relief. “Finally!” you say.
But as you look around, you notice that you’re not actually at the summit. You have another little hill to go up before reaching the true peak.
Life is wired that way. When you think that your suffering is finally over, it dawns on you that it’s still far from done – that what you attained was just a false summit. However, there’s a simple way for you to avoid false summits: stop looking for signs of the end post.
Say your teacher told you to listen to an audiobook and summarize it afterward. You don’t know how long the audiobook is, so while you’re listening, you keep wondering if you’re about to reach the end of the recording. Every time you think you’re at the final chapter, though, you’re greeted with another one.
Looking for signs of when the audiobook ends not only causes you disappointment; it also distracts you from the essence of the activity. You’re so focused on reaching the end that you forget to actually listen, and now your summary is an incomprehensible word soup.
You know that the end will come eventually – so instead of looking for it, pay attention to the work at hand. Give it your all because it’s what you’re supposed to be doing. And the more you concentrate on your current responsibilities, the sooner you'll finish. Before you know it, you'll be right in front of the end post.
Key idea 5
Discipline can help make you more accountable and resilient.
You watch a platoon of soldiers doing their early morning exercises and realize what amazing discipline they have. They follow commands to a tee and are ready to strike before the roosters have a chance to go cock-a-doodle-doo. That’s exactly what discipline does to you.
But you don’t have to join the army to acquire the discipline they have. You can cultivate it on your own, right from the comfort of your home. Discipline is actually nothing more than doing things to the best of your abilities. It’s about having the initiative to start something – and not leaving it half-finished. It means trying to get it right the first time around, even when no one’s watching or checking your work.
When you’re disciplined, you learn to be more accountable for yourself. You no longer have to rely on someone else to make your to-do list for you. You just get up, write down your tasks, and check them off one by one. Eventually, you learn how to build a plan of action around that to-do list, so you know exactly how your day will go.
Being disciplined also helps you increase your mental and physical load. As you keep repeating and optimizing your tasks, you’ll realize that your capacity is getting bigger by the day. You can now breeze through your to-do list in four hours when it used to take you an entire day. This helps you take on more, which can come in handy when you’re someone who juggles a job, college, and a family of three kids all at the same time.
The most important side effect of being disciplined is a stronger mental state. You’ll no longer feel insecure about other people’s success because you’ll be too busy taking action and focusing on your efforts. With that kind of negativity out of the way, there’s no doubt you’ll get to where you want to be.
Key idea 6
Don’t settle for low-level success.
Name everything you achieved the day you were born. Yes, that’s right – what did you accomplish as a day-old infant? If you’re anything like most people, probably not much. After all, nobody is born with a ton of trophies and titles under their belt. Everyone starts right at the lowest rung of the ladder.
But that doesn’t mean that you should be content with being at the bottom when you know that the life you want is at the top. You need to be willing to go beyond that first step. This is where many people go wrong. They prefer staying right where they are because they’re too afraid of what lies ahead.
Fear is natural. Who would want to venture into the unknown? But there’s no other way to conquer your fear than to face it head-on. Do what scares you, but don’t go into battle without your sword. It pays to be prepared. Use your time at the bottom to prepare for the big opportunities in the future. Treat it as a training ground, where you master your skills and become a better version of yourself. A good trick to keep in mind is to act as if you’re already at the top – when you get to where you want to go, you won’t have trouble adjusting.
But, of course, life isn’t always smooth sailing. No matter how much you prepare for something, you might still fail. And more often than not, it’s because of something that is out of your hands. In cases like these, treat failure as a way to learn about yourself – and gain the opportunity to strengthen your core for life’s worst curveballs.
Key idea 7
Surpass the normal standards, and set your own.
When you start a new job, one of the first things you'll learn about are the standards and expectations the company has of its employees. You have to be early for meetings. You have to submit an end-of-month report. You have to be a good representative of the firm wherever you go.
You can find such standards everywhere – not only at your workplace. They guide every member of the team and ensure that they work in alignment with the organization’s goals. You’re expected to meet these standards religiously, and to keep them in mind in whatever you do.
But while that’s commendable, making these standards your primary target does you a disservice. It prevents you from reaching your full potential.
Say your boss told you to make a week’s worth of content for his business’s social media channels. Most people would make just that one week of content and stop there. After all, that’s what was required of them.
But doing the bare minimum doesn’t foster growth. To really grow means to surpass those set standards. It's about setting and striving for your own standards. So no, you don’t just make a week’s worth of content for your boss. You make a month’s worth – or even a year’s worth!
You probably won’t get a raise for going above and beyond. But you shouldn’t be after the praise and recognition in the first place. You surpass the standards for internal validation to see how much you can really do and how far you can push yourself. That’s how you grow.
If you’re doubtful about your ability to do this, try surrounding yourself with people who consistently exceed expectations. That way, your competitive self will be more motivated to get to work.
Key idea 8
Greatness is within your reach – if you’re willing to work for it.
How do you define greatness? Is it someone who wins the Nobel Prize? Or gets the MVP ten years in a row? Or leads the Moon missions?
Yes, they’re unquestionably some of the greatest of all time – and with how enormous their achievements are, you’ll start thinking that such a level of excellence is simply out of your league. However, that mentality is precisely what holds you back from reaching greatness.
Contrary to popular belief, greatness is not an elusive pedestal that only the gifted and privileged can climb. You have it within your reach; you just aren’t willing to go for it.
You aren’t fully to blame, though. Most of the time, your upbringing can play a major part in limiting your thinking and making you believe that you’re not destined for greatness. As soon as you enter the world, people start putting you into categories. You’re a woman, so you shouldn’t be a CEO. You’re a man, so you should build a career in tech. You’re only 18, so you should go to college and not set up a business. You’re already 56, so you should start thinking about retirement and not switching careers.
People have that habit of defining you even before you can really define yourself – and this, unfortunately, takes a toll on how you see greatness. But no matter how loud the negative voices are, know that you have the power to break out of those categories and redefine yourself. Be the first woman in your local electric company. Be the first high school dropout in your family who becomes a millionaire. Be the first 50-something-year-old in your college graduation.
There always has to be someone to break the mold first. Let that someone be you.
To transform into the person you want to be, you must first overcome the barriers that you and society have put up. This requires your willingness to go beyond your limit, keep the past from tainting your future, and forge ahead no matter the difficulty and pain.
Here’s a final piece of advice: be selective about who you surround yourself with. The people you keep around should be the first ones to see your maximum potential. Don’t be with folks who hold you back. They should be pushing you up and walking with you toward your goals instead.