“In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded,” he said, “there is intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities. This is exactly the type of person BUD/S is meant to find. The man who finds a way to complete each and every task to the best of his ability. The man who will adapt and overcome any and all obstacles.”
I remember my very first day in the gym back in Indiana. My palms were soft and quickly got torn up on the bars because they weren’t accustomed to gripping steel. But over time, after thousands of reps, my palms built up a thick callous as protection. The same Principle works when it comes to mindset. Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, you mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experiences, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind. But it’s up to you where that callous line up. If you choose to see yourself as a victim of circumstance into adulthood, that callous will become resentment that Protects you from the unfamiliar. It will make you too cautious and untrusting, and possibly too angry at the world. It will make you fearful of change and hard to reach, but not hard of mind. That’s where I was a teenager, but after my second Hell Week, I’d become someone new. I’d fought through so many horrible situations by then and remained open and ready for more. My ability to stay open represented a willingness to fight for my own life, which allowed me to withstand hail storms of pain and use it to callous over my victim’s mentality. That shit was gone, buried under layers of sweat and hard fucking flesh, and I was starting to callous over my fears too. That realization gave me the mental edge I needed to outlast Psycho Pete one more time.
In human being your character is your foundation, and when you build a bunch of successes and pule up even more failures on a fucked-up foundation, the structure that is the self won’t be sound. To develop an armored mind - a mindset to calloused and hard that it becomes bulletproof - you need to got to the source of all your fears and insecurities.
What am I capable of?
SEAL training had pushed me to the brink several times, but whenever it beat me down I popped up to take another pounding. That experience made me hard, but it also left me wanting more of the same, and day-to-day Navy SEAL life just wasn’t like that. Then came the San Diego One Day, and now this. I’d finished a marathon at an elite pace (for a weekend warrior) when I had no business even walking a mile. Both were incredible physical feats that didn’t seem possible. But they’d happened.
What am I capable of?
I couldn’t answer that question, but as I looked around the finish line that day and considered what I’d accomplished, it became clear that we are all leaving a lot of money on the table without realizing it. We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole. We’re not talking some bad weekend in Vegas, no more cash at the ATM kind of loss either. In that moment, the cost of missing out on so much excellence in this eternally fucked-up world felt incalculable to me, and it still does. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
But how do you push yourself when pain is all you feel with every step? When agony is the feedback loop that permeates each cell in your body, begging you to stop? That’s tricky because the threshold for suffering is different for everybody. What’s universal is the impulse to succumb. To feel like you’ve given everything you can, and that you are justified in leaving a job undone.
By now, I’m sure you can tell that it doesn’t take much for me to become obsessed. Some criticize my level of passion, but I’m not down with the prevailing mentalities that tend to dominate American society these days; the ones that tell us to go with the flow or invite us to learn how to get more with less effort. Fuck that shortcut bullshit. The reason I embrace my own obsessions and demand and desire more of myself is because I’ve learned that it’s only when I push beyond pain and suffering, past my perceived limitations, that I’m capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally—in endurance races but also in life as a whole.
And I believe the same is true for you.
The human body is like a stock car. We may look different on the outside, but under the hood we all have huge reservoirs of potential and a governor impeding us from reaching our maximum velocity. In a car, the governor limits the flow of fuel and air so it doesn’t burn too hot, which places a ceiling on performance. It’s a hardware issue; the governor can easily be removed, and if you disable yours, watch your car rocket beyond 130 mph.
It’s a subtler process in the human animal.
Our governor is buried deep in our minds, intertwined with our very identity. It knows what and who we love and hate; it’s read our whole life story and forms the way we see ourselves and how we’d like to be seen. It’s the software that delivers personalized feedback—in the form of pain and exhaustion, but also fear and insecurity, and it uses all of that to encourage us to stop before we risk it all. But, here’s the thing, it doesn’t have absolute control. Unlike the governor in an engine, ours can’t stop us unless we buy into its bullshit and agree to quit.
Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! That’s the governor in action! Once you know that to be true, it’s simply a matter of stretching your pain tolerance, letting go of your identity and all your self-limiting stories, so you can get to 60 percent, then 80 percent and beyond without giving up. I call this The 40% Rule, and the reason it’s so powerful is that if you follow it, you will unlock your mind to new levels of performance and excellence in sports and in life, and your rewards will run far deeper than mere material success.
The 40% Rule can be applied to everything we do. Because in life almost nothing will turn out exactly as we hope. There are always challenges, and whether we are at work or school, or feeling tested within our most intimate or important relationships, we will all be tempted to walk away from commitments, give up on our goals and dreams, and sell our own happiness short at some point. Because we will feel empty, like we have no more to give, when we haven’t tapped even half of the treasure buried deep in our minds, hearts, and souls.
I know how it feels to be approaching an energetic dead end. I’ve been there too many times to count. I understand the temptation to sell short, but I also know that impulse is driven by your mind’s desire for comfort, and it’s not telling you the truth. It’s your identity trying to find sanctuary, not help you grow. It’s looking for status quo, not reaching for greatness or seeking wholeness. But the software update that you need to shut your governor down is no supersonic download. It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!
The sole reason I work out like I do isn’t to prepare for and win ultra races. I don’t have an athletic motive at all. It’s to prepare my mind for life itself. Life will always be the most grueling endurance sport, and when you train hard, get uncomfortable, and callous your mind, you will become a more versatile competitor, trained to find a way forward no matter what. Because there will be times when the shit life throws at you isn’t minor at all. Sometimes life hits you dead in the fucking heart.
No matter who you are, life will present you similar opportunities where you can prove to be uncommon. There are people in all walks of life who relish those moments, and when I see them I recognize them immediately because they are usually that motherfucker who’s all by himself. It’s the suit who’s still at the office at midnight while everyone else is at the bar, or the badass who hits the gym directly after coming off a forty-eight-hour op. She’s the wildland firefighter who instead of hitting her bedroll, sharpens her chainsaw after working a fire for twenty-four hours. That mentality is there for all of us. Man, woman, straight, gay, black, white, or purple fucking polkadot. All of us can be the person who flies all day and night only to arrive home to a filthy house, and instead of blaming family or roommates, cleans it up right then because they refuse to ignore duties undone.
All over the world amazing human beings like that exist. It doesn’t take wearing a uniform. It’s not about all the hard schools they graduated from, all their patches and medals. It’s about wanting it like there’s no tomorrow—because there might not be. It’s about thinking of everybody else before yourself and developing your own code of ethics that sets you apart from others. One of those ethics is the drive to turn every negative into a positive, and then when shit starts flying, being prepared to lead from the front.
A true leader stays exhausted, abhors arrogance, and never looks down on the weakest link. He fights for his men and leads by example. That’s what it meant to be uncommon among uncommon. It meant being one of the best and helping your men find their best too. It was a lesson I’d wish sunk in a lot deeper, because in just a few more weeks I’d be challenged in the leadership department and come up well short.
Luck is a capricious bitch. It won’t always go your way, so you can’t get trapped in this idea that just because you’ve imagined a possibility for yourself that you somehow deserve it. Your entitled mind is dead weight. Cut it loose. Don’t focus on what you think you deserve. Take aim on what you are willing to earn! I never blamed anyone for my failures, and I didn’t hang my head in Nashville. I stayed humble and sidestepped my entitled mind because I knew damn well I hadn’t earned my record. The scoreboard does not lie, and I didn’t delude myself otherwise. Believe it or not, most people prefer delusion. They blame others or bad luck or chaotic circumstance. I didn’t, which was positive.
And all I’d ever wanted from it was to become successful in my own eyes. That didn’t mean wealth or celebrity, a garage full of hot cars, or a harem of beautiful women trailing after me. It meant becoming the hardest motherfucker who ever lived. Sure, I stacked up some failures along the way, but in my mind the record proved that I was close. Only the game wasn’t over, and being hard came with the requirement to drain every drop of ability from my mind, body, and soul before the whistle blew.
I would remain in constant pursuit. I wouldn’t leave anything on the table. I wanted to earn my final resting place. That’s how I thought back then, anyway. Because I had no clue how close to the end I already was.