52 pages 1 hour read

David Goggins

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


In 2018, David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL, independently published Can’t Hurt Me: How to Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds. Can’t Hurt Me serves the dual function of relating Goggins’s life story and providing a training manual for mental discipline. Although the book focuses on Goggins’s physical and mental achievements, it is simultaneously a self-help guide but one that avoids all quick-fix gimmicks. The hero of the story, as Goggins is keen to repeat throughout, is the reader. Although the book is composed of stories of Goggins’s triumphs (and failures) and his continuous quest to overcome adversity, the purpose is to buttress the reader’s drive to self-improvement with both inspiring stories and supplemental “challenges,” i.e., training exercises to strengthen personal resolve.


Can’t Hurt Me is an autobiographical journey from Goggins’s difficult childhood to his successful career as a military leader and public speaker. Along the way, he details traumas, setbacks, mental disorders, gruesome physical injuries, and interpersonal strife. His goal is to use his life story to help others achieve more in their own lives. Throughout his life, Goggins finds himself blessed to encounter film, music, and individuals who renew his confidence and drive so that he can better access and unlock his potential. His goal, it seems, is to have a similar effect on his reader and to repay his debt (and then some). As a long-time recruiter for the Navy, Goggins’s book can also be read as a recruiting device.

Can’t Hurt Me is an odyssey in personal self-development starting in Goggins’s youth and ending in the present (2018), at which point Goggins is retired from two decades of service in the military and working in wildland fire management. The first eight years of his life are spent in Buffalo, New York in a middle-class neighborhood with an intact, nuclear family. Things are not quite what they seem from the outside, though. Goggins’s father is extremely abusive to him, his brother, and his mother, Jackie.

Eventually, Jackie and her two sons flee to a small town in rural Indiana. They escape the abuse from Goggins’s father but run into a new set of issues. Goggins suffers from a stutter and serious anxiety. He falls behind academically. Through adolescence, he experiences overt racism. Then, the man engaged to his mother is murdered one night in Indianapolis. Goggins loved and admired him and finally had a positive male role model.

After high school, Goggins joins the Air Force and completes four years of service, after which he works as an exterminator in Indianapolis. One night, while cleaning a particularly disgusting restaurant, he decides to change his life. At this point, Goggins weighs 300 pounds, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to try out for the Navy SEALs, an elite special operations force. In three months, Goggins loses over 100 lbs. and studies diligently. He passes the tests needed to go to BUD/S, a brutal six-month training program at the end of which he will be a SEAL.

Due to serious injuries, Goggins must attempt BUD/S training three times before eventually achieving his dream. During these trainings, he undergoes physical torment and begins to learn how to harden his mind. Despite numerous setbacks throughout his professional life, Goggins achieves a myriad of athletic and professional goals. He completes Army Ranger school, becomes freefall certified, and eventually serves as the face of Navy recruitment, traveling the country and inspiring young adults. Goggins becomes a highly sought-after public speaker and goes on to encourage many thousands of young people to pursue their goals. He uses both his personal narrative and his own example of extreme toughness to inspire others.

Goggins simultaneously develops another career as an endurance athlete. He discusses his path to ultramarathons and his development as a runner. He completes races like the Hurt 100, Frozen Otter, and Badwater 135, all of which require extreme physical endurance over long courses in intense weather and unstable terrain. He regularly finishes in the top five of such events. Goggins also trains for and competes in Ultraman and Ironman triathlons. He sets the world record for most pull-ups completed in 24 hours with 4,030.

Goggins undergoes serious trials along his journey. As an adult, who has already fought in wars and run ultramarathons, he learns he has a hole in his heart and undergoes two heart surgeries. Later, he becomes so ill he cannot get out of bed for weeks. Still, he finds a way forward even when the doctors can’t help him, and he never pities himself or gives up. He expresses love and gratitude for those who continue to help him on his journey, and he continuously uses the negative judgments of others to encourage himself. Each chapter of the book ends with a challenge to the reader. In every case, the reader is assigned a task that mirrors the thematic development of the previous chapter. These “challenges” build on one another, and if the reader takes the time to complete them, they may help one develop the mindset Goggins advocates throughout the book.

Content warning: This guide quotes the author’s use of profanity. It also contains depictions of child abuse and racist behavior directed at the author.