Forty-One Percent

Since it is officially Murph season and our yearly dedication workout is just around the corner, there couldn’t be a better time to mention David Goggins.

David Goggins has been esoterically famous for some time. I had never heard of him until recently though, when he popped up in a podcast interview I was listening to on the way to work. I was taken aback both by the brash way he describes anything (so many F bombs) and his impressive resume.  As described on his website, he is “a retired Navy SEAL, and is the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, the U.S. Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training.” He is also well-known as a freakish endurance athlete who has “completed over 60 ultra-marathons, triathlons, and ultra-triathlons, setting new course records and regularly placing in the top five. He once held the Guinness World Record for pull-ups, completing 4,030 in 17 hours.” The podcast inspired me to read his biography this winter, and as I thumbed through each chapter I couldn’t help but ask the same question that everyone wants to ask him: how? How can a human push himself to such a degree?

Goggins preaches over and over again that he is not extraordinary. He does not believe he is a gifted athlete or a model student. Instead, he insists the only practice that drives him to greatness is mental game, which he describes as “turning off the governor.” A car has a governor which prevents us from driving too fast and blowing out the engine. It is the thing that measures and regulates speed, prevents us from racing the car to exhaustion. Goggins turns off his own governor by practicing the forty percent rule. He says that like a car, we have an internal governor that limits us to working to about forty percent of our ultimate capacity. When we think about the body’s regulatory measures and our inherent will towards self-preservation, it makes sense that we would carry with us a regulation system that tries to keep us safe and comfortable. Historically, he has made some questionable choices when challenging his own internal governor (some which have lead him dangerously close to death), so he doesn’t ask us to turn it off, but to challenge it.

He believes that when we hit what forty percent feels like in the depths of a workout, the pinnacle moment of pain and discomfort, we automatically shrink from it. When our legs tire and our breathing gets heavy our governor switches on and we panic and slow down. We run from pain instead of face it. He asks us to challenge the forty percent head-on, which requires both mindfulness to recognize when it approaches and resolve to stand up to it. He doesn't suggest we blow out our bodies by trying to move the needle from forty to seventy, but instead push it just a little, to stare forty percent in the face and ask ourselves for forty-one.

With Murph around the corner, keep forty percent in mind. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself when pain and insecurity approach. Notice the moment forty percent approaches and push the needle just a bit. Say to yourself what Goggins asks us to say in those moments: “I see you forty percent, and I'm not backing down.”