Can’t Hurt Me ~ What I learned from a Navy SEAL

Can’t Hurt Me is a book that has challenged me to be stronger mentally, to push myself further, and to not give up. David Goggins’ story is so inspiring you will have a hard time putting this book down. This is not a book that will make you “feel good.” This may sound negative, but trust me, as Goggins steps on your toes in this book it will cause you to make positive changes in your life. This book is not for everyone. There is a lot of cursing and Goggins tells it like it is as he shares his story with very raw details. However, if you read this book, I can guarantee you will learn something from this incredible man. He is the only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller. He had to lose 100 pounds in 3 months to get accepted into Navy SEAL Training. Goggins has run many ultramarathons and pushed is body to extreme limits. Here are some of my big takeaways.

The Accountability Mirror

Goggins came up with what he calls The Accountability Mirror to motivate himself and hold himself accountable to achieve his goals. This is how he described it: “I set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to what I now call the Accountability Mirror, because each day I’d hold myself accountable to the goals I’d set.” When I am comfortable and inspired by something, it is easy for me to set goals for myself in my head. As soon as I write a goal down and have to look at it every day, it changes from a vague desire to something that convicts me daily. I have to ask myself: what is limiting my success? Am I in my own way? In answering these questions I need to take ownership, responsibility, and overcome obstacles. Setting goals and being reminded of them daily is a habit that many successful people use.

Seek Resistance

Goggins has a very unconventional approach to dealing with resistance in life. Rather than the typical advice (and probably human nature) to seek the path of least resistance, Goggins lives a lifestyle of seeking out resistance. He sees obstacles, setbacks, and challenges as training. Rather than shy away from challenges, he focuses on how overcoming them will make him better. His challenge is that we should all figure out what we don’t want to do but know will make a positive impact in our life and then do it. Goggins also shows through his lifestyle how pushing yourself to the limit physically can help you overcome mental challenges. I found this approach very convicting. I have started to see how challenging projects at work which have many difficult components are not something I should complain about but rather I should welcome them. These difficulties train me to be a better engineer. As my life and schedule have been changing lately, it has been harder to run or workout in the evening. I hate waking up early to run, however, reading about Goggins lifestyle has helped motivate me to see it as a challenge to overcome each day. I heard somewhere that taking cold showers is good for your nervous system, especially in the morning, so I started taking cold showers even though I hate them. This might be a little excessive and inconsequential, but it helps prove to myself that I am not weak mentally.

The Cookie Jar

Everyone has faced challenges and obstacles and overcome them at some point in their life. This is where Goggins’ Cookie Jar concept comes in. In his own words, “…the Cookie Jar became a concept I’ve employed whenever I need a reminder of who I am and what I’m capable of. We all have a cookie jar inside us, because life, being what it is, has always tested us. Even if you’re feeling low and beat down by life right now, I guarantee you can think of a time or two when you overcame odds and tasted success.” When facing current challenges you reach into the cookie jar and use previous accomplishments to overcome new challenges. These don’t have to be huge accomplishments. All you need to ignite change in life is a spark. I have been using this strategy at work when facing difficult situations to remember a time in the past when I faced something similar and overcame it. This gives me the assurance that this new challenge will not destroy me either.

The 40% Rule

The 40% rule is easy enough to understand but definitely hard to put into practice. This is how Goggins describes it, “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! I call this The 40% Rule…” I have heard other variations of this with different percentages but the underlying concept is the same. We have the ability to stretch past where our mind tells us that we have nothing more to give. For myself, I’ve realized I don’t need to overcome the entire 60% right now. Each time I am faced with the temptation to quit I can choose to push myself 5% further. These small increments will add up and eventually I will raise my ceiling further than I ever imagined.

When your effort seems meaningless

Sometimes when you are working harder than others by setting goals, stretching yourself, and pushing yourself to the limit it can feel like your effort is not making a difference. Maybe you were expecting a promotion, a raise, or some recognition and it doesn’t come. Goggins wrote about how he was always pushing himself because he was training for opportunities that didn’t exist yet. He wanted to be an uncommon man among uncommon men. He wanted the drive, the mental callousing, and the overcomer mentality to be a habit and a lifestyle. He wanted to live there constantly, not just go there sometimes. I found this perspective encouraging and I strive to emulate it. I want my growth to be sustainable and I feel like Goggins approach is a good way to make this lifestyle stick.

Setbacks

A theme in Goggins’ life is how he experienced setbacks and failure and how he dealt with them. He views challenges and setbacks as a training ground for life. Rather than see failure as a definition of who you are, see it as information that must be reviewed and learned from. We cannot let setbacks shatter our focus, take over our brain, and sabotage our progress. Recalculate, adjust, and work on your weaknesses. As an engineer and leader on my team at work, I often feel criticism and negativity directed toward me. Every time this happens, I cannot internalize that negativity. If I do I will eventually be an emotional wreck and will be no good for my team or company. By no means have I mastered this area of my life but I am working on it. The reality is any time you stand for something, you will experience opposition and criticism. This isn’t evidence that you should quit but evidence that you are saying something important.

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Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

How often have you read a book that you can apply the principles immediately, even while reading the book? I am talking about Inception style “dream within a dream.” That is exactly what happened to me while I read make it stick. The book is about how we learn and retain information effectively and I found myself applying the techniques to solidify the learning strategies in the book. When this happens, you know you found a real gem. You haven’t even put the book down and you are already finding ways to apply it.

One of the biggest takeaways was how important retrieval practice is for durable learning. Retrieval practice means self-quizzing on material you have previously learned. Rather than rereading a textbook or notes, you ask yourself questions which require you to retrieve the information from memory. This habit requires more effort but leads to deeper learning. The illustration given in the book is that learning anything new is like adding beads to a string for a necklace. You can add many beads to the string but unless you tie a knot at the end, the beads will slip off. The beads are compared to all the new things you learn. Retrieval practice is compared to tying the knot on the end of the string. The more you recall learned information, the better your knot and the more snug your beads will remain.

A real world application of retrieval practice is reflection. Since reading this book I have been trying to apply this by reflecting on my day at work. I think about the conversations I had, about the meetings I was a part of, the deliverables my team sent out, presentations I gave, and communication I had with my clients. I ask myself questions like:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What might I do differently next time?

I have a journal which I used to write down my thoughts. This practice helps me recall what works and what doesn’t so that I will be better prepared next time.

Another takeaway from the book was the authors perspective on failure. In the west we relate error to failure and achievement to ability. This is a fixed mindset (for more on this read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset). A fixed mindset means you see yourself as having a fixed intelligence that cannot really be changed. With this mindset if you fail or make an error it means you are not intelligent. The opposite of this mindset is the growth mindset. With the growth mindset you do not see your intelligence as fixed. Failure does not mean you are unintelligent, it just means you have work to do. We should see failure as a badge of effort. In order to learn new things we must focus on what is difficult not what is easy but this means we may fail. Mistakes can be good teachers as long as we are open to the feedback. We should look at mistakes and problems as good information not failure.

The two different mindsets also lead to different goals. When you have a fixed mindset you tend to set performance goals which will help validate your ability. This can cause you to shy away from challenges because you may worry you won’t succeed which will prove you aren’t as smart as you thought. On the other hand, a growth mindset tends to lead you to learning goals. With learning goals you are attempting to learn more and increase your skill. You pick challenges and see setbacks as useful information on where you should focus more effort to get better. I have been trying to apply this at work in the way I perceive difficult projects or tasks. When I get assigned a difficult project with many challenging aspects, rather than seeing it as a problem and complain, I want to train myself to see it as a learning opportunity. The challenges will help me become a better engineer as long as I learn from them.

The principles in this book have helped me understand how to obtain deeper learning through retrieval practice. A real world application of this is reflection. I reflect on my day, the challenges I faced, what I can learn from them, and how I can be better. I also learned that it is far more satisfying to have a growth mindset coupled with setting learning goals. With this mindset my intelligence is not fixed, I have room to reach my potential, and I can see failure and setbacks as useful information rather than a lid.

5 Takeaways from The Compound Effect

I just finished reading this fantastic little book called The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. If you are a personal development junky, I highly recommend it. Hardy makes the case that we need to get back to good old fashioned hard work and consistency in order to be successful. We like to believe in fairy tales and applying a few life hacks to change our lives, however, the compound effect is about small positive habits and choices made over a long period of time which create big results. A pastor said it this way “It’s often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.”

 Lust vs love

If you want success, help others get it. Anthony Robins opens with this in his message at the beginning of the book and Darren Hardy closes with it at the end. Many personal development and leadership books present this idea but at the end of the day we are all pretty selfish. As humans we are each trying to get ahead often at the cost of pushing others down. It is easy to view your field and work as a zero sum game. Someone else’s success takes away from your success. It is a battle between lust versus love. Lust is selfish and all about what I can get whereas love is about what I can give. If you can overcome this tendency toward lust and instead serve others, put others first, and help others succeed, you will stand out. This is also far more fulfilling in the long run. As Hardy explains, the person who goes against the norm is unusual and is the one who can achieve extraordinary results.

Choices

One of the questions Hardy raises is whether we are choosing our behavior or being a passive receiver in life. If I am honest more often I am a passive receiver. I fail to plan, to adapt, and often let life happen to me. It is essential to remember that we are each 100% responsible for our lives. Don’t point your finger to the world for the source of your problems but first look at yourself.

On a more positive note, one of the habits and choices I continually make is to be a reader. Over the past few years I have established the habit of reading in the morning before work. Sometimes I get discouraged by looking around and seeing colleagues or friends who appear just as successful but do not read. Thoughts go through my head of getting extra sleep or getting a few more hours at work for overtime instead of reading. This book helped remind me that the compound effect is at work in my habit of reading. It may not make a difference today, tomorrow, or this year, but over time I will gain wisdom and insight that cannot be manufactured.

Habits

One idea I have recently seen is linked with habits is integrity. High integrity is when your actions align with your values. What you do trumps what you say in every situation. When your habits and actions conflict with your values you will be unhappy, frustrated, and it will ultimately lead to self-delusion. I can tell my wife I love her but unless I plan a date my actions do not communicate this truth.

Another point about habits is awareness of what we think about and where our time is going. Our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts. We often see what we are looking for and create our own reality. I realized my habit of looking at work emails early in the morning and late at night was creating a reality of stress and anxiety. I decided I needed to break this habit to end this cycle of stress and anxiety. Since then I have turned email notifications off from my phone and no longer use my phone to check work emails. 95% of the emails I will likely get between 5pm one day and 8am the next can be handled the next day. For the other 5%, if it is urgent I can be reached on my cell phone. I want to be mentally and physically present when I am home. Often when I am reading and responding to work emails at home I am not mentally present. So far this has been working for me.

Momentum

Momentum is important to maintain habits but requires the discipline of a predictable routine. One of the ideas that Hardy shared was to bookend your day. Bookending your day means controlling how it starts and how it ends. As we all know, anything can happen during the day and your plans can be crushed, however, we have the ability to control the start and finish. For starting my day I like to read, journal, and meditate. I try not to allow the concerns and worries of the day to encroach on this time which is why it has been helpful to turn off email notifications from my phone. Hardy describes what he calls a “calibration appointment” in the morning which consists of 15 minutes of looking over his 1 year, 5 year, quarterly, monthly, and daily goals. While I have not been going through these for myself every single day, I did take the time to think through some of my goals. For me this goes back to our thoughts and how our life moves in the direction of our thoughts. If I don’t consistently remind myself of my goals I tend to forget about them. I become what I described earlier as a passive receiver just drifting through life. I find I need to remind myself of my goals so that I can pursue them daily and adjust them as needed. As this book conveys, I will not be able to achieve most of my goals in a day but through consistent habits and choices and the power of the compound effect, over time I can achieve my goals.

Influence

I am 100% responsible for what I feed my mind. I control who I spend time with, the environment I put myself in, and what I choose to dwell on. That last one of what I choose to dwell on has become painfully apparent to me. When I have a bad call with a client at work or experience a setback do I choose to mull over it and tell my friends or spouse about it when I get home? When I feel like someone has done me wrong do I choose gossip about it and replay it over and over in my head? What I ultimately learn over and over is that I give power to these negative experiences when I choose to talk about them and think about them. This can be hard to come to terms with emotionally because like many others my inclination is to be a victim. Being a victim is far easier because I do not have to take responsibility. However, in order to experience the compound effect in a positive way I need to take responsibility of what influences my mind and my habits.

Although applying the compound effect isn’t easy to accomplish, it isn’t very complicated. It’s all about discipline, consistency, and a focus on the long term rather than the short term. As Hardy explained near the beginning: our problem isn’t a knowledge problem but an application problem. We know what we’re supposed to do but fail to do it. I encourage you to try some of these principles, see what works, and watch how the compound effect can change areas of your own life.

Atomic Habits

I heard about Atomic Habits from a podcast I frequently listen to. The idea that you can change your life by implementing a few new habits sounds very sexy. Everyone desires something whether it is money, power, status, praise, approval, to lose weight, or be less stressed. The book title may give the same impression, but the reality that James Clear presents is very different. Clear shows how it is the 1% improvements that are not noticeable in the short run that change you in the long run. Can one small habit change your life? No, but consistently applying the right habits over time and adding new ones can transform you through small changes. That is why I love the meaning “atomic” from the title of the book. In one sense it is the smallest unit of matter but in another sense it is something with extreme energy and power.

Identity

One of the points which Clear makes is that we focus too much on the results, goals, and outcome we want instead of focusing on our identity. Start with your identity and work backwards from the results that you want to the type of person who gets those results. First decide the type of person you want to be and then prove it to yourself through small wins. Clear states “Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.” Instead of blindly following the norms, face life head on, decide who you want to be, and implement habits to become that person.

The steps

The crux of the book is defining what a habit is. Clear defines a habit as having 4 parts:

  1. Cue – our brains are constantly looking for rewards
  2. Craving – the desire to change our internal state
  3. Response – the actual habit
  4. Reward – the reason for our habit, satisfaction

Clear also develops the 4 laws of behavior change:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

In order to break bad habit we must do the opposite:

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying

My habit

As I read the book I came up with a number of new habits I wanted to implement and a few bad habits that I want to break. However, I realized if I try to accomplish all of them at once I will probably accomplish none. The single habit I landed on is my exercising. At the end of 2018 I trained for and ran a full marathon. Once I got into the habit of running it became “easy” for me to just look at my schedule and run the allotted miles for that day. Ever since I finished that race I have struggled to maintain an exercise rhythm since the goal I was training for is gone. I have a foggy notion of what I would like to do but until I make a concrete plan nothing will change. When Clear described how we must associate a time and location with our habit, things changed for me. I wrote down 5-6 workouts that meet my current fitness goals and wrote this statement in my notebook: I will do my pre-determined workout at 6pm in my garage after I get home from work. This is no longer foggy. I know what I am going to do, when I am going to do it, and where I will do it.

Action vs Motion

Another idea that helped me was the idea of action versus motion. Motion is the planning, strategizing, and learning that go into the habits we want. Motion can make you feel that you are getting a lot done but really is a form of procrastination. Action is the actual behavior that delivers and outcome. In order to master a habit you have to get in the repetitions. I find this happens a lot with my reading. I love to read, learn, and share what I have learned with others. However, there are many things that I read which I should put into practice but until I do so they remain motion. Someone told me it is ok to sharpen the sword but at some point you have to use it.

Don’t miss habits twice

Clear points out that when we are developing new habits in our lives we should never miss a habit twice. If you miss it once you can call it an accident but if you miss it twice you are starting a new habit. This concept is extremely important when habits get difficult like when you are tempted to miss a workout on days you don’t feel like working out. On those days when you follow through with the habit you reinforce the type of person you are. You string together and unbroken chain of performing the habit. It is like the brick layer who lays one brick each day with the goal of building a wall. If he consistently lays bricks each day, after many days he will have the wall. If he stops laying bricks because it’s too hard, he doesn’t feel like it, or he is not seeing any improvement, all he will have is a couple of bricks but no wall.

Atomic Habits provided me with a framework of how habits work, how to implement good habits, and how to overcome bad habits. James Clear does not pretend that there are any quick fixes and any good habits we want will come through long term thinking rather than short term thinking. He provides many insights on how to make the process easier & more effective. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve themselves, especially to people who feel stuck in their current routine and habits and know they need to change.

Five Stars

Have you ever been having a conversation with a friend when they suddenly deliver some unexpected negative feedback about yourself that has some truth to it? It feels like getting punched in the stomach, and is exactly what happened to me on New Years Eve.

I was talking to a friend about my desire to improve my communication skills. I was explaining that people who communicate their ideas in a way that others can understand will gain more influence and be able to accomplish more. This friend confirmed that I am an introvert, that I lack social skills, and began to question why I wanted to be a better communicator. This friend implied I would not be able to improve in this area and that it was not a good idea.

After hearing this feedback I felt terrible. After our conversation I began to come up with reasons why this person was wrong and how I should have responded in the conversation. As the days have passed I have realized what this person gave me was a gift. Although they could have provided the feedback in a better way, they helped me see how others may perceive me. I do not agree with everything they said, however, some of it has truth. I cannot pushback on negative feedback only because it makes me feel bad. If it is true I should listen regardless of how it makes me feel. As they say “Eat the fish and leave the bones.” Listening to feedback and criticism is like drinking cough syrup when you are sick. It tastes terrible and you want to avoid drinking it but ultimately it helps you get better in the long run. Drink the truth and disregard the rest.

I may have room to improve my communication skills but that does not need to be the end of the story which is why I am pleased to have just finished a fantastic book called Five Stars by Carmine Gallo. The book is split into 3 parts. In the first part Gallo aims to convince the reader that communication skills are important. I read this pretty fast as I did not need a lot of convincing. In the second part he shares inspiring stories of great communicators. In the third part he shares practical tips and techniques to be a better communicator. Here are three tips that stuck out to me that I want to apply to hone my own communication skills.

1. Stories are better than facts

We can use stories to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Emotions help us connect with people and help our message be way more memorable. Everyone wants to have meaning and purpose in life and if they can see themselves in your story it will move them.

2. Analogies and metaphors give your words “verbal beauty”

Analogies and metaphors work because they compare the abstract with what is familiar. They get us out of conventional thinking and distill what is complex. People love analogies because they help our brains conserve energy.

3. Reappraisal and Rehearsal

Many of us lack confidence and fear public speaking. Gallo advocates the idea of reappraisal, which simply means changing the way we think about ourselves. Fear and doubt can cripple us but it is important to remember these are self-imposed. If we can impose them on ourselves we also have the power to lift them off. I have heard it said before, “If you fight for your limitations you get to keep them.” Instead of fighting for your limitations, believe better about yourself. The second R is rehearsal, which simply means practice and repetition. Repeated exposure helps change stage fright into “performance energy.”

Although the conversation I had on New Year’s Eve did not leave me feeling great, I learned from it. I am trying to teach myself that people’s words and behavior only have power over me if I allow it. My identity is not determined by what people say about me. No matter what I decide to improve, communication skills or something else, I can do so if I put my mind to it. As Henry Ford put it “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Accept People as Facts

In the classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.” I often think about this truth and have definitely seen it manifest in my life.

We each bring different life experiences to the interactions we have. These life experiences are the lens through which we see the world around us. This can be frustrating especially when we experience interactions very differently from other people. We tend to believe that the way we see things is correct and true while others are diluted and lack our understanding. I am beginning to see how this approach to interactions is problematic and stifles my growth. I am continually frustrated and agitated when trying to conform others to my way of thinking. When I push to hard to change others I either end up more frustrated or alienate them. Instead, I need to learn to accept people as facts.

Robert Greene writes about this in his new book The Laws of Human Nature. He writes, “The problem is that we are continually judging people, wishing they were something that they are not. We want to change them.” Instead, the approach we should take is to accept people for who they are.

There are years of life and experiences that have gone into shaping a person into who you see before you today. Why insist that one conversation with you or I will change them? That is unrealistic. It is true that people are not rational but the same can be said about you or I now and again. As Greene says “Work with what they give you, instead of resisting and trying to change them…You will stop projecting your own emotions on to them. All of this will give you more balance and calmness, more mental space for thinking.” It helps to remind yourself that everyone is striving for fulfillment in his or her life. It is possible they are doing so irrationally, however, they do not think so at this moment. Work with what they present to you instead of working yourself into frustration and creating a gap between you.

Deep Work

When you see the title of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work it can create the image in your head of an intellectual looking person poring over books and taking notes in some secluded area of a library. This image makes it feel like working deeply is for scientists and researchers but has no intersection with my life. The concept of Deep Work that Newport develops is quite different than the previously described image. Newport makes the case that high quality work is just a function of time spent and the intensity of focus. We all have time for what we decide to use it for and we can all learn to focus better on the things that are important to us. Because we posses both of these things we can all learn to perform deep work. The book describes what deep work looks like and provides strategies to accomplish more of it in our lives.

Attention

In the book Newport says “…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” Since depth is important in my field of engineering, I cannot afford to lose time and effort by paying attention to what does not matter. At work I often create my own reality of stress, anxiety, and worry by focusing on these emotions. For example, by constantly checking my email inbox throughout the day I ensure that the issues which come up stay at the front of my mind all day long. My work life is then dominated by my inbox and whatever comes into it. To fight this I have begun the habit of not immediately checking my email when I arrive for work every morning. Perhaps I wait 1 or 2 hours to get some work accomplished before I dive into my email. Another way I have applied this is by not immediately reacting to every email that comes into my inbox. Not every situation is a disaster and my response is not usually needed immediately, if at all. I can also close my email for intervals throughout the day to accomplish certain tasks distraction free and the earth will continue to spin.

Plan Your Day

In order to focus your attention on the right things throughout the day, you have to have a plan. One idea that Newport gave to plan your day better is to start each day by creating a block schedule of your day on a piece of notebook paper and assigning activities to each block. You can batch similar tasks together, you can plan for lunch breaks, but the idea is that you assign each minute of your workday a job. Inevitably you will be interrupted or a new task will manifest which takes priority over your plan. When this happens it threatens to throw off your schedule. All you have to do is start over from wherever you are on your schedule and map out the remainder of the day. For me this exercise does 2 things:

  1. It helps me plan to accomplish what I know is important. When I don’t do this it is easy to get sidetracked on easy to accomplish tasks that will not equate to deep work.
  2. It helps me grasp where my time is actually going. It acts as a time audit.

Shutdown Ritual

In order to become good at deep work we not only have to start our days correctly by planning but we also have to end them correctly. Newport describes what he calls a “shutdown ritual” which is a set of steps that ensures he has reviewed all the open items and notes from the day, has a plan to complete them, or trusts that they are documented in a place where he can revisit them later. I have found this concept very helpful in my own working life as it helps me release my mind from work at the end of the day and allows me to enjoy my life outside of work. Our minds need rest but at the same time incomplete tasks cannot be left unplanned for because they will create open loops in our minds that take up mental space and energy. As long as we have noted and planned an actionable step for all open items, our minds are free to rest at the end of the day.

We all want to be fulfilled and have purpose to our lives. This desire is vague though and hard to get a handle on. We see many people around us accomplishing this in many different ways. Should we follow what they are doing? There is no blueprint. Deep work is a good way to cultivate the skill of discerning the meaning that is already present in your current role. You can apply these principles to be more efficient and increase your ability to perform deep work. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow and generate more depth in his or her work.