David Goggins: Taking Souls & Besting Your Opponent

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Can't Hurt Me" by David Goggins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does David Goggins’ “taking souls” quote refer to? How did this philosophy help him get through Hell Week in the Navy SEALs?

When faced with Hell Week, Goggins adopted the idea of “taking souls,” or acknowledging your opponent and using your feelings about them as a way to fuel your motivation. David Goggins’ “taking souls” approach helped his group all get through Hell Week.

Read more about David Goggins’ “taking souls” quote.

David Goggins: Taking Souls

When working toward your goals, it’s easy to sabotage your success by doubting yourself. For example, you might feel intimidated by your opponents—anyone who you think doubts your ability to succeed and makes you doubt yourself. This could be a boss, teacher, or coworker.

Instead, work to harness your feelings around that perceived doubt and use them to apply yourself and prove your opponent wrong. Goggins discusses how he developed this technique to survive Hell Week of SEAL training.

Before entering Hell Week a second time, Goggins realized that he wanted some tools to help him succeed. As with other military training, recruits are subjected not only to physically demanding activities, but also to intense verbal interactions from officers as they try to weed out the mentally strong from the weak. Goggins perceived these men as his opponents—they were actively trying to break him and the other men down and make them quit. He wanted to prove that he could survive Hell Week and impress them in the process.

To do this, he came up with two main strategies:

  1. Get the schedule of events. Recruits weren’t typically allowed to see the schedule of events, but Goggins thought it’d greatly increase their chances of surviving by knowing what came next.
  2. Help the team find its second wind. Toward the end of Hell Week, Goggins’s team was exhausted. The men needed to harness any remaining energy to keep going and exceed their superiors’ expectations. He reminded his team that the officers wanted to break them down and encouraged them not to give them the satisfaction. David Goggins calls this “taking souls”—acknowledging your opponents and using your feelings toward them to fuel your best work, take them by surprise, and earn their respect. David Goggins’ “taking souls” strategy is well-known.

Take Action: Best Your Opponent

As Goggins’s story shows, surviving and thriving in a competitive situation is about using negative energy from an opponent to your advantage. You can think about David Goggins’ taking souls approach in your own life. Apply this idea to a situation in your life:

  1. Identify a challenge or competitive situation you face. For example, maybe you’re struggling to excel at work or get a good grade in math class.
  2. Identify the opponent you face in that situation. Maybe you’re struggling at work because your boss insists on micromanaging your every move, or maybe you feel like your math teacher doesn’t believe in you.
  3. Choose a project or other task you can do to showcase your skills. It could be creating a stellar proposal for work or getting a perfect score on an exam.
  4. Take the negative energy you have toward the obstacle or opponent and channel it to excel in your project. If you need to improve your skills to succeed, you might need to do things like studying longer hours, or working out more outside of practice. Your ultimate goal is to amaze your opponent and earn their respect by vastly exceeding their expectations.
  5. (Optional) Share your experience on social media with the hashtags #takingsouls #canthurtme

Now that you know what David Goggins’ “taking souls” strategy is like, you can think about how to use this strategy in your life.

David Goggins: Taking Souls & Besting Your Opponent

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  • What a Navy SEAL says about pushing yourself to achieve greatness
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  • The 10 challenges you can take on to reach your goals

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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