The 40% rule by David Goggins


October 11, 2020

I want to bring up another concept from David Goggins’s book: Can’t Hurt me. It’s called Remove the Governor. So what is a governor? A governor is based in every car and what it does is it regulates all the systems, to prevent them from going into max capacity. Why would you want to do that, you might be thinking. Well, not all systems share the same maximum load and capacity. So when restrictions are gone and the max capacity is asked, certain parts of the engine would blow up. Does the same apply to your body and mind?

Yes according to David Goggins. He is known for his 40% rule. He is convinced our body and mind are only allowing us to tap into 40% of our potential and by removing the governor it could be way higher without damaging the engine so to say. Why does David Goggins believe this? The answer is simple because he experienced it. He as an immense track record to back this rule up:

  • Joined Navy SEALS
  • Ran and won several ultra marathons
  • World record holder most pull-ups in 24 hours: 4030

In his book Can’t Hurt Me he talks about the mental struggle it took and how he overcame it. He was able to tap into more energy by breaking through the limits of his mind and he became to realize that the mind is in control of the body and the body adapts to that.

How to apply to 40% rule?

Here is where his 40% rule comes from and encourages his readers to push the limits. Push them gradually. Not like him forcing it on himself. When you train, push-ups do 2 more, than the day before. When you go running run an extra 10 minutes. In the pain and effort, it causes to that extra step lies your growth and removal of the governor.

How do I prevent my engine form blowing up, when applying the 40% rule?

Like David Goggins is expressively mentioning in his book:

“Don’t be like me”.

Despite his inhuman achievements, his body broke down on him. So do it with small consistent steps and keep in control

Here are 10 ways to help you prevent that:

Start by expanding those limits slowly and consistently

Start expanding the limit in small and consistent steps. It’s about beating that moment where your mind says you can’t run anymore. You’ll have to tell it you’ll run for 10 minutes more. Make sure you are experiencing consistent growth and improvement. It will start to show on a professional level as well. You will start producing more and higher quality work.

Eat healthily and eat enough

When you are putting your body to the test, you must take care of it and keep it in balance. Meaning eat enough calories to fuel your body. Also, make sure it is the right fuel.

Get enough sleep

When you sleep your body goes into recovery and maintenance mode. Appreciate your sleep and try to reduce screen time as much as possible right before going to sleep. Because it can have some serious impact on sleep quality. So make sure you get enough, don’t take this one lightly!

Stretch every day

When you expose your body to a lot of strain, no matter what kind of sport. The muscles will get tense. If you don’t do anything about that your range of motion decreases. The range of motion is very important if you want to be a high performer. Stretch at least for 20 minutes every day to keep the joints and muscles flexible

Have one rest day a week

Make sure you have one day a week where you take the tension off. For example, if you run every day. Replace it one day with extra stretching or just walking. You will notice the next day you have some fresh energy to tap into.

Use a fitness tracker

When you ask a lot from your body it’s important to keep monitoring it. A very good metric to keep track of is your heart rate variability(HRV). When you see discrepancies in there it’s safe to say you need to reduce your workout intensity for that day. Trackers that can monitor this:

  • Fitbit
  • Whoop 3.0
  • Apple Watch

Plan it out

Planning your workouts is very important. Know what you want to train on which day. Make sure you know what time you are working out. Make sure you know what round you are running. This helps you to focus better on the task at hand and makes sure you are not skipping and missing workouts.

Prepare where you can

Make sure you are prepared. Get your running gear out the night before. Get your fitness clothes ready. Check which muscle group you need to train. I prefer to go to the gym with my fitness gear on, so I don’t waste anytime there on changing gear. The more preparation is done the less resistance you will face

Don’t let it consume other parts of your life.

As important as Increasing physical performance is. Don’t forget that your regular life continues. I have a wife, two kids, and a full-time job. So 2 hours of training is a big chunk. Don’t use it as an excuse that you can’t do it. Plan it, but do respect family time and work time.

Win the mornings, start early.

Having trouble getting your workouts in? Busy with the family and work? This is true for most people including me. There is an easy solution for this: Start early. Wake up an hour earlier than the rest of your family. Go for a 45 min run and be ready when everybody wakes up. Other ways to get more workouts in is using your commute and/or lunch breaks.

So is it safe to remove the governor?

Yes Just make sure you are in control and apply the tips mentioned above. If you read Can’t Hurt me or listen to interviews with David Goggins, you hear that he found out the hard way. His muscles were so tense he shrank in size. When he was forced to rest he got a lot of infections and lumps on his body. He knew that he had broken his body. And then realized, if I achieved all of this with a broken body. What can I do with a healed body? In Can’t Hurt Me he talks about starting ultra marathons with broken legs, by just taping everything up like it’s normal. That’s certainly not something I am willing to do, but it resembles how powerful a strong mindset is. It is something I use as a motivator when I feel a bit tired. I say to myself:

“David Goggins was running an ultra marathon on broken legs, what’s your excuse?”.

That helps me to put things in perspective. When I’m doing my little 45 minute run in the morning. This perfectly ties in on another concept of his book: Callus the mind, Read more about that in this article: Callus the mind.

Every time you are pushing yourself, you hear that voice that is telling you to quit and is constantly asking you the question: Why are you doing this? Being able to answer that and to refuse, calluses your mind. It makes you stronger for the next time you are pushing yourself.

What are the benifits of removing the governor?

You will notice that not only on a physical level it will benefit you but in all aspects of life. You’ll have an easier time doing something that stands in your way for example:

  • You are willing to have that hard conversation with your spouse.
  • You are willing to do that presentation
  • You are willing to take that extra course
  • You are willing to take that extra responsibility

And the great thing is, you can because you trained your mind to be able to carry it. You are willing to take the path of most resistance. Where normally you would take the easy way out, you are now able to face them head-on. Which will benefit you greatly.

*Why is that? Because a lot of things we do in our daily lives are the result of the mindset we have.


The beauty of this is there is no end-goal, what does that mean? It means you can always grow and there is no limiting factor, besides yourself. If every day you push yourself consistently to be better than the day you were before, keep expanding that limit. Imagine where you would stand in 1 year? In 5 years? or 10 even? Andy Frisella’s Power List is the ultimate tool to keep track of this. Read more about the powerlist this article: My six takeaways from Andy Frisella’s power list.

This is just one concept of David Goggins’s book Can’t Hurt Me. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to read it. The audiobook version of this book is even better, it has interviews with David Goggins in between the chapters providing some powerful context.

It is not your average self-help book, where you get some theory and frameworks. This is a real self-help book. Why? Because he is living the life he is talking about in his book. He is practicing what he is preaching. He started from the bottom, like a regular person and he is honest about that. That’s why this book resonates with so many people. This one goes into my top 3 self-help books of all time for sure!

These are two other concepts straight out of Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins I wrote about:

Here you can find an article I wrote about how hard things help you expand your comfort zone: 5 Tips for Expanding Your Comfort Zone and Achieving Your Goals

Michael Awad

I'm fascinated by the power of a strong mindset. I combine this with being a web developer, which keeps me motivated. But how, you may ask? That's what I share on this website. For more information about me personally, check out the about me page: About Me

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