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Navy SEAL Has a '40 Percent Rule' And It's the Key to Overcoming Mental Barriers

Published on Nov 27, 2015
About 99 percent of the people who start marathons in the United States finish them. That's an astoundingly high number considering the pain and turmoil that every marathon runner faces. What each runner has in common, says author Jesse Itzler, is that they hit a wall where their mental resources are exhausted. At this point, sheer physical will maintains their strength - and this is the will that everyone has, but we seldom know how to tap into it.
Itzler's way to break through his own mental barriers was to invite a Navy SEAL to live with him and his family for a month. First item on the agenda? Doing over 100 pull-ups. The lesson wasn't about physical fitness, but about mental fitness and how we each have an unused reservoir of strength and determination inside of us.
Itzler is the author of Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet and/or his site
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Transcript - I first met SEAL at a 100 mile run in San Diego and I was running this race as part of a six person relay team with friends and he was running the entire race by himself. And the run was unsupported so you have to bring your own supplies. So we had, you know, we overdid it a little bit. We had a tent and we had masseuses and food. I mean we were ready for like in case we had to stay there a week. And he had a folding chair, a bottle of water and a bag of crackers. And I just thought to myself like who is this guy. I’ve never seen anything like it. And during the race I kept an eye on him and around mile 70 he weighed probably 260 pounds which is quite large for an ultra runner. He had broken all the small bones in both of his feet and had kidney damage and he finished the race. So when it was done I Googled him. He had a fascinating life story and I decided literally to cold call him. And I flew out and met with him and after sitting with him for a couple of minutes I realized that I could learn so much from a guy like this that what makes him tick and various buckets in my life would be so much better if a little bit of what he had rubbed off on me. I asked him to come live with my family and I for a month. So at the time that I invited SEAL to come live with us I had an 18-month-old son. I was married, still am. Two more kids since. And I had sold a couple of businesses. I was in a great place professionally in my life but I was also in a routine. And routines are great but they can also be a rut. And I found that I just wasn’t getting better. I was doing the same thing every day like so many of us. Wake up, go to work, come home, you know, have dinner, repeat. And I just wanted to get off autopilot. And I thought that he would be a great way to get in good shape but also to just mix up my routine and get better.
The first day that SEAL came to live with me he asked me to do - he said how many pullups can you do? And I’m not great at pullups. I did about eight. Just getting over the bar eight. And he said all right. Take 30 seconds and do it again. So 30 seconds later I got up on the bar and I did six, struggling. And he said all right, one more time. We waited 30 seconds and I barely got three or four and I was done. I mean couldn’t move my arms done. And he said all right. We’re not leaving here until you do 100 more. And I thought there’s no - well we’re going to be here for quite a long time because there’s no way that I could do 100. But I ended up doing it one at a time and he showed me, proved to me right there that there was so much more, we’re all capable of so much more than we think we are. And it was just a great lesson. It was actually the first thing that we did. It was just a great lesson that we have so much more in our reserve tank than we think we do. One of the things that SEAL said to me and it’s in the book and one thing that people have said that really resonated with them. He would say that when your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40 percent done. And he had a motto if it doesn’t suck we don’t do it. And that was his way of every day forcing us to get uncomfortable to figure out what our baseline was and what our comfort level was and just turning it upside down. The 40 percent rule maybe it’s give or take a little but look at a marathon. Most people hit the wall in a marathon at mile anywhere from 16 t0 20. And, you know, 99 percent of the people in this country that run marathons finish and they all, predominantly all of them go through this hit the wall. So where does that extra 50 or 60 percent or whatever the number is come from? I mean it’s their brain saying I’m done, I don’t want to continue but their will saying you know what?


  • This is the survivorship bias fallacy. Special forces are heavily screened both mentally and physically to achieve this result in the first place. The end result is a small pool of individuals who fit the 40% rule. If it was this easy, why the fail rate and medical screenings? It's like taking a pool of nobel prize physicists and saying that everyone can do calculus if they just try harder since the sample pool discovered that math is easy for them.

  • This morning when my alarm went off, i returned to sleep again because i was only 40% done

  • 40 is just a number, trues that you are not ready for achieve your goal

  • Waffle waffle waffle

  • I came back here just to read the comments😂. I though I had only 40% fun last time

  • How to waste your health. Ignore the boundaries your body makes to protect you.

  • Stop using methamphetamine...

  • Overtraining is a problem too

  • David Goggins true fucking savage

  • He forgot to tell us about the part where the Navy seal was banging his wife behind his back

  • we dont know our actual potential when i think ..i suck ,when i thought of giving up, that was only 40% of my potential so at point where i suck , i increase my efforts to use my 100% potential

  • 40% rule,.. and a lifetime of chronic maladies! Why? In today’s age of technological advances, do you really need to torture yourself mentally and physically? There are guys sitting back in air conditioned rooms, cold drink in hand, hundreds of miles away,.. engaging the enemy with a drone!

  • His name is David Goggins

  • When you hit 100%, you die. You know what? I'm alright at 40%.

  • he broke all bones and got himself kidney problems... "i can learn from him"

  • He ran until his feet were broken and his kidneys shut down, it was only 40% done.

  • This story sound like bullshit

  • Mate that pull up story has been told by other people. I'm sure you speak of SEAL David Goggins Ultra Marathon, crackers and water with a fold up chair. It was his first Ultra 101 mile in 19hours, yes broken feet and pissing blood then shitting himself.....

  • Don't forget seals are wild animals!

  • David Goggins is the SEAL.

  • This discussion, reminds me of the idea of having to reinvent yourself with the biggest hurdle being how we think about everything. For me this happened on ajungle trek that was overloaded with physical, emotional and psychological challenges. My friends back home who knew better, thought l had a death wish (interesting term, makes you wonder whether you have to almost meet death to live well). In the washup l had a nervous break down right there in the jungle. I was done, l was prepared to curl up and meet my death. Some how l pushed through and continued on against even more setbacks. When l looked back on that experience, once home, as l didn't know at the time what was happening or what would become of me, l was just experiencing it after all, l realised that l had unshakedled my brain of a whole range of negative - l can't do this - type of thinking and had entered a different phase of life. In most ways now, l am a can do person, as it relates to me personally, but am not an optimist because my life involves others and many of them are children, who may never have a chance to be broken in spirit and in mind, then remade like l was, because they are molly-codalled. Good story, thanks.

  • the guy he is talking about is david goggings, joe rogen has done a podcast with him, check it out

  • Fucked up feet and kidney damage sounds like losing to me :l

  • Love this video

  • 2:58

  • Let me save you 4 minutes: To achieve things, push through the pain. Never heard that one before.

  • See, this makes sense on another level. Having a part of your brain kick in once you've used 40% of your total is actually important. Think about a persons condition after finishing a marathon, they've pushed themselves all the way to empty and it will take time after that for the body to repair. You don't want to run a marathon every single day, so for regular day-to-day activity it's probably important to keep it under 40%, which is why our brains say 'NO NO!' when you hit that threshold.

  • This is the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard. Running a regular normal race and sustaining bone fractures and kidney damage is successful? Only useful in very small incidences but has no place of anywhere near being applicable in most practice and training.

    • Megan Keegan I don’t think I would qualify a 100 mike run as a “normal race.”

  • There's a line where even I have to say: too much of this comment section is about cheating and getting cucked. Seriously, after a point it stops being funny, it starts becoming pathetic. I really hope one day these kids will get a relationship and get cheated on, and then find nothing but misery left behind. Grow up fuckwads.

  • That's how people get permanently injured.

  • He lives with a very interesting seal, is that the kind that the Canadians like to beat to death?

  • Plot twist It was an actual seal

  • The "40 percent rule" is a psychologal mechanism that exists to prevent the body from self injury (much like you can't bite your tongue out or overextend your own joint). If you go out there trying to apply that rule everyday you put yourself into harm's way.

  • David Goggins

  • First person I thought of was David Goggins

  • Does this mean during ejaculation, I am actually being deceived and I have 40% more to go before it actually happens?

  • Interesting. However, breaking all the bones in your feet and getting kidney damage is not good, no matter how you frame it.

  • Ummm I'm no math expert but 8 doesn't seem to me like the 40% of 100....

  • I'm gonna use this to get improvement on my pull ups. Thanks!

  • Blah blah blah blah blah I guess I can do 100 more of those too. I supposed you can apply this too modern marketing 60% marketing 40% truth, think about it ;). I am not sure he really said anything.

  • This rule has helped me go balls deep much more often. No pain, no gain, ladies!

  • That 'Seal' is David fuckin Goggins.

  • Well... there are only 40% comments, we can do more.

  • thanks

  • ok, he said "it's in the book" (i checked and confirmed in the transcript as well) what book ??? he never mentioned a single book title

  • More?????? Reserves????????? Check out the Golden Eagle, TOM PLATZ. The path to heaven, goes through hell. Some of us know that.

  • Great information! Thanks a lot!

  • Punishing yourself is just stupid, saying that there is a point to it is retarded

  • He will damage his body permanently

  • thats good advice if you want to have a heart attack. ask bruce lee.

  • How’d you get seal’s phone number?

  • I think Seal is only 40% real.

  • He who has a why, can bear w/almost any how....

  • This guy seems so priveleged, I can't relate. Just sort of a sad commentary on that baseline. All worried about marathons, like nothing better to do.

  • True stuff

  • few things are as hard and as pointless as running a marathon

  • Work to live, not live to work.

  • Kind of reminds me of Guinness World Record holders. Yes, if we truly want to excel at something we DO have the power to do extraordinary things IF that is our goal. The better question is, have we chosen the right goals to give our life's passions for. I give Mr. Seal kudos for his self -inflicted determination but I wonder if psychotherapy wouldn't prove to be helpful for him to reassess what his true priorities were. Something is obviously out of line to risk such damage to ones self. Oh, I think 40% of every ones comments are hysterical. What about the 20/80 % rule? Common' you other slackers!

  • Bang on , and yes i am UK ex special forces

  • Goggins

  • Great, listen to a fool who broke both his feet and sent himself into kidney failure, Basically you just grew up a pussy, and any gym teacher could have taught you what the dumb seal did. And dumb is accurate, because any fighter knows preservation of body comes first. So in reality a 13 year old kid on the cross country team in jr. high could have kicked the seal to death after the run because he knew how to pace and not destroy his body. This is a sad story for you and the seal, but I'd rather be in your shoes. Most athlete's learn the 40% rule at 12 years old. Now to destroy your body makes you a stupid fool, too dumb for your own good.

  • pretty sure my brain says I"m done right about that 5-10% mark

  • lol... yea... i could "learn" from him... lol sounds like this guy had a crush on this seal. who the fuck ask's a random stranger to come live with them? sounds like there is a whole secrete life this guy is hiding. lol funny shit.

  • WHY?: "At 70 miles into running a 6-man relay race as a solo runner, this SEAL had broken every small bone in his feet and had kidney damage, and he still finished the race." How many races can anyone run like that, breaking the machine horribly each time? One? Maybe two? Such "mind over matter" proves you CAN make staggering sacrifice. But doing just to prove you can, proves you have NO CLUE when the sacrifice is WARRANTED.

  • @Jack Moody *Going by the thumbs up you received, 40% never read your bullshit story!*

  • @Jack Moody *Outside of Trump's whopper lies, you get the Big Mac Award!* *Seal stayed at your home while you were gone, hung around like part of the family and somehow your wife was able to contact him after you met him in the 1st place to bring him over to your home, but you never asked his name?* *What a load of bullshit!*

  • i didn't watch the video, its shit. I spent 4:11 minutes reading the comments which are golden, instead... with a gay dudes voice in the background. :)

  • to anybody,the guy hes talking about is david goggins,the toughest man on planet earth

  • HUGE RESPECT for Goggins!

  • Navy SEALS have 40% more testosterone and fuck 40% more bitches

  • Save 40% of my paycheque. Ok check

  • Never get that time back am I... well maybe %40 of it bk lol

  • David Goggins.

  • Pushing your body too hard because you live with a seal will get you killed because that is what happened to the navy seals in afganistan because of 40% rule, because the Taliban had 60% power left in their muscles....

  • great advice ...

  • If so, why they have so many suicides?

  • I'd have thrown in the towel after breaking 40% of the small bones in both feet, and at 40% renal failure. There's no shame in that.

  • I once overworked the muscles in my hand and arms scrubbing and washing a deck with a hand brush. (A couple weeks before I hand spent 10 hours of the day painting the backyard fence). I spent half a day scrubbing and clenching. I was tired and worn as hell, but I was too determined to stop. I ended up ruining the nerves in my arms for over a week. I couldn’t sleep for a week. I woke up one night and it felt like my hands were on fire. I stuck my hands in the ice trough in the freezer and it did nothing. The pain wouldn’t stop and I was in tears. I had to take muscle relaxers to calm them. Moral of the story....don’t go overkill and push too much past your limit. Listen to your body. It’s better to gradually push your body over time than to go gung-ho in one shot. Otherwise your body will end up having more issues in the long run. This video is inspiring but borderline foolish.

  • by the way he looks talks and acts gay as hell

  • unless you workout a lot you cannot do 14 pull ups in a couple of minutes what bullshit ego crap

  • People that attempt to get through Bud's need to realize that if you're prone to getting colds easy or hurting yourself easy then chances are you shouldn't become a Seal. Seal training is extremely intense and only a small percentage make it all the way through some won't make it the first day. For a better understanding of what Bud's class is just google or check it out on u-tube.

  • You looked at him in the middle of the race and could see he’d broken all of the bones in his foot and had kidney damage?? Hyperbole?

  • I was climbing the stairs. I got tired and then this video got in my head and I was like I am at my 40% then ran all 20 stairs up. Well The side effects started soon after could not strech my legs and It was hard to walk properly.

  • What an asshole this writer is. David Goggins is the man that taught him. Better watch one of the many David Groggins videos of the great man himself talking. He was obese, went into the military to become a SEAL and did SEAL Hell Week training many times.

  • Best video I've watched in ages...

  • TL;DW "He would say that when your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40 percent done. "

  • Just to keep things in perspective, the first athlete I ever met who regularly competed in 100 mile cross-country races was a 50+ 98lb woman, and she managed to do it without injuring herself, not to mention nearly crippling/killing herself(like your hero, Goggins)....but then again, she wasn't a Navy SquEAL, either. *RME* *SMH*

  • 40% gay child molester 100% traitor 110% stupid brain washed dumbass haha

  • Big think is such a stupid channel.....they say about anything woth any substantiating data

  • That level is never sure can work in an single event but it will crash u so bad that u cant perform normal the next day

  • i always had done my 40% poop but after i saw to this video....

  • 5000th comment

  • This was just utterly stupid, and void of any real, useful info to boot. There is no benefit to getting kidney damage. You'll just regret your idiocy later.

  • I'm sure a little of what he had did in fact rub off on you. It looks like it's still in your hair.

  • GOD.

  • 1:11 "If a little bit of what he had rubbed off on me." Ummmm...sure.

  • David Goggins. Lol man he’s the best.

  • This is surely the healthiest way of life..

  • A country that's never won a war. OK...I'm sick of hearing about seals this seals that. Seals, Green Barret, special forces have had there ass,s(and heads) handed to them everywhere, except by the woman and children they kill in 3rd world nations.

  • "About 99 percent of the people who start marathons in the United States finish them. " Where did those statistics come from, lol.