Goggins, Pushup Yoga, and the Art of the Paragraph

5 Min read

2 Book recs, memoir and writing craft

Forty percent rule

Pushup Yoga

Toolbox, improve writing immediately





[Wordnerd alert: pay attention to the numbers at the end of each for the types of paragraphs. Spoiler alert: pay attention to form of alternating strands: A/B, A/B]


You have three months to lose 106 pounds if you want to join the Navy. That’s what the recruiter told a young David Goggins when he went to his local office to figure out what he needed to do to make the cut. Oh, and he had to pass the test, the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) which assesses applicants for various militry occupational potential and baselines. But here’s the thing, Goggins had been faking it so long and cheating to get by, he barely knew how to read. That recruiter saved him and altered the course of his three hundred-pound, donut and cupcake-eating life style. Because, the recruiter didn’t flinch or say it was impossible. When Goggins stepped onto the scale, he said something like, You have some work to do. (1)


Last year around this time life was different. My husband and I were still chasing the volleyball life on the club circuit. You know the deal if you’re into competitive youth sports. In the off season, you shell out your slush fund, or savings, or take an equity loan on the house to join the most prestigious program around so you can give junior a chance. He’s got promise and you’ve this vision of a division one scholarship. Plus, you can share stats on Max Preps for scouts to realize what you’ve known all along. And even if he didn’t get a scholarship it would help him get in to a ‘good’ college and make up for his not-so-good grades. Except here’s what no one has told you so I will because I had known it when it all started, but ignored my own advice. A seat mate on a flight from White Plains to Florida said: Look I’ve kept a spreadsheet of my kids athletic expenses, over $200,000 dollars. I may be off in my recollection but I’m rounding down. He continued, I could pay for their college expenses in full with the money I paid for their sports. Plus, my daughter is leaving her fancy New England college to return to Florida where I can now pay in state tuition. He sighed. (2)


Goggins gives up his HoHos and donut life-style. He starts to move his mega mass into what should be a run. I imagine that means getting both feet in the air in stride. But he’s not a small dude in girth or height, at six foot one. He didn’t have much of a father figure. The man beat up his mother and beat up on him. Papa Goggins had the family working at his skating rink where the family ran the office, rented shoes, cleaned the place and lived at his beck and call. Often they slept in the back room with a gun under the sofa cushions while Papa ran his bar upstairs, his night club, and illegal prostitution ring. In a singular and transformational act of courage, Goggins’ mother got him and his brother out of there, though the brother went back. Goggins and his mother tried to lead a normal life in Brazil, Indiana, but one of the few and often only black guys had its own challenges, not to mention the little problem of money. But back to the Navy. Goggins loses the hundred pounds. He teaches himself and learns to pass the test. He wants to become a US Navy Seal and goes to BUD/S school three times. Three times going through some of the toughest human training on the planet. And Goggins does it. He becomes a U.S. Navy Seal, a man who was going to fail out of high school because he could not read, a man who was a hundred pounds over weight, a man who did not like the water, a man who had fled an abusive home. (3)


I began to drop for pushups in the hotel room, at the elevator, before my shower, anywhere. Why? On the volleyball circuit in Phoenix, I was reading Jesse Itzler’s Living with SEAL and laughing out loud in odd places. And SEAL “believes that push-ups are the single best exercise for strength.” He said Itzler would be able to do 1000 pushups in a day when he was done and I was curious if this middle-aged, out of shape woman in my fifties (AKA me) could do 100, 200 in a day, what was my limit? And, where am I a year later? I found out I wanted to learn about this SEAL guy, so I read Goggins memoir You Can’t Hurt Me and I listen to it while walking to motivate myself to move my mega mass into what should be a run. I know how to run, but that’s another story. Back to pushups. I’ve been including them in my 11 minute Yoga stretch routine.* I’ve been upping the reps over weeks and months, hitting the mat on weekdays. Last week I did 85 pushups each session, or 425 a week, and started this week with 90 pushups a session. And what’s the excuse to skip a ten-minute workout? There isn’t one. I finished Goggins book, learning about his ultra races, pull-up record, broken legs, lost toe nails, shredded and bloodied palms, and I like his simple question, What if? For today’s Yoga stretch I did a 100 pushups, starting with 40, then stretch, then 20, stretch, then 20, finish and close with 20. I’m more than out of shape in general and not happy with my level of conditioning. But ten minutes used well makes a difference in balance, focus, strength. Goggins has a forty percent rule: When your mind first tells you that you are done, that you are tired, and that you cannot go ahead and carry on, you are in fact only 40% done. We believe we’re at the limit when we don’t come close to using our potential. I agree. And if that’s true, then that means my 100 pushups should be 250 pushups. Gulp. I believe in balance and intention, and of course please don’t try this at home. Consult a doctor. Blah, blah. My children have left home and they all play volleyball: on a college varsity team, on a college club team, and coaching a club team. Volleyball is one of the great joys in their lives. Go figure. (4)



*The four types of paragraphs in this letter can be found in Chapter 19, The Art of the Paragraph, in Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life.

*Many paragraph types exist but this is an easy way to make an immediate improvement in your writing. Thoughtful structure of paragraphs into Long’s four types is a tool, providing options as you write and enriching the experience for readers.

(1)The direct paragraph begins with topic sentence and supports it with specific examples.

(2)The turnabout paragraph introduces an idea or argument which opposes the idea the writer will make, the turn occurring in the middle and often signaled by words such as yet, but, nevertheless, or in this case the turn is indicated by the adversative conjunction, except.

(3)The climactic paragraph begins with specific examples–in this case the junk food he eats–and builds to the final controlling idea that he did it. He did it in spite of all the crap in his life. This is the reverse of the direct or first type of paragraph.

(4)The “other one” or the fourth type of paragraph is one which begins with a simple statement followed by one that follows the first, then elaborates on that and on. There is no topic sentence but it has a controlling idea. I bring together what I learn from Goggins in Strand A and how I’ve incorporated that into my life over the last year when I read about him as the character, SEAL, in Itzler’s book, when I was on a volleyball trip. The irony is that all that time volleyball, in spite of the vast sums of money, helped my children work hard, learn team work, face failure, develop skill, and discover a passion. Whether they stick with the game or not, they learn valuable lessons.

*The letter is an A/B or two-strand structure which “takes two topics and weaves them. Each pulls on the other, stretches the other, pushes gainst the other.” I talk about Goggins in strand A and I talk about myself in strand B. You may not have noticed it except that I noted it as a header in my alerts because as fun and informative as the content is intended to be, I also want to offer instruction to those who wish to improve writing. (Chapter 8 of Priscilla Long’s book with two examples to study, wonderful tools for writers and anyone who wants to improve writing).

*Wiki entry on David Goggins, arguably the toughest man alive. Author of You Can’t Hurt Me, Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, his memoir. With 180K reviews, this has been on Amazon’s MOST READ list for 237 weeks. After I read Itzler’s book I wanted to know the man behind the word, SEAL. PG 13 for language, sorry but he’s a sailor.

David Goggins (born February 17, 1975) is an American ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclisttriathletepublic speaker, and author. He is a retired United States Navy SEAL member who served in the Iraq War. His first memoir, Can’t Hurt Me, was released in 2018 and a sequel Never Finished in 2022.

Early life[edit]

David Goggins was born on February 17, 1975, to Trunnis and Jackie Goggins. In 1981, Goggins lived in Williamsville, New York, with his parents and brother, Trunnis Jr.[5] Goggins has described how, as a six year old, he worked alongside his mother and brother at his father’s skate rink.[5] Goggins has claimed that he and other members of his family suffered constant and severe abuse from his alcoholic father before escaping from him along with his mother to Brazil, Indiana, something which he talks about in the book Can’t Hurt Me.[6] In the gap between his discharge from the Air Force and enlisting in the Navy, Goggins worked as a pest control fumigator for Ecolab.

Military career[edit]

Goggins applied to join the United States Air Force Pararescue, and was accepted into training. During the training he had been diagnosed with sickle cell trait and was removed from training. He was given the option to restart the training upon his return but chose not to.[7][8] He then completed United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) training, and worked as a TACP from 1994 until 1999, when he left the United States Air Force.[5]

After three attempts due to multiple injuries, Goggins succeeded in graduating from BUD/S training with BUD/S class 235 in 2001. Following SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) and completion of six month probationary period, he received the NEC 5326 as a Combatant Swimmer (SEAL), entitled to wear the Special Warfare insignia also known as “SEAL Trident”. Goggins was assigned to SEAL Team 5. In his 20-year military career, Goggins served in Iraq and Afghanistan.[9] In 2004, Goggins graduated from Army Ranger School, and received the “Enlisted Honor Man” award.[4]

*Morning Yoga stretch, 11 minutes with Adriene. She calls it Wake-up Yoga. I’ve done it for so long I have made it into a daily practice and don’t use the video often. I do the stretches and instead of the plank I do sets of pushups. I begin the yoga with a long pushup set to start and whenever in plank position I do another short set. Then one last one to finish. So usually 4 sets of pushups. I began with 10, 5, 5, 5, and have progressed to 40, 20,20,20. I plan to make this 100 pushup total my baseline next week. I’ll check in next year with a progress report, because I’m good at regression and better at eating. Especially cookies and cupcakes, because well, I have a sweet tooth.

Jun 24, 2023


About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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