Overcoming Adversity with David Goggins' Cookie Jar

An ultramarathon runner, cyclist, triathlete, United States Navy SEAL and the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, the U.S. Army Ranger School and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training, David Goggins is the exemplar of a high performer.

If you’ve come across his work as an author or motivational speaker you’d have noticed his tough-as-nails demeanor, a likely outcome of his military background and adversities faced in life — from racism, to living paycheck-to-paycheck, to push backs when applying for the Navy SEAL program.

Whether or not his hard-knock disposition resonates, there is much to be learnt from Goggins and his journey of self-discovery.

One of Goggins’ methods - the ‘cookie jar’ - has been a particularly useful tool for reframing challenges in our own journey of professional and personal growth.

To summarise his idea, your figurative ‘cookie jar’ is filled with powerful reminders of the strength within you. Every ‘cookie’ symbolises a challenge endured and overcome.

So, when a new challenge is faced, one simply dips into the cookie jar and pulls out any number past experiences that serve as reminders that they’ve overcome adversity before and have the strength to do so again.

In life each and everyone of us will face challenges. Last year was particularly difficult for many. Whether life has dealt you lemons or you’ve been blessed with lemonade, no one was immune from the stress of lockdown and a global pandemic.

As author Zadie Smith writes, ​“suffering is not relative; it is absolute,” she writes. “Suffering has an absolute relation to the suffering individual – it cannot be easily mediated by a third term such as ‘privilege’."

As suffering and challenge will be experienced by all of us at some point in life, tools like Goggins’ cookie jar concept allow us all to tap into reserves of inner-strength and resilience in times of adversity.

Members of our own myhaventime team have experienced and grown from challenges. To illustrate the power of reflecting upon, learning and growing from experiences, they share below their stories, how they overcame adversity and what they have learnt in the process.

Sarina: 'My Brussels sprout experiences'

One of my first managers gave me a ‘Brussels sprout’ experience. He used the term Brussels sprout to refer to a tough experience to stretch me and help me grow. My toughest experience was as a first time Manager was to manage the most difficult employee in the team. I was up for the challenge, but when I experienced the torrid outbursts and dysfunctional employee behaviour I felt anxious, overwhelmed and ill equipped. I experimented with new strategies and was able to resolve the situation. I learnt a lot – and helped me grow in areas I was not conscious of.  

As I grow older, I am becoming more conscious of the learning I experience each day. My antenna is tuned in to what is in the moment rather than past stories or future worries. When I am centred and calm life and learning flows with ease. 

Growing up in a migrant family where women were seen as subservient wasn’t easy. My family's expectations of me were to be a good housewife and have children and work on a farm. I chose a different path. I was frustrated, angry, sad and felt trapped in my own home. Growing up this way helped me to take responsibility for my emotional state and awakened my ability to use my own free will. If my family upbringing was easy, I am sure I wouldn't be the person I am today.

In my early 30s we decided it was time to have our own family. It took us 5 years, 5 miscarriages, IVF and Chinese medicine to create our miracle girl. This was one of my hardest life experiences. I felt helpless, depressed, anxious and out of control. I learnt so much. I learnt to let go, receive help, be resilient, be brave, appreciate being a woman, appreciate the miracle of birth and be so grateful for the opportunity to be a parent. I am not sure why I had to endure such adversity. This experience has definitely helped me be more appreciative of my femininity.  

In my early 40s I had breast cancer. Even now, nearly 8 years later, it is still surreal. I had many operations, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It took me years to heal. My life lesson was valuing health, wellness and never taking it for granted. Cancer helped me to live consciously and mindfully each day and be grateful for every breath I take on this earth.

Triumphing from adversity, post-traumatic growth are part of life. Our adversities do not define us, they build character and help us be a better version of ourselves. At the same time I love learning with play, ease and joy and am conscious to do this every day.

When I reflect back at my ‘Brussels sprout’ life experiences, I wonder what if I was more conscious and mindful each day could have I avoided some of the traumas? I am not sure. What is clear to me today is being awake and conscious is helping me have more joy and less trauma. I am constant WIP and am grateful for all my life experiences.

Siena : 'I learnt to be more independent'

When I was 7 my mother got very sick, she had cancer. I didn't really understand what was happening. I was scared, uncertain and afraid for my mum. My mum couldn't be there for me as much so I learnt to be more independent and stronger. I learnt that bad things happen, but you can get through them and life feels sweeter on the other side.

Reflecting on our challenges can provide a source of powerful inner-strength.

Sam: 'It takes about 10 years to grow an idea'

Growing up in a working class migrant home we had just enough to survive. I had little money and a big dream to go to university and become financially independent. When I was a young adult it felt unfair that I had to work for everything I had, nothing was given to me.

What I learnt from this is to be patient, work hard and over time all the hard work/seeds that you plant will come to fruition. It is amazing how much can change in 10 years. A timeline I use now - it takes about 10 years to grow an idea / concept, dream. Not getting what you want straight away can be a blessing in disguise, I appreciate so much what I have created, more so than if it was just given to me on a silver platter.

Sophie: 'I have finally learnt how to listen to my intuition'

I am fortunate to have grown up in a supportive family, to have been given a good education and to have enjoyed many freedoms. As a creative person, my family embraced my decision to pursue a career in design and living in Australia made university more accessible.

My life has been, so far, without great adversity. Much of the opportunities and freedoms I have enjoyed are due to being a white female, living in Australia. I acknowledge that many minority groups are not afforded such privileges.

It was not until I had entered the workforce full-time, namely contracting for agencies and freelancing, where I experienced the hardships of the gig economy. Underpayment or no payment, backbreaking hours and exploitative clients took its toll physically and mentally.

After six years cutting-my-teeth as a freelancer, I’ve learnt how to be more assertive and how to set boundaries with clients. I now have contracts and structures in place to safeguard from dubious clients (which, I can report are more few and far between). I have developed a healthier work / life balance. Most importantly, I have finally learnt how to listen to my intuition and say no when a project or client is discordant with my own values.

That is not to say there are not tough jobs that come along, but I now feel better equipped to handle them. Though these experiences were had in the workforce, the lessons learnt are applicable to life outside of freelancing as I navigate my 30s, a ‘COVID normal’ existence, and the challenges of launching a new business.

Applying the ‘cookie jar’ concept

In each of these stories we see examples of learning and growth from adversity. Sarina, Siena, Sam and Sophie have each experienced their own challenges which allow them to re-frame present situations.

For example, if Sophie is experiencing imposter syndrome and is apprehensive about taking on a big project, she can dip into her ‘cookie jar’ and reflect on the hardest clients and jobs as a reminder of her resilience and capability.

Or if Sam is working on a project that feels slow to get off the ground, he need only remember that in his experience the best outcomes take time. By tapping into the ‘cookie jar’ and reflecting on this experience he may find newfound patience or the motivation to explore new ideas relating to the project.

Create your own 'cookie jar' to build resilience for handling future challenges.

How to create your own ‘cookie jar’ with myhaventime

David Goggins’ ‘cookie jar’ can be symbolic or literal. Whilst you could keep a physical jar of written experiences, we find a digital ‘cookie jar’ more practical as it can be added to or accessed from anywhere.

We used myhaventime to create our own ‘cookie jar’ - a journal of sorts - to document and house all of the experiences from which we have grown and become more resilient.

To create your own visit your myhaventime dashboard and click ‘Create New Room’.

This room is your ‘cookie jar’.

In the room itself, click the ‘create’ button and create a gem for each of the challenges you have overcome. Think about the context... What was challenging? How did you overcome the challenge? How did you feel before and after? What did you learn?

With each new gem, you are building a tangible picture of your inner-strength and resilience. A journal of all of your challenges faced, how they were overcome and what you learnt in the process.

When new difficulties arise, you can simply revisit your ‘cookie jar’ to remind yourself, in the words of David Goggins, “how badass you are in times of need”. 

Why the cookie jar? 

myhaventime is designed for the high performers and lifelong learners. These people are not complacent - they are consciously experiencing, reflecting upon and learning from each and every challenge in their professional and personal lives.

The ‘cookie jar’ as an exercise prompts us to reflect on and grow from difficult experiences. Rather than stagnating and mulling over adversity, the ‘cookie jar’ helps us to reframe our challenges, in turn providing a source of strength and motivation. 

Explore myhaventime as a tool for journaling and reflection now, free for 30 days here.

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