The cookie jar method is a technique of using your past achievements to motivate yourself when you’re struggling. You make a list of all your victories and triumphs along with obstacles and challenges you overcame. Together they serve as an imaginary jar to remind and motivate yourself of what you have achieved in life.
Would you think of running 100 miles without having run a 25-mile marathon in your life? I wouldn’t be surprised if you put up an expression which says ‘Are you out of your mind?’
Meet David Goggins, who attempted to run a 100-mile marathon using the cookie jar method when he had not run more than 1 mile in the previous 6 months. Goggins was a part of the US Navy Seal. Sure, he was fit but not a runner of any sort.
In 2005, several of his fellow military friends died in Afghanistan in a helicopter crash during Operation Red Wings. Goggins was heartbroken by the incident. He wanted to raise money for a non-profit fund, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, to provide scholarships to the children of the military personnel killed in the line of duty.
As a fundraiser, Goggins wanted to participate in Blackwater 135 Ultramarathon. But entering that tedious foot race had some requirements of its own. One such precondition was to run a 100-mile race first, which of course Goggins had never done before.
While most of us would chicken out at such an obstacle, Goggins decided to attempt running 100 miles. If that was not a challenge staggering enough, the race was in 3 days leaving barely any time to prepare.
He accomplished this feat using an unconventional trick to motivate himself called the cookie jar method.
- How David Goggins ran 100 miles
- Should you run a marathon with no practice?
- What is the cookie jar method?
- What happens to your mind during setbacks
- How to apply the cookie jar method
- Examples of applying the cookie jar method
How David Goggins ran 100 miles
On the day of the race, Goggins geared up with tons of energy and loads of hope. He was a tough guy but he knew the sheer magnitude of miles to run was beyond the limits of his body and mind. Yet, he was prepared to give it his all.
The starter gun was fired and Goggins took off. Being in the military, he had a good fitness routine which helped him survive the first few miles.
The first part of the race did not push the limits of the navy officer yet. He kept jogging, step by step, slowly breathing in and out, maintaining a steady pace.
Around mile 25, the exhaustion started kicking in. Goggins began to question his fitness limits. “I feel so tired already, can I run 75 more miles, which is thrice of what I have run so far?”, he thought. But, the hope of helping children of his deceased friends kept him going.
Another arduous 25 miles later, he reached the 50-mile mark and had completed half the race. At this point, his thighs had tightened up and the thought of running another 50 miles looked impossible.
Each step seemed like a challenge both to his mind and body. Every extra meter he covered felt like a shockwave through his ankles and knees. Yet, he ran. The pace was hardly much but he kept moving.
After another grueling 20 miles, his energy had broken down. He could not muster the energy to take one step forward. With no other choice, Goggins sat down. While he was sitting he looked at himself. He noticed urine, mixed with blood and diarrhea dripping from his legs.
At that point, he felt he was experiencing the worst point of his life. His mind started asking more tougher questions like, “Why am I doing this to myself? Why should I keep going?”
During this phase, where his mind and body had given up, he remembered that this wasn’t the first time he had attempted an impossible task. Just that thought imbibed some energy within his fatigued body.
He managed to stand up. His mind now dug into old memories to help him recall past triumphs. Recharged with the motivation of his previous victories, he mustered the energy to put one step forward, then another, followed by a few more.
His feet had swollen. His feet had blisters. His feet had worn out. Yet, his earlier achievements generated enough drive to keep him going.
Goggins completed the race in 19 hours and 6 minutes. Overcoming all the obstacles and proving every naysayer wrong, he had done the impossible.
After this Ultramarathon, he ran many other such races. He ran the Badwater 135 Marathon later in 2007 and finished 3rd. He finished second in a three day, 320-mile cycling race without having ever ridden a bicycle competitively before. He also held the world record for the highest pulls up completed in 24 hours by hitting 4030 of them in 17 hours. In two years, he completed 14 ultra-endurance races finishing nine times in the top five.
Needless to mention, this man is a badass.
Goggins accomplished many other such unbelievable feats based on what he calls as the cookie jar concept for motivation.
“Everyone asks me, were you thinking about the guys that died at that time? I’m not gonna lie; I wasn’t. This became a personal thing, this became me against this race; me against the kids that called me nigger; me against me. It just became something I took so violently personal.”
Here is the video of the cookie jar method explained.
Should you run a marathon with no practice?
Of course not. The takeaway from the story is not to attempt running with no practice. In fact, such an attempt can even kill you. Extreme physical activity without practice has caused people heart failures, so do not try this at home.
But you must know how Goggins applied the cookie jar method, a mental technique to keep going when you feel demotivated and lost.
Goggins used his previous challenges to generate the motivation to complete the second half of the race.
The cookie jar method is creating a virtual jar that holds all your victories which you can take a bite off when need be. You make a list of all your victories and triumphs along with obstacles and challenges you overcame. Together they serve as an imaginary jar to remind and motivate yourself of what you have achieved in life.
The cookie jar is a place in my mind where I put all things bad and good that shaped me. Some people try to forget the bad in their life. I use my bad for strength when needed, great lessons learned. In that cookie jar, I pull out whatever I need for the task at hand.David Goggins
The jar serves as a secret weapon for Goggins when he is about to give up. When his body or mind is on the verge of coming to halt, he picks up a cookie from the jar, which is a prior setback he had overcome. He remembers the challenge of entering the US Navy Seal, he visualizes the laborious 3-week training he completed or he looks back at some of the difficult missions he was part of and came back alive.
Every cookie serves as a reminder that he has been in pain before and that he has overcome it. The thought helps look at the current obstacle as just another setback he must battle against and win.
What happens to your mind during setbacks
Remembering what you’ve been through and how that has strengthened your mindset can lift you out of a negative brain loop and help you bypass those weak, one-second impulses to give in.David Goggins
During a challenge, your mind constantly evaluates where you stand currently compared to the goal. Before you head to workout, your brain knows that you have to get into your exercise outfit, reach the gym and then put in an hour of hard work.
Your mind has the potential to convince you to not put the effort. Your body has the ability to accomplish the goal but your mind acts like the devil who does not want you to try. If you can ignore the pessimistic voice within you which asks you to give up, you can push yourself to victory.
As an example, hold your arms wide. Now, without moving your feet, turn your body in one direction along your waist as much as you can. Keep in mind how far you could turn your body.
Now visualize your body gaining a sudden elasticity. Imagine our waist has turned into a sponge and you can turn a full circle like a person without any bones.
Now attempt the same activity again. Most people can twist more than their previous attempts. During your last try, you felt your pushed as much as your body was capable of. But you now realize you were wrong. Your body was not the limiting factor. It was your mind.
If you can tell your mind to keep going, my body can do a lot more, you can almost certainly continue no matter how hard it seems.
To start, write down 10 setbacks you have overcome. They do not have to be major challenges. You can list down simpler victories like:
- Scoring good marks in a tough exam
- The extra 15 minutes you worked out one day when you were exhausted
- Completing a task which no one thought you could
- Persisting with a goal which you never expected to reach
- Not giving in to the temptation of junk food last week
No matter how big or small the obstacle was, if you won the battle, list it down. These are your future cookies.
Whenever you face any hardship, recall your cookies. Think about the effort you put in to overcome a prior challenge. Remember how difficult or painful it was to go through the obstacle. Realize the fact that you could have given up, but the champion within you kept going and came out victorious.
As you do this, you notice yourself feeling alive again.
You will want to kick out instead of tap out. You will want to stand up on your feet instead of lying down defeated. You will want to put in more to win the fight or go down like a warrior.
When life pushes you into a corner, do not give up. You have met such challenges many times before. But you have met them eye to eye and crawled your way out. This challenge is no different.
You can apply the cookie jar tactic in your daily life in many ways. When you use it as a self improvement method, you will reap the rewards.
When you feel like procrastinating
Quite often you will feel like postponing a task for a later date. It can be starting a good habit like working or get rid of a bad habit like checking your phone often.
Whenever you feel like you lack the motivation, pick a cookie out of your jar and take a bite. It will provide you the needed energy to get your butt off the couch to wear your gym shoes instead of lazing around and killing time.
On the treadmill, when you sweat and go out of breath, you move your hand to hit the stop button and end your workout. Try to recall an old achievement before you stop. Maybe that will give you an adrenaline rush to run another 2 minutes.
You gotta start your journey. It may suck, but eventually you will come out the other side on top.David Goggins
When you feel like giving up
Sometimes, you put in effort and do not see the results. You finally reach a point where you feel like giving up.
When you run of steam to keep your efforts going, remember an old victory and tell yourself, “If I managed to accomplish that, I can do this too.”
For example, if you plan to start your own venture, but feel like you do not have the skill to run a successful business, use the cookie jar. A tough project that you executed in the past can imbibe you with all the self confidence required to persist with your efforts.
At the end of the day, hard work may not be enough. You still may fail. But you must keep going out there and go after it.David Goggins
Your mind limits your body and your senses agree with the decision. But guess what? Most of the time, your mind fools you. Do not fall for the games your mind plays with you.
Every time you feel battered by the challenges of life, pull out your special weapon, the cookie jar. Open the lid, pick a cookie and take a bite. Those cookies made up of your own sweat and blood will usher you with enough energy and motivation to keep going.
We are all great. No matter if you think you’re dumb, fat, been bullied, we all have greatness. You gotta find the courage. It’s going to be hard work, discipline, and the non-cognitive skills – hard work, dedication, sacrifice – that will set you apart.David Goggins
Reference: Lessons from David Goggins
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.