An Open Letter from Joe De Sena: How to Build Immunity to Life’s Toughest Obstacles

An Open Letter from Joe De Sena: How to Build Immunity to Life’s Toughest Obstacles

Spartan CEO and founder Joe De Sena shares what obstacle immunity is, and how to create it in your own life. 

Stuck in a rut? I have some tough love for you: You’re the problem, not the rut.

Spinning wheels is usually a sign that you’re avoiding your challenges instead of facing them down. When you see an obstacle, you’re turning away and looking for an easier path.

I get it. A lot of people do this, mostly because our society teaches us to avoid obstacles. We’re taught to take the safe, easy path whenever possible.

But that’s not how life works. Life constantly presents difficulties—financial challenges, injury, illness, flat tires, tornadoes, and all sorts of other crazy and totally unexpected stuff. And most people, because they’ve spent their entire lives avoiding rather than facing and overcoming challenges, get stuck when they run into one. They don’t know how to overcome even the simplest of obstacles because they’ve never done it before.

Simply put, these people lack what we at Spartan call obstacle immunity.

What Is Obstacle Immunity?

When you learn how to face and overcome obstacles, usually because you’re doing it on a regular basis, you develop obstacle immunity. Then even the biggest obstacles won’t deter you. In fact, they’ll barely slow you down. You might even find that you enjoy facing them.

Related: Obstacles Are Opportunities | Spartan Way Podcast #6

In The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this is the underlying purpose of Spartan. We want to take people out of their comfort zone, break their patterns, challenge them, and help them develop obstacle immunity.

Mark Webb and Obstacle Immunity

Consider my friend Mark Webb. Mark lost his leg in a motorcycle accident not long after completing a Spartan Death Race for the first time. Before he even got a prosthetic leg, he signed himself up to run a marathon. A few weeks later he told me there was about a three-minute period when he was feeling sorry for himself, but then he decided that losing his leg was just another obstacle and he wasn’t going to let it bother him. That’s an incredible example of obstacle immunity.

How to Develop Obstacle Immunity

Happily, anyone can develop obstacle immunity. The first step is to challenge yourself. For some people, a good challenge might be walking to the corner and back. That’s just where they are. For others, a challenge might be going back to school to get a degree and eventually a better job. For others, it might be training for an endurance race.

Related: 5 Hardest Spartan Obstacles—and How to Train for Them

The trick is to start out with a challenge you can handle today, and then to do a little bit more tomorrow and every day after. Before you know it, you’ve broken your pattern, you’re out of your rut, and you’ve changed your life for the better.

The Bottom Line: Accept & Transform Yourself (Through Your Challenges)

Trust me when I say this: An easy life is no life at all. If you want a great life, don’t wish for an easy life; wish for a difficult and challenging life and the strength to live it. In the words of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, “Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”

Like Mark Webb, if you can accept that idea and live it, obstacles will no longer phase you, and you’ll have a better and more successful life.

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