How Joe DeSena's Perspective Made His Will Unbreakable

In 2001, Joe DeSena, the founder of The Spartan Race, was in a car accident that ripped his hip out of his socket. 

After his injury, the first 4 doctors he met with said that he would never be able to run again. This news devastated Joe. He was an athlete all of his life and could not imagine never running again.

So Joe refused to accept that fate. He decided that he was going to do everything he could to run again. This made him hyperfocused. He was going to prove doctors wrong, and to prove that his will was unbreakable. [1]

To get back to running, he followed a strict rehab program. Starting small with pilates and slowly but surely improving his ability to walk.

He had to push through the pain of rehab every single day, but he was so focused, so committed, and so willing to do anything to run again that by the end of the year, he wasn’t just running - he had crushed 14 ironman triathlons!

That’s right, 14!

Since then, he has run over 100 endurance races. Including more than 25 Ironmans, a 100-mile ultra-marathon, and the even harder adventure races that can last multiple days in harsh conditions.

But being an athlete is only part of Joe’s story.

While he was defying doctors and his own physical limitations, he was also building a multi-million dollar international company that has helped thousands of people improve their health and fitness – The Spartan Race.

Millions of people around the world have now ran a Spartan Race, which consists of running through trails, climbing over walls, and having fun in the mud like we did when we were children.

Joe pioneered the concept in 2009, and “obstacle course racing”, as it would later be called, is now the 2nd fastest growing sport on earth and Spartan Race is now valued in the tens of millions.

How is this possible?!

How could he defy doctors, defy physical limits and defy the odds of building a successful company all at the same time?

It all comes from what Joe calls the “frame of reference”.


The sun was scorching as Joe DeSena was pushing himself through the last leg of the Utah Ironman Triathlon. By this point, he completed 20 Ironmans in his life, but with this one, he felt like he had finally met his match. 

He completed the 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and was 10 miles into the 26.2-mile run to the finish line. But it was at this point that Joe’s body gave up.

He was so nauseous that he had to run to an ambulance on the side of the road. When he got there, he started vomiting uncontrollably. Then the idea of quitting – an idea that had never once popped into his head – finally seemed logical.

After all, what else did he have to prove? He had already completed 20 Ironman Triathlons!

He was about to add his name to the “Did Not Finish” list when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He witnessed a woman with a full prosthetic leg running right by him.

Somehow this woman had completed the swimming, biking and 10 miles of the running with only one leg – and she still had a smile on her face!

This shifted Joe’s frame of reference.

How could he feel sorry for himself when this woman was pushing herself through a challenge that most two-legged people would never even attempt?

So he summoned the willpower to get out of the ambulance and catch up to her. Then he pushed himself through the heat, the pain, and the nausea to keep pace with this woman all the way to the finish line.

What happened here? Clearly, Joe’s body had given up – he was vomiting uncontrollably!

Yet all it took was this simple change to Joe’s frame of reference to motivate him to not only finish, but to keep pace with her for 16 more miles! [1]


Your perspective (or frame of reference as Joe calls it) is one of the most important factors on your willpower.

If you truly enjoy your work - even if it is hard - it is going to be far easier to work long hours. If you haven't eaten anything all day, those vegetables will start looking pretty delicious. 

And the great news is, you can intentionally change the way you see something to immediately get a boost of willpower!


When Joe looked at the one-legged woman running by, he immediately felt grateful for everything he had. He was able to overcome his accident and still have two healthy legs!

So he immediately saw his situation differently.

Now the nausea he was feeling didn’t seem like as big of a deal as it once did. Sure he felt sick, but he still had full use of his legs!

It is very easy to feel sorry for yourself. It is very easy to feel like the victim of bad luck, bad genes, or the bad people around you. But no matter what your situation, there is someone else out there who is fighting through even worse circumstances.

The best example of this for me is J.K. Rowling. Being a writer is not always easy. It requires a lot of work, with not a lot of pay-off, and whole lot of criticism from others. And sometimes I get down on myself because of it.

But then I simply think about Rowling’s story. Before getting Harry Potter published, she lost her mother, had a messy divorce, and had to live as a single parent on welfare, But she was still able to will herself to get the book published. 

If she can do that, I can keep pushing through my hardships too. 


When you set a plan to accomplish your goals, you probably create a schedule that you “have to” follow. You want to become more fit, so you “have to” go to the gym 3 times per week.

Then when your friends invite you out after work, you politely decline claiming that you “have to” go to the gym. Meanwhile, your brain is subconsciously paying attention to these cues. 

By saying that you “have to” do it, you are claiming that there are better things that you want to do, but you're restricted by a plan you set weeks or months ago.

When you view this plan as an obligation that you “have to” follow, your brain will try to motivate you to skip it – especially when you are low on willpower. It wants to take the easy way out, so it will make excuses to take a break and resume your plan tomorrow.

You can completely switch this motivation by changing your perspective to “get to”. 

You get to go to the gym today and improve your fitness. You get to order a salad for lunch instead of pizza and feel good about yourself afterward. You get to engage in deliberate practice to become a master in your field. 

Try this simple technique the next time you feel like you “have to” do something to achieve a long-term goal. You will probably find extra motivation you had no idea you had! [2]


When a group of hotel maids – all who claimed to be the furthest thing from habitual exercisers – were given the statistics about how many calories they were burning, they we absolutely shocked. 

Compared to a desk job, hotel maids actually get a lot of exercise. They are constantly moving. The scrubbing, vacuuming, and walking from room-to-room isn’t exactly "intense". But over the course of an 8-hour day, the calories add up.

In fact, they add up to about 900 calories burned every single day! [3]

After learning that they were burning more calories throughout the course of a day than many people who actually pack into gyms, the maid started seeing themselves differently!

They naturally started eating healthier, walking more, and putting a little extra enthusiasm in their daily cleaning. Now that they knew it was exercise, they felt more empowered and healthy! 

It didn’t take a drastic change in diet, exercise routine, or other major life event. All it took was just seeing themselves through a different frame of reference. 

Begin to see yourself as the person you truly want to become. You will find you will have much more willpower to act like them! [4]


Joe DeSena has done things that seem almost inhuman. But there is nothing particularly special about him. He simply sees the world through a different mindset than everyone else.

When Joe is faced with harsh circumstances, he thinks about others who have overcame much worse. Where others see obligations, Joe sees opportunities. And he has built up the identity of someone with an unbreakable will.

If you can intentionally see the world with a similar perspective, your will might just become unbreakable as well!