Episode Highlights

00:01:11 The no.1 motivator for our species is the avoidance of discomfort
00:02:29 Joe’s background
00:03:47 Why Joe believes it is good to seek discomfort in our lives
00:05:33 Don’t confuse living longer with being healthier
00:07:27 Joes’ motivation- the next generation has to be better than us
00:08:53 Are we turning our children into Marshmallows?
00:12:57 Why are many children feeling anxious and depressed?
00:14:43 Daily exercise is the key to building resilience
00:16:12 Use your common sense when parenting children
00:18:36 Build a more resilient family in 10 days- by tackling 1 rule per day
00:20:11 How to contact Joe 



Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad Podcast, where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host Darren Kirby.

Darren: Welcome back to the podcast, guys. This is the number one podcast for men in their forties who want to improve their health through nutrition and fitness. This is episode 120, and on today’s episode we’re going to be speaking about 10 Rules for resilience with Joe De Sena, the founder of Spartan. Joe had a successful career on Wall Street and moved his family to Pittsfield, Vermont, to operate an organic farm, a bed and breakfast and a general store for hikers. It was there His passion grew for ultramarathons, adventure races and endurance events, and thus the idea for Spartan was born. Hey, Joe, thanks very much for joining me on the podcast today. How are you?

Joe: I’m doing great, how are you doing?

Darren: Yeah. Very well, thanks. So for people that perhaps haven’t come across you before Joe and know anything about you, can you give us a little brief background on Joe and Spartan?

Joe: You know, a lot of people think, including my family, that I’m a crazy person. I actually think I’m normal and everybody else is crazy. And the reason I say that is I like to push hard, right? I like to do things that get me way outside my comfort zone. I like to push my family. I like to wake my kids up early and make them work out hard and do hard things. And that’s just, you know, going against the grain. I mean, I mean, we don’t even know it. A lot of people don’t know this fact, but the number one motivator for our species. Number one thing that motivates us is the avoidance of discomfort. Yeah, we will do anything to avoid being uncomfortable and it’s kept us alive for a million years on the planet. We don’t fall off cliffs, we don’t freeze to death in large numbers. We don’t, bad things don’t happen because we avoid discomfort. And so we don’t even know we’re doing it. It’s happening. It’s legacy wiring, hardware and software. So but I seek discomfort, OK, and I recommend we all should seek discomfort. And so, you know, how did I end up this way? My mother. First of all, I grew up in a crazy neighborhood in Queens, New York.

Joe: If anybody saw the movie Goodfellas, I grew up in ground zero for Goodfellas. So right in the dead center that next to Kennedy Airport, we ate raviolis and Gonzalez, and we talked about cement and businesses and trucks being robbed and people going to jail. And my mother realized when I was at a very young age, my sister was at a young age that that was crazy, right? And she found a health food store. It probably the only health food store in the entire east coast of the United States. And she went in and randomly that day, a guru from India had landed into JFK and was also in the store. He was like 80 something years old. And they spoke and she. For whatever reason, changed her life that she left that health food store that day, she wanted to meditate and do yoga and eat vegan, and she threw away the sausage and peppers in our house and she sought a new life for life. Ultimately, my parents got divorced, but what I saw over the years was a person that fought the resistance people. People did not want to meditate. In the late nineteen seventies, people did not want to do yoga. People did not want to eat salads.

Joe: There was no Whole Foods at the time, and she fought the resistance the whole way. Very stoically. And if that’s a word, and I saw that and I also saw my dad and the guys in the neighborhood that were workaholic maniacs that pushed, you know, towards their goals and dreams to build businesses or get money and Cadillacs and rolls of hundred dollar bills. And they were all workaholics, crazy people. And so and guys that went to jail for twenty five years and that was like going to college and earning stripes. And so. So I just naturally got wired in a way where it’s like, You know what? It’s good to do hard stuff, it’s healthy now. You know, if you ask me if this was if we were in new, you know, in Delhi, in India and people around us had very little money and they were barely scraping by and it was one hundred years ago, I would say, you know what? We need more couches. Right, right. We need more Netflix. A little easier on life. And so it’s really just where we are, where we live, how we live. That, I think, requires us to get out of our comfort zone, get really uncomfortable and in the process. Become healthier.

Darren: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, that’s interesting, do you, Joe, do you believe that it’s the western world that’s made us comfortable, right? Because you mention India, they’re right. So they’re obviously more kind of Third World. They don’t have necessarily all the resources and stuff that we have. Do you think it’s the western world that’s made us kind of soft, really?

Joe: There’s no doubt about it. I mean, it doesn’t have to be India. I mean, the American Indians go down the list. Anybody who lived. There’s a great show on Netflix. If you, most people watch Netflix and it’s about the building of the trains right across the country and. “Hell on wheels” it’s called OK. And it just gives you insight as to what life was like. Yeah. So it doesn’t have to be India to answer. It could be anywhere, any time period where you struggle during the day. And now a lot of people might kick back listening to this and say, that’s ridiculous. We’ve advanced ourselves. We live longer. We’re healthy, you know, don’t confuse living longer with being healthier. Yes. Yes. Like my father for the last 15, 20 years of his life was in and out of the hospital every week. It’s great that I got to see him and I loved him and like, but he was unhappy. He was so unhealthy, he was living in a hospital. So anyway, I’m sorry, I got to figure out after I get off your podcast how to get the beep beep to stop. That’s right. But but you get the point. Yeah. Yeah. You get the point.

Darren: Yeah. So in terms of, you know, yeah, I completely agree. We are living longer, but we are way un healthier than we ever used to be. And that’s a whole other topic for another podcast, to be honest with you. So in terms of what motivated you to write this book then joked about resilience. Was it your view of the world, the view that you’ve just described in so much as we’re not doing hard things we’re sitting back? We’re getting in our comfort zone. You know, we’re allowing society to dictate what we should and shouldn’t do instead of pushing outside of that.

Joe: Yeah, it was more than that, you know, I moved around the world with my family and I, my wife was kind enough to allow me to literally hitch a wagon to a horse and say, Hey, we’re heading to Singapore for a year. We’re heading to Japan for your Vancouver for a year. We’ve done the farm. We’ve lived all over the place and invariably everywhere we went. The neighbors in these new places within a week, literally within a week, their kids and the families were over at my house at five thirty in the morning, anywhere in the world. It didn’t matter the size and shape, the color of the people, the language they spoke. Everywhere I go. And. And then what happens is they drop off. If I leave that, it drops off and I say to myself, Yeah, it’s hard work to get my kids to do Mandarin every single day. It’s hard to get them to do math every single day. It’s hard work to get them to work out every single day. But I do it because there was an ancient Spartans saying that said. They have to be better than us, right? Goal is the next generation has to be better than us. And yeah, they’re better because they have an iPhone. They’re better because they have a more plush couch. No, they’re better because they’re smarter. They’re fitter, they’re more compassionate. They’ve got more gratitude like. And. I’m going to teach that, and it requires hard work, and that means when they kick and scream, you don’t just hand them the phone.

Joe: Yeah, right? When they don’t want to wake up early, you don’t just say, that’s OK. And you don’t give them an extra chocolate cake. And so I just have really strong feelings towards the way we’re turning our children into marshmallows. Yeah, marshmallows. Yeah, I agree. And it’s not the kids’ fault. I was walking my actually. The moment might have been I was walking my boys. I’m a little harder on the boys than the girls because they wrestle. I’ve been pushing that. My wife’s been pushing soccer for the girls. We have two boys, two girls. And I was having their friends and them walk, I don’t know, a mile from one house to the other carrying kettlebells, right? And a woman screeched her car, pulled over on the sidewalk and started screaming, literally screaming and saying, Are you OK? To the kids and this and that? And ma’am, they’re my kids. It’s OK. Is he a coach? Are you safe? Why are you carrying this? You need water. It was like seventy degrees like. And I was respectful and nice, but I thought, Oh my God, I can’t blame her. She hasn’t seen a child walk on a sidewalk in 15 years. Yeah, she certainly hasn’t seen one carry anything heavy or sweat like this. It might as well have been aliens walking outside. Yes. And so. So the book the book is just like, let’s you know, am I allowed to be? Am I allowed to use profanity on this? Yeah. Wake the fuck up. Like, what are we doing? Yeah.

Darren: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, I think it’s yeah, you’re talking to the converted, really, because you’re almost seen as an outlier, aren’t you? If you do get your kids to do hard things, but what? Why do you think the modern world is affected like our ability to kind of parent like that? And what do you think is change, which means that, like you say, we’re effectively as parents becoming marshmallows and teaching our kids to be marshmallows?

Joe: Well, so let’s let’s assume everybody listening bought in on the fact that we all seek discomfort as our number one motivation. So that’s that’s deep down in our psyche. We are trying to do less push last, right? And it’s a fight. That’s why everybody says to me, Joe, I need motivation. It’s a fight for all of us. And then let’s let’s go back to a story when I was at West Point with the wrestling coach and he said to me, You know, Joe, a wrestling room. Wrestling rooms pretty hardcore, it’s hot, they’re working out two, three, four hours a day. I think everybody would agree listening. Wrestling is pretty hardcore sport. Yeah, and the wrestling coach said the room doesn’t rise to my level of expectations. It falls to my level of tolerance. And so if the entire world, if our entire species is seeking comfort and not wanting to push and we fall to the level of our tolerance, well, what’s going to happen? We all fall to the lowest common denominator, which is like. Nothing, do nothing. Don’t go outside. It’s too it’s raining out. It’s uncomfortable. Take another cookie like that’s just what’s happening and it becomes normal. And then new people pop their head up and say, you can’t walk on the sidewalk carrying a kettlebell. Yeah. And that becomes shamed. And so then you don’t do that. And before you know it, if you ever saw that movie Wall-E where everybody’s fat, I’m probably not supposed to use that word, but I will. Everybody’s fat, out of shape, unhealthy doesn’t move. That’s what the world is going to become.

Darren: Yeah, yeah, I agree. So would you say then on that basis? That’s why kids nowadays are feeling so anxious and uncertain and just really don’t push themselves today.

Joe: Let me ask you a question. Remember, remember the old science departments that had a big glass jar that in a deli would carry pickles, but they have a brain? Yeah, glass jar and the fluid. The body is mostly water. Again, we would all agree on that. And the body being mostly water has pumps and filters. We have a heart that’s a pump and we got a liver and lungs and we filter out all. So we fill this swimming pool of a body, this 13 gallon swimming pool with all kinds of garbage, french fries. And then we don’t run the pump. We don’t run because we don’t carry the kettlebell in the street. We don’t do anything. We sit and watch Netflix. We’re loading the swimming pool with garbage. What do you think that brain looks like? What does that fluid look like around? Is it clear, crystal clear, like a pool where the pump is running? And it’s no, no. And so do you think kids would get depressed if if their swimming pool isn’t clean, their body and they’re not moving? Of course, they would be depressed? Yeah, yeah. But by the way, anybody listening take your dog or your cat and confine them to the kitchen for three days and give them a bunch of garbage food and don’t let them watch what happens. They’ll rip your whole kitchen apart and go crazy. They’re pissed off. Like.

Darren: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So then how do you how would you say, you know, obviously apart from the kettlebells and stuff like that, do we start to build resilience into our families, into our children? Like you say, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be uncomfortable. But where would you say is like, should we start?

Joe: Well. Studies show that if you want a kid to learn more math, you want your son or daughter to be better at math. You could have them do a lot more math or you can have them do less math and exercise. Studies show that less math and exercise, they actually get better at math. So you want them to be more resilient. Start by making them exercise every single morning, seven days a week. And by the way, many of you are going to say, Well, Joe, on weekends they should stay in late and they have to grow. Science shows that going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time seven days a week is much better for you. Much better for you. Then getting more hours of sleep science also shows science also shows that sleeping in more, actually. Makes you less happy. Yeah, people are a little more depressed. That sleep in late, so wake them up early, work out and drink more water like this isn’t rocket science people?

Darren: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, it’s a simple stuff, right? But it’s the stuff that we don’t want to do. We want to we love as humans. We love to overcomplicate things and make all kinds of excuses as to why we shouldn’t, can’t do stuff right. So, yeah, I mean, but in terms of like fear as a parent Joe, what would you say as parents? How fear impacts the way that we parent our children?

Joe: Well, again, the world falls the level of our tolerance, and we all want to be quote unquote normal and we want to fit in. So we’re probably fearful that the kid’s not going to like us or feardul that the neighbor is going to say something. We’re fearful that maybe we’re doing something wrong because we’ve never been a parent before, and there’s no manual that comes with it. But but just use your common sense, right? Use your common sense and go back to your ancient instincts like a lion prepares the cub for the wild. We are raising adults. We’re not raising children if we don’t get them. Like I said to myself, this all started with me because I said to myself, I don’t want kids that wake up at 10 a.m. Yeah, they go to work someday. Yeah, I want them to wake up early. So why would I? Why wouldn’t I start now and just train them so their brains are wired to wake up early? They need more sleep. Great. Go to bed earlier. Yeah, yeah. The time we wake up, go to bed earlier. I mean, you tell your boss, I need more sleep. So I’m just going to come in late- no. Right. We have that responsibility. So wake them up early. Give them water people or fear. I keep harping on water because most people get their calories from drinks, and that’s not a good place to get your calories from. And that’s why we’re ballooning. By the way, I lived all over the world. I hate to say this because this is a country I love. As soon as I land in the United States, people are twice the size, they’re twice the size. Yeah.

Darren: So yeah, we have yeah, we have this way, way too much access to food and well, the food that is not food from food.

Joe: The constant eating from morning till night. Yeah, yeah, absolutely, yeah. I’m sorry to go down this rabbit hole, but the masks the mask mandate should have been like Hannibal Lecter masks where people couldn’t eat then.

Darren: Yeah, well, yeah, they should have shut down on the fast food joints as well, right? And they should. Yeah. Yeah, I completely agree. Yeah, it’s quite funny. So in terms of the structure of the book, then 10 Rules for Resilience. Can you give us like before we wrap up a brief overview of the book and what’s in it?

Joe: I just I like to keep things simple. Yeah, because if it’s too complicated. Again, I’ve lived all over the world. I try to get parents to follow a routine, get the kids out. Selfishly, it’s good when there’s other kids around to motivate my kids to write. My kids want to be the only kids in the neighborhood making working out at five thirty in the morning or in Mandarin or whatever it may be. So came up with with the 10 rules that stand the test of time. Super simple, you could build a more resilient family in 10 days if you tackle one rule per day. My wife was nervous as hell. Oh my god, what if? What if 10 years from now it turns out our kids are crazy and you were all wrong and it’s like, I can’t be wrong here. I can’t be wrong. Like eating candy is worse than not eating candy, right? Having having a purpose as a family laid out is better than not having a purpose like this is simple stuff. And. The reality is, you don’t even need the book. We should just know this stuff. Yeah, yeah. And you know, look, if you can’t afford the book and I don’t say this facetiously, shoot me an email. Joe Barton just put one sentence because I can’t read long emails and say, Look, I don’t have the money for the book. I’ll either send you a book or I’ll just give you the ten principles and tell you how to do it.

Darren: That’s awesome. Well, I know you’re a busy guy, so I won’t keep you any longer, but thank you very much for coming onto the podcast today. How can people connect with you? Find out more about the book.

Joe: Yeah, so just go on Amazon 10 Rules for Resilience Joe De Sena I have an Instagram account, @RealJoedeSena it because I think somebody stole my name way back when, so I had to go. And you can always shoot me an email again. One sentence only [email protected]  You’re awesome. Thanks for having me.

Darren: No. Thanks very much for coming on, Joe. Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe. And I would really appreciate if you could leave a review on iTunes or other things mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes, and a full transcription is over at fitterhealthierdad.com