Barry Phillips Meets... Conor Devine

Posted in : Podcasts on 24 September 2018 Issues covered:

Conor DevineConor is an entrepreneur with his finger truly on the pulse in terms of business activity going on in Northern Ireland having worked for many years in commercial property and more recently in debt management and alternative funding for those in business.

In August 2007 he was formally diagnosed with MS. His response was to hit the illness head-on. He self-medicated, he followed a plant only diet and started competing in endurance races.

He’s the author of two books. He has delivered countless keynote conference speeches on motivation and managing a severe illness and has completed five half Ironman races and two full Ironman competitions in the past 3 years.


Barry: Hello, and welcome to "Barry Phillips Meets." My name is Barry Phillips. And my guest today is Conor Devine. Born in Cookstown, Conor showed early promise as a sportsman and played semi-professional football until age 28. Now an entrepreneur, his first business concerned debt management. He spent much of his time during the recession saving businessmen and women from bankruptcy helping them reschedule debts and negotiate with the banks or the organizations the debts had been sold to. His latest business venture is an alternative lending platform helping entrepreneurs source appropriate finance to start [00:1:00] or to develop businesses.

In August 2007, after suffering considerable bouts of ill health, he was formally diagnosed with MS throwing him into periods of deep despair and depression. Some three years later he made a conscious decision to fight the disease head on that was fighting with him. He found out all he possibly could about MS. He self-medicated. He followed a plant-only diet and started competing in endurance races. He said, "I took back control, and this gave me the confidence to develop as a businessman, start a family, and to help others change their lives for the better too."

He's the author of two books, has delivered countless keynote conference speeches on motivation and managing a severe illness. Oh, and he has completed five half Ironman races and two full Ironman competitions in the past three years. Conor, welcome to the podcast.

Conor:; Thank you very much, Barry. I am delighted to be on.

Barry: Great. Conor, [00:02:00] you were born in Cookstown. You were brought up during The Troubles. How do you remember that part of your early life? What memories are strongest for you today?

Conor:; I think the strongest memories that I've often thought of this I've lead and the last three years, particularly through the earliest period is all around sport and football. I was immersed in both soccer and [Gaelic 00:02:24] and the team environment. So I had a very happy childhood. Cookstown was a great place to grow up. It was also very interesting place to grow up because you rightly say that that was sort of right in the middle of the end period of The Troubles and to get into the town, you had to go through a security check. Every car was checked and every car was checked in and out of the town, which seems insane now when you look back to how lucky now we are when there's been demilitarization.

; So I think, looking back, I'm 41 years old now, I think my childhood memories would be quite happy memories. [00:03:00] I had very supportive family, deeply involved in sport. I knew I was kind of better than most people at the sports that I was playing, which was obviously good for me. And then obviously the security situation around the whole Troubles aspect and how we dealt with that, how I dealt with that as a teenager with the bombs going off and people getting killed and how I've been able to think about that over the last 10 to 15 years. And it's played a its part in the development of me as a person.

Barry: Conor, you read estate management at university, but today you call yourself an entrepreneur. And I was interested to know how people realize that they are entrepreneurs or business people because it's never considered a formal career path at school. So can you just say a little bit about how you transited from employment and being employed by somebody else to going into your first business and if you like giving yourself [00:04:00] a job?

Conor:; Yeah, so a couple of things. It's a good question as well. You know, what is a job? For me, it's someone who works for month to month. There's no certainty. But as an entrepreneur, people have different definitions. I've always had this burning ambition to do exceptionally well. And I didn't come from a very strong financial background. I've always been self-reliant I think from a very young age. And self-reliance is something that I think your audience if you think about that for a second, how important it is to become self-reliant in life and in business along with a number of other things including discipline.

; So an entrepreneur and entrepreneurial people, it's probably people who have this burning desire to work for themselves, to fend for themselves, to make their own money, to employ people, to add value to their communities, to drive economic growth. I'm personally a problem solver. I look for problems to solve.

; So whatever skill set I have now in my repertoire right now at the age that I am, I think I'm full of energy at the moment and full of enthusiasm. And over the years from a young boy, I've [00:05:00] always been attracted to people who have done quite well be it in sport or in business. I've made it my own business to go and meet these people to get around them to see what makes them tick. I think most good business people understand people. So business is all about people. It's a people game.

; Jose Mourinho, if he can get all his players to play well for him, Man United will be successful. Some of the players aren't really interested in him. They don't like his ethos, then they won't do well. So I think from an entrepreneurial point of view, business point of view, I think it's very important that you have a collection of skills in your repertoire that will then manifest itself and you become a successful business person.

Barry: Did you see early signs that you had these skills, you know, even sort of late on in school? Did you have entrepreneurial pangs even at that stage, or did it occur to you later on, perhaps even as later as university that you have evolved a good entrepreneur?

Conor:; I've always felt like I was someone who could make a difference. [00:06:00] And again, I think this came from sport. I was happy to say that I was very good at football, and I captained all of the underage teams. I probably did that because their culture teacher at that time, I was clearly the best player on the team. Once you take on that role in life at such a young age, I mean, we're all shaped by our environments when you're very young, and my environment when I was young was one of a team environment of getting stuck in, of winning, of competing, helping your put your friend or your teammate or your colleague. So from when I was 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 right up to going to university, I spent a lot of my time, I'd say, in the family and the sporting environment. And for me personally, I have talked about this a lot that a lot of the characteristics that I am now showing in nearly everything that I do and protecting my business life are characteristics that I would have developed and refined through my sporting career.

Barry: Your first main business was the GDP [00:07:00] Partnership, a debt advisory service, which is still growing strong today. And you set this up at the tail end of the recession, helping business people to reschedule their debts, avoid bankruptcy, negotiate with banks, etc. I remember I talked to a corporate lawyer in Dublin at the beginning of the recession, and I remember it so well what he said when I asked him what was it like there in the Republic of Ireland. And he simply shook his head and he grimaced and he said, "It's just bloody Carnage out there. Bloody carnage." How do you remember the recession in Northern Ireland?

Conor:; Yes. So one word, fascinating. I've been quite fortunate in my professional life. Fair enough, I made everything happened. But I follow in periods of working and traveling in America and Australia. I come home and one of the best things I've done is become a chartered surveyor in 2004. And [00:08:00] once I got my APC and became a chartered surveyor, it's like an international passport, that was me, I had arrived professionally because I've always had this desire to do well for myself, be successful, whatever that meant. And I knew that by becoming the chartered surveyor in a property market, which was going absolutely ballistic at that time, I had a real chance to do something and create success.

; And I was very quickly headhunted by the biggest firm in Belfast, and I think I was 25 years old at the time. And over the next five years, I became a central part of the success of that business. I probably transacted over £250 million worth of real estate. At that time, we were selling land in places like Fermanagh for a million pounds an acre. And we had an auction in the Wellington Park Hotel in September 2007.

; And for me, that was interesting. We sold £60 million worth of real estate that day but we sold no land. We had about £40 million worth of land. And after that auction, [00:09:00] we had a chat in the office and that was the start of the what we now know was the property crash in our minds. And basically what happened then was Lehmans went bust in 2008 and pretty much the financial world collapsed. The Irish banking system collapsed. We have a property crash. And 10 years post that, we are still living through that legacy debt which was a result of the property crash in Ireland in 2008. I think from a personal perspective, I became and the company I was working for at the time, I stopped growing. I was in a comfort zone like a lot of people who are in jobs.

; And what I say to people is if you want to improve your situation either financially, socially, or whatever, you have to be prepared to change and put in the effort and go for what it is you want to do. So around about 2010, I decided to walk out which was a very ballsy move at that time, because people couldn't believe that I was leaving a good job. I was handing back the credit card, [00:10:00] the keys to the A5, and I was setting up my own business, which was from scratch, with a business partner of mine who a little older than me, a little bit maybe wiser, he's a lawyer, and he had incredible smarts and a lot of skills that I did not have. But I had quite a few skills and quite a few customers and clients who had found themselves in debt at that time.

; And what we've been able to do over the last eight years has been absolutely incredible and that, if to give this some context, there's quite a few people have taken their own lives in Ireland as a result of the property crash and the financial blitz and, you know, that's a serious issue. So what we were doing from a moral perspective, I felt extremely comfortable with it, and I got a lot out of it and still day because our debt business is still going. But we've been able to, over the last 10 years, 8 years in the debt advisory, say to basically get hundreds of millions of pounds of debt written off. And I think which we were told at the time that the banks wouldn't entertain. We've been able to create this thing called mediation. We created a product and a service [00:11:00] which was an informal insolvency at that time in Belfast and throughout Ireland. There was only the formal insolvency route.

; So it was really interesting for me as a as a business owner and to try something new to try and be creative and challenge which were large institutions on positions that they thought they were kneeled on then and that ultimately the outworkings of that business is that we were able to change lives, which is incredibly empowering. And I was quite sad and it was quite challenging, mentally challenging. I mean, I've lost a number of people, a number of clients three, who just aren't with us anymore that mostly died through natural causes but family stress related. So it's been interesting but particularly tricky.

Barry: Conor, that leads me nicely into my next question because what I wanted to know was working in an area in which you see the dark consequences and the pain caused [00:12:00] to people who take risks that don't come off. Has it changed your own attitude towards risk taking?

Conor:; I think it's a great question. I think there's a huge lack of understanding around money and finance out there, which is a topic and a podcast on its own. I think the observation would be, I've been very fortunate over the last 20 years to work with some of the brightest, wealthiest, most successful driven people in this country.

; And through that experience, I've hopefully been able to mine quite a bit of information and a lot of good stuff out of a lot of these people. I've worked with a huge number of people who've done very, very well. I think in saying that a huge percentage of people in business today still don't have an understanding of money and finance. I think as consumers and people in general, if you were to ask 100 people in Royal Avenue, is their mortgage, which is the most important contract they'll ever take out in their house and their life, [00:13:00] "Is there a mortgage interest on their capital and interest?" I think they would struggle to answer you.

; And the reality is we don't seem to learn from the mistakes of the past. And I can see this repeating itself now in 2018 because one of the problems and the reasons why the property market collapsed under the GFC was because there was too much money put into the system and a lot of the security was taken incorrectly, which obviously caused huge problems right across the world clearly. So, no, there's just a real lack of understanding around money and finance, how money works, senior debt, mezzanine debt, equity, what's the difference, where do you go to get it. So I've had a real good schooling in the last 10 years myself in that space, which hopefully I've been able to pass on some of those skills and smarts to people that we're working with.

Barry: Sure. And I noticed on your, on the GDP Partnership website, there's a lot of content that is directed at potential [00:14:00] clients and your language is quite full on. You say more than once that you have to be prepared to face up to the situation that you're in. Do many people still come to you do you think with their head buried in the sand and they just hope you've got some sort of magic wand for them?

Conor:; Yeah. Well, like most people, I mean, the problem with debt in general and it's a fantastic topic because it's like an illness. Nobody likes to talk about it. And I have an illness so I could see and we can see, you know, people often come to you with a debt challenge, but once you sort of lift the bonnet, there are other issues, social issues going on behind the scenes because if you're in financial distress, there's potentially a marriage issue that's created. There's maybe a problem with addiction. There's other issues that's going on in society in general.

; And what we say to people is the first step of recovery and this relates to anything is to ask for help. So a lot of our message [00:15:00] and our branding and marketing is ask for help, not necessarily with GDP, but someone who may be in a position to help you. Because the first that's the hardest thing. And if you've got the determination, the desire, and the strength to ask for help, then there's help there and that goes for debt and it goes with anything else that's troubling your life.

Barry: And, Conor, you now run a second company, Clearpath Finance, that is an alternative lending platform which helps to secure business people the right sort of financing. It feels almost like you've come full circle here. Do you think your experience in the first business has helped you shape the second business?

Conor:; I think so. Fundamentally, if you look at even the logo of GDP, it's the phoenix that's rising from the ashes, and I am very passionate about that and very passionate about helping people and finding solutions and solving problems and making things better. And if you look at the debt, say that's self-explanatory because we can change lives there. [00:16:00] One of the other problems in Northern Ireland over the last number of years is there's genuine lack of liquidity in the economy, and our banks are still going through their own stages of rehabilitation. We know that because they're still selling loans. So there's a problem in our banking system, so there's not enough liquidity in the economy, so businesses can't access finance. If business can't access finance, they can't grow with no economic growth.

; So it's been bugging me for years from the crash is how could GDP or GDP BS company, how can we add value? How can we solve this problem? So I've always been trying and speaking to investors predominantly in London since 2011 to try and convince, which is the right word, to invest money into the Northern Ireland, economy or the Irish economy because the banks pretty much were not doing that. And we kept going back for years and years and years, and I noticed there was a major change around about 2014, 2015, Nama. I'm not getting into the whole Nama thing, but Nama is one of the biggest property companies in the world. And they bought [00:17:00] the Irish loan book, and they frustrated the market for three or four years. And then all of a sudden they decided to sell their loan book.

; And what that did was open up the gates to the American New York private funds to [commend 00:17:11] the servers, Blackstone and Lone Star and Goldman Sachs. And what has happened in the last three years is that the private equity vulture funds from Wall Street have bought pretty much all of Ireland, the real estate in Ireland. And what they're now trying to do and what they've been trying to do for last two years is just simply sell that back to the Irish man. That's what's happened.

; So from our perspective, how are the American funds going to get out of here? Because if the banks aren't lending money, who's going to step in and fill the gap? So I've become very passionate and most of my time right now is committed to developing our Clearpath Finance alternative lending platform, and that's been a fascinating experience. Like we're doing the debt side of the business, we're helping people. We're changing lives. We're giving huge hope now to entrepreneurs and business people because we know you have over 50 different lenders who have committed capital [00:18:00] to that platform.

Barry: And Conor, if I were a businessman looking for a sizable piece of finance, why should I come to you and not go directly to the bank?

Conor:; So you probably should go to your bank because that'll be the first port of call. You'll have built a relationship there that's highly likely that you certainly won't can have fast yes and the general feedback would be you would get a slow no, but you're talking to one provider. I think what I've tried to do, what I'm doing, what we are doing that right now is that we are putting something together which is quite different in Ireland. We have created a platform, an alternative lending platform, and we have tied more than 50 lenders, different lenders who have very different products.

; So the reason why you might want to speak to me after you come out of your bank after getting a slow no is that you have access to over 50 different forms of funding. So I have now got a cocktail of funding solutions. So if I can't help you because I know where the banks are today, I know what the parameters are, [00:19:00] I know what their sweet spots are. There's only four or five. But if you come to me, you have a greater choice in terms of the funding options you may want to go through.

Barry: And Conor, none of the business activity that we've talked about so far would've happened if you hadn't responded in the way that you did when you were diagnosed in 2007 with MS? Can I just take you right back to the very start of that chapter of your life? How did you feel when you were first diagnosed? What was in your mind when you were told on that day that you had MS?

Conor:; It was a very autumn morning up in the ulcer clinic in Belfast. I am the eternal optimist. Although the previous 12 months I had, I was very old after a virus attacked me in Mauritius. So up until 28 years old I was very healthy. I was [00:20:00] playing semi-professional football. I was a director at a property company. My life was great. And then all of a sudden I got this virus on holiday. And then for the next 12 months, I was very ill. I was off work, but I still believed that I could beat this thing. Whatever it was, it wasn't diagnosed that time. I had an appointment in Belfast at 10:30 with my urologist. And within five minutes of that appointment, he had said, "Look, we've been examining your MRIs and your symptoms over the last 12 months. And I'm not happy that you have multiple sclerosis. You're going to have it for the rest of your life. It's very serious condition, and there's different medication that that you need to get on. And you have a choice of four."

; And I was very shocked at the time and I said, "Well, what do you recommend?" He says, I think you should use that one." And I said, "Right. Okay." So the rest of that sort of appointment was very blurry. I just really went out to the car and [00:21:00] I broke down in the car. I cried for about 15 minutes because before over the previous 12 months I had done the…I became a Google-holic. I had myself self-diagnosed with motor neuron disease, with cancer of the stomach because all these [inaudible 00:21:18] in seasons. MS was in there. I suppose whenever someone's been so clinical with you, me at the prime of my life, and then all of the connotations associated with MS, which is a very serious progressive disease, I think it sort of spilled over in the car. And then I phoned my mom and my sister just to tell them. And I drove home, and I went to bed at about six o'clock, and I didn't get up till mid-afternoon the next day. And that started 3-year journey for me, which was probably the darkest 36 months.

Barry: And, Conor, for people who aren't too familiar with MS, could you just very briefly describe what it is and what it does [00:22:00] to you? Could you also say what a typically bad day feels like for you when you're hit with MS in a bad day?

Conor:; Yeah. So MS is just [adjacently 00:22:13] Northern Ireland and Scotland, we have the highest rates per head in the world. So it's a huge problem here. Typically, it strikes people in their prime between the ages of 20 and 40. I was perfect at 28. We don't know why it attacks people. There's some relationship between people who have lack of vitamin D, a virus, some genetic thing. But nobody really knows why this happens, but what does happen is people who have MS, their central nervous system attacks their nerves. What we all have, we've got like a myelin sheath, if you imagine a plug and the leather casing protects the copper and that leather casing is the myelin that protects the nerves throughout the body.

; So what happens for people like me with MS is the central nervous system for some reason, it attacks the myelin sheath, so it attacks the leather casing and then burns the nerve and causes nerve damage. [00:23:00] Twenty five percent of people who have MS allegedly end up in a wheelchair. It's a very progressive thing. Generally, people go downhill over the first 10 years. And there's relapsing remitting. There's secondary progressive and then primary progressive. There's people who have died with it. But most people die from suicide because from mental health perspective, their body doesn't work properly, and they become very depressed.

; For me personally, my journey has been really interesting in lots of ways but I struggled for many years and now your typical day I've hopefully thankfully in the last two and a half years things have been great for me. But whenever I have a bad day, I had . . . we'll talk about the Ironman in July, but in August, I struggled for most of that month, lack of energy, general unwellness, pins and needles, and numbness in my head and over my body. That kind of thing would manifest [00:24:00] itself whenever I'm not feeling great. So yeah, it's a nasty one. And it's all too common and I spent a lot of my time, I'd say, my business life responding and engaging with people who either out of nowhere just keep contacting me looking for help.

Barry: And, Conor, when I was researching for this interview, I found online that somewhere you had said you decided eventually your response to the diagnosis would be as follows. There's a three-stage response that you did. First of all, you set out to find as much as you possibly could about the disease. Second thing that you did, you changed your diet. And third thing you decided to do was to take up exercise and in a very big way, as we'll talk about in a moment. I just wanted to talk about the first of those things. I think that came a point in which you reached a deep understanding about [00:25:00] the disease or at least you and the disease, and you felt that you weren't being served by the conventional medical approach to MS. Can you explain what happened there and how that came about?

Conor:; Yeah, there's a problem at the moment in that I suppose I was taking an injecting medication every night, which was a disease modifying therapy. And for nine years for some reason, I thought that this medication was helping me. Whenever I was with my neurologist, he said you need to get on the medication and anyone connected with neurology including the MS Society, it was all medication, medication, medication. It was probably only about two and a half years ago that I figured out I was watching something maybe online or doing some reading that this medication that I was taking every single day wasn't actually designed to improve my physiology. It was actually designed to do one thing which was to maybe prevent relapses. Right? [00:26:00]

; So there's some science that shows that if you take a DMD, disease modifying medication, that it might prevent relapses up to 30%. So if you have nine relapses a year, if you take the medication, you might have six. Right? And the more and more research and mining that I was doing, now bear in mind, the conversations that you're having with your medical professional are 100% conventional medicine. There's no conversation around vitamin D. There's no conversation around plant-based nutrition, around exercise. It's very, very skewed towards Big Pharma.

; And I just became quite annoyed and upset as more and more information that I was finding, and I think this is one of the best times to be alive because we have so much information at our fingertips, and that needs to be directed in the right challenge, but I started to find credible people throughout the world like Dr George Jelinek [00:27:00] who has MS, whose mother died from MS. He's created a program called The Overcoming MS Program who has thousands of people committed that program, who has an incredible book, which is my manual.

; And for the first half of that book, he talks about the alternative approach to dealing with your MS which is vitamin D. It's omega threes, exercise, mindset. And at the back of it he talks about medication. And I find that fascinating because here I was four or five years into this, why did nobody tell me about this book. Why have I to find all of this stuff myself? And I started going through all of the emotions including anger and resentment. And to be honest with you, Barry, the more and more I've been digging in this the more and more I became uncomfortable with the experience that newly diagnosed patients are going through, not just in Northern Ireland, but all across the world.

Barry: Yeah. And was it as a result of reading that book that you decided to go on a plant diet?

Conor:; So really, [00:28:00] I think what I did was courageous because I decided in April 16th to stop injecting medication, and that's not something that I advise people to do. And what I advise people to do is I share information. I don't give advice around dealing with MS. I share information, and I point people to resources. But I had taken the decision that if this stuff isn't improving my physiology, and then I watched the film called "The Living Proof" by Matt Embry. His father is a urologist. They have lots of science behind them. Dr George Ebers is retired now, and he was one of the most highly thought of neurologists in the last 50 years. And Dr George Ebers basically says on record that there's no long-term trials to show that any of this disease medication that MS patients take actually benefits you.

; So it was a cocktail [00:29:00] of information by over a period of years where I took a very serious decision to stop the medication, and if I was going to stop it, I needed to replace it with a different approach and through watching "Forks Over Knives," through reading "The China Study," through watching and researching Dr Colin Campbell, Dr Esselstyn [Caldwell 00:29:23], Dr Michael Greger, a number of very well respected doctors who have great integrity and are really rocking the American market at the moment.

; I spent a lot of time studying what they were saying about disease and illness. And what is MS? What's at the heart of every single condition at the moment? Inflammation. And I needed to reduce the levels of inflammation in my body because if there's no inflammation, then the central nervous system won't attack my myelin, and I figured the best way to do that post all of my research was to pivot into a plant-based diet. [00:30:00]

Barry: And what is it that's important about a plant-based diet? Is it what you are eating or what you're not eating? Because obviously you're cutting out meat. You're cutting out dairy. You're following presumably a vegan diet now.

Conor:; Yeah, pretty much it. I think, well, the first thing I don't want to sort of . . . I think sometimes there's nothing worse than anyone pontificating their freedom of what people should and shouldn't eating because it's quite a pastor thing. For me, I like to stick to the science on this one because the reason why I cut dairy out three or four years ago was because it's high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Saturated fat and cholesterol doesn't go well with people who have MS. There's a connection between people with MS who continue to take dairy, tend to have worse outcomes. So it's a scientific area there and enough science to show that MS patients should consider their views on dairy. So the dairy had to go. That went first. And then whenever I watch "Forks Over Knives" and "What the Health?" and "The Food Choices" documentary, I read [00:31:00] Colin Campbell's books.

; I mean, there's quite a high level of cholesterol and saturated fat in meat and hormones and all sorts of stuff. Really what I was trying to do was to get as much good stuff into my body as possible. There's a Dr Terry Wahls who is living with MS. And Dr Terry Wahls has a TED talk and over 20 million people have seen this TED talk and it's called "Minding your mitochondria." And that was a game changer for me because it's 19 minutes long, and Dr Terry Wahls who was a neurologist got MS, was on a steady rate of decline, was in a chair and she was taken all of the medication under the sun she had access to through her neurology team. She was still declining.

; And then she figured out that she was going to stop the medication and then treat this through food and nutrition, which was complimentary to brain health. And this is all on the record. So it's Dr Terry Wahls who is actually a lady [00:32:00] doctor, T-E-R-R-Y W-A-H-L-S. Fascinating. She's written her own book "The Wahls Protocol." But through nutrition, she not only stopped her decline but over the next 24 months, she improved, she got out of the chair, and she's now settled into work, and she's talking around a lot of the American TV shows. So it became too much of a coincidence that I was finding people like Dr Wahls, Dr Jelinek, and others who were experiencing a good response to this kind of approach.

Barry: And, Conor, your third response was to take up exercise. But it wasn't a normal amount of exercise. It was to go for endurance distances and endurance sports. Can we start by talking about an Ironman for people who are not too familiar with it? What are the disciplines in an Ironman, and what are the distances?

Conor:; So an Ironman is the long-distance triathlon. It's a 2.4 mile swim. [00:33:00] It's 112 mile bike, and it's a 26.2 mile run.

Barry: And when you train for an Ironman now, what would a typical week of training let's say you're four months to go before you've got an Ironman competition. What would that training look like? What would a week of training look like?

Conor:; I think people talk about the Ironman and, you know, once you get actually get your head around this event, it's not over three days, that it's all in one go. You go, "God, I could never do that." You actually do your Ironman. It takes about six months to train for an Ironman. I've done that many of them now. I have prepared that much for them that I now know that's a six-month block. And you do your Ironman in January, February, March, April, May, and June. And if you're racing in July, that's your glory lap where you go out and you smile and you wave to people and you get all of their accreditation. And I think the problem with people is they focus all on one day, and they think about [00:34:00] the training afterwards.

; But I've been able to flip the switch because I know that if I'm going to do Cork next year, which is the first full Ironman in Ireland, which I'm really drawn to at the moment, well, my Cork Ironman is nearly starting in my head now because I'm thinking about it, but I had been wrapped into that training in January time. So a typical for me personally. One of the problems, like if you want something done, ask a busy man. I'm a single parent of two young kids. As you know, I've got this business which is roaring, and it's got a real chance to do something special, and then I'm training for Ironman.

; So how do you do it? So you do it because you have to be incredibly disciplined and incredibly organized and incredibly self-reliant, which is something I mentioned at the top of the conversation. So a typical week sort of three months in to a six-month training block where I would be training and most lunch times for 45 minutes doing swimming or cycling or running, and then I would do the longer stuff starting out maybe two-hour run the Saturday, two-hour bike, and build up to maybe four, five hours on Saturday, five hours on Sunday over the six months. [00:35:00] So it's a fascinating journey as you know.

Barry: And you say on your website that an Ironman is a head game. What was in your head the night before your first Ironman, and were they the same things as when you are lining up at the start line the next day?

Conor:; Yeah. So I think if you are drawn to, you know, there's a lot of preparation in an Ironman, and I personally now believe that it's about 70% or 80% mental. And I think it's a mind game. It's a head game. You need to do a lot of research. I read a lot of books and one of the reason I wrote "Ironmind: Against all Odds" was I didn't think that there was a great book out there for people who wanted to be an Ironman, and that was one of the reasons I did write that book.

; But I've done a lot of research, and I put a lot of effort into that first one [00:36:00] from Mallorca. And I think once you commit to it, then it's actually quite enjoyable. I mean, they say that something becomes habit after 21 days. And once you actually get the first month's training block over, you actually start getting into it, and you should start enjoying it. The trick is to try and stay injury free.

; So you need to make sure that you're getting regular massage and stretching from maybe yoga or Pilates may come in. You need to be incredibly well organized. I mean, I follow a guy called David Goggins, and David Goggins is the only guy in the world has completed air, land, and sea training for the U.S. Marines. And I mean, if I'm struggling mentally for anything, like this week I had a difficult week of work, and whenever I'm challenged, say, in the work environment, I go back to my Jim Rohn and listen to him in audio, and he helps me.

; If I'm struggling from my mental health or from my mental training perspective for Ironman, I put somebody like Goggins on YouTube, or I read some of the stuff or I listen to. I just [00:37:00] think there's so much potential in each of us. The challenge and sad at the moment is most people you meet is they just won't do the work. And the reason for that is just, and they're just in their comfort zone.

Barry: And when you went to the start line, I'm guessing that you would have known that by that time some 40 people at least had died doing Ironman competition since the whole thing started in the late 1970s. So were you at all worried about that aspect of it?

Conor:; Yeah. Well, I was and I don't downplay that at all because it's a very serious test for anyone to take on board. I think now it's about 48 fatalities in total, and for me, my goal was I have two young children, was no matter how determined and I'm loving the journey at the moment, but no matter how determined I am to keep going, I've two young people here I need to be there to look after. [00:38:00] So like my goal and my only goal in Ironman all the time is to finish alive. You know, but I'm not keen on doing 11-hour Ironman. It doesn't remotely interest me. I have enough to be worried about, about all the mechanics, my health. I'm running with MS. I know one or two other people in the world who have MS and have done an Ironman now. So no, it's a really challenging [inaudible 00:38:32].

Barry: When you went over the finish line that day in Mallorca on your first Ironman race and you heard the commentators say, "Congratulations, Conor Devine, you are an Ironman." How did it feel?

Conor:; Well, for me, it was, in a way, closure [00:39:00] for me because I do a lot of these endurance stuff because a lot of people think I can't. And I think I can't sometimes because of my illness and because, let's face it, most people with MS can't run marathons and can't do endurance races and are not doing Ironman races. So for me, it gives me a huge sense of achievement and relief, and I wanted more but at that particular time, it was just a very emotional thing. I was very lucky in Mallorca. I had all my family with me, and my two children actually met at the finish line, and it was just an amazing experience, probably the best experience in a long, long time. So overwhelmed, exhausted, but very happy.

Barry: Sure. And Conor, you've mentioned discipline and self-discipline a few times already. Also on your website, I found a quote on it and it read like this, "Discipline is a fantastic characteristic to have in abundance no matter what it is [00:40:00] you are trying to do or accomplish." When I read that, I was reminded of a guy who hosts a podcast called "Jocko." I don't know if you've come across this guy. He's a former Navy Seal and a scary individually. He's so pumped up and motivated. He's just untrue. He would say the lack of discipline is the root of much of the evil in the world or much of your own individual evil. He said if you want to accomplish more, you simply need to tighten up your own discipline. So I'm just very curious, have you always been highly disciplined, or is it something that you've had to develop to compete as an Ironman, and is it something that you actively have to work on?

Conor:; Yeah. So I think discipline is something that you're not necessarily born with at all. I think it's something that you can work on, you can develop. You [00:41:00] absolutely you can develop. I mean, as for me personally, I was a regular guy. I've done well in sport. I was doing well professionally, October 20th, and then I was wiped out with this illness. So the person that's talking to you today is a completely different person than the one I thought maybe and maybe for the better because it's taught me a lot of things. And I think over the last 10 years, and I mean, I talk about the Ironman, the Ironman is not just a long race. It's an experience. It's a life changing experience. And people talk about once they do when they want to do another one.

; But the amount of good that I got out of that experience and one of the best parts of that is this whole aspect of discipline. And if you look at any successful person be it Rory McIlroy or Richard Branson or any of these guys who are doing exceptionally well, discipline's at the core of everything that they do. And for me personally, whether it's building the business or building relationships or training for an Ironman or training [00:42:00] for 5K, if you don't do the work then it's going to become a lot more less achievable.

; And one of the guys who talks about this really well and he's a huge influence on me is this guy Jim Rohn who for me is the best . . . I don't like the word motivational speaker, but he's an incredible guy in the personal development space. He's now passed away, but he was Tony Robbins mentor. And he talks about discipline lot, and it starts with getting up in the morning and making your bed. You know, the small things, if you do the small things right, keep doing small things right. If you can bring discipline into your life and you can master the art of discipline, I don't think there's anything you can't do.

Barry: Well, it's a big statement to make.

Conor:; I think it's so important, and I've been reviewing where I'm at over the last . . . I do my goals every Christmas for the year ahead and my plan for 2018, I'm on point because I want to train hard for the Ironman in Barcelona [00:43:00] and Bolton. And then I wanted to spend the back end of the year, which is right now, reflecting and reading and mining information. And right now in the last few weeks, not because we're doing this conversation, I have honed in again on discipline and the benefits of bringing that into your life.

Barry: And, Conor, you mentioned Tony Robbins then and he talks about various things that he does to get into himself in the morning. Is there any particular routine that you follow in the morning just to get yourself in a place so that you think, "Okay, I'm ready for the day ahead so I can maximize what's in front of me for today"?

Conor:; So, yeah, I'm a morning person. I think mornings are the best part of the day, and I think my life sort of changed a lot in the last few years because I've got two young children. And that half hour in the morning that I had to be set aside for training or running or weights or whatever, [00:44:00] and it's now chaotic first thing in the morning. And I do take time out through the day to reflect and every day and mostly at night time. I'm because of how my routine is working out. For example, last night I did a 30-minute [turbo 00:44:16] at half 9:00 to 10:00 and I needed 20 minutes of stretching and weights at home. And I'm into affirmations. I'm into quotes. I often spend a lot of time on my own. I talk to myself but not in a [delaly 00:44:30] way, and I'm extremely focused by, so like I think what Ironman has added to me is that I'm extremely well organized.

; You know, my mom would say you're doing too much. Now you can do all those things. So I think that's brought in a completely different dimension to my personal life. And I don't have a daily . . . like I looked at meditation. I think I meditate when I swim. You know, there's different ways of mindfulness. I think everybody has to figure out a way that works for them. But, no, I certainly [00:45:00] would make time throughout the course of the day for myself. It's not necessarily the morning time, but there would be times throughout the day.

Barry: And what about things like caffeine, alcohol?

Conor:; So I worked out through my sort of nutritional work that I don't drink coffee after two o'clock, because pretty much it's still in your system they tell you after 10:00. I'm reading a lot at the moment, and one of the best books I've read in the last year was "Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner. And "Blue Zones" are areas in the word where the most centenarians live, and Buettner looks at why has this happen. And he puts 10 sort of points of how you can change your life for the better. And one of the things I've done is I've turned my phone off at 10 o'clock at night, and I leave it downstairs because who doesn't reach for their phone throughout the night and in the morning. It's the first thing. This phone controls our lives. And that was a life-changing experience for me as well in terms of [00:46:00] me finding my own space and finding my on time.

Barry: Sure. And, Conor, I've spoken to quite a few Ironman men, and I've noticed from really all of them that they all said to me that when they were training for their first Ironman, they actually thought that they would be just very, very tired at work and that possibly their levels of output at work would fall. But they found the reverse. They actually found that going into work having already done an hour's exercise that their brain was more alert, and they actually found that their levels of output was generally higher. Has that been your experience?

Conor:; Yeah. So the data and science would back that up. I mean, if you're going to be training for an Ironman or a marathon, definitely your lifestyle and your nutrition is going to improve. You're going to be training every day so you're getting physically fitter and stronger. You get mentally fit and stronger. [00:47:00] One of the huge differences that I noticed whenever I switched to a plant-based diet and started training every day was the absolute mental clarity. I'm speaking to you today with obsolete mental clarity. I feel razor sharp. And I think once you commit . . . if you commit to an Ironman and you don't go all in, you know, maybe you're not eating well and you're not sleeping well. One of the last books I've read they Matthew Walker, "Why We Sleep," made a huge impact on me. The value you can add to your life by sleeping, how important sleep is, what happens when we sleep.

; And that has brought a new dimension and to me personally because I'm always trying to figure out how I can get my body back. So to answer your question, I mean, your productivity increases tenfold, your form, you're better to be around, you know, you're not tired or you know, and if you can pull all this stuff together, I mean, I'm by no means a finished article but I feel as if I'm getting there. I've just got to work out [00:48:00] the central nervous system problem, but I'm now having a lot more great days but ignoring my MS, the benefits of committing to an Ironman program and sticking with the Ironman program are tenfold. It's just too hard to explain.

Barry: Yeah. Finally, Conor, I just wanted to ask you this. I'm bringing the whole three things together we've talked about in terms of your fight against MS. You genuinely believe that your response to your diagnosis has helped you fight MS and contain it, and I believe that you're genuine in holding this view. You've inspired a lot of people throughout the world. I know you tell people, when I met you before that you often get emails from people and saying, "Thank you very much for inspiring me to really fight MS." But no of us lead [00:49:00] parallel lives. You don't know how you would be feeling today if you had not decided to go on a plant diet or do endurance racing.

; So how can you be sure that how you feel now with MS is down to your diet and exercise? For example, if I was a holy man, I might sort of say to you, "Conor, the way that you're feeling now is because people out there have been praying for you a lot." Or others might sort of say, "Well, look here, it's just where you are. It's pretty much the natural course of your body and MS." So what convinces you it's to do with your diet and the exercise?

Conor:; So that's a really, really good question. And the answer is very, very clear, and it's very straightforward. Over the years, [00:50:00] I've been keeping a diary, and I keep it every night. And most nights, it's not often I miss, I would write how I am feeling today. And if you were to read that diary from 2009 to '15, "I feel like crap, really bad day. I went to work, come home early, symptoms nerve feeling in all my body [inaudible 00:50:27], feeling very down, blah, blah, blah." So 2016, April, I pivot on a plant-based diet. I stopped the medication. You have to remember that whenever you take medication there are side effects to all forms of [inaudible 00:50:41], and there's 100 things if say the facts to Copaxone on any [inaudible 00:50:49] MS.

; And often if I would inject my bone, for example, driving into work, I would feel awful to about two o'clock, like a flu-like symptoms. So [00:51:00] to be direct and on to your question, like last night, I filled in my diary as usual, 11:30. "Good day today, better than yesterday, more energy, you know, no tingling in my head," right? So I have been able to track that. And I think that's a really good question because not everybody keeps a diary. I think a diary is useful if you only get on life anyway just to see where you are to go back and check how you were feeling at that point in time, particularly in business, relationships, whatever. So I have been able to keep track of that because it's very difficult. You mean people have to take you at your word, and then there's the placebo and all the rest of it.

; So for me, personally, I think one of the things I'm going to do . . . right now I'm really into reading books again. I've read lots of books. And I'm into writing. I've written two books in the last three years, but I really want to write more books. And I think one of the things I'm going to do in the next 12, 18 months is I'm going to publish my diary of how I have been feeling and because it's fact, and it's something [00:52:00] that I've had to do because what happens is if I'm feeling well for three weeks, you can tell because I haven't been putting into my diary. I'm flying. I'm back to normal.

; And then the observation I would make was I've, and I've said this quite a bit, I have had a lot more great days post-April 16th than I ever had from 9th to 16th. And I didn't have great days. I mean, it was a disaster. I mean, to see me under read about me on the go online and say, "Oh, this guy…" I mean, I did the [inaudible 00:52:35] on RT in 2013. The response was incredible, but like and I'm not 100% healthy at the moment. I mean, I had a rough August but I'm far healthier person physically and mentally than I was pre-16.

Barry: Sure. Conor, we've reached that part of the podcast in which I've got a number of rapid-fire questions for you and the first one [00:53:00] is this, is there any book, podcast, DVD, or resource that you felt so passionately about that you've actually given it to others? If so, what was it?

Conor:; So two things, "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. I read it every year. And to your listeners, Napoleon Hill "Think and Grow Rich" is one of the most successful business books of all time allegedly. It should be in every school library. It's not. I to look for years to find it. That sort of changed my life. The "17 Principles of Success" there. Napoleon Hill worked with Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate from Scotland who went to America with no dough. He ended up on the most wealthiest man of all time through the steel business, and he gives Mr. Hill a 25-year project to write about principles of success, and he said, "I'll do you a favour, I'll introduce you to very successful people as in Rockefeller and Regely [SP] and Henry Ford. So Napoleon Hill accepted the challenge. It took him 25 years to produce this book. It's incredible. I've posted [00:54:00] that out to people I know, younger people mostly, not lots of people but I have sent out a number of people. Fascinating book.

Barry: And if you could hang a banner with huge letters on it from the Holland and Wolf cranes for a whole year, what would it say?

Conor:; So in 2013, I published my first book, and it's called "Attitude Is Everything." And I've often thought about this, especially when I'm struggling. It's all about really comes down to your attitude in life. No matter what it is you're facing right now today, it could be maybe have to sack an employee or maybe you're applying for a job or maybe you have an appointment in the morning. If you approach whatever it is, with the right attitude, be it an Ironman marathon, whatever, then that's the only way I think to approach scenarios in your life as to . . . And you can work on your attitude. You can develop it. You can improve it. And you do that through a range of measures, which we may have touched on the course the conversation.

Barry: Okay, so on the banner it would be "Work On Your Attitude?"

Conor:; No, it would be "Attitude Is Everything."

Barry: Okay. What is the one [00:55:00] belief habit or practice that has propelled you forward more than anything else, and if so, what is it?

Conor:; I think the benefits of pivoting and transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle and that's be played a huge role and me as a person it and a half years and my children are plant based in terms of the health benefits, the mental clarity because without lifestyle it becomes more movement, more exercise. And that's what happens whenever you commit to that, and I think that's a work in progress with me, but it's a major change. I mean, we've grown up in a meat environment. That's just how we live in Ireland. And to make that switch is a big data.

; But I think for me, it's been easy because I've been doing it for health reasons. And then I have now benefited off the back of that decision. So that's somewhere I know. I'd love to cook. I enjoy cooking. That's a big part of…because one of the one of the things people challenge you with is, "Well, if you don't eat meat, what do you eat?" And there's just a plethora of stuff you could go into after that. [00:56:00] So, no, plant-based lifestyle has been a big change for me.

Barry: And finally, Conor, what one piece of advice would you give to your 16-year -old self?

Conor:; So I think to keep it simple, I like keeping things simple in life. Nothing is permanent. So what I mean by that is the last 10 years for me have been credibly difficult, incredibly rewarding, but nothing is permanent. So no matter it is you're going through in your life, like I remember when I was diagnosed with my asthmatic dad who doesn't say too much was particularly struggling with accepting that. And he said, "Look, things will work itself out over time."

; And over the last number of months and weeks, I've been sort of doing a lot of reading, and I came across this phrase as I thought it was, you know, nothing is permanent. So the highs and the lows. And then you look at people who even [inaudible 00:56:56] have been hugely successful and they've got all the toys [00:57:00] and all the bits and pieces, and then their lives is ruined. So it's very important to stay humble and stay modest and stay very aware of yourself and that enjoy the highs but there's going to be lows, but that nothing is permanent. So I thought it was a nice thought to take into your day.

Barry: Conor, unfortunately, we're going to have to wrap it up here. I feel we could talk for another hour, but we've done a good hour there. So it just leads me to thank you so much for your time. Thank you for doing this podcast with me. You're a fascinating man. You're on a fascinating journey, and good luck to you in the future. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Conor: Thanks very much, Barry.


This article is correct at 24/09/2018

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.