Baby Steps is How you Bring Real Change in Your Life w/ Brian Pennie

Mar 22, 2022

Welcome to episode 40 of the Mindful & Driven podcast! It’s all about how to not lose sight of what really matters whilst chasing your dreams.

Episode 40’s guest is Brian Pennie. He’s an author, speaker, lecturer, and life-change strategist. Brian was a heroin addict and this led to massive health problems. He technically died several times at a hospital but he turned his life around. He got himself cleaned, studied for a Ph.D. in neuroscience to understand how the brain works and why is anxiety making him prone to this addiction? He’s enjoyed it so much. He’s lectured and is an expert in the subject now. What’s fantastic about his experience is that he has experienced it personally and he has the science to back it up too which gives it a unique perspective that can make a difference in how people think so they can challenge their anxiety and what’s happening in their own mind.

His book titled “Bonus Time” dives into his fascinating stories in more detail and I really recommend it.

I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation! I’d love it if you could subscribe, leave me a review and follow me on social channels. 

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • How to bring real change in your life.
  • Why real change takes time.
  • How to set yourself up for positive sustainable change.
  • How to prioritize the aspects of your life that you should work on.
  • Why it’s important to take baby steps.
  • What to do if you want to make a change in your life.
  • Why it’s hard to make a change in your life.
  • How to achieve the change you want in your life.


  • Introduction (0:00)
  • Toxic positivity, mindfulness and the right context (2:13)
  • Micro habits, addiction, and balance (8:00)
  • Awareness is the holy grail (15:12)
  • Flying at 10,000 feet (18:29)
  • Playfulness as one of the core values (23:10)
  • What is something that brings you joy in your life? (27:09)
  • The secret sauce (29:35)
  • Using adversity as fuel for growth (32:27)


Intro Music:
“Himalayas” by Mona Wonderlick —
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free download:




Brian: [00:00:00] Hey, that’s the key right there. And I think what’s important for people as well. If they’re listening, they’re feeling, my god, I can’t be turning up every day. It sounds like an absolute nightmare. It’s back to what you said at the start Amar. It’s baby steps and life will get in the way. There will be days where life gets in the way, but you jump back on the wagon, you get back into it. When you get a chance, listen to your body if you feel it hurt. Don’t go to the gym and work out like a lunatic if your body is screaming, no. So it’s, you’ve got be intuitive within that as well and give yourself time. Be patient because real change takes time. 

Amardeep: Welcome to the Mindful and Driven Podcast, where we help you to not lose sight of what’s really important whilst chasing your dreams. guest is Brian Pennie. He’s an author, speaker, lecturer, and life-change strategist. Brian was a heroin addict and this led to massive health problems. He technically died several times at a hospital but he turned his life around. He got himself cleaned, studied for a Ph.D. in neuroscience to understand how the brain works and why is anxiety making him prone to this addiction? He’s enjoyed it so much. He’s lectured and is an expert in the subject now. What’s fantastic about his experience is that he has experienced it personally and he has the science to back it up too which gives it a unique perspective that can make a difference in how people think so they can challenge their anxiety and what’s happening in their own mind. His book bonus time dives into his fascinating stories in more detail and I really recommend it.I really hope you enjoy today’s conversation. I love speaking to Brian. 

Welcome to Mindful and Driven Brian. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Been a big fan of your work for a long time. 

Brian: It’s a pleasure to be here, Amar. I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation, because I knew you, we had that, as we mentioned beforehand, we had that little conversation in a group chat one time and we never actually got to chat one on one. So I’m really, really looking forward to this. 

Amardeep: Yeah. And your story is always to me like that shining example of how people can overcome such great difficulty. And you’ve not just done that, but then you’ve then gone and got the scientific background too, [00:02:00] which I think really made you stand out. Like if anybody else has done that kind of thing. And you must see it online all the time, where there’s lots of people giving advice now, and it’s lots of it comes from personal experience and many of those are helpful and it’s really good to relate to people, but because you’ve been to like such depth and come back, do you ever see any advice that people give there out that’s counterintuitive that doesn’t actually help people in the way that you think is best. 

Brian: Yes. Loads of advice. And I’ll, I’ll come back to that with one particular snippet. But I think the one thing, and this could be a little bit controversial. I don’t believe in toxic positivity, but I’m going to use this as an example because toxic positivity or what’s called toxic positivity, can work for some people. It actually works for me. Now, I’m if I’m feeling a bit low, I’ll say, I’ll say to myself, I’ll just get on with it. Go. Just, just, just push, just push here, put a smile, put the front foot forward. Act happy and you’ll feel happy. Now that doesn’t work for many people, and if somebody’s struggling with some kind of mental distress or psychological pain, that is really, [00:03:00] really bad advice. And I think what I’m actually saying is here that any advice, the human mind and the, or the human experience is so complicated, like people come to me for advice on addiction all the time, but I had my own journey and I can give advice to someone that’s been to me, I can give advice to the old me. I can’t give really good advice to other people. On a similar journey, what looks like a similar journey. So I think what’s really important is that the advice you give to anybody, obviously there is some advice that’s more generalized, but it’s got to be specific. And if somebody says that this is wrong or something is overarchingly, definitively and all, always wrong, or even worse, something works for everyone. It’s always right. You’ve got to be very, very careful of that specifically because not everything works for everybody and you have to know the experience of the individual and people have to know themselves as well to be able to find out what works for them. And I think trial and error is really, really important with that as well as to try different things, be pragmatic, and if you find [00:04:00] something that works, double down on that. So I think, I think that’s just that generalized advice to everyone that’s really, really problematic. 

Amardeep: Yeah. And I think it’s so common now because people work in absolutes and I’ve even seen it when people will tell advice about how you should write or how you should put yourself out there. They say, you should never say, I think, or you should never be not confident. But then I think that gives the wrong message because then it comes across as you need to do this, you need to do that. It’s like, not everybody needs to do the same thing that you needed to do. Like. You’ve got to work out their personality. And that’s what I really want to bring across on this podcast is by bringing them different people, with different life experiences, because then the people listening can relate to some people more than others and hopefully that helps guide them through whatever struggles they’re going through. 

Brian: Yeah. And, and the funny thing is it’s, it’s context specific, it’s person specific, but it’s also time specific. Like one bit of advice I often hear is that mindfulness is brilliant. It will work for everybody. And there’s an element, a mindful [00:05:00] state of being is helpful to everybody, but the practice of mindfulness is not helpful to everybody because if somebody has suffered with trauma in their life and you tell them to be mindful of their bodily experiences, well, they might have a panic attack. For me personally, I had a lot of childhood experience. It was like a physical, it was an operation without a general anesthetic. That’s another story. But when I was introduced to the world of mindfulness, that I was told to focus on my breath, I was like, I can’t focus on my breath, that’s where my heartbeat is. I’m afraid of my heartbeat, and I’m afraid of my breath. Can’t focus there. Now I got through that through nostril breathing and that I worked on it over time, but that would’ve given me a panic attack. So mindfulness is very beneficial to me now and that practice. So it’s time specific as well. So you’ve got the, all of these these tools are brilliant, but they’ve got to work in the right context, at the right time, for the right person. 

Amardeep: Yeah. And sometimes people need to take baby steps. Some people, they can’t just jump into something that’s been working for somebody else and I do yoga for example, and some people going to yoga is really intimidating and it might help us people in [00:06:00] different ways. But for other people, maybe they shouldn’t do a yoga class. Maybe they should work with somebody else separately first. Maybe that’s going to be the way that helps ‘them through it. And I suppose you doing breath work. Is that something you did with a professional? Like at the time or was it something you were trying to self teach yourself? 

Brian: It was when I was in a detox facility, so I was coming off my heroin addiction. I was, I was getting clean after 15 years of heroin addiction and I was in a detox facility in the height of a heroin withdrawal. So it was a, and it wouldn’t have been even a professional. It was just a, I, I talked to our clinical psychologist at the time. Now, now that I had my PhD, I, I it’s, it was just somebody that it was not just had a masters. But they had a master’s in psychology, so I done my masters as well before the PhD now at the time. Wow. They were masters in psychology. I thought they knew everything about the human mind and the human life and everything that’s ever to be known. Now that I’ve done my masters and my PhD. I know that nobody has all of those answers. So they were just introducing us to the, to the practice of mindfulness. That’s that’s all it was, but it was It was, [00:07:00] it was it was an interesting experience for me and, and something that I would say as well, that’s really, really important, like for anything we do, we either enjoy it and are rewarded. Cause we get something from it or else we, it, it, it’s, we’re punished by it and we avoid it. When I was asked to do the mindful breathing of the breath, that was punishing to me. I felt anxious. I felt like I was going to have a panic attack, but I remembered a nostril. I was like, wow, I can do this. Maybe there’s something in this. And I was like, oh my god, is this something I can actually do? It was highly rewarding. And I think any behaviors like that, baby steps is so, so important, because I, I love James Clear, like I read his book. I know you’re a fan of that as well. Many people are, but I think the most important message of that book for any habit and a habit is any consistent actions we take on a regular basis and in, in the, the science, the behavioral psychology of habit formation as well, the trigger or the cue of the action is the most important thing. And if something is really difficult to do, you’re not going to do it on a consistent basis. You’re not going to have that lifestyle change. So it’s got to [00:08:00] be something small, baby steps, something that’s rewarding, something that can be continued on, on a regular basis as well. I think that’s really, really important. 

Amardeep: Yeah. And there’s something I talk about a lot as well in terms of micro habits, because. I think sometimes people say, oh, start a habit, which is wake up at five o’clock in the morning. They say, I’m never going to do that. Like some people, it works for them, but for me, it’s too difficult and I need to make too many sacrifices in my life that I don’t really want to make. For some people that’s fine, but you’ve got to look at your personality. For some people, they never want to go out for dinner with their friends or stay out late. If I’m doing that regularly, then trying to wake up five o’clock in the morning, I’m just burning candle at both ends. I’m knackered. So It’s what are those small, tiny things which I can do, which kind of prompt me in the right direction, and when I do those, I feel good about myself. Right? You feel good if you’re able to do that tiny thing, which is good. [crosstalk] 

Brian: That’s the reward. And then, then the behavior continues and then it compounds. Then it, the consistency creates [00:09:00] momentum. Momentum drives that change and it becomes a snowball rolling down a hill. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And I think that’s where that’s where real change happens, really is. 

Amardeep: Have you got any habits that you’ve like, started, well, you started, back at the detox facility or just when you’re recovering, that managed to keep up this entire time? 

Brian: Yeah. And I would, I would be pretty, I don’t like the word rigid because I do think flexibility and ability to be emotionally and psychologically flexible is one of the most important things, but I would have a pretty strict structure. Now, my structure has changed since the start of COVID because I used to go up at five, but I wasn’t in a relationship. I used to get up at five o’clock. I used to go to bed at half nine and that’s what I’d done all of the time. I’m in a relationship now. COVID started to change the way I work. I live in a different area. My girlfriend won’t let me go to bed a half nine, because she likes to do all her things, and I like to spend time with her. So things have changed. So a couple of practices, so I do have a morning routine. I wake up every morning and I practice gratitude every day, but for me, one non-negotiable that I do have is [00:10:00] exercise and I could talk all day about the benefits of exercise, the science of exercise, the neuroscience of exercise as well. So I teach neuroscience in, in to, to the, the colleges in Ireland here. So, I’m not just taught, I didn’t just read it in a blog or anything like that, but the benefits of exercise in terms of your mental health, in terms of the mechanisms, the biological mechanisms, how it converts certain amino acids in your body, in it to help you to create serotonin, feel good factors in your brain as opposed to stress and anxiety, which creates neurotoxin for your brain. So exercise is the one thing from day one that I started, that is my non-negotiable. There’ll be a lot of other things like that as well, but I think in overarching habit, and it’s not really a habit as such, but it’s, I show up air every single day. And that’s the thing. I, I, I, I don’t procrastinate. I just, it’s an action habit. I’m action orientated. So I’ve kind of created this action bias. So when I find myself negotiating with my own mind, I say, uh oh [00:11:00] time to act and do something. And sometimes the action is a meditation. Sometimes it’s an action of chilling out. It’s not, oh, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive with the nature of this podcast, which I love mindful and driven. You need the balance. You really, really do. 

Amardeep: Now that you’ve kind of recovered from where you were, have you still found there’s times when you’ve struggled with your balance, and even though you’ve got this great mindset and you’ve been able to bring in these routines, obviously, there’s never a time where everything is perfect, have you had anything like that, that you then had a little bump and then came through it again? 

Brian: Well, I think you nailed it in the last sentence right there. There’s never a time when you have it all clicked, like, you know. If, I think by essence the balance we’re we’re on, it’s not a seesaw we’re, we’re balancing probably 6, 7, 8 different things in our life. You have your social life. You have your your intimate relationship. You have your career. You have your hobbies. You have money. You have your mental health. Your physical health. All of these different things. And when you tip one in one direction, you have, we’ve only 24 hours in the day, I would say the only person in the world that has balance over everything has somehow [00:12:00] managed to squeeze 40 hours into a day. That’s the only way really to have balance and not sleep at the same time. So I obviously had a horrific balance as a heroin addict, as you could imagine, it was all balanced toward to a drive towards getting heroin. And that’s all I really cared about. I, I did struggle. So when I got clean in 2002, Then I had this huge spiritual experience. I don’t even like using the word spiritual, just its energy come into my body. And I’ve really been happy ever since. And I do believe, like, I believe I was given a second chance at life and I say, I’m living on bonus time. It’s a bonus. This second chance is a bonus. The naming my [unintelligible] it’s bonus time for that reason. And it was a huge shift, huge energy into my life. And it was a very, a very still and profound experience in terms of just being in the present moment. And I lived my whole life compulsively thinking chronic anxiety. That’s what drove my addiction, but I had this shift in perspective that, so to put me on the path of academics, academia, and, and the PhD, cause I wanted to explore [00:13:00] the nature of the human mind, so I studied psychology and neuroscience and I found that language is a vehicle for emotion, like, when we, how we speak to ourselves has an impact on us emotionally. And that, that was the big findings that I had, and that’s where my research went. But in terms of balance, I, I had that spiritual experience. My mind went quiet, but I got into college and I have this natural driven nature. So I wanted to do really well in college. Very early on, I wanted to do a PhD. So I jump back into the rat race and all of a sudden everything was about academia and achievement in the academic circles. Now I had a little mini relapse in 2015. It wasn’t major, it was, a relapse as a relapse, but I was taking [unintelligible] for a flu, but I continued to take them after the flu. I was an opiate addict. So that was very, very, very dangerous. And I lost that awareness that I was gifted in 2004 then from that shift in perspective that I had. And it was at that moment, I remember I, I, I began creating a program where I doubled down on my emotional [00:14:00] and mental health, and that became the number one thing, exercise, being a core component of that as well. And I’ve tried to have a balanced life since then, but there’s always, it’s always floating back and forth. Like even last year I was doing my PhD so, I had to focus more on that. And it it’s really interesting. You’re talking about balance and one of the things I really want to get by the end my life this year, my, my world for this year, my theme for this year is around priorities and balance is a key element of that. So I’ve really set a structure, like I don’t like saying rigid, it’s flexible, but it’s a structure that I’ve set up to exercise in the morning, work hard during the day, and spend time with loved ones and have fun in the evenings, and that’s, that’s really the plan. Now at the moment I’m working five and a half, six days a week. I’m going to try to get that down for five in a couple of years, time, I hope that’s down the three. So for me, I think it’s such an important question, like mindful and driven. There’s a balance within that, but then there’s a greater balance as well, and I think we’ll always be trying to balance, juggle [00:15:00] juggle the balls. And we’re always trying to juggle many different things, but it’s just trying to slow down and and get, get, get a bit of a, I don’t know, get a bit of balance. That’s it, it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough one. It’s really tough. 

Amardeep: [unintelligible] is that slowing down, and that’s really hard for people who want to achieve things, right? Because you keep setting yourself higher and higher targets and you think like, oh, I rest after I achieve this, but you don’t because you’re like, oh actually wait, I could do that, or I could do this now. And that slowing down is so difficult for people with that type of personality and yeah, at the same time, if you’ve got that balance, if you’ve got that mindfulness side of you where you’re able to take things slower and relax, it gives you the energy to do that sustainably because what happens to, some people point is that they go so hard and then they crash and burn out. And what should happen then, and it should happen to me when it doesn’t, is you then slow things down, like, okay, let’s do this sustainably now. Instead, as soon as they [00:16:00] get better, again, they go straight back at that wall again, hit the wall, go down and run at the wall again. And it’s, it’s hard to break that cycle. It’s what I’m looking at is, you but lots of people reach burnout or close to burnout, and then, it’s how do you do it so that you’ve got that right flow state, right? Where it’s, things are challenging enough, but not so much that you have to crash. 

Brian: Yeah. 

Amardeep: And it’s difficult. 

Brian: It’s difficult. It’s bloody hard. And I had a conversation a couple of years ago. I reached out to a guy you may well know. He wrote a great book called Essentialism, Greg McKeown. And I got an interview with Greg a couple of years ago and I was starting to, starting to do well. I was starting to build, build a business for himself, getting a social media profile and stuff. And he says, you need to be really careful, Brian, of the paradox of success. It says, because when you get success, you will chase that success. And it could be really, really dangerous. And it really tips back to what we were saying earlier around, like I’m saying, like implement the practice that’s rewarding. When mindfulness [00:17:00] is rewarding, you’re going to do it when exercise is rewarding, you’re going to do it. So do things in a beneficial, things in a certain way that you find rewarding. So you can do what a, a long term basis. But the paradoxical side of that is that when you get good at something and you do lots of it, you will get highly rewarded and you’ll be on that treadmill, hedonic treadmill, the eudonic treadmill, whatever that is, and it could force you into a rabbit hole. And without that awareness, I think awareness is the holy grail. That is the thing that really helps you to take that step back, helps you to step down, to have balance, to have values in your life, to know what your priorities are. And it’s really the reason why priorities is a theme word for me. What’s my priorities? What do I value? What is most important to me? So I can then take actions that align with those priorities and align with those values. And it’s, it’s really, really critical, but again, in the midst of it, it’s hard to see. It really is. It can be. 

Amardeep: Hi everyone. I hope you’re enjoying the episode so far. I want to take a quick break to ask you to check in with yourself. There’s many people struggling with balance and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s tips that my guests might share can hopefully help you along the way, but if you already feel overwhelmed or burnt out, it’s probably best that you ask somebody for help too. For some, this might be a friend or family member, while others might feel like they have nobody they can talk to. If you’re one of these people, check out the link in the show notes, it’s for United for Global Mental Health. They’ve got health plans all across the world, with people willing to listen on the other side. It’s important to let somebody know how you’re feeling. Now, back to the show. 

What are the actions you’re taking at the moment to react to your priorities and to make sure you’re living the line with that. I, I remember hearing this metaphor a, a, a long time ago. And it’s like, let’s say the average person flies at 10,000 feet. So they’re flying at 10,000 feet. The inevitable curve balls, life will throw the curve balls their way like it always does, if you live in love, they can be big, fast curve balls, and they can hit your heart and for the average person, they might drop down to 8,000 feet, 6,000 feet, 2000 feet, or some people might crash and burn if a few things happen in a row. But if you put in that preemptive action [00:19:00] like you, whether it’s a mindfulness practice, whether it’s exercise, whether it’s gratitude, whether it’s self observation, which is my personal practice, which I’ll touch on now in a bit more detail, whatever those things are, spending time with loved ones, getting good sleep, eating good food, all of those big things that we tend not to talk about cause they’re very simple, but they’re probably the most important. When you do those small things right on a consistent basis. You’re not flying at 10,000 feet. You’re flying at 20,000 feet and when life gets in the way, it might hit you and you might have your ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of life, but you might drop down the 16,000, 14,000, cause people often say to me, do you ever have bad days? because I’m high energy and I always seem to be in a good place, and I say, yeah, but my bad days aren’t as bad as other people’s bad days because I’m putting in this self care capital that I know I have these strategies. When I feel a bit low and nil, I’m going to go for a run. I’m going to practice gratitude. I’m going to go and do something for somebody because that makes me feel good. That makes me feel joyful. And I know what my priorities are. I know what my values are. [00:20:00] I know what lights the fire in my belly. So I go and do something around that. So, I think a big problem for many people as well is you can just sort of forget these things. And the only way to not forget about them is to practice them on a regular basis, so this is where we’re back to consistency again. You’ve got to be consistent on a regular basis. So I don’t know whether this podcast, I don’t think this podcast is going out on video, but there is something for me. So that’s my list of what I do. And basically I have a value and I have a principle and the value, so I have a set of value. So clarity is one of my values. The principle is prioritize and execute that I robbed off Jocko Willink, a great action step if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed. So I do that on me to-do list and it’s a to-do list. It’s not even a to-do list of things I have to do. It’s a measurement and management system. That really rates how well I’m doing each day, but also keeps track of me daily stuff as well. And it’s just all reminding myself on a regular basis of what’s important, where I have to go, but most people have great plans and then it could be two months down the line, and all of a [00:21:00] sudden they might like, oh, I had a great habit I was supposed to be doing. We tend to forget it. So you’ve got to internalize these practices and make them part of your life that, practice that, make them become habits, daily habits that you just do every day, like pushing your teeth and getting dressed. Like we, we don’t, we don’t get up in the morning and walk out without our clothes on for multiple reasons. But one thing is because of, it’s a habit that we do every day. And I think you can do that with self care tools as well. 

We talked about this before we started recording as well, how it’s important to do those even in the good days. Because if you do, them in good days, it’s easy to keep them up in the bad days. If you’re trying to bring in a new habit on the bad days, when your motivation is already low, when you’re already not feeling good, it’s much harder I think. Whereas if it’s something that you’re just doing all the time, then by just kind of like autopilot, you carry on doing it. And it’s what people listening, it’s like, it’s really important not to try and seek out new habits when things are going bad. You try and do them even beforehand when you don’t need them yet. Give you that [00:22:00] resilience. 

Brian: Hey, that’s the key right there. And I think what’s important for people as well. If they’re listening, they’re feeling, my god, I can’t be turning up every day. It sounds like an absolute nightmare. It’s back to what you said at the start Amar. It’s baby steps and life will get in the way. There will be days where life gets in the way, but you jump back on the wagon, you get back into it, when you get a chance, listen to your body if you feel it hurt. Don’t go to the gym and work out like a lunatic if your body is screaming, no. So it it’s, you’ve got to be intuitive within that as well, and give yourself time. Be patient because real change takes time, but when you get there and you, you, you practice it on a consistent basis, it just becomes easy. It just becomes what you do, what you do, and, and, and the resistance goes away. 

Amardeep: It’s that case of, for a lot of people listening, like I’ve been in that situation myself is where, when something starts going wrong, it’s catastrophizing, right? So this is not going to get any better. And that’s where you got to build in those habits in advance, and like, you work out as well. Like you said, you work out what [00:23:00] makes you feel good and I think it’s quite easy for people to numb themselves where they’re not doing those things that they love even in the okay days. And a few examples I know of is where people, for example, they think they’ve outgrown some of their habits, they’ve just outgrown some of their creative passions. They used to love painting, but like, oh, now I’m an adult. Now I’m got a mortgage. I don’t, like, I can’t paint anymore. It’s like, why not? There’s no rule saying that you have to stop doing these different things in your day that you love to replace them with serious things or adult things, because there’s no rule saying that adults can’t play too. And I think play is so important part of your daily routine as well. Right? And I think that’s exercise for you, 

Brian: it’s so important. And, and like, it’s, it’s a huge part. So playfulness is one of my core values. It’s, it’s a, we, we have universal values. We all value courage, loyalty, honesty, but I think it’s important to think of those personal values to you. Like curiosity is important to me. Playfulness is [00:24:00] important to me. Boldness is so important to me. I love being bold, reaching out, trying to get big interviews with big people. I think one of the big elements of my life was that launched my own career, basically in the corporate world, I was reading Tim Ferriss’ book, Tribe of Mentors, and I’m like, I want a tribe of my own. So I reached out to the most successful people in Ireland. In sports, the arts, and psychology and all circles. I created an army of mentors from the back of that, that I can call to, when I’m struggling. And it’s, it’s an amazing, it’s an amazing theme just to, to act towards your values because I love being bold and it lights me up when I do that. And like I laugh at rejection at the same time. Some people don’t get back to me. That’s the nature of human existence. You’re not going to have loads of wins. So think about your, your core personal values that really light up and playfulness, you’ve got to have a bit of play in your life. Like kids are happy and playful cause they haven’t been, I won’t say ruined, but for the want of a better word, ruined by the world, programmed by the world with social media, whatever that crap is, they’re, they’re programmed out [00:25:00] of playfulness and happiness. So bring that playful curiosity back into your life. Have a bit of fun. It’s really, it’s really, it’s, it’s, it’s a great way to be. 

Amardeep: And I think also, we’re looking at fun as well, it’s important that it’s not that fleeting fun. For example, like with an addiction, right? Whether you use for an addiction, you can think, oh, that’s going to make me happy, but it’s not a sustainable happiness. Like, you can paint and there’s no downsides of painting, right? It’s not going to ever lead to a painful addiction, generally. There might be some people out there’s [crosstalk]. 

Brian: Well, maybe it’s out there somewhere. 

Amardeep: Maybe it’s out there somewhere. Like they paint too much. 

Brian: Yeah. 

Amardeep: If you can find that kind of thing, which is almost wholesome, right? It’s like, what do I love doing it? Do I love going for a walk with my friends? Or do I love, it doesn’t need to be what I love. It can be individual to every person and I might be completely bored by whatever you love doing. But you’re not trying to please me. You’re trying to please yourself. 

Brian: And I love that as well. It’s it’s, it’s like, it’s like, there’s certain behaviors that give [00:26:00] us pleasure. It’s like happy and sad, pleasure and pain. These are the, the di dichotomy of these things. But it’s like playfulness and these things that you’re describing there. It’s like that middle road, it’s like the [unintelligible] the way, that joyful way of being. It’s described in Buddhism around bliss and rapture and all these different things, but it has no opposite. Joy has no opposite. And it’s just that really good feeling, that good, wholesome feeling that you have, that can’t be dangerous. It’s just not a dangerous thing. It’s that middle, middle of the old kind of a thing. 

Amardeep: You just need to find that thing for you. And if you don’t have it yet, experiment. Like you said, it’s trial and error. 

Brian: Trial and error. Keep looking. Like, if you want to find out, like, imagine you had an experiment, then you wanted to find out what potential field you like best, what will you do? You’ll go out and taste loads of different types of field. So if you want to find out what lights you up, go out and taste all of the potential things that may light you up. Have a little nibble, have a little taste here, there, and every where, but expand your horizons. Like it could be tidly winks for all, you know, you don’t know what it is until you try it. You know. 

Amardeep: It’s one of these things. When I look at [00:27:00] the people that you can see and they’ve got joy and they’ve got energy and see like, could I, is what brings them energy, could that bring me energy? Should I try that and is trying to follow that and really not letting yourself be put down by the people. If you want to try something, and they say, oh, like that’s not cool or whatever it is, they’re not in control of your life. You are. 

Brian: And I just what you say there. It’s really beautiful as well. Just what is something that gives you a little bit of joy in the day and go out and reach for that. Like, like it it’s when you peel all of these things back, I’ll say it again. I said it earlier. We’re so complex. We really are complicated creatures. But if you want to be happy, there is simple little ways, like go out and find something that brings you a little bit of joy and do it on a regular basis. Like I heard oh god, this, I only heard his interview on the Steve Parr podcast recently, he’s a happiness guru but had a lot of pain in his life as well. And what, something that he does in his life is he watches a comedy that he loves every [00:28:00] night for a half an hour before he goes to bed. So he goes to bed with a smile on his face, having been on a laughing for a half an hour. I’m like, what a great way to go to bed. It’s something that I, I wanted to implement in my own life, but it’s just finding something that gives you that little bit of joy and. Do it, you know. 

Amardeep: I think we talked about this earlier. I think it was before we started recording about the ripple effect, is that if your have something brings you joy, it then makes you into a positive, more, like more positive mindset, which then means whatever you do after that helps you out. So if, for this guy, if he’s going to sleep happy, he then probably has a better night’s sleep, which means that he’s better prepared for the following day. So it’s like this snowball effect where if you have something good in your life and you can do it consistently, it’ll bleed into everywhere else in your life. It’ll lift you up across everywhere. 

Brian: It really is. And I think it’s a key, key, key connection there that, that you touched on as well. It’s like we, we talked about joy and energy, but they’re intrinsically linked. Like if you have joy, you are not struggling with race and mind, anxiety, worries. All of these things that steal your [00:29:00] energy, you rob your energy. You really do. So if you have joy in your life, you have lots of energy. And for me, energy is the currency of life. The more energy you have, the more you can do. The more you can give, the more you give, the more you get back. And you’re sending these little ripple effects all over the place. And if more people have more joy and more energy and we’re all giving each other energy, oh, what a, what a great place that would be to live. 

Amardeep: Speaking of that, what are you heading towards now? So you’ve been doing your PhD and you’ve just finished. Have you ideas for the future of, what you want your right lifestyle to be like? 

Brian: Yeah, I 100% do. So at the moment, I’m doing a lot of, it’s sort of the, the world has sort of been pulling me in a lot of directions. Like two years ago I was planning this business and I wanted to do this, that and the other, but I’m very lucky in terms of, I think my story has given me certain opportunities. The PhD has given me certain opportunities, the mentors that I spoke with and that the boldness factor of just taking a risk has given me crazy opportunities. So I’ve a mindset coaching thing that I’m doing. One-to-one coaching, it’s executive coaching that I’m doing. I’m loving that at the moment. I’m doing lots of courses [00:30:00] in the corporate arena as well. Lots of keynote talks and stuff like that as well. I’m reaching out on the international level as well, and it’s going great. But although I love it, I absolutely love it, there’s a lack. There’s, there’s an element of no, there’s no service there. And I always feel something pulling me towards doing something else. So I do lots of talks in schools, colleges, that’s me free work. I do wildlife for free and I love talking to kids, but I think the big mission for me is like I started my financial life again, my, my life again at 41 years of age. That’s when I lost my business. I’m 43 now. And. I’m really 2022 was really after PhD in the bag. I can really double down on the business, but I want to get myself financially free so I can do what truly, what I truly think I I’m here to do. And I’m starting a mentorship program. It’s the start of it that I’m starting next week. And it’s helping at risk teenagers in schools in Ireland. And I want to get into a government level and do that, but I need to get myself financially free first. I have no mortgage. I have no savings. I need to look out out after all those things. But once I’m in that position for me, it’s going to be really [00:31:00] doubling down on the work and the skills to help these kids. Like they’re go, especially the at risk kids as well are coming from trauma backgrounds, lots of, lots of suffering in the household and they haven’t got the skills. They don’t teach these skills in school. Like how to regulate your emotions, help to communicate, help to be happy, help to be joyful, help to have energy. Like these are the skills that they need to learn. So I think that’s the long term mission going forward. The big mission that I have is just to give my learnings to these young kids, because I think I can get in touch with those kids as well. Like there’s a picture of me when I was in addiction. It doesn’t even look like me. So I’m going to go into these kids and say, do you guys know who that is? So I’m not going to be the doctor talking about, oh, help to live your life. I’m going to be the person that was in the trenches with them. And I’m hoping I might be able to just spark an interest and give them a little bit of hope in terms of that and come at it from another angle. So I’m really looking for the secret sauce that will help kids to implement the strategies that I know work and how to do it. And I think it has to come from them. I’ve been working with a lot of people in Ireland who have [00:32:00] worked with kids and the best strategy seems to be getting the kids to talk among themselves. So it’s going to be more of a facilitary role, but trying to inspire them in that way as well. So it’ll be an interesting year to see how the initial tests go with that. 

Amardeep: What’s one mindset shift you think people could make that would really just make a difference in their lives and give them that greater positive feeling? 

Brian: This can be a difficult one for some people to swallow because especially people that are struggling, are going through a lot of struggles, if they have depression, they’re struggling with, with, with life and life is throwing a lot of curve balls their way. But my, the biggest learning in my life has been that adversity can be used as fuel for growth. So the biggest learning in my life was the biggest gain or asset in my life was 15 years of heroin addiction. Like the, the depth of that brought me the mindset I have today. But even when I released my memoir, what you call it, it was, it was supposed to be on a TV show in Ireland. It was going to be a big deal, but COVID kicked in. I still haven’t had a book launch. My PhD, the big study got ruined in the face of that. And I had all of these [00:33:00] adverse situations that have torn into great situations, if you have the right attitude. So the, the mindset shift is like, adversity is hard, but if you look close enough, I’m not going to say you’re going to make it better. But if you look hard enough, you can use it as an opportunity to grow and, and, and, and think of this. Like, I’ll give you a couple of examples is if like, if you fail at something, it’s an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. If your dog eats your homework or report, you had to do, it’s an opportunity to do it even better. I’m not saying it’s, that’s the best case scenario, but it’s an opportunity. If somebody is being mean to you or is being, let’s say a family member or a friend that’s being a bit mean to you, well, it’s a chance to practice your perspective taking skills step into their shoes, try to be empathetic, maybe there’s something struggling in their life. So there’s always a way of looking at it from a different perspective. If you lean in and use adversity as fuel for growth. It’s not easy and it’s this idea of being, being anti-fragile like the opposite of being fragile. It’s like Nassim Taleb’s book, [00:34:00] Antifragile. Talks about systems that grow in the face of adversity. But I think human beings could be anti-fragile as well. So use challenges as fuel for growth. If you implement that mindset shift, it’s a game changer. It really is. 

Amardeep: Yeah. And I think it’s one of the things where, you don’t necessarily need to see these negative environments, right? You don’t want to become heroin addicted so that you can then increase your strength. 

Brian: Yeah. 

Amardeep: You then get these scenarios which happen to you, right? Like you don’t seek them out, but it was very difficult for any of us to go through life without adversity and the thing is, you can’t change that. Like, if the past has happened, the past has happened. And if you choose to just ignore it or to try to brush into the carpet, that’s often where these longer term problems happen, right? Because like I said, for you, the heroin addiction wasn’t really the problem. It was the anxiety that led to the heroin addiction and the heroin addiction was you trying to mask it in a way, but what that led to you doing is facing the real adversity, which is the like trauma that you had before. And that’s the thing I think is, is [00:35:00] difficult to get my head around, but, and maybe I’m not explaining it as I want to be, but it is how do you face down the core underlying problem? And you can’t just ignore it. It won’t go away. You’ve got to work on yourself, like, okay. This has happened. I’m not okay with it, but what can I do about it? What can make this, I can’t let this break me. How can I use this as fuel? What help can I get? How can I make this into an opportunity to learn? As you said. 

Brian: Yeah. That’s a really, really good question as well. And it’s like, for, for me, let’s say so I was, I struggled with chronic anxiety. Like, as I said, I couldn’t even listen to my own breath. I was a heroin addict that if somebody said to me, I’ll give you a mountain of heroin, if you feel your pulse for 20 seconds, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I was terrified of my own body sensations. That was the, a trauma that lived in me. And it is hard to reconcile that. It was how can I use that as fuel for growth? Well, what I’ve done is I’ve been able to work with people who’ve who have had trauma in their lives, and I had that understanding that I have, that lived experience. So some of the depths, the depth of my suffering, [00:36:00] I’m able to use those life experiences to help other people. So that’s a way of using that as fuel for growth, but it can be, it can be really like at, at the basic level of somebody’s gone through an awful lot of trauma, there’s no way would I say them here would use as use that adversity as fuel for growth. It’s just too challenging. It really is just too, too challenging. So what I would say in that situation would be, you’d want to work with somebody who’s a trauma expert and a psychologist around that as well. But it’s like why I wouldn’t tell somebody to be mindful of their trauma or their bodily sensations when they’re in that. But you could teach them just to touch around the edges, feel the trauma just a little bit. How does that feel? Come away from that? Don’t go into it too deeply and bring these sort of practices into your life. But if you brought them practices into your life, which will take time, it could be a lifetime of work. Well that gain of using self care and seeing that work and that will flow into other areas of your life. So that is the key thing. Using adversity as fuel for growth, isn’t going to make the, the bad thing go away or even make it better, but there’s always a silver line and [00:37:00] there’s always another of using that and that’s really the way it is. And if you do get like the things that to get under the bonnet, the anxiety, the psychological torture that some people are going through, especially in recent times, it would be dangerous to say to them, use adversity as fuel for growth. That’s that real toxic positivity that we were talking about, but it’s a sort of using that inner way to talk about it in the right language and give them the tools to be able to deal with that, and then let those tools then flow into their lives in, other ways. 

Amardeep: First, I could talk to you all day about this. Like it’s been fascinating talking to you. 

Brian: Same. 

Amardeep: But where can people hear more about you and like what you do in your book and your [unintelligible], all the amazing stuff you’ve done. 

Brian: Yeah. Cheers Amar.. So the best place to go, it’s, I’m actually revamping it at the moment, but it’s not closed now. And it’s my website. So it’s So that’s penny brian B R I A N P E N N I E. So everything’s in there, the book, the courses, the corporate work, if you want to contact me for anything as well. Everything is in there. Blogs, videos, [00:38:00] lots of free material on there as well, if anyone wants to go in and have a look in there, but it’s like, as I was saying, we are chatting beforehand. I’m revamping at the moment, revamping the website, revamping the brand and sort of just yeah, new horizons. Exciting, exciting times ahead I feel. 

Amardeep: The final question I ask everybody is, what’s one small thing that brought you joy recently? 

Brian: Wow. Well, do you know what it was a, it was a couple of minutes ago. I don’t know if you know, I had a big smile on my face. So it’s a memory that I hadn’t thought about in a while. And as we were talking about the young kids, helping the young kids and doing speaking gigs, it was like just popped back into my brain. And I think it was in 2016 when I start doing, speaking in different places and I started in schools, free talks in schools and all these different things, I still do the free talk at schools, but the very first school I went to was a group of second and third years. And I remember it being so, so nervous about doing this talk in front of their like 300 students in a school. But I remember at the end of the talk, I did, I was talking about my experience and I, the nerves were there, a couple of different little things, and I don’t [00:39:00] know exactly what I even spoke about. I’m sure it was self-awareness and mindfulness or something to that extent, self observation, maybe, and ability to, to observe and not react to the emotional challenges that we have. But I remember the second year kid. So second year in Ireland would be about 13 years of age. And he came up after me after the talk and he says, oh my god, oh my god, I’m going to do that. I’m going to do that. And I could see the sparkle in his eye and I was like, the, the, the thing I got when I realized this stuff is real, this stuff could work. And it was just like a, a seed was planted, whether he went back and implemented anything at 13, years of age is another thing, but a seed was planted, and I could see the joy in a space that in, in light bulb moment had dropped. And just a few, just 10 minutes ago that actually popped back into my memory and it just brought me, I could feel the joy. I was like smiling from the inside in body. And that, that was just beautiful at the moment. So thanks for that Amar. 

Amardeep: If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, I’d love it If you could leave me a five star review, it really helps get the message out further. Wherever you’re listening, it would be awesome If you could subscribe and share in your social media channels. If you want to see more of my work and advice, you can find all of the links in the show notes.  

Thank you again for listening and I hope you have a lovely day.

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.