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Unbox Your Mind (Irena O’Brien) Transcript

Making It – Episode 143

Unbox Your Mind (Irena O’Brien)

Irena O’Brien: I’m Dr. Irena O’Brien, and you’re listening to Making It. I run a business called the Neuroscience School, and we teach coaches and other helping professionals the neuroscience of change.

What I wanted to be as a child when I grew up, I wanted to be a nun. I’ve always suffered from anxiety and being a nun was great because then I couldn’t do anything wrong. They tell you everything that you have to do. You just follow the rules and then you can’t go wrong. I went from wanting to be a nun to an entrepreneur. The nun thing faded after a while.

And I did go to university and I studied accounting and I started working at an accounting firm. But it was one of these things that just was not satisfying. I didn’t feel like I was helping to change the world. And so after my third child was born, I went back to university to study psychology. And in my first semester back, I fell in love with neuroscience. I felt like my mind had been let out of the box. Like, there was just so much that I was able to learn.

It was really, it was mind blowing, the experience. How we choose our careers doesn’t happen by accident. I had this anxiety and this extreme shyness all the time, so I wanted to delve into that. I also have a daughter who suffers from epilepsy. That was another reason for going into psychology and studying neuroscience. I mean, that was the reason in the background. And then I went all the way to a PhD and loved every minute of it.

There are just so many insights from neuroscience that I got personally. People think that neuroscience is a thing that’s not understandable and that has no practical value. And that’s absolutely not true. These research studies, many of them have a lot of practical value and I use them. So, for example, diet, the gut brain connection. I mean, there is a huge amount of research being done about the gut brain connection now.

And that has helped me personally tremendously, like taking care of my gut microbiome. And it does affect your mind. It affects your mood. It affects your cognitive functioning. But most people really don’t know that. So that’s one of the things that made a huge difference for me. You can’t have a healthy mind unless you have a healthy body.

Teaching has really helped me to overcome my shyness. I remember the first cohort of students I had in a Q& A call, I was just so nervous. I almost like jumped out of my skin during all of those calls. And I’m just so much more relaxed, like four years into this; I’m so much more relaxed about the call. And I’m okay now about saying I don’t know. At the beginning, I did not like saying that I don’t know.

That was back in the day of teleseminars. And so I started doing some teleseminars. And that worked for me because nobody could see me, nobody could see that I read my notes. And then, for me, the pandemic has turned out well for me, actually, because there’s many more things over the internet. And when I speak in public in person, I start by saying that I do suffer from anxiety and that the only way I can do this is to read my notes.

And so I will read my notes. But then, as time goes on during that talk, I start to relax and then things get a little more fluid. So I stick less to my notes. But you can’t ever just stay in your comfort zone because if you’re staying in the comfort zone, your life is going to shrink because that’s just the way things are.It doesn’t stay static. So you always want to be pushing it a little bit.

I’m just happy that I’m able to teach now, that I’m able to speak in public. I did coach for a couple of years, but you know, as an introvert and shy, I was never good at finding clients. So for the few that I had, I remember one who was a lawyer. She was also into investments. And I could not get her to a level of self-awareness where I would have wanted to.

She stopped at a certain point. So I felt that it was a failure. But she came back to me months later and said it was a fantastic experience. So you can only take them as far as they’re able to go. And so I think probably where I had wanted to take her was the two biggest steps.

I started my program as a membership site, and I was involved in our coaching community. I think right away, I had 20 or 25 people who signed up for my membership program. But then they started to drop off and I was not getting new ones because I was not launching for new ones. But during that time though, I kept creating content. That’s when I created all my modules. So I tried and create a new module every month or two.

And because I had already done some coaching, I knew the kinds of issues that coaches work with with their clients, especially since I have a business background because I used to be an accountant. So it was more for the executive career leadership type coaches, but not exclusively.

I had people who stuck with me for almost 10 years. And then one December or November, I spoke at an ICF Quebec conference. And right after that, they launched the program as a cohort base. And I had 15 people from that talk who signed up. That’s how it all started. I thought, well, so I really have something here now.

An old boyfriend, actually my first boyfriend contacted me just a couple of months ago, and he said, who would have believed that you would be an entrepreneur? So I feel that I’m making it now. Making it is making enough money from something that you love doing, where you can support yourself, enough money to do the things that you’d want to do. And something that is worthwhile.

So my mission is to increase self-awareness on the planet. And I do that by teaching coaches and helping professionals who then pass on that knowledge to their clients because there is no change without self-awareness. What’s been exciting though, apart from the neuroscience, is building a business. That has been really exciting because that is all new to me. I found that really exciting.

A mistake that people make is not paying attention to what clients want. So in my own journey, when I had the membership program, people had been asking for a certificate. They wanted a certificate. Well, I mean a certificate is just for me So, I thought, well, I mean, it has no value, but they wanted the certificate. And they also wanted continuing education units with the ICF. And I held out for years that I didn’t do it.

And as soon as I started to offer certificates and apply for accreditation with the ICF to offer continuing education units, that’s how I got my first cohort, my 15, after that talk. Because it was a pilot, so it was kind of half price, and I was applying for continuing education unit. So those two things made a difference. Another common mistake on the way to making it is our thinking that passion is enough. But that is not always true because if what you love is not marketable, then it isn’t going to work.

And the worst mistake I’ve ever made is, so I’ll start my membership site and then people will sign up and then I don’t have to sell again. They’ll just come. Well, that doesn’t work, right? You always have to be selling. You always have to be marketing. I was shy and I didn’t like the process of selling. I didn’t want to get involved in that at all.

There was a coach that I had, a business coach. She was also a psychologist. She really did help me through with the anxiety part, or at least keep moving forward in spite of the anxiety. The main thing that she encouraged me to do was live teaching over Zoom to a few students. And when I finally did it, it was not as awful as I thought it would be. It was really quite enjoyable.

And one of the things that has really surprised me is that it turns out I’m a good teacher. That’s the comments I get and the feedback I get from all my students and that is kind of shocking to me. I’m just me.

I’m Dr. Irena O’Brien, and you’ve been listening to Making It. You can find me at

Goeff Govertsen: Making It is part of the Mirasee FM podcast network, which also includes such shows as Just Between Coaches and Once Upon a Business. To catch the great episodes that are coming up on Making It, please follow us on YouTube or your favorite podcast player. And if you enjoyed the show, please leave us a comment or a starred review. It’s the best way to help us get these ideas to more people. Thank you, and we’ll see you next time.