The Head Plan’s Denise Kenny Byrne: “What we created was what we needed and that’s why it works”

Denise Kenny Byrne Pic: Evan Doherty

In a love bubble, just two days home from honeymoon, Denise Kenny Byrne and her husband Ciaran’s world was turned on its axis. Their joy turned to fear as Ciaran fell ill and was immediately admitted to hospital for treatment. He was diagnosed with leukaemia and needed chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant straight away.Their priorities shifted and they instantly knew what they needed to focus their attention on.

“Our world stopped spinning,” Denise told us. “But there was a realisation that we had probably been spinning in the wrong way, focusing on the wrong things.”

Sitting on the hospital floor at night, Denise wrote down everything she felt, journaled, meditated. Ciaran too. Shifting their mindset to what they could control, what they could change and how they could move forward, is what helped the pair through the difficult treatment and recovery. And this is where The Head Plan was born.

Their business, a personal development and wellness tool kit, took the country by storm as their planner sold out in its first day and their app soared to number one. What they want to make clear though, is that it shouldn’t take a catastrophic event to start minding yourself and while none of this will prevent bad things happening either, it’ll help how you manage the situation, and your mental health too.

Most recently, they’ve been tapping into this as they navigate the world as new parents, after welcoming their adorable little girl Charlotte (affectionately known as Lottie) last April. “It’s such an adjustment having a baby, I know it’s so cliche to say it but it really has been such a change,” she said.

And while she adores her little girl more than anything in this world, understandably, it hasn’t been easy figuring out their new way of life: “I felt a huge dip in my own mental health. It hasn’t been easy and I don’t for a second want people to think that just because I’m a life coach or co-founder of a wellness brand that I’m well all the time and have it all figured out – that’s not the case – but I’ve built up some resilience and I’ve a good support network around me.”

And that support network continues to grow, as just recently Denise and Ciaran appeared on Dragon’s Den, and managed to bag an 80k investment from Peter Jones, who’ll be working closely with the pair on expanding their business and helping them move forward. And while they’re expanding the brand, the couple plan to expand their family too, with a little sibling for Lottie later this year. With so much going on, we joined Denise for a catchup – and her very first magazine shoot!

Denise Kenny Byrne Pic: Evan Doherty

Denise, what an incredible few weeks you’ve had. It’s been all go, especially with Dragon’s Den!

Oh my God! We’re absolutely thrilled. We’re in such a nice place. It’s so good. We actually applied this time last year! We’ve always been huge fans of the show, even when Ciaran was in hospital, we’d watch it there. We always thought it’d be amazing to go on so last year, we went for it. Charlotte was only six weeks old when we filmed. I’m naturally quite an anxious person, I was a very anxious child, but for some weird reason, I felt so relaxed on the show. We’re so proud.

As you should be! So you and Ciaran scored an 80k investment from Peter Jones. What does that mean to you, and how will it help you moving forward?

We always wanted Peter. He’s the longest standing and most successful Dragon. He has a team who helps manage his investments. It’s almost like they bring you along on a mentorship programme, they want to bring the best out of your business. It was never about the money for us, it was always about the Dragon. Unlike other businesses going in, we were in a good financial position. We also have a really good foot in Ireland and want to do the same in the UK so Peter’s going to help us. He’s over filming Shark Tank now in the States, his connections are unbelievable. He was actually emotional after the pitch, he really believed in what we’re trying to do. He’s the perfect Dragon for us.

You’ve already achieved so much and just continue to grow. It’s no mean feat! How much blood, sweat and tears has gone into this?

So much! I’ll be honest, we’re a wellness business and I suppose you could say we were founded through Ciaran’s illness. I always journaled, even as a child. I’ve meditated since I was a child too. I’ve always had this self care tool kit. It was something I only leaned on though when I felt like I needed it. When Ciaran became ill, I realised I should be doing it every day, that’s why this works – you’re not going to be any use to anyone if you’re burnt out.

You just mentioned Ciaran being sick. When he was in hospital going through all the treatment, how did you keep yourself afloat and stay positive because it must have been difficult for you too, watching your husband going through it all?

When Ciaran got sick and we were told his diagnosis, the doctor was very straight down the line and said ‘You’re not going home tonight.’ It was two days after our honeymoon. He had to start chemotherapy straight away and was immediately brought up to the oncology ward. Our world stopped spinning. But there was a realisation that we had probably been spinning in the wrong way, focusing on the wrong things. I needed to be well in every aspect of my life, not just physically. I needed especially to stay well in my mind. I was that girl who was meditating on the hospital floor at night following a challenge with Deepak Chopra. I journaled every day and practised gratitude every day. We leaned into those tools and they really, really helped us. In those situations, that’s nearly all you have. I feel like they helped Ciaran in his recovery as well.

Is that when you started to study life coaching?

It came around the same time. I’ve always been super ambitious and love climbing the career ladder. I found that coaching helps you look forward and towards goals as opposed to therapy which is very reflective and looking back. In life I was unbalanced in the sense everything was about my career goals, I didn’t really have anything outside of that – hence the burnout cycle! I decided during Ciaran’s recovery that I was going to study it. I was on carer’s leave and went back to study life coaching. That’s how I created The Head Plan Method which is all about setting goals and looking forward, getting clear on your visions and planning actions.

Denise Kenny Byrne Pic: Evan Doherty

We’ve read that what we consume can really impact us, so are you very conscious of what you take in, be it TV, music, radio?

I’m a really sensitive person and always have been. I’m proud of that too, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m a huge empath; I feel really, really deeply. I’m very aware of the effects my environment has on me, so what I’m consuming in that day be it people, places, news, radio, it all has a profound impact on me and how I feel. I’m very aware of it. It can sound a bit bizarre but if you have the radio on in the background and it’s constantly bad news story after bad news story, even though you don’t realise you’re listening to it,
that’s seeping into your subconscious and ultimately impacts the way you feel.

Sea swimming is having quite the moment for its feel-good factor. Are you into that?!

Would you believe I’m not! I’m a creature of comfort and fair play to anyone who gets in the sea. I absolutely love the sea, I grew up beside the sea. For me it’s so healing and I’ll go for walks by the water as often as I can, but I won’t get into it! I get it though. But I love being cosy and warm [laughs].

Why do you think the wellness industry has exploded so exponentially over the last few years?

We found wellness through illness and for a lot of people in the wellness industry, it can take a catastrophic moment to get into it. I hate to go back and talk about it, but in 2020 Covid forced us to stop and assess how we were living, feeling, what we were doing with our lives. It voluntarily put a lot of people in that wellness space. A lot of people realised they deserve more out of life as well and they’re so much more open to it.

A lot of people are under the impression that manifesting, affirmations and setting intentions, all of these different aspects of wellness are almost preventative for the bad things in life but that’s not the case – it’s more about managing those times, is that right?

Yeah, it’s absolutely not preventive to bad things happening in your life. It merely helps build up resilience so when bad things do come, we can manage them better. After having a baby, people are obsessed with the bouncing back or after something bad happens people want to bounce back, but I feel like manifesting and coaching is nearly more about bouncing forward and your ability to move forward. With manifesting, I don’t want to say it’s a dirty word but I try not to use it that much because when people see or hear that word, they shut off from everything else because it’s got a bit of a bad rep. A lot of people throw it around and it sounds a bit like you write something on a piece of paper, close your eyes and you have a new job. It’s not the case. It’s all about getting clear on what you want, aligning your actions and working hard towards something.

Let’s talk about our thoughts. We have between 60,000-80,000 of them a day. When they start to overwhelm us, how do
we take a step back, shift our mindset and reframe it all?

Unfortunately the majority of those thoughts in our head are negative. When you tune into your internal dialogue it’s interesting to see how negative we are. We’re wired to be negative so it’s nearly a harder job to be positive! When I wake up, the first thing I do is practice affirmations and it’s been a game changer for me. For example when you’re thinking about I can’t and won’t do something, you need to try change it to I can and I will. I also meditate every single day without fail. There’s lot of things people can do.

Did you tap into that when you became a new mam too, because that in itself is a very stressful, uncertain time?

Absolutely. I felt a huge dip in my own mental health. I started feeling it around September but it really kicked in around November for me. Only in the last few weeks, maybe from the end of January, it’s starting to lift a little. I found it really difficult. It hasn’t been easy and I don’t for a second want people to think that just because I’m a life coach or co-founder of a wellness brand that I’m well all the time and have it all figured out, that’s not the case. I’ve built up some resilience and I’ve a good support network around me. That could be why people relate to The Head Plan so much because I’m just like everyone else; we’re all made up the same.

Denise Kenny Byrne Pic: Evan Doherty

That’d resonate with a lot of our readers and it’s nice to know nobody is alone in this. How are you doing now?

I’m good now. IVF was also very hard, we had a bumpy road with that. We had to do a couple of rounds and it took us a long time to have Charlotte. It isn’t easy. I’m doing well now and I feel so grateful and blessed that she is here. We will do IVF again for a sibling for Charlotte. Again, self awareness is key and it’s not easy. So many people go through it and it’s good to connect with others. I had a very small circle of people who’d been through it, some of which I met through social media, and they really helped me.

You had a big shift in your priorities when Ciaran got sick and it probably happened again when Lottie arrived too. Has motherhood changed you and your outlook?

Yeah, it has. When I became a mam, I pulled back a lot more. There’s a very protective element in me that I didn’t even know existed until she was born. It’s not that I was worried that I wasn’t going to be a good mam before she arrived, but you don’t know how you’ll be. I feel really proud of myself now of how I am with her and the relationship we’re building. I’m so proud of how she’s developing. It becomes such a priority. I’m not Denise the co-founder, Denise the friend, the daughter, I’m Denise the mam before anything.

Work and home life is very intertwined for you, probably more than most, as you and Ciaran founded this business together, live together. How do you strike the balance? Are you conscious of setting boundaries?

We are so good at this! I don’t know if it’s because Ciaran is a serial entrepreneur and he’s always worked for himself, but we were together about 10 years before Ciaran got sick so we always had our separate work lives. We’d meet at the table, ask how work was and then park it. At the weekend when we take Charlotte out for a walk, we’re talking about her, the week ahead and plans for our future. We’re really good at it and I think that’s why it works.

Denise Kenny Byrne Pic: Evan Doherty

Tell us Denise, with this creation, you’ve both helped tens of thousands of people across the world – how does that feel? Does it give you the warm and fuzzies?

I still cry. What we created is what we needed, and that’s why it works. I feel like people are resonating and connecting with it on a deeper level than I’d ever hoped for. I often describe it as a movement. It’s so special and it’s a connection of likeminded people. Everyone just wants to better themselves and it’s amazing when people realise they’re the author of their own story and they hold the pen. It’s so empowering and it’s amazing to be part of it.

The Head Plan is all about timing and going after what you want – but what do you want, what’s the next dream you’re chasing?

We’ve had a lot going on in our personal lives for a long time but now with Peter’s investment and Charlotte growing, we can really go after the plans we had before she arrived. There’s a huge amount there but I don’t feel overwhelmed, I’m just excited. Personally, we do plan on starting IVF again this year. Since Ciaran got sick, when I wake up, I just try to make the most of every day. Anything else, everyone is just trying to figure it out together!

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