Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pat Divilly: On social media I said I was a success - in reality I was broken and broke

Pat Divilly (29) is a fitness entrepreneur. It all started because his personal training business in Dublin didn't work out. He began again, in Galway, giving group boot-camp sessions on the beach. Born in Limerick, he lives in Barna, Co Galway

Fitness entrepreneur Pat Divilly
Fitness entrepreneur Pat Divilly

Ciara Dwyer

I try to get up between 6am and 7am. I always have an intention for the day. The night before, I write it down, just so I have some idea about what's in store. In the past, I didn't have this structure. As a result, I used to struggle in the mornings. The alarm would go off, and I'd hit the snooze button, thinking, 'Why would I want to get up?' Then I'd drag myself out of bed. This was back when I was working in a clothes shop and trying to get started with a personal-training business. Now I know that when there is a list of things to do, I'm happier. I think most people are happy when they are productive. It's good to be busy, but as long as it's the right kind of busy.

First thing in the morning, I get out for a walk, or, if it's raining, I'll go for a drive. I like doing this early, when there's no one around. I live in Barna, the most beautiful place in the world. It's right by the sea. When I used to teach fitness classes on the beach there at 7am - that's how I started - I'd see the same faces going for a walk. I couldn't understand the appeal, but I thought their consistency was amazing. Now, going for a walk is part of my routine. It's nothing to do with exercise. It gives me some headspace. I think how you spend the morning is important. Later on in the day, we don't have control about what happens - there could be traffic and there are obligations. Usually, I'll listen to a self-help podcast while I'm walking.

Then I go home, shower and have a coffee. I'm not a big breakfast person. I have brunch later on. Then I jump on the laptop. Most of my business is online. I used to run outdoor fitness camps, and eventually I opened a gym. But then a lot of people living outside Galway asked if they could get involved, because they had heard about friends and relations losing weight. I started delivering stuff online, and that became the big part of the business. I do fitness, with a touch of personal development.

In the past, I thought it was all about push-ups and broccoli, and now I see it as more holistic. I think the mind, body and spirit are all connected, so we focus on those areas. I'm a fitness entrepreneur - I do online fitness training for groups. We might have 100 people in a group, they are in a forum, and they all start on the same day. I run most of my stuff through Facebook closed groups. We give them weekly workouts to do - they can do these at home - and advise them about diet. I do content postings, and then they end up talking to each other online. The group dynamic works. It's about belonging to something, even if that is online, as opposed to meeting up.

People contact me because they want to lose weight; I tell them that they'll drop up to two stone in eight weeks. When I did fitness classes on the beach, I saw weight loss, but also huge changes in people's lives. Suddenly they were starting new careers, leaving abusive relationships and running marathons. All of these positive changes were a result of the principles of fitness: consistency, having a vision and being around good people. Those people turned their lives around. That's pretty much my story, too.

Years ago, I worked in a commercial gym in Dublin. When I was let go, I saw it as an opportunity to set up a business as a personal trainer. Up from the country, I was going to shine in the capital. That was the plan. I would train models for free in the hope of getting publicity, but none of that resulted in paying clients. In the end, I had to get a full-time job in a shop, but I didn't tell anyone at home. On social media, I pretended that I was a big success at the personal training, and that my life was great. In reality, I had to borrow money for my rent, and in the end, I couldn't even afford the €12 for the bus back to Galway at Christmas. I had to borrow it. I was 24. I cried all the way home. My dad met me at the station. I was broke and broken, and broken is worse than broke. I saw no possibilities. It was the worst couple of months of my life. I never want to be back there.

My parents were so supportive, and my father was full of suggestions for new courses. Eventually, I got a job in a pizza restaurant. I wrote to personal trainers, asking for advice. One man in England wrote back. He didn't know me, but he took the time to help me. That kindness gave me some confidence. I decided to do boot-camp sessions on the local beach. I got flyers printed and put them in every hairdressers in Galway. My slogan was, 'Drop a dress size in 28 days or I'll give you your money back'. I had nothing to lose. Five people turned up the first day. Three months later, I had 100 people. So far, 12,000 people have done my online course and I have 20,000 people following me on Facebook. Social media is a big part of driving the business.

In the middle of the day, I'll do some sport. I'll go to the gym or I might go swimming. When I'm not training, I'm writing. My third book - Upgrade Your Life has just been published. It's about taking back control and achieving your goals. A lot of life-coaching sells false delusions - dream something and then it will happen. That's not reality. I believe that how the day goes defines how your life is going to go. I advise people to ask themselves: what three things can I do tomorrow that will move me to where I want to be? Most people have huge to-do lists, but three things are achievable little wins.

In the evenings, I relax. Last year, I was working myself into the ground. It was all about the business, and I was afraid to step away from the laptop. Now, I'm making time for me. I don't work after 6pm. I've got it pretty good. I see friends and family, and I've got a new girlfriend. I enjoy my life. A few years ago, I saw nothing but roadblocks, but now I think anything is possible.

'Upgrade your Life', by Pat Divilly, €13.99. See patdivilly.com

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