Recently I sat down with an old school friend, Thomas Whitehead (TJ). I first met TJ at sixth form, where we became good friends.
In the years since Sixth form, as is so often the case, different life paths mean we’ve only sporadically kept in touch and crossed paths a couple of times each year.
A few months ago I noticed a new venture he was working on called “Believe in Lean” — a coaching programme TJ has built, aimed at helping people transform their bodies and build confidence. Looking through his Instagram, he’s clearly undergone a body and mind transformation — coming across as highly confident, transparent and honest.
I was highly intrigued, as it wasn’t something I would have expected from the person I knew at sixth form. Definitely not a ‘geek’, it’s fair to say TJ struggled with discipline and authority at sixth form and school, often finding himself in trouble. So much so, he nearly dropped out of the sixth form.
Nowadays the business owner behind Believe in Lean seems a complete stranger, so I grabbed some of his time to talk about business, his school years, the importance of taking action, and how teaching children in China English was the kick in the ass he needed.
Joe: At school, would you say you were a naughty kid?
TJ laughs: 100%. No focus, no direction, bit of a loser. In the sense that being a cool kid is being a loser. You think it’s cool, but it’s not.
Joe: Do you have any regrets about that? Or do you think that has helped you drive to where you are now?
TJ: The latter. I haven’t ever really regretted anything I’ve ever done.
TJ at sixth form was definitely a wind-up merchant. He was the kind of person that would act spontaneously, without much consideration of what the consequences would be.
Through Believe in Lean, he regularly talks about the importance of mindset and taking ownership of your actions. This couldn’t be further from 18-year old TJ.
Joe: What would teenage you have said to someone talking about “Mindset”?
TJ cracks up laughing: I’d have laughed them out the door. I’d probably have thrown an egg into their face.
This made me laugh — I was once on the end of one of TJ’s ‘eggings’. Not a nice experience.
Joe: So what’s changed? Have you matured? Have you had any life experiences that have made you change?
TJ: Not really, but I have had a lot of shit go on. I was beaten up so badly I nearly died.
This goes back to an incident when TJ was set upon by 3 people in a public toilet when he was at Mayday, a tradition celebrated in the town of Padstow. They left him lying unconscious in the toilets where he was later found and taken to intensive care.
TJ: I look back on that incident and although it was a tough beat down to take, I realise I have to take some responsibility for it happening. I got myself in a dangerous situation.
Joe: Do you think you’ve just matured?
TJ: Yeah. And moving to China. Having the break, in China, allowed me to get away from all the toxic shit that was going on. I honestly think it helped me unlock my brain.
Joe: So taking yourself out of that comfortable space (Cornwall)?
TJ: For sure. Just getting away from the partying, drugs and being surrounded by people that aren’t really going anywhere. Weekend cornish life is not what I wanted.
Cornwall is a quiet place, without much entertainment for the young. If you don’t surf, the winter can be a long boring slog, with weekends of partying the only reprise. Stepping out of Cornwall sounds like it was the best thing that could have happened to TJ, allowing him to break a cycle of weekend to weekend. It’s where he clearly began to take action, a recurring theme throughout this interview.
Joe: So if China was what unlocked you, what made you go to China?
TJ: I had finished Uni and wanted to travel. But I wanted to travel in a way where I wouldn’t come home skint. Cara (TJ’s long term partner) said we could go to China and teach English. At first, I was like China. What? Cara was desperate to do it. I looked into it and thought why not. This could be the best thing ever, like rehab and detox. You can’t be around that toxic shit because it’s a communist country. You stay within the law, or you end up in jail. Simple.
TJ: I started counting the days that I hadn’t done anything. It was sick.
How did you get into Believe In Lean?
TJ: We were living in China, and we were pretty comfortable. As we were finishing our second year, I knew I had a good CV, but I just wasn’t keen on going to work for someone else. Thinking about starting at the bottom of the ladder at 26 was definitely not my vibe. I’ve never liked the idea of it. In fact, I’d always known I would own my own business, I just was never sure what this would be.
Lots of people say they would like to own their own business, but hardly any of them take the action needed to achieve this step. An important step to take is changing your mindset.
Mindset is something that has become a big part of TJ’s life. Not only does he work to change the mindset of his clients, he openly admits he’s on his own journey.
Whilst in China, TJ’s mindset journey began when he was reading various books focussed on investing in your future.
He started this by buying a £1000 course during a lunch break at his school. This course was focused on affiliate marketing, but he soon realised this wasn’t going to be for him. After some more exploring, and a phone call in the back of a hummer in the middle of Shanghai, he had the idea about selling his own high-ticket service.
Things began to fall into place as TJ underwent his own fitness journey in China.
Joe: Were you actively going to the gym in China?
TJ: Yes. China was the best time to escape from the shit that got in the way of the gym; partying, going out etc.
Joe: Had you consistently gone to the gym before China?
TJ: Not really, I’d always loved it. I’d start going to the gym, begin to see results and then fall off. I’d always told myself I was going to get ripped and get into shape, but I would never do it. But I wasn’t doing that, my actions weren’t matching up with what I was saying.
Joe: So China was when the gym became a priority?
TJ: Yeah. And I had started to figure it out. I was getting a six-pack, starting to lose body fat. I was getting lean.
Joe: So while you were looking at your own venture and investigating various ways to make money, you had been gyming alongside? What made you put them together?
TJ: Well, I started to think why would I affiliate market, when I could sell my own product. I was in great shape, and I loved it. I loved taking my T-shirt off. Every day I’d show Cara and tell her to look at my six-pack.
TJ comes to life when he talks about his own journey in the gym. Clearly, he’s passionate about it and the results he has achieved.
TJ: I had figured out how to do it. I’d figured out nutrition, so I thought I can help people do that. I love the gym, it keeps me accountable. I love making money from doing things I’m passionate about. Coaching also has a positive impact on the world. Believe in Lean lets me do these 3 things.
Since I last saw TJ it’s clear he’s undergone a body transformation. At 6foot1 he was always a little bit on the scrawny side, but that’s no longer the case. It’s clear to see why people want to work with him.
Online coaching has exploded over the last few years, and competition is fierce across all sectors. To make it, you need to make yourself stand out, and you also need to post consistently engaging content to your followers. Everything you do becomes transparent, with your life being documented on social media for everyone to see.
TJ’s journey is well documented across Instagram and his social media accounts. It’s easy to follow from where he started his coaching program, the transformation he has undergone himself, and also the clients he has worked with.
Everything is out there for everybody to see — meals, workouts, his day-to-day life. I know that TJ used to be quite a private person.
Joe: Before Believe in Lean, you were highly inactive on social media. Now you obviously have to put out consistent content that shows who you truly are. How do you deal with that?
TJ: Ah. That’s actually the hardest part. I hate hearing myself on the camera. I hate putting anything on social media, but I’ve learnt I need to build up myself as a brand, and that means I have no choice but to grow my online presence.
Hearing TJ talk about his brand and building it up is fascinating. And he is building it up. He’s currently working with a lot of clients, has over 16,000 Instagram followers and regularly holds Instagram live sessions with some of the biggest names in the fitness world.
If you look through his content, you can see transformations of clients he has worked with. They are highly impressive, his program clearly brings results — but what is behind the success of his clients?
With the nature of his work, the hardest thing to do is to get clients to take action. No matter how much they may want to improve themselves, TJ can only guide people, they have to take action themselves.
Joe: Some clients must hate the idea of going to the gym, how do you get around that?
TJ: It’s always a difficult thing with clients. Normally it comes down to a few things. One of these is people feel like they are being judged. I tell my clients if they are being judged, it’s for all the right reasons, as people will be showing respect for you wanting to be in the gym. Everything you think about being judged is in your head. Trust me, I’ve been there, it’s all in your head.
TJ: Once you get to the gym you are there to work. You are focused. Be distraction-free, get in there, work hard, and get out. Your results in the gym are a thousand times better if you follow that rule.
Although TJ is focused on coaching people to become Lean and lose body fat, it’s clear he’s starting to take on the role of helping people with their mindset too.
TJ: I like it when clients have to step out of their comfort zone, it means they are developing as a person. Every time they have to be uncomfortable, it’s helping them move forward as a person.
In my opinion, it’s all highly impressive. The transformation he has undergone himself, and the fact he’s able to share this with people willing to change their life is great. Helping clients eat healthier, lose weight, become more confident and all-round better people is something that drives his own growth as a fitness coach.
Believe in Lean is growing at an electric pace, and I look forward to following the success of a good friend closely.
If you are interested in learning more about Believe in Lean and Thomas, or would like to get into the best shape of YOUR life, you can find his details below.