Be kind to yourselves. We have become hard wired to just work and let life slip us by without taking a moment for ourselves. Our mental health is so important and we need to be kind and give ourselves that time. What I also mean by this is if we start mindfulness training to help us cope with everything that has being going on, we should take it day by day and baby steps. These baby steps are still steps in the right direction.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mona Pretorius de Lacey.
Mona Pretorius de Lacey is a 6-time Karate World Champion, CrossFit Games athlete as well as a Commonwealth Games medalist in Olympic Weightlifting. She is currently in the South African squad for the Olympic Games in 2021 in Tokyo. Mona also has an Honours Degree in Sport Psychology as well as an Honours Certificate in Mindfulness Training. You can find her online coaching business at Rawr Strength.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I would like to share the backstory of how I became an International athlete preparing for the up and coming Olympic Games as well as a business co-owner of RAWR Strength & as a Mental Performance Coach.
It all started at a very young age for my passion for sport. I grew up in a house where strength training was a part of our blood. My first sport I competed in at an international level where I became a 6x World Champion and a 3rd Dan Black Belt was Karate. Although sport was a big part of our life, I wasn’t always the most talented. I had to work really hard and train long hours to become a good athlete. I had to sacrifice playing with friends for training. I was away a lot for sporting competitions and together with this I had to keep my academic marks high in order to get into a good university where I could further my studies to achieve my Honors Degree in Sport Psychology. This could only be done with hard work, motivation, dedication and very good time management.
My passion as an athlete and the hard work I needed in order to achieve carried over to my current sport Olympic Weightlifting which I have been doing for 20 years. I have numerous records and international medals under my belt but my proudest would be my Commonwealth Games Medal I won in 2018.
I knew I wanted to do something that ties in both my passion for Sport Psychology (Mental skills training) and my sport. I owned a CrossFit & Weightlifting gym back in 2012 where again I had to balance being a gym owner with competing at a top level. Now I am currently seeing athletes both to improve and be a better Weightlifter as well as the mental side as a Mental Performance Coach.
I have always loved working with people and I believe my background as an athlete carries over well. I can now take what I learnt in my years of studying and combine it with what I have learnt as an athlete and a coach.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I would say my most interesting story is how hard work and goals can open up many doors for you. I grew up in South Africa and I still represent South Africa today on the International stage. Although I love my country dearly, I always saw myself traveling the world and doing big things. With my sport I got to see almost every single continent and I got job offers overseas which I probably wouldn’t have gotten. With my career as an athlete and coach I have since moved to USA, Romania and currently living in New Zealand. I would definitely say this is one of the most interesting things that has happened to me and where I am currently at.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I believe a great way to create a fantastic work culture is to have core values. When you have values that your company stand for and that you truly believe in and show care to your employees, they will return care to your business. Setting goals and having everyone share what their goals are for their position also creates accountability for each person and this way they can work towards something and know what is expected of them. Encourage team work and positivity to create the perfect work culture and environment. A great leader will lead and create something where others want to follow. Being caring and being there for when your employees need you is also a very important part of your roll.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My latest book I read was Change Maker by John Berardi. This book helped me put a lot of perspective into my business and how I can do things better. The business that John Berardi co-founded is very similar to my business and learning from people who have built their business from scratch and made it a huge success is very inspiring. I always strive for success in anything that I do and I also know the only way I will reach success is by learning and then implementing what I learned from successful entrepreneurs. Just like my sport, I had to make a lot of sacrifices to be where I am today and I want to take what I learned in my sport, that hard working skill, and do the same for my business. What made this book very interesting to me was how it gives business Ideas on how to run your business as an individual and how to run it once you have built a team. I would definitely recommend this book if you are in the coaching business.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Being in a mindful state is like having time move in slow motion. It’s about being present in the here and now. You are totally focused on the task at hand and at the same time you will let thoughts come and go whilst being in this focused state of mind. You feel relaxed and in control at the same time. For athletes this is a feeling of being in the zone. For others it could be anything from just sitting and relaxing and being mindful of your surroundings or you could even be sitting at your desk doing your work and be in a mindfulness state focusing on the current task at hand. I believe that just like you would train a physical skill, the mindfulness skill needs to be trained.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
Firstly being mindful is a mind and body connection. By being mindful and present in the moment you can focus on your task at hand. Mindfulness training can help you relieve some stress. It can help you let go of what has been causing you anxiety and it can also be used in the very moment when something causes great stress or anxiety. It teaches you control over your body. For example, by letting your thoughts come and go and by focusing on your breathing can help you focus and decrease anxiety. Mentally it’s a great way to help you focus on your task at hand. By being mindful and in the zone, I have also experienced an increase in energy and productivity in my daily tasks. Emotionally it has helped me (and I am still working on this) let go of some of the things in my life that has caused me a lot of anxiety. It has become like a coping mechanism for me and whenever I feel really stressed then I will take 5–10 min to either meditate or even go on a mindful walk. By being more mindful I have even started a gratitude journal that I write in at night and in the mornings. This way I take a couple of minutes to just reflect on the day before I go to sleep.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
Step 1: Be kind to yourselves. We have become hard wired to just work and let life slip us by without taking a moment for ourselves. Our mental health is so important and we need to be kind and give ourselves that time. What I also mean by this is if we start mindfulness training to help us cope with everything that has being going on, we should take it day by day and baby steps. These baby steps are still steps in the right direction.
Step 2: Start somewhere. Even if it’s starting with reading some books about mindfulness or listening to mindfulness audios or even starting with something like yoga. This will help guide you with your mindfulness journey. I started it at a young age with reading books and then practicing visualization for my sport. Since then I have built on my practices and even taken some courses to become better at mindfulness training.
Step 3: Start a gratitude journal. As silly as this may seem to some of you because we aren’t really into journaling, you will be surprised after a couple of weeks of doing this before you go to bed and first thing when you wake up how good you feel afterwards. With everything that has been going on the last couple of years it sometimes become hard to think of what we actually have in our lives that are good. I promise you if you look hard enough, there is still plenty to be thankful for and by focusing on the good will help you go to sleep feeling a lot more positive and happy. Just start with 3 things to write down and spend maximum 5 minutes on each.
Step 4: Schedule in your mindfulness training. This is a very important step to continue your journey to become more mindful. When you just go about your day you can easily forget to practice your mindfulness time. It doesn’t have to be long hours. I love doing my mindfulness training first thing in the morning. I schedule 10–15 minutes each day and I feel energized and ready for my day when I have done this.
Step 5: Everything in life takes time and practice. We won’t become an expert on mindfulness training overnight. But, by practicing this skill daily means we are already building on that foundation. We are working on ourselves to become a better version of ourselves every day. You will have days where you can’t stop thinking of other things while you are supposed to be in your mindfulness state. This is ok, as long as you recognize that you are doing this and work on being better at letting go. Remember practice makes perfect and start small. If you have a short attention span, no worries. Start off with 3 minutes twice a day. If you would like guided meditation instead of just listening to nothing that can definitely work. Everyone is different and you should try something until you find something that works for you.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Step 1: Let those around us know that we are there for them. Often when people feel anxious they also feel alone and feel like they have no one to talk to.
Step 2: Check-in with your friends or loved ones to make sure things are ok. This will also reassure them that you are there for them. It doesn’t have to be a phone call every minute for every day. You can just send a text and engage in conversation or meet up for a coffee to see how they are doing. They will appreciate this much more than you know.
Step 3: Try to understand what is causing those around us to be anxious. When you know what the cause is of those around you getting anxious then you can pick up when it could be happening. This way you will also know what to do if something does happen and don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional if something serious is happening.
Step 4: Know when you are the cause of your loved ones being anxious. This can be a big trigger for anxiety and by knowing what or who the cause may be can help you help your loved ones by not adding to their daily stress. It’s not always easy but sometimes making small changes to help others could help you in return to become a better person.
Step 5: Love them and let them know you love them regardless of them suffering from anxiety. Although this might not apply to everyone because it could be a friend or a co-worker suffering from anxiety (you could still show you care). You could also show you care by practicing some techniques with them to help them deal with their anxiety or going with them to practices. Again, this could mean the world to them.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Start off with something like yoga, this way you can practice and train both your mind and body to be in the present moment. Read books or articles online. I found reading books of people who have been practicing mindfulness for a very long time and have used it in their daily life has been a lot more beneficial to me than any article. When you feel like you want to take things to the next level, try attend a course. Join a mindfulness retreat for a day and experience firsthand how you can incorporate mindfulness training into your life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Control what you can control in life and realize the rest is just a waste of energy and time. We all fall into the trap sometimes of worrying about things that we have no control over. These things might cause us tremendous anxiety and at the end of the day, this could affect our health as well as cause unnecessary emotional stress. Rather, put that energy and focus into something we can control to get the best outcome possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have always wanted to help young kids in orphanages. I have wanted to create an opportunity for them through sport by having a big space where I can train these kids and do life skill sessions with them and help these kids have a safe space and a community to grow and develop. I want to be able to give these kids a chance to become something in life and even if I can help just one of them would be amazing. Each and every child should have these opportunities and places where they feel like they have a sport family.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!