High-performance coach, motivational speaker and corporate wellness expert John McGrath has transformed lives across the globe in both sports and business. This month we spoke to “The Last Strongman in Africa” about why he believes every individual holds the potential for greatness.
Parvati Magazine: Why is harnessing the mind key to changing lives and the world?
John McGrath: The mind is the athlete, the body is the tool. The body can do an awful lot more but it’s the mind that is limited. Over time, the difficulty of things doesn’t change that much. What changes is our perception: if we can do it or not. So that is why you work on the mind first – once you get that right, anything is possible.
Parvati Magazine: At what moment in your life did you realize you wanted to unlock the potential for greatness in people?
John McGrath: Dr. Maxwell Maltz said, “The mind once changed by a new idea can never return to where it was beforehand.” While we are aware of physiology and we work with people on strength and conditioning, we really need to instill a disciplined mind. I got a lot of that through my journey in the martial arts and various sports, such as rowing and boxing—the importance of these daily disciplines and how much that strengthens the mind. Once I saw it work with elite athletes, I was ready to share it with the rest of the world.
Excel in sport or business with a growth mindset
Parvati Magazine: You help people go past their perceived boundaries to excellence, in athletic performance and business alike. Why can the same methods of coaching and motivation be applied to both worlds?
John McGrath: A high-performance individual is a high-performance individual. One characteristic of these individuals is that you can instill a growth mindset. This person is continually working to improve; they believe nothing is fixed—either athletic potential or potential in the business world. Once people believe that all these things are changeable, that the brain can adapt, then everything else follows. High performance is daily disciplines, working consistently, moving towards your goals, having a growth mindset, overcoming setbacks… All of these are essential. It is the same ingredients, just a different recipe.
Parvati Magazine: You mentored South African long jumper Luvo Manyonga on his journey from methamphetamine addiction to the Olympic podium. What were some of the most important things you learned together?
John McGrath: Maybe the most important thing of that journey was the significance of believing in somebody’s dream. It takes so little time and it is powerful beyond words to do that. In that journey, there were many setbacks, but you have to stay standing no matter what. You just need to provide some “scaffolding” around a person’s life—to put some things in place. I believed in the dream and I was a real friend to Luvo. One of the things that I learned was acceptance. Sometimes we just have to accept [something], integrate that and move forward with it rather than with what we want it to be.
Train to be present
Parvati Magazine: How has your background in martial arts affected the way you approach teaching, fitness, and performing as “The Last Strongman of Africa”?
John McGrath: When you train, particularly in martial arts, you find yourself in a place where the mind can no longer wander. For me, when the mind has to stay right where it is, that is a perfect moment. So for me, the martial arts training is the perfect meditation. It requires endless feats of strength; it requires absolute focus. It requires all you can do to [come] into that real moment, which is the only moment that exists. If you are not present, it is not going to happen. A lot of people’s stress, anxiety and depression come from going towards the future, out of the past—we don’t spend enough time in this moment.
Parvati Magazine: What motivates your quest to have a positive impact on a million people in your lifetime?
John McGrath: I want to live a life of significance. If you positively impact the lives of a million people, your real impact is probably five or six times that. One person can help change the world and leave it a better place. Everybody is born to do something amazing. But we don’t often find that gift or even look for that gift. So part of the mission is to get people to do what they were born to do and love to do, and that has an incredible potential for change. If everybody only realized that the purpose of life is to find that, and once you do, to share it with the world. If you could get a million people switched on to that “aahhh” moment…
John McGrath is a high-performance coach with almost two decades of experience transforming lives, coaching world champions, and children from the townships who need a source of hope and strength. Through sheer force of will, he has been able to perform feats deemed impossible, earning him the non-official title of “The Last Strongman of Africa”.