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'Helping others has a magical way of turning our own lives around': Bear Grylls' 2023 survival guide

Survival expert and author Bear Grylls explains how to uncover the simple necessities of life

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls is keeping as all mindful as enter 2023. Photo: PR supplied

Bear Grylls has served in the SAS. He’s a black belt in karate and Chief Scout. He climbed Mount Everest 18 months after breaking his back and has eaten everything from frozen yak eyeballs to raw goat testicles on TV shows watched by over one billion people.

But the internal battles Bear Grylls has faced have been as challenging as any incredible physical or disgusting gastronomical feat. 

As the cost-of-living crisis hits, there is uncertainty and insecurity like never before. People are anxious about paying their bills and supporting their families. The mental health toll people are paying is an often overlooked but enormous price millions are having to pay. 

So it’s very timely that Bear Grylls has distilled a life’s worth of wisdom to help us build resilience against adversity – in whatever shape or form it manifests.

In his book, Mind Fuel, Grylls has 365 pieces of advice and strategies to support our mental health and help us achieve all we want to achieve in each day of 2023. 

As we head into the new year, he explains how we can keep our mind fuel levels full. 

The Big Issue: When it comes to survival, is physical or mental strength more important? 

Bear Grylls: Mental strength accompanied by physical strength and with a clear spirituality is a winning combo that we can all develop. We can’t be truly strong if we are only strong physically. We are built for so much more. And the great survivors know the power of the mind and spirit working in tangent with the physical. It’s a life journey to get there. 

Have the biggest challenges in your life been raging rivers and soaring mountains or internal pressures you’ve had to overcome? 

 I think the inner battles can often be the hardest, but I’ve learned so much about how to survive those inner battles by enduring the physical ones too.

One of the biggest challenges in my life was a parachute failure while in the military – I had a freefall accident in southern Africa and a canopy failed. I broke my back in three places. I had to spend 12 months in and out of rehabilitation in back braces.

That time in hospital taught me the simple lesson that life is fragile, and that if we are lucky enough to survive a few lucky escapes, then we have a duty to try to get back up and grab life with both hands. Gratitude and humility are hard-won lessons, but the wild teaches them in spades over time. 

Do you ever find your mind fuel levels running low? 

Often. That’s life. But don’t be scared of those times. Know where to go in order to get resupplied. Maybe it’s seeing a buddy and talking about your struggles. Maybe it’s starting to do something for others like volunteering. Helping others has a magical way of turning our own lives around for the better. Likewise taking on a challenge. Maybe it’s getting fit again or setting ourselves a goal to achieve. All these small things go a long way to getting us back in the fight. 

How do you keep your own mind fuel topped up?  

Surrounding myself with good people. I also try and remind myself of the simple power of courage, kindness and a never-give-up spirit. Those three things carry people far in life. 

 You have a book full of ways to build mental resilience. Do you follow your own advice or do you sometimes need reminders yourself? 

I need reminding every day. It’s why I still read both Soul Fuel [Grylls’s 2019 book] and Mind Fuel. Little things go a long way to helping us build inner strength. 

 Do people get caught up and lost striving for an idea of a perfect life?  

Yes – we have to progress beyond seeking perfection. That’s a road to unhappiness. Instead I try to pursue endeavour and effort. It might mean failing over and over again, but that’s the road to fulfilment, ultimately. Struggles and the storms of life make us stronger. The scout motto of Do Your Best is a smart one. 

What have been your most successful and informative failures? 

My real wins in life are all about family and friends, not trophies or pots. I see wealth in life as being about how our relationships look. As to failure, well failure is part of life, and I have failed so many times. I like to believe that the only real failure is giving up. 

When we fail, it’s vital to look at it as a rite of passage and a key stepping stone and marker on the way to success. After all, the good stuff lies on the other side of fear, pain, struggle and failure. Nothing that’s worth doing is easy, but when you get there it’ll be so sweet. 

In 2023, with all the wonders of the modern world, is knowing how to survive in the wild still relevant? 

If we lose our abilities to do practical outdoor tasks like protecting ourselves from bad weather or starting a fire, we lose so much of what has made humankind successful over many millennia. These ancient but fundamental skills should always be part of our arsenal. You never know when they might just save your life or someone you love. A lot of it is common sense but as you know, many people nowadays lack that. It’s a muscle and a skill that we need to practise. If we don’t, we lose it. 

When you see news about the number of foodbanks or crippling energy price rises, are there any survival tips that come to mind or is this a different kind of survival that needs help to come from a government level? 

We all at times need a helping hand and society as a whole should be there for when someone is maybe down on their luck. Together we are always stronger. I admire so much the Big Issue community that does so much to help people at a vulnerable time in their lives. I have so much to learn from you all about love and kindness. You’re all true inspirations. 

How can we build strong mental resilience while denied things like jobs, housing and general economic security? 

It’s hard. There are few easy answers. But never give up and keep going through the tough times are words that have helped so many over the millennia. Knowing that the storms never last forever and the dawn will always come.  

Mind Fuel by Bear Grylls

Mind Fuel: Simple Ways to Build Mental Resilience Every Day by Bear Grylls and Will Van Der Hart is out now (John Murray Press, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops. 

This article appears in The Big Issue magazine. Buy a copy from your local vendor. If you can’t buy in person, you can purchase magazines from The Big Issue Shop or download a digital version via The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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