Adventurer Bear Grylls has encountered a multitude of perils during his career in the army’s Special Forces, and his travels across the globe. He reveals the lessons he’s learned - which others could use to help them achieve goals and cope with adversity in his new book, A Survival Guide For Life.
By Gabrielle Fagan
Not many of us have climbed Everest, journeyed through Antarctica, grappled with venomous snakes and crocodiles, and generally courted danger on our everyday travels.
But that’s Bear Grylls stock-in-trade and he’s cemented a reputation as one of the world’s coolest adventurers with his hugely successful TV series Born Survivor, which is screened on the Discovery Channel as Man Vs Wild.
Along the way, he’s continually demonstrated an ability to bounce back from adversity, overcoming a horrific parachute accident which broke his back when he was 21 and ended his career in the elite SAS reserves.
Patently, we can’t all possess his top-to-toe grittiness but Grylls believes the lessons he’s learned in his uniquely action-packed life can help us all to achieve our goals and cope with the challenges of a more routine, humdrum existence, from work to relationships.
“I think what I’ve learnt about tackling and approaching life’s problems and set-backs could help motivate anyone,” says Grylls, who shares his experiences in new book A Survival Guide For Life.
“This isn’t a get-rich-quick book, this is an insider’s guide on how to follow your heart, and live an empowered, effective and more fun-filled life.”
At the heart of his approach to a happy life, he says, is the need for a dream that you continually work towards.
“I had a lot of lessons in maths and Latin and whatever at school, but no one ever taught me that you need a dream, one which will inspire you and that will be so important that you’ll work and sweat for it to make it reality,” says Grylls.
“I found that out for myself later when I became determined to get into the SAS. I failed at my first attempt but got in on the second.
“Of course, not everyone will be able or want to do the things I’ve done, which are extreme and physically demanding. But I’d like people to identify what it is that makes them happy and what they would do if they didn’t need the money.
“We all have our own personal Everest, and if we follow its calling, that is when life truly becomes an adventure. We just need sound principles to help us get to the top.”
He was inspired by the advice of his Tory politician father, the late Sir Michael Grylls, who counselled his son to “always be a man of your word, never cheat, be good in a crisis and look after your friends”.
Over the years, he’s written books, survived quicksand and rapids, pitted himself against the Arctic Ocean in an open boat and led an expedition through the Northwest Passage. His expeditions often raise funds for a variety of charities.
Many of the 75 pieces of advice in the book are vividly brought to life by inspiring tales from his own experiences, whether it’s collapsing tents or more life-threatening situations such as dehydration in the dessert.
Grylls, who is the Scout Association’s youngest ever Chief Scout, has dedicated the book to his wife, Shara, and their sons, Jesse, eight, Marmaduke, five, and Huckleberry, four. They split their time between their homes, a Dutch barge in London and a remote island off the coast of Wales.
“The boys have totally followed my lead and enjoy exploring outdoor life, but I don’t want them to follow in my footsteps, they should have their own dreams,” he says.
“My life is quite weird in some ways and I am well aware they need to have other academic skills, not just practical ones.
“Their headmaster took me aside once and told me, ‘It’s great that they might know how to take the door off a helicopter and deal with a snake bite, but it would be really great if they focused a little more on the mathematics’.”
Grylls, who is currently filming a new series to be broadcast in America, as well as working with Channel 4 on the return of Bear’s Wild Weekends, believes making mistakes is an inevitable consequence of living life to the full.
“Of course, I often feel I’ve let myself down and hold my head in my hands and think, ‘God, why did I do that?’, but that’s sometimes the penalty of not living a safe life,” he says.
“But mistakes help you grow and I learn from them and endeavour not to repeat them. I believe that the ultimate success in the game of life can never come from money amassed, power or status attained, or fame.
“It’s measured by how we touch and enrich people’s lives - the difference we can make to those who would least expect it, to those the world looks over.”
Follow his 10 life lessons to improve your life:
Grylls’s simple philosophy for living a fulfilling life is based on the five Fs, he says, which stand for: Family, Friends, Faith, Fun and Following your dreams.
“My late father always told me that living a good life was about “looking after your friends and family and having the courage to go for your dreams”.
“Luckily, those simple values meant much more to him than my school reports, which weren’t always glowing!” says Grylls.
He has a strong Christian faith and believes that “life should be an adventure, so make sure you have a daily dose of fun. Always cherish your dreams, which will give you powerful life-changing purpose.”
Problems or challenges should be regarded as valuable, because “storms make us stronger”, he says.
“No one ever achieves their dream without first stumbling over a few obstacles along the way,” says Grylls.
“Trust me, if you find a road without any obstacles, I can promise you it doesn’t lead anywhere worthwhile.
“There are few greater feelings than finding out you can achieve more, and endure more, than you’d previously imagined, and it’s only when we’re tested that we realise just how brightly we can shine.”
Don’t say ‘TRY’Substitute the word ‘try’ for ‘endeavour’, suggests Grylls.
“Trying is often associated with failure, such as ‘trying again’ or ‘tried his best’, which sounds as if ‘trying’ to do something means you’re setting yourself up to fall short of your goal,” he points out.
“Endeavour indicates real intent, a willingness to stick with it, and an ability to see things through to the end,” he says.
“Our words and how we talk to ourselves, matter. They shape our attitudes and our attitudes become our life.”
Make the leap
People often delay making decisions or embarking on a new project because they’re waiting for everything to be perfect, says Grylls.
“It’s an illusion that everything should be sorted and your ducks in line before you go for something, whether it’s starting a new business, climbing a mountain or proposing to a girlfriend,” he says.
“In reality, we rarely have all parts of our life nicely sealed and wrapped and that’s not always essential for success.
“To live a life of adventure and impact, we just need to have the will, and then begin with the first simple step. The rest is then the process - hard and challenging, to be sure - but still a process. We’re limited only by the extent of our courage, tenacity and vision.”
Key team ingredient
“While enthusiasm, ability and aptitude all have to be on someone’s CV before I’ll take them into a life or death situation as part of an expedition team, there’s one other quality I’m always looking out for - kindness,” says Grylls.
“Kindness inspires us, motivates us, and creates a strong, tight team. Don’t underestimate the power of it to change lives and encourage others to be better.”
He recalls that as one of a four-man SAS reserves squad in the roasting heat of the North African desert, the group suffered life-threatening dehydration.
“I was in a particularly bad way and my sergeant put aside his own needs and insisted I drink the last portion of water from his bottle.
“It was the kindness, not the actual water itself, that gave me the strength to keep going when I had nothing left inside me. I’ve never forgotten that single act.”
Wave worry goodbye
Most of us worry over endlessly things we have no control over - things we can’t change, says Grylls.
“Fears and worries about things which never materialise weigh us down and slow us up,” he points out.
“Where you can, drop the worries. Remember the saying, ‘The past is history, the future is a mystery, but the now is a gift - that’s why it’s called the present’. Live in the present and cherish it.”
Laugh at yourself
Great people, he says, make you feel great about yourself. They build others up, pay compliments often and freely, and don’t pull others down to push themselves up.
“So laugh at yourself, not others. Great men and women never take themselves seriously. It’s part of what makes them great,” he urges.
“Build others up before yourself and talk well, not nastily, about others in public. It’s one of my life goals that, at my funeral, those who know me will be able to stand up and say they never heard me speak badly of anyone else.”
And he adds honestly: “By the way, I’ve failed at this many times already, but it’s still a good goal to have!”
Often people are living someone else’s aspirations rather than their own, says Grylls, or because of negative predictions in their early life, they believe they can’t succeed or change direction.
“So many people I’ve met over the years walk around carrying a heap of emotional hang-ups that weigh them down,” he says.
“A burden of parental expectations can make them pick a job based on what they ‘should’ do rather than what they’d ‘love’ to do.
“They may have deep-rooted fear of the future, or anxiety of what other people might think if they choose a more unusual or less ‘celebrated’ path.”
But, he urges, it’s never too late to start afresh, drop the burden of negative beliefs or old incorrect labels, and work for your own goal.
Real courage has nothing to do with showy displays of bravado, it’s is about how we react in the face of overwhelming odds, says Grylls.
“It’s impossible to be courageous if you aren’t also afraid. Courage involves facing our fears and walking through them,” he says.
“It’s not about having no fear, but about doing what is necessary despite the fear. Battles in life are scary, I know, I’ve been in enough.
“Courage comes in many forms, but the common thread is that it’s about finding the spirit inside us to do what is right, in the big moments, despite the fear.
“Never assume you’re incapable of being brave - I’ve seen that the most unlikely people can often be the most courageous people in a difficult situation.”
Being grateful for the many simple blessings, whether it’s health, family, friends or even just our life, helps us keep a perspective on the tough challenges we face, he believes.
“If we get angry, bitter or cynical, we will attract more negative stuff into our lives,” he says.
“Being thankful will almost always make you feel better and is one of the best natural combatants against depression.”
:: Information: A Survival Guide For Life by Bear Grylls is published by Bantam Press, priced £18.99. Available now.