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Be Mettle: Bear Grylls and Neil Smith on Their Plan to Help Men Get Mentally Fit

Listen up, gentlemen: Bear Grylls wants to talk about your feelings.

The explorer, author, Emmy-winning TV star, and chief adventurer of Outdoors has announced his latest project: a mental health and wellness app, community and “toolkit” that has been purpose built to help men “optimize themselves.”

The project is called Mettle. To get it off the ground, Grylls partnered with London-based television exec Neil Smith (Bear Grylls: Mission Survive, The Apprentice), and enlisted a team of experts in wellness space from around the world, including stress reduction coach Chibs Okereke, behavioral scientist Paul McKenna, and breathwork expert Jamie Clements, among others. 

Earlier this month, Grylls and Smith sat down with Outdoors to discuss how Mettle came together, why it’s so important for men to have the tools and opportunity to train their mental fitness, and how sometimes, one plus one actually equals five or six.

Bear Grylls: Let’s imagine you’re in a room full of men: construction workers, Wall Street investors, Marines, footballers, doctors –  men from different backgrounds, ages. And they all have various comfort levels around talking about their feelings and mental health – which is something us men aren’t always great at talking about.  What’s the elevator pitch about the app? What is Mettle, and how can it help men?

Neil Smith: Mettle gives men the permission and tools to look after their mental health and their mental fitness. Because men need the tools, but they also need the permission. As you say Bear, men don’t talk enough about their feelings. And how great to get a room together full of men from all ages and backgrounds… that’s kind of what we’re all about: reaching all men.
Mettle is a one-stop shop. It uses meditation, breath work, and mind hacking tools and is built for men from the ground up to help them be happier, healthier, and more successful. And what man doesn’t want that? 

It’s initially an app for Android and Apple, but we want to build a community that will help all men everywhere really optimize themselves and provide a home for men’s mental fitness and positive masculinity. And I guess that’s why we’re doing it – because men don’t feel that the wellness tools on the market for them. Unbelievably, among 20,000 wellness apps that are on the market, nothing was built for men specifically. So that’s why we built Mettle as a toolkit for men’s minds.

Bear Grylls:  There are many great mental health apps there and they’re great ones for women and there are great generic ones. But I think men, especially, find it hard to talk about – and have a huge and ever increasing need for tools that help them. 

Neil Smith: Absolutely.

Bear Grylls:  And they need the permission to go somewhere in their own heart. They need that kind of subconscious permission to go somewhere. That doesn’t feel too soft.

I’ve been hungry for something like this for a long time. I found tools in my life accidentally over the years that have helped me with mental health, but this place brings it all together. The sort of tools are found. Whether it’s just having a daily accountable text or email friendship with a great friend in mind wherever we are in the world. We’ll read a little bit of a motivational thing or faith a little daily sound bite, or scripture, or motivational thing – and we’ve done that for years now.

Things like that have helped me. Also listening to meditative music… a mix of breath work and music and timing. But what’s genius about Mettle, is that it brings all these things together in one place and makes it accessible, makes it cool – not something I’ll be embarrassed for my friends to see down the pub.

All great survivors in life need tools, you need equipment, you need an arsenal of weapons if you’re going to survive and thrive in life. And that was always a vision behind Mettle, to give men permission and give them that arsenal of equipment.

Neil Smith: A hundred percent. That’s completely right, Bear. And when we did our research, as you’ll remember, there are three barriers, as you say, to them using the kind of products that are all already available – as they saw those as not for them. First, the apps they saw were “too female” or “too hippie”, they don’t want that kind of more woo-woo side of things. Second, they want straight talk. And this is all science-backed, with evidence-based research. We designed it with Imperial College, and we’ve got some of the top names in the world delivering these tools. And the last thing was men don’t want to feel that there’s anything wrong with them – and these are aspirational tools, the outcomes are built to help them be happier, healthier and more successful.

Now, obviously you and I go back a long way together, Bear. We’ve made such fabulous TV shows over the past decade, which has been the highlight of my television career. But you were the first person that I called when I realized that I kind of had to do something in this space because you are synonymous with the idea of never giving up, with mental fitness, with resilience. You always used to say to me –  you’d point your bicep and say ‘it’s not what’s in here that’s gonna get you through the tough times’… and then point your head and say, ‘it’s what’s up here.’  

And that’s why I wanted you on board for this, and I’m delighted. Your message is so powerful and you know how Mettle really fits in with that.

Bear Grylls:  I think you learn about people when you’re in the trenches with them. And we have a great history and we know we come from the same place, which is we’re trying to do life as best we can – we’re trying to do it on the front foot. And I think the only thing I’ve changed to what you said over the years is I’m no longer pointing to the biceps. I’m now pointing instead from the head and now pointing at the heart because that 12 inches from the head to the heart could be the longest hardest journey any of us do.

Neil Smith: That’s excellent.

Bear Grylls: But I do think you say it’s mental fitness, and it’s a good phrase because I think us men understand the thing of physical fitness is it you got to put the effort in, and it’s about being physically fit as much about being preventative so we don’t get sick as it is about being physically strong.

Neil Smith: That’s right.

Bear Grylls:  I think you’ve got to put the time in you’ve got to have somewhere to go – whether that’s a gym, or set a kettlebells. Is it somewhere to go, and I think mental fitness is the same. People don’t want to it to look at it like they’re in trouble, or they need help–  but the truth is, we all need help in life. We really do

Neil Smith: Absolutely.

Bear Grylls:  But beyond that my point is that you want to put people on the front foot. This is about preventative mental strength and just with physical fitness we get on the front foot by doing it before we need it and then it allows you to tackle life head on.

So I consider it as mental training. It’s like that gym. It is mental fitness, and it’s just like physical fitness. It isn’t going to guarantee you never get ill, because it doesn’t. Sometimes shit happens and you get sick, or it gets worse. But you stack the odds in your favor if you have good physical health. And it’s the same with mental health. It’s not going to guarantee that you never have a bout of feeling low or depression, but it’s gonna hopefully put you on the front foot, and help you to be ahead of it. And when the storms of life come – which they always do – we’re ready.
That’s the first thing and then the other thing I just add to that, is that I’ve never met a strong man who’s had an easy journey, and for all of us to be strong it means we’ve had to go through some battles. We’ve had to go through some storms in life. And that’s where we get knocked down. But it’s also when we find the tools around us to get back up, that’s where we build our resilience.

So I see this as this is something to help us be on the front foot to be strong and it’s respectful to the journeys and the storms we’ve been through because if somebody’s had an easy life it’s like wow, you haven’t done very much. Life is meant to be hard, it’s meant to be tough, and that’s not something to run from.

Neil Smith: Absolutely, Bear you put it so eloquently.  And we realized that men want outcome-based tools. So they might not be interested in, say, doing meditation for meditation’s sake. But they are interested in the things that can help them with focused energy, confidence, and – like you say – overcoming anxiety and stress. So our tools based on meditation, breath work and mind hacking, really are outcome-based tools and they’re all science backed, evidence-based.

So I think mental fitness is something that we can all get on board with, how kind of positive it can be for us. I mean you wrote a book on it recently, a brilliant book called Mind Fuel, which has inspired us all about mental fitness. Why did you want to write that book? I’m just interested in that.

Bear Grylls:  Because there’s such a need. I see it in our team, and I see it around the world. All of our team are real go-getters in life. It’s not like they’re sitting around struggling with stuff. They go-getters, and they are out there. But if you’re going to be out there, you need tools that are going to help you. I think people are much stronger nowadays in being honest and being able to share A chink of vulnerability to say ‘do you know what this has been a tough week,’ or ‘I just need a bit of time out at the moment.’

It’s been a battleground. I think many of the men I sort of hang out with are getting much more enlightened  about that. You’ve got to share the burdens. It’s that thing of one plus one in survival never equals two – it equals about five or six, problem shared is a problem half.

So I think people are switching on to this but don’t always know where to go. Mind Fuel was a book that just keeps it simple – 365 short daily things of how we can improve our mental fitness, as you say. It came in the perfect time to partner with Mettle. We’re trying to do something where yet again one plus one equals five or six.

So we’re excited for this already. We’re getting an incredible response around the world from people to Mettle. We’re building a community of strong people with challenging pasts,  who want to be equipped and want to be on the front foot – and sharing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

Neil Smith: Yeah. Yeah, I think that too.

Bear, you spoke earlier about physical fitness, physical fitness won’t stop the storms coming if they’re going to come, but it stacks the odds in your favor. And I do think that’s what we’re trying to do a Mettle, so, the science that we’re basing this on so, that some of the team that we’ve worked together with Imperial College of Design, and they’ve got a whole body of evidence showing that, the tools that are included in Mettle – if people use them then they are less likely to suffer with poor mental health outcomes. That’s why the NHS, Britain’s Health Service, are really interested and we’re working with them behind the scenes as well. We’ve got Dr. Alex George on board who is the UK’s Mental Health Ambassador and a brilliant advocate for everyone’s mental health. We’ve been working with the founder of Movember, and the tech team have come from Facebook and Google.

Bear Grylls:   You can do so much with a great team. Neil, when you look a few years from now, how are you going to judge Mettle has been a success?

Neil Smith: I think we’ve got a real opportunity here to be the home for men’s mental fitness for men’s mental health, there’s nobody really in this space, our mission is to help every man be the best version of himself. Once we’ve built a community, once we’ve seen the Mettle is helping men become happier, healthier, more successful; and they’re telling us that we’ve helped them through tough times and that we’ve helped improve their relationships, have made them happier at work, then we’re going to know that we’re on the right track. Everything in the app has been created to help them do that as easily as possible. We’ve gamified the whole experience to make it really fun. When you download the app you answer five questions that generate your mental fitness score, and five rings that correlate to each of those questions and your mission then – should you choose to accept it – is to boost your rings and get your mental fitness score up. And we help you every step of the way with personalized suggestions that are just right for you. So, we’ve thought through every step of the way to try and optimize men. So once we get that feedback from men saying:  ‘I’m optimized,  I’m healthier, I get on better with the people around me’,  then we’re in a really good place.

Bear Grylls:  I think so. You look at the beginning, what me and you tried to set out to do and it was always: we’re helping people. I mean look at the word – what is mettle? It’s resilience. It’s fortitude. It’s strength. But also it’s improvement. And I like our thing that we’ve created together as a team: it’s helping people to sleep better, to work better, to play better, to focus better, and to optimize themselves.

Neil Smith: Absolutely.

Bear Grylls: That’s the goal, so if we can do that for one person, we’re winning. And if we do that for one person, we can do it for a million people and that’s how you change men’s communities around the world – one person at a time. 

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