ML149: Ben Saunders on Developing Grit, Knowing When to Quit and Lessons from Polar Expeditions

Learn about the daily life of a record breaking polar explorer including the training, fundraising & trekking, the nature of motivation & grit and what influences them and how to quit or ask for help when you need it.

ML149: Ben Saunders on Developing Grit, Knowing When to Quit and Lessons from Polar Expeditions

Ben Saunders is one of the world’s leading polar explorers and an acclaimed keynote speaker. He is also the 3rd person in history to ski solo to the North and South poles

Between 2013-14  Ben led The Scott Expedition, the longest human-powered polar journey in history. This was the first completion of the expedition that defeated legendary explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, a 105-day round-trip from Ross Island on the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again. Ben also holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton.

To top it all off Ben is an acclaimed keynote speaker and has done three TED talks on his adventures and the lessons he's learned along the way. He also runs an online masterclass called The Grit Academy masterclass to equip you with the knowledge and tools to strengthen your own courage, determination, tenacity and resilience.

In this episode we discuss:

- The daily life of a polar explorer including the training before big trips and the fundraising process required to fund a major expedition as well as the experience of being out on the ice
- The nature of motivation and grit - what influences them and how Ben's lessons from polar explorations can be transferred to your daily life
- How to quit or ask for help when you need it - Ben recounts a tough decision he had to make on his return from the South Pole and how it's influenced the way he operates

Ben's experience is unique and inspirational. The amount of obstacles he had to overcome mentally and physically to do what he did is right at the limit of human potential and I hope it will inspire you to dream a little bigger and grind a little harder.

Show Notes

  • Introducing Ben Saunders [00:33]
  • An avid reader but far from a star pupil, Ben has a checkered academic career. Having transferred to different schools throughout childhood, how did Ben go through a school system that didn’t feel like it catered to his personality? [02:54]
  • Ben recalls the moment in his childhood life when he realised he had a talent for outdoor activities and a passion for exploration. How was he able to find avenues to explore his interests? Who did he look up to and what inspired the young Ben to pursue his passion? [06:08]
  • Before his first big expedition Ben had a brief army career in Sandhurst. What was it like for him and what are his major takeaways from that experience? [09:32]
  • What was Ben’s first foray into the career he is known for today? After a major accident and realising that being in the military wasn’t the career he wished to pursue, Ben took the chance of a lifetime to go on an expedition to the north pole. [11:17]
  • Going from a light interest in exercise to truly understanding physical fitness; How were the fitness seeds sown in Ben’s teenage years? What does physical fitness teach that you can’t learn in school? [12:36]
  • Having to consider not only training but logistics as well; What was Ben’s process in preparation for an expedition? What are the parallels Ben realises between creating a startup and planning an expedition? [14:12]
  • Training for an expedition is focused on function and efficiency rather than form. What does Ben do to be physically prepared for an expedition? What makes training for an expedition different from the typical exercise? [16:20]
  • How does an explorer set goals and expectations for an expedition? What are the factors that change these goals and expectations before and during the expedition? Ben shares his experience planning his first trip to the geographic north pole. [18:15]
  • What drove Ben to want to become like one of the great explorers? At what point did Ben gain the confidence and realise he could achieve his goals? [21:27]
  • The internet was still at its infancy during Ben’s early expeditions so it was ripe for innovation. How did blogging in the middle of nowhere get Ben an invitation to do talks in America and his first TED talk? [25:32]
  • What gear does Ben bring during his polar expeditions? What are the hidden challenges that come from trekking in such hostile environments? [27:47]
  • What are the differences between going on an expedition on your own and going with a team or with a partner? What was the most challenging thing Ben dealt with when going on solo expeditions?  [31:45]
  • Being away from home for weeks at a time at an expedition can take its toll on a person, not only physically but mentally as well. How do you deal with the mental stress in low stimulus environments? What were the things that Ben thought about during his expeditions? [34:46]
  • There are times in life when you ask yourself whether you should stop or keep pushing forward. Ben had that experience during a particularly challenging expedition to the south pole. What went through Ben’s head in those difficult moments? How did he decide the best course of action? [38:26]
  • It is a completely different environment being at home compared to being out on an expedition. Does coming home change your mindset? How did Ben’s thinking change after pushing his mind and body to its limits? [43:02]
  • Closing remarks [45:04]


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