Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World

Make Your Bed
Genre: Self-Help
Published: 4/4/2017
If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. I you can't do the…

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World

Key Insights

In Navy SEAL training, there is a focus on ten lessons that teach individuals how to foster human connections, build on small achievements, eliminate superficial judgment, learn from failed attempts, practice risk-taking, enjoy being challenged, stand strong, and understand the unfairness of life itself.

The book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World” by Admiral William H. McRaven is a rewrite of a commencement speech that was given by the author to the class of 2014 at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I realized that the past failures had strengthened me, taught me that no one is immune from mistakes. True leaders must learn from their failures, use the lessons to motivate themselves, and not be afraid to try again or make the next tough decision.”- William H. McRaven

McRaven emphasizes the ten important lessons by sharing his own experiences of military training, showing how it helped to create the person he is today.

Key Points

  • Make Your Bed Every Morning

Making your bed is the first of the ten lessons. This simple task is an accomplishment that sets up individuals to build upon it throughout their day.

“Making my bed correctly was not going to be an opportunity for praise. It was expected of me. It was my first task of the day, and doing it right was important. It demonstrated my discipline. It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task.”- William H. McHaven

Many studies suggest that by starting with a small achievement in the morning, before doing anything else, ensures that you will keep striving to success throughout the day. This small task doesn’t have to be literally making the bed, it could also be washing the dishes, sending an email, or working out. It could be anything that sets your intentions for the day.

In “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, he calls these daily habits, “keystone habits.” These are small habits that actually make a huge impact on an individual’s life. It is a habit that inspires other good habits to follow.

For example, exercising is a keystone habit because other healthy habits tend to follow such as healthy eating and not smoking.

Keystone habits can also be thought of as daily victories. There are the “small wins” that inspire and lead to “big wins.”

  • Don’t Quit

Because of his military training, McRaven began to understand the importance of not giving up in life and always following through. McRaven, through training, gained ultimate willpower.

Until recent years, willpower has been thought of to be a trait that we are simply born with. But in, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, the author sheds light on studies from the ‘80s that argue that willpower is something that can actually be learned.

Around the year 2000, studies began to perceive willpower as a resource that can be temporarily drained, but that can be inflated once again.

To increase willpower, there are a few different techniques such as visualizing end goals to get over obstacles easier and viewing exercise or other intense physical movements as a habit rather than a choice.

Calling exercise a habit rather than a choice would be classified, according to writer Gretchen Rubin who specializes in habit formation as “freedom from decision-making.”

  • People Are Responsible For Their Own Success

McRaven makes it clear that it’s important to be accountable in order to have control of your own life.

On a personal level, McRaven believes he is in control of his destiny, giving him what is called in the psychological world an internal locus of control.

McRaven discourages people from using an external locus of control because it allows individuals to rely on external circumstances rather than finding the power within.

McRaven’s viewpoint about being responsible for one’s own success is backed-up by social science. Mark Muraven, a social psychologist, has discovered in his studies that individuals operating under an internal locus of control use less of their willpower resource, which helps to maintain its reserve and prevents it from being drained.

What this means for the average person is that if you are trying to make a change such as losing 20lbs, eating healthy, or quitting cigarettes, you will be more successful with an internal locus of control than an external locus of control. That is because you are feeling personally and internally motivated, not forced or pressured by an external factor.

Studies on children by developmental psychologist, Norman Garmezy, found that people with an internal locus of control are found to be more satisfied and happier with their lives. And therefore, they are more successful.

On a similar note, George Bonanno, a psychologist concluded in his studies that a person’s ability to overcome obstacles is determined by the way they perceive said obstacle.

In other words, people who see obstacles as a way to challenge themselves and grow as a person are more successful than those who believe they have no chance to rebound from the life obstacles that are being thrown at them.

  • You Must Overcome Your Fears

You must overcome your fears in order to be successful. In Navy SEAL training, individuals go through a four-step program to help them gain the mental toughness to do just that.

“Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.”- William H. McRaven

This four-step training is extremely difficult because of the fact that individuals must go against their evolutionary survival instincts to successfully complete it.

The program rivals the fight-or-flight response that is embedded in us from birth. The four steps are:


  1. Goal Setting - Setting goals helps individuals with the ability to control their emotions. It also puts things into order and prevents individuals from feeling out of the control, no matter what the circumstances may be.
  2. Visualization - Visualization works as a mental reminder and rehearsal for when the situation an individual envisions does arise. This helps them to be prepared for action.
  3. Positive Self-talk - This helps an individual to keep practicing positive thinking, which will aid in their confidence.
  4. Arousal Control - This describes how a person responds to external threats. For example, the act of breathing slowly will help a person to get oxygen to their brain and help them to remain calm.


“Hope is the most powerful force in the universe.”- William H. McRaven

Although this four-step method was created for the Navy SEALS, it is useful to all humans. For example, someone may utilize a four-step method when they are about to give a performance.

  • Always Be A Team Player

To McRaven, teamwork is important in all aspects of his life. In his book, McRaven mentions not only his team being there for him to help with difficult tasks but also how they were there with him emotionally when he had a major injury.

“None of us are immune from life’s tragic moments. Like the small rubber boat we had in basic SEAL training, it takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others.”- William H. McRaven

McRaven draws from his experiences in the military to discuss teamwork, however, it is important in family, social, and work settings as well.

An article in the Harvard Business Review examined workplace relationships and stated that workers spend approximately ¾ of their days communicating with other employees. So, it’s obvious that efficient and respectful teamwork is vital to success.

Many companies are looking for ways to improve their teams. For example, since the year 2012, Google has been looking for ways to advance their team dynamics. The reason for this is because they have found that a good team can do better work than a good individual.

Factors that lead to success include tolerating others and valuing their opinions and contribution, being able to step outside your own shoes and into those of others to understand their views and perspectives, and fostering communication that is genuine and never threatening.

  • Life Will Always Be Unfair

McRaven believes that life is unfair. And he encourages his readers to accept this fact.

To help his readers understand this, he uses examples of times when individuals were punished unfairly during Navy SEAL training.

“It is easy to blame your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you. It is easy to think that where you were raised, how your parents treated you, or what school you went to is all that determines your future. Nothing could be further from the truth. The common people and the great men and women are all defined by how they deal with life’s unfairness:” William H. McRaven

But, to paint a bigger picture with regard to this fact, unfairness is inherent in all parts of human life. For example, innocent people suffer and die every single day all over the world. That certainly isn’t fair, but it’s life.

Even though the world is unfair, humans are designed to see justice even where there is none. For example, a hiring manager may not hire someone because they had been previously laid-off. This may seem unfair to the potential employee, but the hiring manager would think that it’s fair.

McRaven says that it’s necessary for a person’s success to forget the myth that life is somehow fair, in both the personal and work life.

In the year 2013, Harvard researches conducted a study that found that employee award programs that are invented to help employees stay motivated actually did the opposite. This was because the employees who normally didn’t have good attendance began being punctual in order to gain the reward. So the people who were always on their best behavior and never tardy felt the friendly competition unfair. This resulted in a 6-8% decrease in productivity.

  • You Can Overcome Any Challenge

McRaven uses his training as a Navy SEAL to illustrate how you can overcome any challenges, even when they seem absolutely impossible to beat.

Statistics are the backbone of McRaven’s claims about the difficulty of his first six months of basic training, which is where he learned to overcome challenges with great strength and mental toughness.

Here are some of those statistics:

  1. Only a little more than half of the people who apply to Navy SEAL training meet the actual requirements to be accepted.
  2. Only 6% of those applicants will complete their training.
  3. In the 6 month training period individuals will complete 150 miles of ocean swimming and 1,300 miles of running on the beach.
  4. Individuals must endure 7 days of sleep deprivation and water torture.
  5. Many recruits drop out during that previously mentioned 7 days.
  6. The odds of a recruit completing training is 1 in 4.

If McRaven can endure all of that and come out with the tools to continue overcoming challenges, you can too.

Main Take-Away

Admiral William H. McRaven took the skills and perspective he gained from his Navy SEAL basic training and applied it to all aspects of his life. With the ten lessons that teach individuals how to foster human connections, build on small achievements, eliminate superficial judgment, learn from failed attempts, practice risk-taking, enjoy being challenged, stand strong, and understand the unfairness of life itself, he believes that everyone can reach success.


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