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Make Your Bed: Change Your Life and Maybe the World

Make Your Bed: Change Your Life and Maybe the World

9 lessons from Admiral McRaven’s best-selling book.

by

In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven (the ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command) gave a powerful commencement speech at the University of Texas in which he shared inspiring life lessons from basic SEAL training:

“Start each day with a task completed. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up-if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we live in today.”

Admiral McRaven elaborated on the ideas he shared in his speech in his best-selling book Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World. Here are nine lessons from his book:

  1. If you want to change the world, start by making your bed. In SEAL training, the first task of the morning is making your bed and having it inspected. It seems like a insignificant act but its effects ripple throughout the day. Starting the first moment of the day with a completed task creates a sense of dignity and respect before we even leave our room. “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

  2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle. In SEAL training each team has to carry around a raft together and paddle through rough waters after hours of training. Inevitably, there are some days when some trainees are exhausted and unable to paddle. Those are the moments when they must depend on their teammates to help them. “You can’t change the world alone – you will need some help – and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”

  3. Measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers. Only a third of the trainees end up completing SEAL training, but it’s not always the strongest or the most accomplished individuals who succeed. “SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

  4. Get over it and keep moving forward. If a trainee fails the uniform inspection, he has to run fully clothed into the ocean and then roll around the beach until every part of his body is covered with sand. The trainee has to stay in that uniform for the rest of the day, cold, wet and sandy. The effect is known as a “sugar cookie.” “Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed all the time. You were never going to always have a perfect uniform.”

  5. Sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first. Admiral McRaven repeatedly failed to meet the time standards for one of the obstacle courses because he was afraid to go down the rope part headfirst in order to save the precious seconds he needed. Finally, he took the risk and did it, succeeding in not only meeting the time standard but learning to overcome his fears. “Don’t be afraid to go down the obstacle headfirst.”

  6. Don’t back down from the sharks. There are several ocean swims in the dark that the SEAL trainees must complete with not only limited visibility, but also knowing that there are deadly sharks swimming beside them in the water. There is no way to run from the sharks; they can only swim beside them and fight them if they attack. “There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

  7. Be your very best in the darkest moment. One of the hardest missions in training is a challenging swim in which the trainees have to swim in the dark under a huge ship. It is so dark that if you lose your swimming partner, there is little hope that you will find him again until after the mission. The key to success in completing the challenge is to rise to the occasion and keep calm even in the darkest spot underneath the ship. “At the darkest moment of the mission is the time when you must be calm, composed, when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

  8. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. During one of the toughest moments in McRaven’s training, when the trainees were cold and wet and stuck in the mud in the middle of the night, one of his fellow students almost gave up. Suddenly, one of the trainees began to sing and one by one, they all started to join in until the strength of their voices carried them through the night. That one person who had the courage to start singing when he was up to his neck in mud gave the rest of the group the much needed hope they needed to pull through. “If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. One person can change the world by giving people hope.”

  9. Don’t ever ring the bell. In SEAL training there is a brass bell that hangs in the middle of the compound and if a student wants to quit at any time, all he needs to do is to ring the bell. But once you ring the bell, you will regret it for the rest of your life. “Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

Anyone can change his life and the world if he perseveres.

September 2, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Alan S., September 4, 2017 11:35 AM

I'm not all in.

Generally excellent ideas to realize that life requires strategies to be as successful as one can be. But, while you can make your own bed, the concept of the 'sugar cookie' obviously can cause a degree of unhealthy competition, possibly to the point of bullying and hazing.

In my mind, "make your bed" truly is an individual or personal concept. Can it really be applied to a team concept like "seal training'? Sure, one has to first be or do their best before joining a team to do such perilous activities as the SEALS do. But, not everyone can be the A student. We only ask of ourselves to be the best that we can be. As I wrote above, I think the 'sugar cookie' concept is demeaning in concept and a punishment that might not fit the crime. If you were "never going to always have a perfect uniform”, why make a punishment that could be applied to everyone if a commanding officer so chose? Assuming everyone tried their best to dress properly, and the 'sugar cookie' punishment was given to only the worst dressed, everyday theoretically, someone would be the 'sugar cookie'. So much for friendly, healthy competition.

(2) Anonymous, September 4, 2017 6:21 AM

Profound - todah rabah

Wow, a few really awesome and profound life lessons here! Todah rabah for sharing this!

(1) Tuala Tommy Stancil, September 4, 2017 1:36 AM

Thanks Sara a real life changing story.

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