Why Make Your Bed Every Morning?

Accountability Personal leadership Transformation


Key Point: We need to learn from organizations like the Navy SEALs. Very few of us have the makeup to become a Navy SEAL. Even for those who do, only a few make it to graduation. Most who make it to “Hell Week” end up ringing the infamous bell to disqualify themselves from continuing. SEAL training is totally intentional. It’s not just about overcoming fierce physical and mental perseverance; it’s about embedding personal leadership skills that impact life or death decisions that are very real in the workplace of special forces units. Fortunately for most of us, we rarely if ever are put into life threatening leadership environments. But what if we applied some of that SEALs’ learning? I would like to highlight some important personal leadership lessons as presented to the University of Texas’ 2014 graduating class. The following is adapted from the commencement address by Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University of Texas in Austin on May 17:

“1. 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. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed

2. 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 goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3. 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.

If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4. Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a Sugar Cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes. (The term “Sugar Cookie” refers to the part of SEAL training where candidates fail at a task and end up spending an entire day in a wet uniform covered with sand from head to toe… Hence, Sugar Cookie).

If you want to change the world, get over being a Sugar Cookie and keep moving forward.

5. Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. (“The circus” refers to some potential SEALs having to do hours of extra physical training after a full day of grueling exercise).

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circus.

6. It was a dangerous move—seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation, the student slid down the rope, perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record. (Referring to an unorthodox move a cadet took to get down an obstacle course… It broke a long standing record).

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.

7. There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them. (The SEALs have to do a night swim through great white shark infested waters).

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8. Every SEAL knows that under the keel, 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. (Referring to SEALs having to night swim and place a detonating device under a ship’s keel… The darkest moment of the assignment).

9. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan named Malala—can change the world by giving people hope.

10. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. (The SEALs end up having to survive a night in mud up to their necks, and get through it by singing together).

All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

11. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

Character Moves:

  1. Become an everyday SEAL and apply McRaven’s lessons: Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up. Live the Character Triangle. 
  2. Recognize that being a SEAL does not end with becoming one. It involves having a framework and continuously practicing at applying it. Every day starts and ends with the small stuff. We not only make our bed… We sleep in it.

Take 20 inspirational minutes to check out Admiral William H. McRaven’s great speech below.

 An everyday SEAL in a The Triangle,