Three years ago, longtime Navy SEAL commander William McRaven delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin, his alma mater. The speech quickly went viral and is perhaps best known for one nugget of wisdom: “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day.” He concluded, “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
McRaven, who soon after retired from the military and became the chancellor of the University of Texas System, has now expanded his speech and turned it into a small inspirational book, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World (Grand Central, April 4). In advance of the book’s publication, we asked him to tell us a bit more about what a typical morning routine might look like: In addition to making sure that his covers are pulled tight, and his corners are squared, what does he do from the moment he wakes to the moment he arrives at his office?
- 5:45 a.m. Rise to my iPhone’s blaring alarm, which startles me to consciousness and gets my heart pumping. (Note: on the days when I don’t work out, I wake a half-hour later.)
- 5:50 Make the bed.
- 5:55–6:20 Work out in my home gym—mostly weights, calisthenics, and a half-torso punching bag.
- 6:20–6:40 Shower, shave and dress.
- 6:40–7:05 Eat a big breakfast (three eggs, ham, toast, and a banana/yogurt protein smoothie), check personal email, and check the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, Fox, and ESPN newsfeeds. (I don’t have a personal social media account—no Facebook, no Twitter, etc.)
- 7:10 Depart house.
- 7:15 Stop for coffee, which I take strong, with a bit of milk and a lot of sugar.
- 7:30 Arrive at office.
Admiral William H. McRaven knows something about high-pressure, high-stakes situations. As head of United States Special Operations Command, he oversaw the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. And that was only the capstone of a lifetime of service as a Navy SEAL.
But when McRaven gave the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, last year, his advice to grads kicked off with a surprisingly down-to-earth tip for such a battle-hardened warrior.
After admitting to being hungover for his graduation years earlier (and to completely forgetting the efforts of the commencement speaker), he got down to dispensing life lessons he learned at basic SEAL training. The first and most basic is accessible to anyone looking to supercharge their day (and will probably please your mom).
Make your bed!
“To me, basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months,” he tells the gathered grads, before explaining that “every morning in SEAL training my instructors…would show up at my barracks room, and the first thing they’d do is inspect my bed.”
It seemed ridiculous at the time, McRaven concedes, especially given that these were guys who aspired to be rock-hard SEALs, not domestic divas, “but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over,” he insists. Why is making your bed such a powerful way to start your day? He offers three reasons.
First, “making your bed will…reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
Second, because success (no matter how minuscule) breeds success. “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. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed,” McRaven explains.
Not only does making your bed kick off a little self-reinforcing cycle of success, but it also ensures a pleasant end to the day as well. “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,” he says.
Sounds easy enough, especially considering the outsized benefits to the rest of your day.
Want to hear more of McRaven’s lessons from SEAL training? You can watch the full speech below.