Make Your Bed Summary (William H. McRaven)

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William McRaven was a four-star US Navy Seal Admiral and distils his life advice into ten timeless pieces of wisdom to help us live the good life.

Based on a commencement speech (which you can watch below), these life principles have allowed McRaven to succeed in his career as a Special Forces supervisor.

So if you’re a leader looking to inspire or want to turn your own life around, the Make Your Bed summary is required reading.

Main takeaway: Little things, repeated often, can often make the most difference.

1. Start your day with a task completed

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

In military movies, bootcamp scenes invariably focus on recruits making their beds with the utmost precision.

In the author’s own training, failure to perform this ritual was punishable by the ‘sugar cookie’, whereby cadets dived into the ocean before rolling in hot sand.

This small task may seem benign and insignificant, but it’s actually an essential way to start the day.

By accomplishing any task first thing in the morning, however, easy, helps build momentum that we can carry into the next productive activity.

This ensures it’s easier to work our way down the to-do list, fostering a feeling of happiness and productivity.

A good start can also help us end the day in the right way and we can reflect with pride on that small achievement.

2. You can’t go it alone

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

No man can make it through SEAL training or combat alone.

McRaven learnt this the hard way after suffering a serious parachute accident and receiving help from his wife during his months of recovery.

Find someone to share your life with and make as many friends as possible.

We all need people in life to help us through difficult times and any achievement depends on input from others.

3. Only the size of your heart matters

“If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart”

When McRaven visited a recruitment centre to learn more about becoming a Navy Seal, he encountered a small man, frail in appearance, who turned out to be a Vietnam war hero.

Never make the mistake of judging someone other than by the size of their heart.

And before placing your confidence in them, ask yourself what you really know about them.

4. Life’s not fair—drive on!

“If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward”

Often the sugar cookie punishment was inflicted without good reason, which taught McRaven an important lesson.

Don’t expect life to be fair and reasonable.

When you spend enough time running around with sand chafing your body, you realise it’s futile to resist facts and waste time and try to evade life’s challenges.

We’re all defined by our response to life’s unfairness. So pick yourself up and march on.

5. Failure can make you stronger

“If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses”

In SEAL training, “The Circus” is a strenuous endurance test combined with instructor harassment, designed to separate the strong from the weak.

By introducing cadets to failure, it simultaneously made them stronger [The Circus training caused McRaven and his team to go from last to first place in the assessment.]

We all face such circuses in our lives and failing is inevitable.

Although it’s a word imbued with much negativity, when reframed, it can be used as an advantage.

Despite its tendency to cause pain and suffering, we can use it to spark strength and determination, preparing us for the toughest life challenges.

6. You must dare greatly

“If you want to change the world…sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst”

If we let our anxieties and insecurities control our decisions and actions, we won’t get far.

Without pushing our limits and without daring greatly, we’ll never know what’s truly possible.

In order to win big, we must be willing to take big risks.

7. Stand up to the bullies

“If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks”

Life is full of challenges, especially when confronted by bullies and false friends, or as in the case of McRaven, shark invested waters.

During his SEAL training, he had to do a 4-mile night swim, with reports of sharks in the area.

McRaven had to overcome his fears and take the plunge.

Sometimes it feels easier to shy away rather than accept the challenge, but we must dig deep and remain courageous to reach our goals.

8. Rise to the occasion

“If you want to change the world, be your very best in the darkest moments”

Life is full of dark moments, from serious illnesses to death, and it’s how we respond that counts.

McRaven has seen many fatalities in war, but it’s the endurance and resilience of friends and loved ones that have been striking.

In life’s toughest moments, we must rise to the challenge and put our best selves forward.

9. Give people hope

“If you want to change the world, start singing when you are up to your neck in mud”

At some point, we’ll all be neck-deep in mud, at which point we should sing, lift up those around us and give them the confidence that tomorrow will be better.

After all, how often have you been at the end of your proverbial tether, just to speak to a friend and gain a fresh perspective?

We should all endeavour to be that friend, someone who can instil hope and lead others forward.

10. Never, ever quit!

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

[Ringing the bell is a SEAL hell week ritual, where when a cadet wants to quit, they must confirm it by ringing a bell on the compound, after which there’s no going back]

Life will frequently want to make us quit.

But when the going gets tough, remember that life is beautiful, made possible by great and terrible moments alike.

Don’t blame others or feel sorry for yourself, but rather put in the effort.

After all, we only get out what we put in and by giving nothing, regret is inevitable.

So do away with self-pity, stand tall and proud and know that life is what we make of it – and we can make it great.

The Make Your Bed summary

  • Wonderfully simple and yet profound life advice
  • Battle tested by a higher performer
  • Simple, yet not easy
  • Will require courage and practice to implement
  • Watch the video below for the commencement speech