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Make your bed summary

Make your bed by Admiral William McRaven.

Admiral William H. McRaven is well-known for his commencement speech “Make your bed” at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

While the video went viral, he shares in this Make your bed book the 10 life-lessons he learned from the Navy SEAL training.

As he highlights, the ten lessons help overcoming the trials of SEAL training, but you can also include them in your mindset to deal with any daily challenges in life.

The lessons shared are easily applicable and can be of universal appeal. In this sense, you can be a civilian, a navy SEAL or just anyone; you’ll find those lessons extremely valuable.


Make your bed book

MAKE YOUR BED CHAPTER ONE: Start Your Day with a Task Completed

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

When you start your Navy SEAL training, your first task of the day is to properly make your bed.

The admiral considered it as a process because it initiated a long series of other tasks. He knew that he would later have “uniform inspections, long swims, longer runs, obstacle courses, and constant harassment from the SEAL instructors.”

When the instructor entered the room, he would begin to inspect everything in every detail.

“The instructor, stern and expressionless, began the inspection by checking the starch in my green uniform hat to ensure the eight-sided “cover” was crisp and correctly blocked. Moving from top to bottom, his eyes looked over every inch of my uniform. Were the creases in the blouse and trousers aligned? Was the brass on the belt shined to a mirror like radiance? Were my boots polished bright enough so he could see his fingers in their reflection? Satisfied that I met the high standards expected of a SEAL trainee, he moved to inspect the bed”

In the book “The power of habit by Charles Duhigg, I mentioned that making your bed is a keystone habit. It’s a habit that spills over into other parts of your lives.

As mentioned in “make your bed”, the instructor never praises a trainee when the bed is correctly made, why so? Because it’s the least he could do, it’s the standard and everyone is expected to do that.

Making your bed is your first task of the day because it gives you a sense of pride when it’s done correctly.

It’s a keystone habit that demonstrates your discipline. Most importantly, it shows how much you care about the details. At the end of the day, no matter how exhausted you are, you’ll know that you accomplished something well, something you can be proud of.

As a little anecdote, Admiral William H. McRaven shares how the captive Saddam Hussein did not make his bed at that time; as he was held in confinement back in December 2003.

“Sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right. If you want to change your life and maybe the world—start off by making your bed!”


Admiral William McRaven


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

One of the biggest mistakes in my life was to believe that I would succeed alone. Until recently, I realized that everything in nature is interdependent. There is dependence, independence and interdependence but the latter is the most powerful. Everything in nature is interdependent.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the importance of teamwork. The second lesson in “Make your bed” highlights this once again: we always need a wingman, a friend; we need to rely on someone to help us go through the difficult tasks.

To understand the importance of teamwork, the future Navy frogmen carry a ten-foot rubber raft. They have to carry it just everywhere during the first phase of SEAL training.

When they carry their boats, some trainees think they can make it alone so they force their team members to adopt a quicker pace. But it’s a losing strategy because they end up making too much effort. At the end, those people fail because they hardly manage their stamina and they never make it through further steps in the drills.

During the training, when someone gets injured or sick, the other members will pick up the slack, they will paddle harder for him. The Admiral confides how his peers would give him extra rations for extra strength when he got cold or the flu. Reciprocity guides their relationship so he would return the favor later on. There is saying in my country: “If you unite your force, you’ll be like a rock; if you don’t, you’ll be like sand”.

One of the things he learned there is that “No SEAL could make it through combat alone and by extension you needed people in your life to help you through the difficult times.”

You’ll always need someone and you can’t go it alone. You’ll need a team to build a truly successful company. You might even need a mentor, someone who’s more experienced than you. Listening to them will help you avoid their past mistakes.

“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.  “

For years, I thought I wouldn’t need anyone in my life. I even thought that I wouldn’t get married. But one day, I visited a friend at the hospital. I could see how much his wife cared about him, prepared food for him, called the nurses when necessary and even helped my friend go to the bathroom. This hit me hard, what if I faced the same situation? Who would ever help me if I were alone?

MAKE YOUR BED CHAPTER THREE: Only the Size of Your Heart Matters

If you want to change the world… measure a person by the size of their heart

Some courageous little men “dare” to apply for Navy SEAL training. They are often laughed at because – to the majority- they didn’t belong there.

“Do you really want to be a frogman?” an instructor would ask. “You’re nothing but a tiny little man” shouted the others. The author then noticed that a SEAL instructor whispered something in a tiny little man’s ear.

Later that same day, William H. McRaven would ask the little guy what the instructor told him. To his surprise, the tiny man who just succeeded in his training smiled and proudly said: “Prove me wrong”.

“SEAL training was always about proving something. Proving that size didn’t matter. Proving that the color of your skin wasn’t important. Proving that money didn’t make you better. Proving that determination and grit were always more important than talent.”

A few years later, William H. McRaven visited Lieutenant Doug Huth. Previously he met “two SEALs who towered over high school students. Senior Chief Petty Officer Dick Ray stood six foot three with broad shoulders, a thin waist, a deep tan, and a dark pencil-thin mustache. He was everything we could expect a SEAL to look like. Standing next to him was Chief Petty Officer Gene Wence. Well over six feet, Wence was built like a linebacker, with imposing biceps and a steely-eyed glare that cautioned everyone not to get too close.”

Before being called to meet Lieutenant Dough Huth, the author also saw another man looking at some photos hanging on the walls. It was “A civilian by his attire, he was slightly built, almost frail, and a mop of dark hair hung Beatle-like over his ears. He seemed to be staring in awe at the incredible warriors whose actions were portrayed in the photos. In my mind, I wondered if he thought he had what it took to be a Navy SEAL.”

When Lieutenant Dough Huth welcomed him to his office, William H. McRaven – at that time a midshipman – was in shock.

Actually, the little man he just saw outside was Tommy Norris, Lieutenant Tom Norris. He “served in Vietnam, had on successive nights gone deep behind enemy lines to rescue two downed airmen.”

“In 1969, Tommy Norris was almost booted out of SEAL training. They said he was too small, too thin, and not strong enough. But much like the young sailor in my class, Norris proved them all wrong and once again showed that it’s not the size of your flippers that count, just the size of your heart.”

It’s the size of our heart that counts but how many of us think small because of our shortcomings, our physical appearance and our imperfections?

Oftentimes we use them to aliment even more self-doubts and self-limiting beliefs about what we are capable of doing.

Yet, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more you believe you can’t do it and the less actions you’ll take and the more it will become your reality.

“Only the Size of Your Heart Matters” is a valuable lesson because “a small size” here represents the causes of our self-doubts.

In the end, it’s your belief, your mindset and your heart that matter.

It’s your responsibility to prove other people wrong. Teach them not to judge a book by its cover but by its content.

MAKE YOUR BED CHAPTER FOUR: Life’s not Fair—Drive On!

If you want to change the world… get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

During training, if an instructor notices any deviation, he will urge a trainee to “hit the surf”, roll around on the beach until he gets covered head to toe with wet sand. That’s being a sugar cookie.

One day, the author got this same uncomfortable punishment. He had to spend the whole day all wet and sandy.

When the instructor called McRaven, he calmly and respectfully responded that he didn’t understand why he was a sugar cookie this morning.

“Because, Mr. Mac, life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be.” Answered the Lieutenant Martin Moki, one of Admiral McRaven’s models in his SEAL career.

In the 1980s, Lieutenant Martin Moki got severely injured after a bike accident. While it was announced that he would be temporarily paralyzed, he unfortunately had to spend the past 35 years in a wheelchair.

Never did he complain about his situation, never did he whine about his misfortune. Nowhere did he utter negative words.

Yet, most people’s reaction would’ve been blame, anger and self-pity. They will claim how unfair life is.

But we need to take responsibility for our lives. Something bad might happen but it’s really up to us to interpret what it means for us: it can tear us down or we can build upon it.

Successful people had the same challenges as unsuccessful ones but they didn’t use them as an excuse. Rather, they faced adversity and took them as an opportunity;

As highlighted in his book “Make your Bed, Admiral McRaven said: “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: Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking, Malala Yousafzai, and—Moki Martin.”

Stop complaining, stand tall and look to the future!

CHAPTER FIVE: Failure Can Make You Stronger

If you want to change the world… don’t be afraid of The Circus

To teach the trainees the importance of teamwork, the whole group is often punished if one member makes a mistake. That happened to McRaven with his swim buddy because both struggled to keep the pace and they finished last.

To the instructors, McRaven and his friend embarrassed the entire class. They were yelled at because to the trainers, they would never make it through.

Their punishment was the circus. It’s the most feared correction you could have because you will be asked to do two hours of calisthenics. These exercises were easily exhausting right after the training. Worse, those two hours compound and will make you even worn out the next day.

The more circus you’ll have and the more circus you might have because fatigue creates even more fatigues and less performance. Many cadets choose to ring the bell (give up) because of this.

This didn’t stop McRaven and his friend however. Actually, their two hours of calisthenics calloused their minds and their body.

“The next day brought more calisthenics, another run, another obstacle course, another swim, and unfortunately another Circus. More sit-ups, more push-ups, and a lot more flutter kicks. But as The Circuses continued a funny thing happened. Our swims got better, and Marc and I began to move up in the pack.”

At the end of their training, right before graduation, they had to pass one last test, a five-miler “final open ocean swim”.

When they finished, an instructor ordered: “Drop down” which commands McRaven and his buddy to fall into a push-up position.

Once again, they embarrassed their class, but this time by making their teammates look bad.

As they were asked to recover, both McRaven and his friend met the instructor’s smiles because the circus helped them pass the test and exceed all the other teams.

Your past failures can strengthen and callous your mind, 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.”


Navy SEALs

CHAPTER SIX: You Must Dare Greatly

If you want to change the world… slide down the obstacle headfirst

In a SEAL obstacle course, McRaven often feared a riskier but faster move. He preferred “Swinging his legs over the top of the line and holding on for dear life, he then began to inch his way off the platform. His body hung underneath the rope, and with a caterpillar-like motion he slowly made his way, foot by foot, to the other end.”

That move was secure but too slow and he needed to perform a method called “Commando style” where he’ll go head first. One week later, he felt his fear but did push it aside, thrusting his body headfirst.

He succeeded in his endeavor as the instructor nodded. That lesson would teach him to overcome his fear and anxieties. He would use the lesson “You Must Dare Greatly” in many other cases; for example in several hostage rescues and other raids like with bin Laden.

You too, you’ll need to trust your abilities to overcome any challenge. There is an old British SAS (Special Air Service) saying: “Who dares wins”.

“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.”

MAKE YOUR BED CHAPTER SEVEN: Stand Up to the Bullies

If you want to change the world… don’t back down from the sharks.

In one of their training, McRaven and his buddy Marc Thomas had to succeed in a night four-mile swim. The water off San Clemente Island is well-known to be filled with potential dangerous white sharks. Nonetheless, McRaven and his friend’s longing to be SEALs won over. Their courage was unmatched despite the danger in front.

As highlighted in “make your bed” the two were ready to fight off the shark, they were mentally prepared for it.

“Our goal, which we believed to be honorable and noble, gave us courage, and courage is a remarkable quality. Nothing and nobody can stand in your way. Without it, others will define your path forward. Without it, you are at the mercy of life’s temptations. Without courage, men will be ruled by tyrants and despots. Without courage, no great society can flourish. Without courage, the bullies of the world rise up. With it, you can accomplish any goal. With it, you can defy and defeat evil.”

The Admiral mentions another anecdote when Saddam Hussein’s successors and new leaders visited him in prison.

Even if Saddam was behind the bar, he still intimidated and instilled fear in his visitors. They knew what Saddam was capable of; including killing his own generals.

Sharks sense fear in the water and they will devour a man alive when the chance is offered. We shouldn’t be like the new leaders mentioned above, bullies are everywhere and they gain their strength by intimidating the weak.

“They are like sharks that sense fear in the water. They will circle to see if their prey is struggling. They will probe to see if their victim is weak. If you don’t find the courage to stand your ground, they will strike. In life, to achieve your goals, to complete the night swim, you will have to be men and women of great courage. That courage is within all of us. Dig deep, and you will find it in abundance.”


If you want to change the world… be your very best in the darkest moments.

At some point in our lives, we’ll sooner or later lose a close friend, a parent or a loved one. It’s part of life. Losing someone you love remains a dark moment. But we have to overcome the adversity and find a way to be our very best.

CHAPTER NINE: Give People Hope

If you want to change the world… start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Hell week can be described as the most physically demanding training in the American military. It consists of an arduous series of tasks such as push-ups, jumping lunges, sit-ups and flutter kicks, rope climbs, obstacle courses, Open Ocean swims, all of these in thick mud and freezing water. Worse, you’ll have six days without sleep and continuous harassment by the instructors.

Hell Week’s goal is simple: to eliminate the weak because only 1/3 of the men who started make it through Hell Week.

At some point during hell week, a SEAL instructor would lure, deliberately mislead and comfort the trainees, telling them that they can join him whenever they want by the fire for hot coffee and for chicken soup.

Some of the guys were enticed and started to move, leaving McRaven’s group.

But suddenly, one trainee started to sing, giving the whole group hope. “One voice became two and two became three and then before long everyone was singing.”

A person can inspire and give hope to the group just like the one who started to chant in the previous example. “If that one person could sing while neck deep in mud, then so could we. If that one person could endure the freezing cold, then so could we. If that one person could hold on, then so could we.”

In 2010, Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly lost his son in combat in Afghanistan. He knows more than anyone how it is to lose a close family and how to go through the pain despite the tragedy. He could say that his family survived a misfortune.

Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly was also the one who could make a difference in other families’ lives, those who also lost their son, husband and family in combat. He offered them “words of sympathy and encouragement in the face of tragedy”. Above all, he gave them hope.

“Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. With hope you can raise up the downtrodden. With hope you can ease the pain of unbearable loss. Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference”

CHAPTER TEN: Never, Ever Quit!

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

During the 6-month SEAL drill, the trainees have two simple choices. They go through hell or they ring the bell.

“Going through hell” means having lots of pain, lots and lots of it. The instructors are clear about that. They will do whatever it takes to make you quit. They will “harass you unmercifully; they will embarrass you in front of your teammates. They will push you beyond your limits”.

But there’s a second easy choice and maybe you’ll like it: to ring the bell three times.

This means that you quit. It also means that you are a loser. As you ring the bell, you won’t have to get up early, making your bed would no longer be a necessity; neither would be the unimaginable sufferings that are waiting for you.

But if you quit however, you’ll regret it forever.

“Quitting never makes anything easier”.

At the end of the day, whereas McRaven’s promotion started with 150 students in his class, only 33 of them made it to the graduation, only 22%.

Years later, as Admiral William H. McRaven visited the injured during combats; he noticed how none of them complained. They accepted their fate and showed pride in what they do.

“Life is full of difficult times. But someone out there always has it worse than you do. If you fill your days with pity, sorrowful for the way you have been treated, bemoaning your lot in life, blaming your circumstances on someone or something else, then life will be long and hard. If, on the other hand, you refuse to give up on your dreams, stand tall and strong against the odds—then life will be what you make of it—and you can make it great. Never, ever, ring the bell!”

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