Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by William H. McRaven
“On May 21, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day. Taking inspiration from the university’s slogan, “What starts here changes the world,” he shared the 10 principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also throughout his life; and he explained how anyone can use these basic lessons to change themselves – and the world – for the better.
Admiral McRaven’s original speech went viral with over 10 million views. Building on the core tenets laid out in his speech, McRaven now recounts tales from his own life and from those of people he encountered during his military service who dealt with hardship and made tough decisions with determination, compassion, honor, and courage. Told with great humility and optimism, this timeless book provides simple wisdom, practical advice, and words of encouragement that will inspire listeners to achieve more, even in life’s darkest moments.” -Audible
I think I first heard of this book from one of the guests of Tim Ferriss’ podcast. I’ve been putting it off because it’s such a short listen, but I chose it for this month because I needed to choose short books. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t finish on time and be behind my monthly reading schedule.
Reader’s note: I bet the main idea of the book, based on the title and sub- title is how the little things add up to the big things, and maybe that how you start your day has a cascading domino effect on the rest of your day and probably life.
Chapter 1: Start Your Day with a Task Completed
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed
- Making his bed was a reminder that at the end of the day he had done something well, something to be proud of no matter how small the task
Reader’s note: He mentions that making your bed also shows to everyone else that your world is in order, at least internally.
Examples of working in the sick bay to give patients confidence in them, or after his injury to show others he conquered it in the hospital.
Chapter 2: You Can’t Go It Alone
If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle
- The small rubber boat in training made them realize that no man could make it through training alone, and no SEAL could make it through combat alone
- You need people in life to help you through the difficult times
- He realized that anything he achieved in life was a result of others helping him along the way
- 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
- Never forget that your success depends on others
Chapter 3: Only the Size of Your Heart Matters
If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart.
- Seal training was always about proving something
- Proving that size didn’t matter, that the color of your skin wasn’t important, that money didn’t make you better, that determination and grit were always more important than talent
Reader’s note: such a great story about this frail, humble looking man being lieutenant Tom Norris who was a Vietnam vet and Medal of Honor recipient.
Chapter 4: Life’s Not Fair. Drive On.
If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward
- The common people and the great men and women are all defined by how they deal with life’s unfairness
Chapter 5: Failure Can Make You Stronger
If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses
- “The circus” was designed to put you through a spiral of failure but make you stronger
- It made him and his buddy Mark gradually improve their performance above the rest of the class
- They went from being last to being first in the pack
- In life, you will face a lot of circuses. You will pay for your failures
- But if you persevere, if you’ll let those failures teach you and strengthen you, then you’ll be prepared to handle life’s toughest moments
Chapter 6: You Must Dare Greatly
If you want to change the world, slide down the obstacle headfirst
- Those who live in fear of failure, hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential
- Without pushing your limits, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life
Chapter 7: Stand Up to the Bullies
If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks
Chapter 8: Rise to the Occasion
If you want to change the world, be your very best in the darkest moments
Chapter 9: Give People Hope
If you want to change the world, start singing when you are up to your neck in mud
- He learned of the power of one person to lead and inspire a group, to give them hope
Chapter 10: Never Ever Quit
If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell
- In SEAL training, the drill instructor told everyone that if they quit, they will regret it for the rest of their lives
- If you fill your days with pity, 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
- You can make it great
Themes / Main ideas:
- If you make your bed, that one task completed will eventually lead to many tasks completed by the end of the day
- Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things matter
- If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right
- If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle
- Seal training was a great equalizer
- Nothing mattered but your will to succeed
- If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers
- Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie
- If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward
- Over time, the students who constantly made the circus list got stronger and stronger
- The pain of the circuses built inner strength and physical resilience
- If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses
- If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst
- If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks
- If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment
- One person can change the world by giving hope
- If you want to change the world, start singing when you are up to your neck in mud
- If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell
If you want to change the world:
- Start each day with a task completed
- Find someone to help you through life
- Respect everyone
- Know that life is not fair
- You will fail often
- Take some risks
- Step up when the times are toughest
- Facedown the bullies
- Lift up the downtrodden
- Never, ever give up
- The next generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one today
I absolutely loved this book. Such a short and concise book, but very powerful and profound principles. I also loved that it weaved these principles both into stories during his SEAL training, but also as a commanding officer in the U.S. Navy.
My criteria for great books are usually:
- Solid/valuable principles
- Woven into a story or narrative
- Actionable for the reader
- Little to no “fluff”
This book checked all of the boxes for a great book in my opinion.
A couple of other books written by military people that I highly recommend if you enjoyed this book:
10 principles to adopt if you want to change the world given by retired U.S. Navy SEAL Admiral.
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