One would be hard-pressed to find a resource on organization, fostering positive habits, and productivity, that did not highlight the benefits of making one’s bed. In fact, one of my earliest blog posts – The Pursuit of Tidy ~ No. 1 – discussed this very thing (please try to contain your shock).
The act of making of one’s bed is often linked to increased productivity and well-being; regularly cited as a “keystone habit” (a habit that triggers a domino effect, spawning other positive practices throughout one’s day).
For me, the simple truth is that when I make my bed, I feel better; however, what I did not realize until late, was that making one’s bed could be a catalyst to personal and global change. Yes, you heard me correctly; making your bed can be life-changing! Well, at least according to Retired Admiral William H. McRaven in his new book entitled, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe The World.
A few weeks back, I came upon this gem much as I do many of the books I read, by chance. I was in the business aisle of my local bookstore browsing for works on leadership when it caught my attention. A modest book, weighing in at a mere 130 pages, I picked it up and stared at if for a moment. While I’m not typically drawn to works penned by former Navy SEALS, let’s be real, McRaven had me at “make your bed”.
This little book sat on my nightstand for a few weeks waiting in the queue, until this past weekend, when I felt compelled to pick it up. While it took me less than an hour to read, it was incredibly inspirational, and a work I know I will return to time and again.
Make Your Bed stems from Admiral William H. McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin, and contains ten simple principles that he learned during Navy SEAL training, which empowered him to overcome challenges, not only during his Naval career, but throughout his life.
Following the address, McRaven’s speech went viral, reaching over 10 million views. Building on the core tenants outlined in his speech, McRaven uses tales from his own life (and from the lives of those he encountered during his military service) to drive home the simple wisdom and practical advice that has genuinely inspired me to achieve more, even in life’s darkest moments.
While I appreciate and identify with all ten of McRaven’s principles, today I wish to discuss the three that resonated with me most:
Start Your Day with a Task Completed
In the first chapter, McRaven recounts the barracks at basic SEAL training, where he would begin each day by making his bed. The instructors would enter the barracks to inspect the trainee’s work, checking the hospital corners, surveying the blanket and ensuring the pillow was correctly aligned under the headboard. If the bed was made to the instructor’s satisfaction, the trainees would receive a simple nod. There was never any praise, never a “job well-done”, it was just expected.
McRaven notes that making his bed was the first task of the day, and doing it right was important to him. This act not only demonstrated his discipline and attention to detail, but it also served as a reminder that at the end of the day, regardless of how the day went, he had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small.
I have to say, I absolutely love the idea behind this – the symbolism is fantastic! By completing a simple task, and doing it well, not only do you start your day off on the right foot, but if your day does not go according to plan, you can return home and take comfort in knowing that you did something well. So, whether it is making your bed, styling your hair, unloading the dishwasher or writing in your journal, find something that you can return to everyday and feel good about.
In McRaven’s speech (conveniently located at the back of the book) he takes this lesson one step further by asserting – “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” Cue mic drop! Words that are so simple and yet, so true.
While I am sure some will disagree, I am a firm believer that life is in the details, and those details, no matter how small, are worthy of attending to. Not only that, but I also believe that seeing value and attending to those details helps to establish a habit or mindset of excellence, for it is logical to assume that if you do the small things well, you will most likely do the larger things well too.
Moreover, McRaven’s words are a solid reminder of the benefits to living in the moment. So much of our lives fly by doing everyday things like grocery shopping, cleaning toilets, or making dinner. By focusing on the particular task at hand, and doing that task to the best of your ability, you are making the most of your time on earth. While pulling a bed sheet taut, making the hospital corners crisp, or fluffing a pillow may seem inconsequential, why not make it valuable? Why not take those mundane tasks and see them as an opportunity to raise your own bar? You have do them anyway, so make them count!
You Can’t Go It Alone
Chapter two begins with a discussion centered on teamwork, and the importance of having someone to rely on, especially in difficult times.
McRaven recalls the first phase of his SEAL training, in which everywhere the SEALS went, they had to carry a ten-foot rubber raft. They carried it from the barracks to the “chow hall”, up and down the sand dunes, and paddled it endlessly north and south along the coastline. Against the pounding surf, it took all seven men working together to get the boat to its destination.
Occasionally, one of the team members would become sick or injured, unable to give 100%. On those days, McRaven notes, the other members picked up the slack. “They paddled harder. They dug deeper”. Then, when the time came later in training, those that had benefited from that would return the favour.
In this story, McRaven not only highlights his belief that no SEAL could make it through training alone, but more broadly, he reinforces the notion that we all need others in our lives to make it through the difficult times. McRaven concludes the chapter with some wise words:
“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.”
I found myself nodding in agreement throughout this entire chapter. Quite simply, I would not be where I am today without the people around me – first and foremost, my parents, my brother, and my husband.
Since childhood, I have struggled with a chronic health condition, which at times has been crippling. Throughout my formative years, there were periods where it was so severe, that it became difficult for me to continue on with everyday things like school. Had I not had the strength of my parents and my brother to draw on, had I not had them pushing me to fight and move forward, I hate to think where I would be today. Now as an adult, my husband has joined the team, and the four of them continue to stand strong, picking up the slack when I am not at 100%. Where and when I can, I always return the favour.
With that said, there have been countless others over the course of my life who have bolstered me, extended a helping hand – gestures I will be forever grateful for. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have the supports I do, for in my line of work, I have seen firsthand what happens to those who do not.
So, why not build a team like McRaven’s? When someone is struggling, pick up the slack, strengthen them and move them forward. Conversely, when you are struggling, accept the helping hand that’s reaching out to you. Navigating this crazy world alone is futile. United we stand, divided we fall – it really is as simple as that.
Life’s Not Fair – Drive on!
This principle, articulated in chapter four, really resonated with me as fairness has been on my mind lately.
McRaven begins by recounting the day he became a “sugar cookie”. Now, my first thought was, “oh, how lovely, a sugar cookie”, until I realized what it meant, and it is not so lovely. In fact it is quite the opposite, and involves a trainee running into the ocean, fully clothed, emerging soaking wet and then proceeding to roll around in the sand until no part of said trainee is left uncovered. Then the trainee must remain that way for the rest of the day. That sounds like a nightmare to me, considering I become very grumpy when I get sand in my shoe at the beach (again, try to contain your shock).
McRaven affirms that there was nothing more uncomfortable than being a sugar cookie, not only because it tested one’s patience, but more so, because the act of becoming a sugar cookie was indiscriminate. “There was no rhyme or reason. [One] became a sugar cookie at the whim of the instructor.”
Once fully “sugared”, the instructor asked McRaven if he had any idea as to why he had been made a sugar cookie on that day. When McRaven responded no, the instructor uttered simply, “Because, Mr. Mac, life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be”. Amen to that!
McRaven concludes this chapter with the following:
“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. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, you still end up as a sugar cookie. Don’t complain. Don’t blame it on your misfortune. Stand tall, look to the future, and drive on”.
We have all been on the wrong side of fair at one time or another. In fact, I recently found myself on what I deemed to be the wrong side of fair, and it wasn’t pretty.
Since then, I have been compelled to explore the notion of “fairness”; what it means and why we crave it. What I have found most interesting in my exploration thus far, is that we are often only concerned with fairness when we are on the wrong end of it.
Ultimately, fairness is somewhat of a fallacy (a notion which I may discuss in a future blog post). While we can attempt to legislate or enforce it, it does not make it so. In reality, what we are left with is a “pseudo-fairness”, based on someone’s interpretation or measurement of what is “fair” at any given time, and in any given situation.
Editor’s Note: When I speak of “unfairness”, I do not mean “injustice”. There are a great many injustices in the world that should not be ignored, and should not necessarily be met with a “drive on” mentality.
Then, there is all of the stuff life throws at us which we cannot control. For example, the horrific events in Manchester, England recently, which saw innocent children killed following a pop concert. This unfathomable event only further affirms the reality that life is anything but fair.
Now, what are we to do with this information? Well, since so much is out of our control, perhaps the only reasonable thing we can do is to shift our focus to what is in our control – essentially, how we manage the “unfair”. As McRaven notes, it is easy to blame our lot in life on an outside force, and while taking this route is certainly easier, it rarely does anything to improve our situation. Often, those who choose to take this route quickly spiral into a “perpetual victim” state, of which they never emerge from.
So, you did not get the job you thought you would. While you cannot control that decision, you can control your reaction to that decision. It will NOT be easy, and by all means, allow yourself time to grieve. Then, if that job is something you really want, explore what you can do to improve your chances next time (because there will be a next time), and as McRaven says, “drive on”.
Something that has really helped me manage the perceived unfairness is to take stock of all the times I came out on the right side of fair. When I look at that list, it helps me to appreciate all of the times I have sat on the right side of fair, and I take comfort in knowing that I will be there again, just not today.
These are just three of the many valuable lessons McRaven shares in his book, lessons that are powerful and relevant to anyone at any point along their journey. I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself and maybe a friend. Then, tomorrow morning, make your bed and open yourself up to the life-changing opportunities that await!