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Make Your Bed: 4-Star Admiral Recommends These 10 Tips

A former United States Navy SEAL and 4-Star Admiral shares his approach on life. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

Jerry Zhang
Jerry Zhang

5 min read

I first heard the phrase “make your bed” become popularized in Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech for Texas University. Then, I found out he actually wrote a book as an extension. I got curious, and gave this book a read.

It was a pleasant read—short and crisp. Plus, I wasn’t too familiar with what it’s like to be in the military, so this was a nice bonus.

None of Admiral McRaven’s advice is revolutionary, but practicing them on a consistent basis takes discipline and consistency. If you want to change your life (and possibly the world), start with these tips.

1. Be Preemptive—Start Your Day With A Task Completed

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

This is the famous line that started Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech, which has since gone viral. We all have busy days, and some days will be better than others. But at the end of each day, it really counts to have a nicely made bed to come back to. Don’t underestimate this seemingly simple task—it takes discipline and habit to do this consistently, and can provide the momentum to begin each day.

2. Be Social—You Can’t Go It Alone

Quite literally, you cannot paddle the boat alone. With teamwork, the force multiplier is more than just linear. What is impossible with 1 person can be accomplished with a crew.

Nobody can be at 100% all the timeeventually we will break down. It’s a part of being human. Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t try. There will be days that we get sick or have a bad day. That’s when friends can help us out, because we will be there for them when they need us too.

You can’t change the world alone. Find your comrades and start working together.

3. Be Unbiased—Only The Size Of Your Heart Matters

Admiral McRaven recounts the time when he was just about to enlist for Navy SEAL training. At the enlistment center, he saw two Navy SEAL officers, tall and strongly built. In contrast, he saw a short man, who he believed was not cut out for the Navy SEALs. He later found out that the short man was actually a war hero and ranked far higher than the two Navy SEAL officers.

Often times, we let our unconscious bias fill in the gaps. This leads us to make assumptions that are not only unfounded, but also unfair.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Be impartial to all.

4. Be Practical—Life’s Not Fair, Get Over It

Life is not fair—and it never will be. If you’re waiting for life to be fair, that time will never come. We don’t get to choose which side of the world to be born at or who’s womb to come out of. But that is not an excuse to be anything less than what you can be.

Here are some people that changed the world despite life’s unfairness:

  • Hellen Keller—American author, political activist, lecturer, and first blind-deaf person to get a Bachelors degree
  • Stephen Hawking—English author, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, was paralyzed and lost the ability to speak
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt—American president that served throughout World War 2, had his legs permanently paralyzed
  • Stevie Wonder—one of the most successful musicians of the 21st century, was blind
  • Nick Vujicic—motivational speaker, has no arms nor legs

If you were born more fortunate than any of these people, you have absolutely no excuse to claim life is unfair to you.

5. Be Humble—Failure Makes You Stronger

Everyone fails. But if you simply let failure define you for who you are, then you’re a real failure.

The greatest lessons come from failure. Why? Because when we’ve done our absolute best and still fail, we are forced to contemplate what went wrong and what to do the next time around. But this lesson isn’t free. We pay two tuitions: the consequences of failure and the contemplation required to absorb the insight.

It’s never pleasant to fail, especially when you’re Admiral McRaven and your decision affects the lives of many troops. But it’s essential to learn from failure so we can be better prepared the next time around.

6. Be Bold—Take Risks

Life’s greatest accomplishments result from pushing beyond the comfort zone. Whether we’re afraid of public speaking or a bad investment, we will never know what we’re capable of unless we try.

This requires us to overcome our fears. We humans are most afraid of failure. Anything with a worthwhile reward will contain risk. We are afraid to be on the bad side of the risk, since we are worried that the loss is too damaging.

If you like playing it safe in life, then you are choosing to settle. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But nobody ever changes the world by playing it safe.

Overcome your fears. Just do it.

7. Be Courageous—Stand Up To The Bullies

Bullies come in all shapes and forms. They range from the kid level—the school courtyard bully that uses their size to intimidate—to the adult level—government dictators who control their population through fear.

They all have one thing in common—they rely on fear to assert their dominance because their numbers are few in comparison to how many people they are bullying. If the majority of the population are afraid enough, then the bullies win. However, if enough people have courage to stand up to the bullies, the bullies will fall.

It all starts with one courageous individual to trigger the dominoes to overthrow the bullies. But if everyone thinks someone else will do it, no one will. Don’t be everyone else.

8. Be Dependable—Rise To The Occasion

On the battlefield, life or death is determined by whether or not the soldiers complete their mission. Admiral McRaven emphasizes that we need to bring this level of determination to our daily lives in order to change the world.

For civilians, the stakes are not nearly as high as death. Therefore, there’s room for sloppiness and inadequacy. If we perform only average, we won’t lose our lives. But that is not good enough to change the world.

Have Grit. Follow Through. Deliver Results.

9. Be Encouraging—Give People Hope

Admiral McRaven talks about this point from the perspective of a general consoling the families of fallen soldiers. Shouldering such a burden is almost unthinkable for those of us not in the military. Even in such tragic and demoralizing situations, McRaven reminds us that we need to continue bringing hope.

Without hope, those who have lost loved ones will be so focused on the loss that they forget the joy of the living. Without hope, those living under suppressive regimes won’t have the strength to fight back and win their freedom.

We all fight through our own struggles on our own battlefields, be it insecurity, academic achievement, relationships, finances, etc. Regardless, we need hope to get us through the darkest times.

10. Be Resilient—Never Ever Quit

We face decisions to quit on a daily basis. Don’t believe me? Take a moment to think about all the goals you may have. (If you don’t have any, you’ve already quit.) Let’s take physical fitness as an example. To become physically fit, one must exercise on a regular basis—everyday, for those who are serious. That means everyday, we are given the option to quit. That means everyday, we must overcome this temptation.

For the average person, quitting is always an option. But for the person seeking to change the world, quitting means accepting failure.


Simple and straightforward, but not easy to do consistently, Admiral McRaven’s presents these 10 lessons for us to consume. I personally find #6 (Be Bold—Take Risks) the hardest for myself.

I encourage you to identify the one you find most challenging and start working towards consistently practicing it.

Make Your Bed—Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World

make your bed book cover

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Book Summary

Jerry Zhang

Programmer, YouTuber, and amateur musician. I like to write too!