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Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven.
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Military life is often exhausting, terrifying, and emotionally challenging. You have to be strong and disciplined to make it through the rigors of training and war. Admiral William H. McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL with 37 years of experience, faced many challenges during his career. He found strategies along the way that helped him through the difficult times. Many of these strategies resulted from his experiences as a SEAL-in-training and a Navy officer.

In 2014, McRaven organized his strategies into 10 life lessons for his commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. Make Your Bed provides these lessons to you and expands on the experiences that formed them.

Lesson 1: Start Each Day with an Accomplishment

Start your day with one successful task completed, such as making your bed, and you will find the motivation to tackle others. When you make your bed first thing in the morning, you start the day with purpose and confidence. You will feel a sense of pride, and that same pride will greet you at night when you come to your made bed. This type of satisfaction will wash the day’s struggles away and prepare you for tomorrow.

McRaven learned the importance of a made bed during his training as a SEAL cadet. A perfectly made bed represented McRaven’s discipline. He started each day receiving acknowledgement from his superiors that he had fulfilled his duties successfully. This acknowledgement greeted him at the end of each day, and he went to bed proud of himself. When McRaven was recovering from a life-changing injury later in life, making his bed became a symbol of his determination to get better and desire to keep leading a productive life.

Lesson 2: Success in Life Requires Teamwork

Life is full of struggles. Going through hard times alone is much more difficult than relying on the help of others to get you through. You need people you can count on to help navigate life’s difficult moments. The same is true for achieving success in life. The more others support you, the stronger and more confident you become.

McRaven learned the importance of teamwork as a SEAL-in-training. He and his unit of cadets were required to carry an inflatable raft everywhere they went and row it for miles through the choppy ocean water. When one of them was unable to perform to a high standard, the others pitched in to fill the void. They all remained successful because they helped each other when times were tough. Because of this experience, McRaven was more willing to accept the help of others after his injury and not just recover physically, but emotionally and professionally as well.

Lesson 3: It’s What’s Inside that Counts

Everyone has more to them than what you’re able to see. You must look beyond skin deep to a person’s heart. You must reserve judgement and prejudice until you get to know who a person is. Even the meekest person can do great things, so value people for their character, not their appearance.

McRaven made the mistake of judging two men as being less suitable for the SEALs than he was because of how they looked. McRaven was tall and muscular, whereas these men were short and scrawny, respectively. Both men surprised him by showing courage in dangerous situations, and McRaven realized he misjudged the amount of heart they had because of what they looked like.

Lesson 4: A Setback Is Only Permanent if You Let It Be

It’s easier to assume the world is against you than it is to admit that sometimes life just isn’t fair. But at the end of the day, you are the only person responsible for determining your fate. Don’t complain and fall back on misfortune as an excuse for why you can’t be happy. When you face disappointment,...

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Make Your Bed Summary Preface

In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL with 37 years of experience, gave the commencement speech at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. In his speech, McRaven provided guidance to the graduates on how to manage life’s challenges and lead a meaningful...

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 1: Start Each Day with an Accomplishment

Each day, you’re likely required to manage various tasks. These tasks may include working, raising children, cleaning your home, or completing a project. When faced with this long list of responsibilities, you may often feel overwhelmed. But if you can start your day with one successful task completed, such as making your bed, you can find the motivation to tackle others.

When you make your bed first thing in the morning, you start the day with purpose and confidence. You have accomplished something, and regardless of what else happens during the day, you will feel a sense of pride. In addition, the pride you feel when you come to your made bed at night provides satisfaction that washes the day’s struggles away and prepares you for tomorrow. Start each day by making your bed, and set yourself up for success.

The Backstory

While training to be a Navy SEAL, McRaven lived in the barracks off the coast of Coronado, California....

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Shortform Exercise: Start Your Day with Purpose

Making the bed is a simple task that everyone could do to start their day right. What are some other ways you can start your day feeling accomplished?


Do you make your bed first thing in the morning? If so, how do you feel after the bed is made? If not, what stops you from doing it?

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 2: Success in Life Requires Teamwork

No one is guaranteed a life without pain. You will eventually experience painful and tragic moments, and you may have already. Going through these hard times alone is much more difficult than relying on the help of others to get you through. You need people you can count on to help navigate life’s difficult moments.

The same is true for achieving success in life. If you try to navigate the choppy waters toward your goals or dreams alone, you expend more energy than is necessary. You may also find yourself off course without another person to help you paddle. Find people to love and who love you back. Your ability to have a positive life depends on it.

The Backstory

McRaven and the other SEAL candidates were required to carry a ten-foot rubber raft everywhere they went. Seven men carried it to the chow hall and up and down sand dunes during training drills. They paddled it through rough waters along the coast for miles at a time.

It took all seven men to make sure the boat stayed aloft or afloat at all times. But...

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Shortform Exercise: Who Are Your Allies?

We’ve all experienced times when we needed assistance in one form or another. Let’s look at how others have supported you when you needed it.


Name one recent moment in which you were struggling? Did you ask for help? Why or why not?

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 3: It’s What’s Inside that Counts

There’s more to you than meets the eye. You have talents, determination, and courage that aren’t visible to the naked eye. There have been times when someone has doubted or judged you based on what you look like. You had to prove yourself to this person to be accepted or believed in.

You are not alone in this scenario. Everyone has more to them than what you’re able to see. You must look beyond skin deep to a person’s heart. More than anything else, it is the size of their heart that matters. You must allow for people to surprise you. You must reserve judgement and prejudice until you get to know who a person is. Even the smallest person can do great things, so value someone based on their heart, not their appearance.

The Backstory

Proving yourself was a way of life for McRaven and his fellow SEAL cadets. Each day brought new tests meant to determine their toughness and capability of living up to the rigors of SEAL life. McRaven, a tall and strapping young...

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Shortform Exercise: Do You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

We all tend to make split-second decisions about other people. How have McRaven’s experiences made you think differently about making assumptions about people?


Have you ever been proven wrong about someone you made an assumption about? Who was it?

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 4: A Setback Is Only Permanent if You Let It Be

When things don’t go your way or you suffer a setback, you may want to blame external sources. It’s easier to assume the world is against you than it is to admit that sometimes life just isn’t fair. You may even look back over your past and find fault with your upbringing, your lot in life, or your lack of opportunities as the culprits for your current disappointment. But at the end of the day, you are the only person responsible for determining your fate.

Many great historical figures overcame adversity to reach great heights, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Stephen Hawking. Like these people, you must accept that sometimes, even if you try your best and have all the skill and talent in the world, you will face challenges. You must face these challenges with the same determination you bring to your successes. Don’t complain and fall back on misfortune as an excuse for why you can’t be happy. Take the hits and move forward in whatever way you can.

The Backstory

SEAL Lieutenant Martin, known as Moki, was one of...

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Shortform Exercise: What Really Happened?

When you’re frustrated with life, it’s easy to want to find something or someone to blame. How has this tendency shown up in your life?


When have you blamed someone or something in your past for your inability to accomplish a goal? Describe the situation.

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 5: Use Failure to Your Advantage

Failure is part of life. No matter how hard you try to succeed or how much you try to avoid failure, at some point, you will fail. The law of averages dictates it. When you fail, you can cower with defeat and give up, or you can use failure to push yourself harder and grow stronger.

Accept that everyone makes mistakes. Learn from those mistakes. Don’t be afraid of trying again. If you can persevere through the consequences of failure, you will be better prepared for other difficult challenges that lie ahead.

The Backstory

In SEAL training, everyone has a swim buddy. These buddies are attached at the hip, figuratively and literally at times. If one buddy fails, both buddies suffer the consequences. McRaven learned this lesson after a particularly grueling training swim one day. He and Marc, his swim buddy, were well behind the other cadets when they crawled out of the water.

The training instructor ordered them to fall into the plank position and began berating them for their poor...

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 6: Be Daring in Life

As you learned in the previous lesson, failure is an eventual certainty in your life. More than learning from your mistakes, you first have to be willing to make them. If you live in fear of failure, struggle, or humiliation, you will never do what is necessary to achieve your goals or reach your potential.

Much of life is a struggle. In difficult times, you’ll feel fear. If you play it safe and limit your actions to mitigate failure, you will never know what you’re made of. You must learn to have faith in yourself and push past your anxieties to accomplish your goals. You must be willing to push yourself to the limit to achieve something great. Dare greatly in life and receive great rewards.

The Backstory

SEALs-in-training must complete a strenuous obstacle course every now and then. Their times are recorded, and a poor time can mean joining the day’s Circus or...

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Shortform Exercise: Are You a Risk-Taker?

It’s not easy to be daring in life. But sometimes it is necessary to get what you want.


Do you push yourself beyond your limits when faced with a challenge, or do you tend to play it safe? Why?

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 7: Keep Courage Close

Courage is a powerful emotion. With courage, you can surmount any obstacle. With courage, you can stand up to any bully. Without it, you place yourself at the mercy of life and the actions of others. Just like a society rises up to defeat a nefarious dictator, you must find the courage to rise up and defeat whatever stands in the way of your success.

Every bully is the same. They feed on the fear of those they oppress to grow stronger. They are like sharks in the water, circling their prey and waiting for weakness. These sharks are everywhere in life, including work, society, and social circles. If you give in and cower, they will attack you. The consequences could be deadly either physically or spiritually. You have the courage inside of you to stand up to forces of oppression. If you want to...

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 8: Stand Tall in the Midst of Darkness

Life encompasses many tragedies. You may lose a loved one, a job, or a dream. Terrorists may fly planes into buildings, and viruses may ravage a nation. There will be many moments in which your spirit gets crushed and makes you lose hope for the future.

These are the moments in which you must search for the best version of yourself. You must rise to the challenge of moving forward with strength and dignity. In the darkest moments, do what must be done to show the world your best, and you can survive anything.

The Backstory

One of the most difficult tests the SEAL trainees had to pass was the final dive training mission. They were required to swim underwater for 2,000 meters and attach a practice mine to the bottom of a target vessel in San...

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Shortform Exercise: Be a Paragon of Strength

Finding strength when faced with tragedy is not always easy. But often it is the only way to keep moving forward.


Name one time you found strength in the midst of darkness in your life. What attitudes or beliefs allowed you to find and maintain this strength?

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 9: Inspire Others with Hope

Life is nothing without hope. In the face of life’s most difficult challenges, a little hope can go a long way in bringing people back from darkness. With hope, you can give even those suffering the most a reason to keep moving forward.

You and those around you will find yourselves stuck in the mud. You will feel exhausted and at the end of your rope. In these moments, sing loudly for all to hear. In other words, raise your voice during dark times to inspire those around you. Be the one who makes a difference in someone else’s life by giving them hope for the future. It only takes one person to show someone that tomorrow will come.

The Backstory

Hell Week in SEALs training was the ultimate test of whether the trainees had what it took to be in the toughest branch of the military. For six days, cadets did not sleep, suffered constant harassment from the instructors, and moved through endless endurance activities. More cadets quit their training during this week than at any other moment. One of the most grueling activities of this week took place in the Tijuana mudflats.

After McRaven and his group arrived at the mudflats, they were ordered into the mud. They ran...

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Make Your Bed Summary Lesson 10: No Matter What, Never Give Up

When life gets tough or things don’t go your way, it is much easier to give in and quit than continue forward. Life is full of moments in which the odds of success seem so small, you can’t imagine ever winning. Throwing in the towel seems like the most logical thing to do. You can do that. You can feel pity for yourself, blame others, and complain about how unfair the world is. If you do these things, your life will be a long and uncomfortable journey.

When you reach the precipice between quitting and continuing, hold steady and take another step forward. Refuse to back down. Stand your ground and work despite the odds. As long as you keep moving forward, your life will be in your control. No one can stop you from doing what you love. Only you can quit, and you will likely regret it forever. Never, ever, under any circumstances quit. If life is going to beat you, make sure you go down fighting.

The Backstory

McRaven stood at attention with 150 other SEAL hopefuls the first day of training. A commanding officer strode across the courtyard and stood next to a bell. He told the men what they could expect from the next six months. He would push them to their limits. He...

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Shortform Exercise: Stand Your Ground

There is no shame in opting for the easy way out sometimes. Everyone has done it at least once. The key is to finish what you’ve started more times than not.


Think of a time when you quit something when the going got rough? Describe the situation.

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Preface
  • Lesson 1: Start Each Day with an Accomplishment
  • Exercise: Start Your Day with Purpose
  • Lesson 2: Success in Life Requires Teamwork
  • Exercise: Who Are Your Allies?
  • Lesson 3: It’s What’s Inside that Counts
  • Exercise: Do You Judge a Book by Its Cover?
  • Lesson 4: A Setback Is Only Permanent if You Let It Be
  • Exercise: What Really Happened?
  • Lesson 5: Use Failure to Your Advantage
  • Lesson 6: Be Daring in Life
  • Exercise: Are You a Risk-Taker?
  • Lesson 7: Keep Courage Close
  • Lesson 8: Stand Tall in the Midst of Darkness
  • Exercise: Be a Paragon of Strength
  • Lesson 9: Inspire Others with Hope
  • Lesson 10: No Matter What, Never Give Up
  • Exercise: Stand Your Ground