Admiral McRaven: The 10 Lessons in Make Your Bed

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Make Your Bed" by William H. McRaven. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to learn about Admiral McRaven and the 10 lessons from Make Your Bed? How can you apply these Navy SEAL lessons to your own life?

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

Keep reading to learn more about Admiral McRaven’s 10 lessons.

Admiral McRaven: The 10 Lessons to Know

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 by Admiral McRaven provides 10 lessons to you and expands on the experiences that formed them.

Lesson 1: Start Each Day with an Accomplishment

The first of Admiral McRaven’s 10 lessons is: 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, take the hits and move forward in whatever way you can. 

McRaven learned that sometimes life is unfair when one of his training instructors punished him for no reason. The instructor believed that understanding the randomness of misfortune was necessary for McRaven to face the challenges of the Navy. When this same instructor had an accident years later that paralyzed him, McRaven saw how important this lesson really was. The instructor never complained that life was unfair. He accepted what had happened and moved forward with the life he still had. 

Lesson 5: Use Failure to Your Advantage

When you fail, you can cower with defeat and give up, or you can use failure to push yourself harder and grow stronger. Learn from your 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. 

One day, McRaven and his swim partner performed poorly on a two-mile swim. As a consequence, they were relegated to the Circus, a two-hour grueling endurance test at the end of the day for all the cadets who’d somehow failed. McRaven and his partner were exhausted the next day and failed again during the regular training. This cycle went on for days, but instead of giving up, they tried harder. The extra exercise made them stronger, and they rose to the top of the class.

Lesson 6: Be Daring in Life

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. If you play it safe and limit your actions to mitigate failure, you will never know what you’re made of. You must be willing to push yourself to the limit to achieve something great. Dare greatly in life and receive great rewards. 

McRaven couldn’t beat the SEALs obstacle course at first because he was afraid of hurting himself on one obstacle. Instead of sliding down a hundred-foot zipline head first, he used the safer but less efficient feet-first technique. He knew the only way to pass the course was to take a risk. When he finally went head first, he crossed the finish line in record time. 

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. You have the courage inside of you to stand up to forces of oppression. If you want to accomplish your dreams, you must look inside and call up your courage. 

McRaven had to find his courage when he was required to complete a four-mile ocean swim in the dark. He was afraid of the sharks that lived off the coast, but becoming a SEAL was too important. He dug deep and found the courage to keep swimming and face whatever challenge he faced in the water.

Lesson 8: Stand Tall in the Midst of Darkness

There will be many moments in life when your spirit gets crushed and 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. 

McRaven experienced plenty of opportunities to find strength during dark times. But witnessing the behaviors of various soldiers after losing a member of their units taught him the most about integrity. After paying their respects, service members must push past their pain and grief and remain firm during combat. McRaven was always inspired by the way these soldiers were able to keep fighting after tragedy. 

Lesson 9: Inspire Others with Hope

Admiral McRaven’s lesson 9 says that with hope, you can move mountains and give those suffering a reason to keep moving forward. 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. 

McRaven and his fellow trainees were stuck in the cold, wet mud for a whole night during Hell Week, a week of the most grueling activities. All the men were exhausted and close to giving up. But then one of the men started to sing, and he inspired others to start singing. Together, they raised their voices and inspired each other to make it through the night. 

Lesson 10: No Matter What, Never Give Up

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. But when you reach the precipice between quitting and continuing, hold steady and take another step forward. As long as you keep moving forward, your life will be in your control. If life is going to beat you, make sure you go down fighting. 

When McRaven started SEAL training, he was one of 150 cadets. That day, their commander showed them a bell. He said over the next six months, he was going to push the cadets to their limits and make their lives living hells. If they ever couldn’t take it anymore, they could ring the bell three times. Many cadets would ring the bell over the next six months, but not McRaven. He stood proud with 32 other cadets at their training graduation.

Although Admiral McRaven’s 10 lessons are founded in the culture of the military, McRaven believes each one of us can use them to get through the challenges of our lives. If you follow Admiral McRaven’s 10 lessons, you can learn to live a more positive, productive, and meaningful life. 

Admiral McRaven: The 10 Lessons in Make Your Bed

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of William H. McRaven's "Make Your Bed" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Make Your Bed summary:

  • Why making your bed each morning gives you a small victory to start your day right
  • The 10 lessons Admiral William H. McRaven learned during his time as a Navy SEAL
  • Why quitting is easy, but regrettable

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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