Admiral William H. McRaven knows something about high-pressure, high-stakes situations. As head of United States Special Operations Command, he oversaw the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. And that was only the capstone of a lifetime of service as a Navy SEAL.
But when McRaven gave the commencement address at his alma mater, University of Texas at Austin, last year, his advice to grads kicked off with a surprisingly down-to-earth tip for such a battled-hardened warrior.
After admitting to being hung over for his own graduation years earlier (and to completely forgetting the efforts of the commencement speaker), he got down to dispensing life lessons he learned at basic SEAL training. The first and most basic is accessible to anyone looking to supercharge his or her day (and also will probably please your mom).
Make your bed!
"To me, basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months," he tells the gathered grads, before explaining that "every morning in SEAL training my instructors...would show up at my barracks room, and the first thing they'd do is inspect my bed."
It seemed ridiculous at the time, McRaven concedes, especially given that these were guys who aspired to be rock-hard SEALs, not domestic divas, "but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over," he insists. Why is making your bed such a powerful way to start your day? He offers three reasons.
First, "making your bed will...reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."
Second, because success (no matter how miniscule) breeds success. "If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed," McRaven explains.
Not only does making your bed kick off a little self-reinforcing cycle of success, it also ensures a pleasant end to the day as well. "And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made, that you made, and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better," he says.
Another famous bed maker recommends the practice
We'll never know exactly how many UT students McRaven convinced to tidy up their beds each morning, but he has convinced at least one successful entrepreneur to keep a neater bedroom. "I was going through a very scattered period in my life...I felt like my energy was traveling a millimeter in a million directions," Tim Ferriss told listeners in a podcast about his morning routine. Between them, a monk and McRaven convinced Ferriss to start making his bed.
"In my life...there's a lot of uncertainty," Ferriss explains, but "no matter how sh---y your day is, no matter how catastrophic it might become, you can make your bed, and that gives me the feeling even in a disastrous day that I've held on by a fingernail." That's the case even though he admits he doesn't do it with anything near military precision--"I kind of just hide it under the blanket," he confesses.
Sounds easy enough, especially considering the outsized benefits to the rest of your day.
Want to hear more of McRaven's lessons from SEAL training? You can watch the complete speech below.