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

I made my bed this morning.  This is unusual.  In fact, I can’t remember ever making my bed other than when people were coming to visit or as a child when I had to tidy my room.  I usually jump out of bed leaving a disheveled pile of blankets, and I don’t think about my bed again until I fall into it at the end of the day.

I achieved this feat because I was inspired by the commencement speech given by US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven at the University of Texas last month.  Admiral McRaven talked about how the six month training regime for Navy Seals is the toughest of all; it’s designed to weed out any aspiring Seal who doesn’t have the strength and character to survive and thrive in the roughest of conditions.  He described the lessons he learned in Seal training and how they’ve affected his success in life.

The first lesson was the simplest and the most unusual: he had to make his bed every morning.  ‘If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.’  In training, the Seals’ beds were inspected every morning and were expected to be perfect.   Over time, the Admiral came to appreciate this rigor.

‘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,’ he told graduates.

‘By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.  Making your bed will also 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.’

When I heard this, I thought about all the tasks I do each day.  I start out with a list of things to get done.  I try to do the most important things first but often I get distracted.  Mundane and non-urgent tasks are always left until last, so my personal administration, my desk, my house, and sometimes my relationships can fall into a mess.

The day after I watched the Admiral’s speech, I tested his theory.   My first minutes out of bed were spent pulling back my sheets and blankets, lining them up against the posts of my bed, tucking in every corner and plumping my pillow.  I felt a twinge of satisfaction as I pulled on my exercise gear and headed out the door.   I had completed that first task perfectly.

I’ve repeated the routine every day (including weekends) for the past three weeks and have noticed a shift.  I found myself completing task after task that in the past I would have put off.  I filed my personal tax return, completed staff performance reviews, and never had dirty dishes lying in the sink.   I’ve come to appreciate order and tidiness as the foundations of an effective day.

And there’s another benefit.  ‘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 better.’