Book Review ‘Make Your Bed’

Ben Miles


In 2017, retired U.S. Navy Four Star Admiral William H. McRaven published an admirable little book titled, “Make Your Bed – Little Things That Can Change Your Life ... And Maybe The World.” In this motivational mini-manual, taken from McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech, which he delivered to graduates of the University of Texas, Austin (McRaven’s alma mater, class of ‘77), offering 10 lesson that he absorbed during the rigorous 6 month training course one must endure to become a member of the navy’s elite special operations force commonly called the SEALs (an acronym for Sea, Air, Land).

Having risen to the heights of the military chain of command, Admiral McRaven was selected by President Barack Obama as the strategist and leader of the 2011 special operations team that killed al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden. In this monumental effort, the lessons McRaven garnered from his training and experience as a navy SEAL, served him and his special ops team most admirably.

McRaven now offers those lessons to all of us. As he introduced his commencement address, the Admiral offered this assurance: “I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better world. And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform.”

Further, McRaven notes that “your gender, your ethnicity or religious background, your orientation, or your social status doesn’t matter.” He emphasizes that “Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome” them “apply equally” to each of us.

In “Make Your Bed,” McRaven provides details to how each of the rigorous lessons he learned from naval SEAL training applies to each day of his (and our) life. Additionally, the full text of the commencement address is included as an epilogue to this handy little guide to effective living.

Here is a succinct listing of the 10 pointers McRaven offers as mighty bits of advice on effective living:

1. Start off by making your bed.

It’s a small accomplishment that starts the day in a successful direction.

2. Find someone to help you paddle.

Like rowing a raft, the support and cooperation of others makes the going more effective.

3. Measure the person by the size of their heart.

Physical stature isn’t primary for success; passion and dedication are the essentials for success.

4. Get over being a “sugar cookie.”

This term comes from a form of discipline inflected on SEAL trainees; it consists of having a trainee rollover again and again in wet sand until they’re coated with wet, gritty particles of sand like a sugar cookie. The takeaway: When a misfortune is inflicted upon us, accept it, knowing that life isn’t fair.

5. Don’t be afraid of the circus.

The circus is a relentless set of calisthenics SEAL trainees are made to perform on a regular basis, often as punishment. Get past the fear of the circus and success can be yours.

6. Be prepared to jump.

During the SEAL training, trainees are required to find the fastest way to get down a 60-meter three-tiered tower via a long hanging rope. It takes nerve but the quickest way down the rope is to go head first. To succeed, sometimes you just must jump headfirst.

7. Don’t back down from the sharks.

SEALs, as an essential part of their land warfare training are required to endure a program of long swims that must be successfully completed. The long swims take place off San Clemente Island, near the coast of San Diego. Prior to the swims, one of which is a nighttime maneuver, SEAL instructors brief the aspiring SEALS on the various types of sharks that are in abundant supply around the island. The advice offered to the trainees is “stand your ground. Don’t act afraid. And if the shark “darts toward you – then summon all your strength and punch him in the snout.” The shark will then turn and swim away.

8. Be your very best in the darkest moment.

An indispensable component of SEAL training is to become adept at underwater attacks aimed at enemy ships. SEAL divers, in pairs, are placed outside an “enemy” harbor and swim underwater for over two miles. Once the target ship is reached the trainees must swim beneath the ship and find its keel. Under the keel is the darkest part of the vessel and the machinery of the ship makes hearing difficult. Becoming disoriented is a problem that must be overcome in order to succeed with the mission. What SEAL trainees learn at these dark moments under the ship’s keel is that calmness and composure will best facilitate one’s tactical skills and where physical power along with inner strength must be made manifest.

9. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

During SEAL training, trainees were made to submerge themselves in mud, often for weeks in duration. Singing would bolster the will and uplift the spirits of the muddied SEAL aspirants.

10. Don’t ever ring the bell.

SEAL trainees are harangued and harassed by their trainers to give up the tortuous training. All they have to do is ring a brass bell that dangles invitingly in the middle of the compound. To quit the training all a SEAL aspirant needs do is ring that easily rung bell – no more bone chilling swims, no five a.m. wake-up mandates, no more of the exhausting training rigors would be required of the bell ringer. But, as McRaven advises, “If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

The 10 points in McRaven’s motivational manual are presented here in a truncated manner. To receive the full scope of the McRaven Philosophy, take the time to read this tiny tribute to the SEAL training. As McRaven states in the coda of his book (and commencement address) – “If you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a better world than the one we do today.”

May it be so.

What: “Make Your Bed — Little Things That Can Change Your Life … And Maybe The World.”
Grand Central Publishing
Copyright, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4555-7024-9 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-1-4555-7023-2 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-5387-1295-5 (Barnes &Noble signed edition)


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