In his popular commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin that went viral with over 10 million views, Admiral William H. McRaven boiled down his years of experience as a Navy SEAL officer to one simple daily task: making your bed.
This speech formed the basis for his bestselling book “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World,” where he expands this core principle into other aspects of life and leadership.
At its heart, the book emphasises how the small, disciplined task of straightening out your bed every morning can set the tone for accomplishing greater feats during the day. By focusing on small wins first, you build self-confidence and habits that compound over time.
In this extensive book review, we’ll break down Admiral McRaven’s key ideas and extract powerful lessons that business leaders and entrepreneurs can apply to achieve success.
About the Author: William H. McRaven’s Accomplished Military Career
While Make Your Bed is applicable to a wide audience, its author, William McRaven, lends unique authority and perspective stemming from his background as a US Navy Admiral.
He served for over three decades, commanding special operations teams and eventually heading the US Special Operations Command before retiring in 2014. McRaven planned and oversaw the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 in his capacity as commander of Joint Special Operations.
By integrating lessons from his extensive military career with historical examples and personal anecdotes, McRaven provides a mix of tactical advice and inspirational stories around principles like discipline, determination, dealing with change, and leadership.
This rich backdrop adds deeper context, ensuring the book resonates strongly with both military and civilian audiences alike.
The Simple Act That Starts Your Day Right
McRaven takes readers right to the first task at the crack of dawn for Navy SEAL trainees: making your bed to perfection. For an elite special forces team undergoing the most gruelling training imaginable, this seemingly basic activity carries immense underlying meaning.
It represents the first task of the day—small, achievable, and able to set the tone for greater success ahead.
The immediate sense of accomplishment from completing a crisp hospital corner bed motivates trainees to apply the same discipline and determination to excelling at the day’s intense physical training and tactical exercises.
McRaven notes that while new SEAL recruits may fail at subsequent tasks during Hell Week’s demanding regimen, starting the day by correctly making their bed gives them the key sense that they can get at least one thing done right. This genuine confidence boost keeps spirits high to drive further progress.
Transferring Military-Style Execution to Entrepreneurial Success
The military precision approach exemplified through properly making beds presents valuable insight for entrepreneurs seeking to incorporate disciplined execution into their business growth strategy.
Just as Admiral McRaven inspected the tight corners and neat creases in his naval trainees’ beds, entrepreneurs must similarly examine their business foundations.
What daily processes and small tasks currently support or undermine your overarching vision?
Making your bed may seem irrelevant when running a company, but it epitomises the concept of perfecting simple routines that enable greater success—a skill all entrepreneurs need.
Your bed is the critical first task you confront, not unlike opening store doors or launching a computer system. How consistently and efficiently you take on those small daily actions impacts your mindset to handle broader challenges.
Small wins build the confidence and habits to sustain momentum.
Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset Through Small, Achievable Tasks
Admiral McRaven advocates starting each morning by accomplishing one straightforward assignment: tidy up your bed.
The sense of achievement from this quick 5-minute task helps create an empowering mindset primed for increased productivity during the day.
This serves as an impactful lesson for entrepreneurs seeking to build business competence through a motivation and confidence boost every morning.
By routinely concentrating first on bite-sized objectives you can readily complete, you programme your mind to replicate this winning pattern when tackling larger goals.
Much like athletic stretching prepares muscles for peak sport performance, checking small tasks off your to-do list limbers up mental effectiveness.
The powerful impact of this principle is evidenced in the astronomically high failure rate of new businesses. Entrepreneurs greatly benefit from rituals that centre their mindset, driving the perseverance and resilience required to overcome inevitable challenges in realising innovative visions.
Adopting a consistent morning routine that instills confidence propels an entrepreneurial mindset equipped to handle difficulties and setbacks during the business-building journey.
Integrating McRaven’s Key Principles into Entrepreneurial Pursuits
While geared towards military training insights, Make Your Bed contains several core concepts beyond its central theme that business leaders can integrate within company culture to spur growth and performance.
We highlight four standout lessons that entrepreneurs can enact:
Start Strong by Setting the Tempo for Success
A neatly made bed inaugurates the day on a positive note. McRaven suggests overlaying your morning routine with other empowering rituals like exercising or quiet contemplation.
Entrepreneurs can adopt this strategy in their businesses’ opening procedures. Devise an energising start-up checklist that puts you in the right frame of mind before tackling pressing issues.
Begin with a quick tour of your inventory, aesthetically arranging displays. Play an upbeat motivation playlist to kickstart sales teams’ energy. Review yesterday’s progress and set today’s schedule.
The momentum from an invigorating opening routine carries throughout the workday.
Embrace small, manageable objectives that actualize larger goals.
McRaven examines how focusing on accomplishing miniature tasks builds skills towards eventual success at immense undertakings like Navy SEAL Hell Week.
Entrepreneurs can apply this tactic by breaking down high-level goals like rapid expansion or next-level innovation into bite-sized incremental objectives.
Rather than directly attempting to penetrate an intimidating new regional market, first set sights on travelling to scout locations or having exploratory talks with key contacts.
Deconstruct milestones into daily progress markers towards the finish line. Celebrate crossing small checkpoints to maintain motivation for long-term pursuits.
Maintain a positive mindset and grit during hardships.
McRaven highlights that inevitable failures, mistakes, or changes in plans will arise on even the most well-plotted routes towards success.
Coping with such setbacks distinguishes extraordinary achievers. He advises responding to adversity with spirited optimism, hunger to keep improving, and dogged perseverance—qualities forged during SEAL training.
Entrepreneurs must similarly navigate market upheavals, scrapped products, or sudden shifts in customer preferences with flexible mental readiness and resolute determination.
Routinely confront new challenges, knowing that while outcomes cannot be controlled, your mindset and effort remain within your control.
Stay process-focused rather than results-driven.
McRaven notes SEAL training emphasises meticulous attention to perfecting processes over anxiety about end results. Trainees concentrate on step-by-step evolution rather than immediate outcomes.
Likewise, entrepreneurs must immerse themselves in refining solutions, resources, and capabilities instrumental to customer traction rather than fixating on rapid sales targets.
Trust that dedicating energies towards strengthening operational building blocks pays dividends.
McRaven’s Concept of “Changing the World”
While the core theme emphasises making your bed, the book’s subtitle hints at a wider-reaching change. McRaven believes the self-discipline and leadership principles gained from military training can empower anyone to positively impact their community and shape progress.
The final section explores this idea of understanding your life’s purpose and leveraging your talents to “change the world” at any level.
He examines changemakers like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi, who embodied values and brought about grassroots revolution.
As an entrepreneur, you are uniquely positioned to spark change and upliftment through products or services targeted at solving problems within neighbourhoods, industries, or the environment.
View your business as a vehicle for change-making, no matter how small it begins. Leadership means recognising where your competencies intersect with the greater good.
14 Key Takeaways for Entrepreneurs
While we’ve covered several central insights from Make Your Bed applicable for business audiences, below we summarise the biggest lessons entrepreneurs can integrate to sharpen leadership and progress:
- Start each day by completing a simple, achievable task to gain a quick win and set the tone for increased productivity.
- Break down intimidating high-level goals into miniature milestones to maintain motivation for big projects.
- Perfect foundational processes before targeting end results to build capabilities, ensuring business viability.
- Rebound from setbacks with flexible optimism, learning orientation, and grit determination.
- Boost morning motivation and mental readiness through consistent, empowering rituals.
- Gain insights from historical changemakers to inform leadership and purpose.
- Apply the meticulous military execution mindset of identifying and perfecting all details.
- Build self-confidence and resilience through small daily accomplishments.
The immediate satisfaction and confidence boost from tidying your bed every morning compounds over time to ingrain the self-assurance necessary to handle larger difficulties. Entrepreneurs can adopt a range of personal or business ‘quick win’ habits to steadily strengthen resilience.
- Stay present, observant, and adaptable to fluid conditions.
McRaven notes that SEALS are trained to sharply assess ever-changing situations to instantly modify tactics, ensuring mission completion, however original plans evolve. Business leaders need similar presence of mind to rapidly address changing market dynamics and customer needs.
- Balance intense focus with four-dimensional vision.
Much as Special Ops requires immersive situational concentration while retaining peripheral vision of the overall theatre, entrepreneurs must intently focus on product excellence while keeping customer experience and future trends in mind.
- Perform under pressure with calm and decisiveness.
Elite forces demonstrate grace under fire by responding to chaotic scenarios with composed swiftness. Entrepreneurs similarly thrive by reacting to high-stakes chaos like PR nightmares, supply chain disruptions, or website crashes with smooth authority.
- Stay hungry for continuous improvement.
McRaven notes that SEAL training continuously raises benchmarks, ensuring complacency never sets in. Business leaders need an identical mindset for endless advancement and evolution despite past wins.
- Function seamlessly as united teams.
The extreme interdependence within Special Ops units translates directly to startup founders needing alignment, transparency, and collective ownership with first hires to set the cultural tone for the future.
- Practice thoughtful editing and simplification.
The clarity of purpose within the Navy SEALS provides lessons about the power of simplifying processes and focusing on deliberate priorities rather than trying to exert control over everything. Entrepreneurs similarly thrive on an economy of effort centred on what makes the biggest difference.
In Make Your Bed, William H. McRaven artfully transforms the mundane daily chore of neatly arranging bedsheets into an empowering act laced with deeper meaning. His learned insights about self-discipline, consistency, attention-to-detail, resilience, leadership, and changemaking from a decorated Navy Admiral career carry powerful relevance into entrepreneurial journeys.
By distilling the key takeaways in this book into their daily routines and company-building principles, business leaders can harness military execution and operational excellence to drive sustainable success.