One of the best Special Operations commanders of our generation, Admiral William McCraven, says “if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
This was the message he gave in a speech to the graduating class of 2014 at the University of Texas (his alma mater). He spent about 20 minutes sharing the most significant lessons from his 37-year career in the Navy. Paramount among them was (yep, you guessed it) making his bed.
When McCraven was in Navy Seal training, he was required to make his bed to an impeccable standard each day and, although it seemed slightly ridiculous at the time, he says the wisdom of this simple task proved itself many times over throughout his life.
What was it about this seemingly mundane task — making your bed — that captured so much of his attention?
Personally, I never gave much thought to my mornings. I mean, sure, I enjoyed pressing the snooze button like everyone else, but making my bed, ha! I was lucky if I got out of the house on time, much less made my bed.
But Admiral McCraven has a whole different perspective on this. He says if you can learn to make your bed, it will teach you how to practice self-discipline, your attention-to-detail will be sharpened, and it will give you a daily accomplishment you can be proud of — no matter what else happens in your day.
In other words, doing the little things will help you do big things.
If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, at least you will come home to a bed that is made, one that you made. — Admiral William McCraven
For the past year, I tried to put this advice into practice. Instead of focusing on the big things that were out of my control, I focused on the little things that were within it.
- Instead of trying to get in shape, I focused on just showing up at the gym consistently.
- Instead of trying to be home more with my family, I focused on leaving work at the same time each day.
- Instead of trying to improve my diet, I focused on packing a healthy lunch each morning.
- Instead of trying to get out of debt, I focused on making an extra payment to at least one bill per month.
In just about every area of life where I wanted to make a big change, there was a practical little change I could do right now.
Needless to say, I made dramatic improvements in just about every area over the course of the year.
A lot of times people don’t act on things because they get overwhelmed by the size of a problem. They don’t realize that breaking problems down into smaller bite-sized chunks actually puts you back in control of your situation.
I remember attending a college orientation session in 2005 to enroll in a Bachelors's program. During the session, they told me it would take four years to earn my degree, which sounded like an eternity.
I thought of how much older I would be when I finally received my degree (if I completed the program) and was so discouraged I almost gave up on the idea altogether.
But then one of the orientation speakers said something profound. So profound, in fact, that this single statement has stuck with me ever since.
She said, “four years are going to pass by whether you are in school or not, you might as well be in school and have a degree at the end of it.”
This left me with a simple choice to make. Would I enroll in the program or not? How long the program would take to complete was not the issue I needed to solve that day, instead, I needed to focus on the practical little thing I could solve — to choose to enroll in the program and begin taking classes.
Well, I can safely say I made the right choice because, not only did I earn my Bachelor’s Degree five years later in 2010 (it took me a little longer than I expected), I also earned my Master’s Degree eight years later in 2013.
I am confident I would have never completed these programs if I focused on the entirety of the task. Instead, I applied the simple principle of doing the little things within my control (akin to making my bed each day) and over time those little things made the big things a reality.