Training Lessons from the Navy SEALs: Making the Bed Matters

At a 2014 University of Texas commencement address, Admiral William H. McRaven delivered a brilliant, impassioned speech helping college-educated civilians understand the incredible life lessons that Navy SEALs learn through their intense training.

Navy SEAL training is designed to turn people into leaders, and teach people soft skills like teamwork, determination, and integrity. Here are a few life lessons that are learned through Navy SEAL training.

If You Want to Change the World, Start by Making Your Bed

Admiral McRaven advises his audience to make their bed every morning.


Making your bed, McRaven says, helps you start your day off by accomplishing a task. That’s the first step to building momentum, and getting other, more important things completed.

Making your bed in the morning, according to the admiral, reinforces that the little things matter. If you do the little things, you’ll be ready to be disciplined when the bigger challenges inevitably present themselves.

Finally, at the end of a long day, good or bad, you will come home to a bed that is made. You can’t force your employees to make their beds every morning, but you can implement this theory in how you delegate: start everyone’s morning off with a simple task, and watch productivity increase.

Measure a Person by the Size of Their Heart

In his speech, McRaven tells a few stories from his own training class. Near the end of his training, there was a challenge that all trainees had to complete: working with their teammates to raft through tumultuous ocean waters. One boat was composed of recruits who were all under 5’5″, and despite their size disadvantage, this boat crew was by far the best.

Even though the taller recruits would mercilessly tease the shorter recruits for having small rubber flippers, McRaven says the soon-to-be SEALs learned not to judge someone by the size of their flipper, but by their level of determination. To succeed in this challenge, nothing mattered but the recruit’s will to succeed.

What better lesson is there to teach values like integrity? These kinds of values help propel your average-performing employees into polished professionals.

Start Singing When You’re Up to Your Neck in Mud

The ninth week of SEAL training is called “hell week,” a nickname earned partly from a ritual where trainees are required to paddle down to the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are a notoriously dreadful area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water run off creates a swampy, muddy, freezing cold mess.

Trainees then spend the night up to their necks in this freezing cold mud. McRaven reports that most of the recruits were ready to give up that night, when suddenly, someone in their ranks started singing – loudly, poorly, but with much enthusiasm.

Soon enough, the entire company was singing, despite being almost completely submerged in mud, and suddenly, the mud didn’t seem that cold. When you’re up to your neck in mud, start singing.

Learning the skills and mastering the attitudes needed to stay positive when things get tough makes each SEAL ready for any challenges that may come.

Obviously, your organization isn’t putting new hires through SEAL training, and if you were thinking about taking on some of these training strategies, we think you’d have a pretty hard time convincing people to work for you.

That doesn’t change the fact that Navy SEAL training turns people from all walks of life into efficient, motivated, dedicated leaders. It does this by teaching them the skills that aren’t taught in a classroom. This is a perfect example of why soft skills training needs to be a primary focus of every organization’s training program, if they’re hoping to have strong leadership.

If you’d like to learn some strategies to help your leaders become a little more like a Navy SEAL, consider watching our on-demand webinar on improving emotional intelligence.

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.