Last Saturday, Admiral William H. McRaven delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas-Austin. McRaven, the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), led the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden three years ago this month. In his speech, which is worth a read or a listen, McRaven told the 8,000 or so graduates, "If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right." Chief among the little things: Making your bed every morning. He explained that doing so provides a foundation for everything else you could want to do in a day. He went so far as to say, "If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed."

We liked that idea and wanted to know more, so we called Admiral McRaven at 8:15 this morning, the Thursday before Memorial Day, a few hours since he'd woken up, and just after he'd received his initial briefs.

ESQUIRE.COM: Morning, Admiral.

ADMIRAL McRAVEN: Good morning. How are you today?

Thanks a lot for taking a minute here.

No, happy to do so.

So, what time did you wake up today?

Well, last night was a little bit long, we had a gala event, so I got up at about 6 o'clock today. But, at basic SEAL training I was generally up every morning at 5 o'clock, because you had to be over to the SEAL training area pretty early.

And so on average, these days, is it always about that time?

Yeah, it's always about 6 o'clock.

Do you still make your bed every morning?

Well, fortunately, I have somebody to help me paddle. My wife and I make the bed every morning, but it's a queen size bed today, as opposed to a rack, you know, a small single bed, which I had in basic SEAL training. But yeah, together we make it every morning. 

That's a great term. Tell me about the rack. The basic bed. And if you have a minute, take me through the whole process, every morning.

So we had, I mean it was a standard, military bed if you will. So kind of a single mattress, steel frame—I can't even remember if it had any springs in it. I think the old military bed just had a mattress on top of a steel frame. And of course you had the standard pillow, sheets, and then a gray, Navy blanket that went over the top of it. Then you had a second blanket that at least came with the rack and that was always supposed to be carefully folded at the end of the bed. But the covers themselves had to have hospital corners. So if you've ever made a bed with hospital corners, you know that's got to be at an angle to the corner of the mattress. It's got to be at a 45-degree angle. And of course, that was something that the instructors routinely checked: whether or not you had made appropriate hospital corners, and how tightly you pulled your covers. A lot of times they would do the old bounce the quarter off the bed test, to see if the quarter bounced up to determine whether or not you had made a very tight and carefully-made bed.

They actually did that? I thought that was urban legend. 

Oh no! It may have started as urban legend. But every once in a while, an instructor who had probably watched a movie or two decided to come in and throw the quarter on the bed to see if it bounced. Of course if you had a flat mattress, it didn't make any difference of how tightly you pulled your covers. It still didn't bounce. And we didn't get inspected every day. I mean, the inspection was routine throughout the week. So, you know, it was kind of a standard event. And I seem to remember it was every day. But we were inspected so many times throughout the course of the day, you always had to be prepared.

And if it wasn't up to par?

It depended upon the mood of the instructor. So, if the instructor was in a good mood that day, he generally just kind of tore your bed apart and told you to remake it. If he was not in a good mood that day, then that's when you went and you did what we call, "hit the surf." So, you were of course attired in your—they weren't really camouflage utilities, this was 1977, so they were the green utilities that we had worn in Vietnam. They were a starched green utility. And so the instructor would tell you to hit the surf. 

And so, in order of harassment, if you will: They would tear the bed apart, that would be number one. That was the best you could hope for. Number two was that they told you to hit the surf. And number three, they told you to hit the surf and then make yourself a sugar cookie. So, the sugar cookie part was you would hit the surf, and of course you come out of the surf zone and you're completely soaked, and you roll around in the sand. And then you came back and presented yourself back to the instructor. So you always had to return to the instructor. Salute the instructor to tell him that you had, in fact, accomplished what he directed you to do. 

So, decades later, you're now traveling all over the world. Do you subconsciously inspect every bed you sleep in?


Or if you're a guest in someone's house…

That's a good question. No, I don't. I don't judge anyone else's bed. Only my own.

Do your kids make their beds every day?

Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that. I encourage them to do so. They're all older and out of the house. So I don't have the opportunity to make sure they're following my advice. 

What's your best advice for having a good night's sleep?

I think the best way to get a good night sleep is to work hard throughout the day. If you work hard and, of course, work out. So I can tell you I never had any problem getting a good night sleep at basic SEAL training, because you were having physical activity every day. So, I think if you get in a good workout, you're probably going to get a good night sleep in there.

What's the best bed you've ever slept in?

You know, to be honest with you, it's that old military bed. I had one in Iraq. I had one in Afghanistan. And it didn't even have a bed frame to it. It was just a mattress on top of a military frame. And I slept like a baby. Because you'd work so hard throughout the course of the day, and a single mattress seemed to work pretty well for me.