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  • Tom Hanlon

Make Your Bed

I just read Admiral William H. McRaven’s book Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life And Maybe The World. The book is a best seller and an expanded version of McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas in which he highlighted life lessons learned from his experience as a Navy Seal. The first of McRaven’s 10 life lessons is Make your bed. McRaven maintains that doing the little things well sets you up to tackle the big things and making your bed first thing in the morning is one of those little things.


This idea makes sense and it correlates directly with the research on self regulation upon which we base most of our programming at River’s Way. If we establish habits of doing the little things well we build a foundation that allows us to tackle the big things like a job, school or family responsibilities. People of all abilities face challenges that at times feel insurmountable. Along with McRaven, we feel that we are better able to tackle these challenges when we establish routines around doing little things well. Brian Johnson of Optimize calls these routines protocols. If we stick to our protocols through thick and thin, we become a better version of ourselves and we are more able to serve others and contribute to our communities.


Every weekday afternoon during the pandemic, we have run Zoom programming with a group of young adults with differing abilities. We spend time socializing on the front end and then we move into yoga. Many beginner yoga poses can be extremely challenging if held for long spans of time. The Downward Facing Dog is one of those poses. Through the year, we have gradually worked our way up to holding this pose to the count of 100. Two weeks ago, two of our participants, Andrea and Allison, insisted that we do two sets of Downward Facing Dog going to the count of 100 with each set. This is not a challenge that Matt and I put out there; it came from two participants with differing abilities. How could we not give it a try? If you think this is an easy challenge, Google Downward Facing Dog to see how the pose is done, and then do two sets of the pose counting to 100 each time!


Yoga is one of those everyday routines that McRaven would put up there with Make Your Bed. If you do the little things well in yoga, it provides a foundation for doing bigger things well. It gives you a win for the day and this is especially true if you don’t feel like doing yoga or if you do as Allison and Andrea did and set goals that require extra grit and effort. If you consistently practice doing these little things, it builds a sense of inner firmness. You feel better about yourself and you set a foundation for doing good things for other people. Little things can be seemingly insignificant things done on a daily basis like watering a plant or keeping your sink clean or brushing your teeth.


As we work with people with differing abilities at River’s Way, we focus on little things done with consistency. Regular walking has many benefits, but the main reason that we commit to consistent walking is that it provides a routine that brings order, structure and a sense of well being. Walking every day and recording those walks on an app like MapMyWalk slowly builds will power and the capacity for self regulation.


Nearly all of the adults and many of the students in our programs push themselves to achieve short term goals. They set goals for walking, for working in the garden and the café, for doing morning devotionals or meditations, for cleaning their homes, for eating salads and for making their beds first thing. They check off their accomplishments on charts or white boards and as they do this, they begin to feel proud of their progress. Matt and I do the same. We both work with goal lists on white boards and we both can attest to the power of charting the little things on a daily basis


This past week I was in a special education classroom at East High School where one of the aids set up a making the bed chart where she daily checked on whether people in the class had made their beds. We had a great time talking about making beds. Unfortunately, one of the students who claimed he had made his bed every day was found out when an aid texted the student’s mom and heard otherwise. Students, aids and the teacher recommitted to making their bed each day and they even had the idea of creating a makeshift bed in the classroom in order to practice!


Making the bed is a little thing, but as McRaven says, it gives you your first win of the day, the first step in making the world a better place. Once you have that win, it proves to be a springboard when it comes to taking on other challenges. As with all of our programs at River’s Way, we take the lessons learned from wise people like McRaven and apply them in our work with youth and young adults with differing abilities. These lessons are equalizers; they apply to all of us. We all benefit when we take the time and make the effort to put ideas like making your bed into practice.



From left to right: Andrea Sultan, Thomas Gathercole, and Allison and Jennifer Estes (with Lee Greenwood)



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River's Way 

1227 Volunteer Pkwy Bristol, TN 37620

Matt@riversway.org                         Tom@riversway.org 

(423)-715-0085                                   (423)-612-1242