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Have a better day: Make your bed


Advice for life from a Navy SEAL.

I must confess that I have an addiction! Not the drug-seeking kind of addict but a college graduation speech junkie. I have watched countless graduation speeches by presidents, politicians, college professors, professional athletes, movie stars, comedians, and titans of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. However, one graduation speech stands out—Admiral William McRaven's graduation speech to the University of Texas Class of 2014.

This YouTube video has been viewed over eight million times, making it the most-viewed graduation speech.

(You can view this incredible speech on YouTube)

McRaven was a Navy SEAL and the Commander of the famous SEAL Team Six, which was responsible for organizing and overseeing the execution of Operation Neptune Spear. This special ops raid led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.

So, we are speaking about a tough, disciplined, highly motivated, and dedicated man. You wouldn't want to be on his sh*t list, as he is a professional killer!

His graduation speech discusses basic SEAL training, six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacle courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep, and always being cold, wet, and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.The training also seeks to find students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure, and hardships. McRaven provides ten lessons he learned from basic SEAL training that has stood him in good stead, and I would like to discuss his first lesson—first, make your bed.

(This is the title of a book with the same name as the ten lessons mentioned in the graduation speech. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by Admiral William McRaven)

The drill instructor would inspect the student's bed every morning in basic SEAL training. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard, and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the bed. It seemed ridiculous at the time since they were aspiring to be real warriors and battle-hardened SEALs. It was a simple task, but they had to make their bed to perfection every morning. The wisdom of this simple act has an incredible message that is valuable for physicians.

Suppose you accomplish the day's first task, regardless of its simplicity. In that case, it will give you a small sense of pride. It will encourage you to do another task to perfection, followed by other tasks completed similarly. By the end of the day, that one task will have turned into many completed tasks. A small accomplishment at the beginning of the day will also reinforce the fact that little things matter. You must do the little things right to do the big things right.

So how does making your bed relate to our profession and the practice of medicine? In the past, and for most of my medical career, I was always rushing—make rounds quickly before surgery, arrive at the operating room on time, finish surgery and rush to the office to see patients, which was frequently 30-45 minutes behind schedule, skip lunch to see patients who were delayed during the morning clinic, hurry back to the hospital at the end of the day for evening rounds, return phone calls, then make every effort to be home for dinner with my family. You may know that routine, and it's no wonder that fifty percent of doctors experience burnout.

The beginning of every day positively or negatively impacts the rest of your day. If you have an initial positive experience, even as small as making your bed, the rest of the day may go smoothly. On the other hand, if you have obstacles or problems at the beginning of the day, this will likely impact the rest of your day.

The easiest task to start your day off in a positive direction is to be on time for your first patients in your clinic or office. This simple task can render the rest of the day moving smoothly from one activity or patient to the next. It is impossible to accomplish this task of being on time every morning. If you are thirty to forty-five minutes late for the clinic, you will play catch-up all day, and you and your staff will be exhausted at the end of the day. Let's be honest; we can do a much better job than we may have done in the past.

Let's not overlook that the number one complaint patients have about their healthcare experience is the difficulty obtaining an appointment and then waiting for the doctor once they have arrived in the office. Both situations can be resolved.

Bottom Line: As Admiral McRaven said, "If you want to change the world, start by making your bed. If you are a Navy SEAL, make your bed; if you are a doctor, see your patients on time! The same applies to our medical practices; we must start with the little things, like being on time for our patients. Then, all the bigger things will be much easier if we start every day with small success. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."

Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish.

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