Years ago when I attended my first of many music immersion (Guitar Craft) retreats, I discovered much more than music theory and how to hold a guitar pick. My teacher, Robert Fripp, an extremely competent and successful musician admired by many for the quality of his presence and focus in addition to his masterful guitar playing, often shared pithy aphorisms such as “how you make your bed is how you live your life”. I already knew some pretty snazzy bed-making techniques – my mom had taught me how to make 45-degree hospital corners, and I liked to fluff the pillows, smooth the cover, and make sure the sheets were even on both sides and parallel to the floor. But I learned not just how but why it was important to make my bed, and make it with care. I learned that the intention and focus that I brought to making my bed not only reflected, but set the stage for, the intention and focus I brought to cooking dinner, cleaning the bathroom, playing the guitar, and everything else that I do.
You could also say that “how you chop an onion (or fill-in-the-blank) is how you life your life.” The point is that the quality of the intention and focus that you bring to your every day actions is similar to the manner with which you approach your bigger more important tasks and goals. If you are typically rushed and scattered, chances are your bed looks messy (if it’s even made at all) and other projects you work on may be sloppy, late, or neglected too. If you are focused and attentive in how you care for your bed or that onion you’re chopping, that too will show in your other actions and projects.
The reason that making your bed is particularly important is because it is one of the first things you do in the morning and it sets the tone for your day. Making your bed helps you face the day with a feeling of accomplishment even before you brush your teeth. It is one of the simplest daily success habits to develop, and starts off a chain reaction of other productive habits. Since you make your bed at the very beginning of the day, you’re apt to make better decisions for the remainder of the day thanks to your bed-making routine (exercise is another good example of this concept).
Tidying your bed each morning can be a “keystone habit” that causes a domino effect of other smart choices and positive practices throughout the day. Writer Charles Duhigg explains in his best selling book, The Power of Habit: “Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It’s not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending. But somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.”
Navy Seal William H. McCraven, echoed the same sentiment in his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas. He advised graduates, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
If success and productivity aren’t convincing enough reasons for you to embrace bed making, it turns out that making your bed is also one of the most effective and easiest triggers for happiness. Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author and happiness researcher, says “When I was researching my book on happiness, this was the number one most impactful change that people brought up over and over.”
Maybe some of that happiness is due to getting a better night’s sleep. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that survey participants who reported regularly making their bed were 19% more likely to say that they got a good night’s sleep most nights (and a staggering 75% found that clean, fresh sheets meant even better quality sleep).
So if you want to accomplish something first thing in the morning, set off a chain reaction of other success-building habits, and increase your happiness, start by making your bed. When you get home from work you’ll enjoy walking into your tidy bedroom and pulling back the covers for a good night’s sleep.