Why You Should Compare Yourself to the Greatest Men in History

Why You Should Compare Yourself with Great Historical MenHey friend,

Today you’re going to learn to do something that’s incredibly important in the long-term.

There isn’t much to explain, but there’s much to do.

What I’m about to tell you is what I believe to be an elite mental habit that you need to establish if you want to get really, really successful and keep hustling when other people get content and complacent — and get lazy.

What I’m about to tell you is also a great mental trick to boost motivation.

So what am I talking about?

I’m talking about. . .

Learning how to compare yourself to the greatest men in history

And if you study a lot of (extremely) successful people you’ll notice that all of them are doing this.

Alexander the Great compared himself to his father, then with demi-gods, then with gods.

Napoleon compared himself to Alexander the Great.

Ted Turner compared himself to Alexander, Napoleon, and Erwin Rommel.

Why do they do it?

Because it’s a cool thing to do?


Ok, maybe a little, it is a cool thing to do.

But that’s not why they do it. They do it because it’s very hard to keep yourself motivated once you reach beyond a certain level of success (status, money, freedom, happiness, health, etc.).

I read an excellent book recently, the book is called Fools Die, by author Mario Puzo. In that book there’s a dialogue between Gronevelt, a casino owner, and his right-hand man Cully Cross. They’re talking about bribing people and controlling politicians:

Gronevelt: “He’ll be the police chief in Vegas for 10 more years.”

Cully: “What do you mean? Why just 10 years?”

Gronevelt: “Because after that he’ll be too rich to work.”

. . . And that’s how it is.

It’s exceedingly rare for a man to keep working, and to accomplish something truly great, once he’s already relatively rich or successful.

This might seem to you as a luxury problem, but I assure you, it’s a very real problem. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of rich and successful people who committed suicide. Why did they do it?

Because they, who were highly ambitious people, set their expectations too low and accomplished them too early in life — leaving them bored and depressed. Maybe they focused on money — and got it.

Most people focus on money. Few people focus on greatness.

But here’s the thing. Money doesn’t make you happy — working on great things does.

Leaving behind a legacy of greatness does.

Know Thy Brain

A fundamental fact about the human brain is that it automatically compares things. Nothing is seen without relation to another thing. The brain focuses on an object and uses it as a reference point for comparison. This is a very powerful heuristic — and you should consciously use it to your advantage.

This way that your brain compares one thing to another has many real life implications, a few examples being:

  • Why we think a product is better/cheaper/cooler than it really is when it gets placed next to another product that brings out this aspect. This trick is often used in sales and retailing. It’s called anchoring.
  • Why hot girls have ugly-ass friends (it makes the hot girl look even hotter in comparison).
  • Why we easily mistake the size and distance of objects.
  • Dunbar’s Number. We have a finite number of personalities (ca 150) that we consciously or unconsciously compare ourselves to in relation to different aspects of our life.

And the implications of Dunbar’s number are extremely powerful.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the people you keep in your “150 Dunbar’s slots” are going to decide the course of your life, especially if you’re young.

What does this mean to you?

It means that the earlier you start consciously comparing yourself to great people, the more it adds up cumulatively in the long-term. The earlier you start practicing this skill, the quicker you’ll become unreactive to the folly of the masses. How so?

Because it will rewire your brain to stop comparing yourself to the average person. You’ll stop competing with mediocre losers and instead aspire to be like the great historical men you study — and it will happen automatically.

Here’s what you’ll do:

You are going to purposely place the role models that inspire you the most in your 150 mental “Dunbar’s slots”. And you are going to think of them daily, until they feel like real people.

This will benefit you a ton.  Because, it will raise the standard that you consider acceptable as far as your own behavior goes. Soon, this will place you far above average people, who only compare themselves to their closest buddies.

Do this:

  • Find great historical men that you look up to. If it’s a living person that’s fine too, but there’s usually less biographical information about people currently living. Plus, great historical men are often cooler.
  • Find as much, and as accurate, information as possible on these people. Read biographies. You want to reach the point where your brain starts thinking that they are “real” and “alive”. That’s when they’ve successfully become part of your “Dunbar’s slots”.
  • Keep up this process for years. Keep doing the repetitions.

Does that sound like too much trouble?

It’s not.

It’s actually pretty fun once you start and you’ll soon do it automatically.

And how do you know that they are part of your Dunbar’s Number?

–Here’s an indicator: When you are able to answer the question, What would X do in this situation?”, then you’re well on your way (what would Frederick the Great in this situation?).

How will this help you?

You will become less likely to compare yourself with your closest peers or acquaintances. Instead, you’ll tend to compare yourself more with the great historical men. And in doing so you will be motivated to achieve great things and put in effort when others become content–and get lazy.

This is not an immediate process. It takes time and much mental effort. But it does produce results — and it is within your power to do.

In practice, this means that you’re less likely to fall under the spell of bad judgment and waste time doing, thinking, or talking about petty things.

When you see other people waste time discussing the Olympics, messing up their sleep schedules by partying too hard, and losing discipline, you will remain firm like a rock. For in your head echoes the question:

What would Caesar do here?

What would Hannibal do here?

What would Napoleon do here?

The earlier in life you start doing this, and the more you practice it, the more you stand to gain. In my experience, very few people do this at all. I don’t think I know of more than a few people who do this, except myself.

Compare Yourself With the Greatest Men in History

Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Julius Caesar
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Henry Ford
  • Winston Churchill
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Thomas Edison
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • John F Kennedy
  • Josef Stalin
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Hannibal Barca
  • Genghis Khan
  • Alexander the Great
  • John D Rockefeller
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Albert Einstein
  • Marcus Aurelius
  • Gnaeus Pompeius
  • Seneca the Younger
  • Cato the Younger
  • Marcus Cicero
  • Aristotle
  • Socrates
  • Plato
  • Leonardo Da Vinci
  • Francis Bacon
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Start by reading their Wikipedia and Wikiquote pages — and save the best information in your commonplace!

By doing that you’ll get a good overview and gain investment from your brain. . .

. . . this will make it more interesting and easy to continue your study of these men. And it will motivate you to read their biographies, and historical books to learn more about the era and the context in which they lived.


Photo credit: Evgeny Legedin

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  1. The concept makes perfect sense, I’d just be ultra selective with who makes that list. I understand why you include Hitler, but sometimes it’s difficult to prevent their misguided ideologies from slipping into your subconscious decision making. For example, I know many people in Silicon Valley who adore Steve Jobs. The man was a design/marketing expert, no doubt, but his personal life was always in shambles and he was a huge asshole to many of his friends and family. Hell, he ignored his kids for most their lives. People gravitate towards Jobs and suddenly start acting like assholes because they believe it’s part of the success equation. I think this can be prevented by writing down the exact aspects of each historical figure you admire so you don’t wander down their dark paths. Just a small addendum I’d add.

    Brilliant article – I plan on employing this strategy in my own life.


  2. Hi Ludvig, I wonder what other benefits one could get doing this ?

    • Hey Mariano,
      Did you read the article & comments? I think there are quite a few reasons.

      The two main benefits I see are:
      –Better reference point for comparing yourself with other people; especially important if you don’t have any hard-working friends to “compete” with.

      • Yeah, I already know the main benefits.
        I might have to do it, I was just wondering if there are more than those two benefits but it’s ok.
        Thanks btw.

  3. MR. VEINS says

    Leonidas I is a great example of a man for modern men to compare themselves to.

    This is one of the men I look up to.

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