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.

  4. I’m very surprised no one has mentioned:
    + Ramesses
    + Alfred Nobel
    + John D Rockefeller (!)
    + Cornelius Vanderbilt
    + Heinrich Himmler

  5. Ludvig,
    This is definitely a great post! Being able to compare yourself to great men in history will surely set you on your way to success if you keep an open mind. I believe that continuing to do so sets your mind on a higher level all around and allowing you to really unleash the power of your own mind. This is one of the very few sites I actually find very, very useful. I really enjoy how you talk about the human brain and the way the mind functions. It’s fascinating and such a powerful tool, the more you understand about it, the easier it can become to control it and manifest what you really want into reality. Keep up the FANTASTIC work! Cheers!

  6. Big thanks for including Hitler. He was by far one of the most inspiring, charismatic & accomplished people who ever walked the earth. Please keep posting – your site is historic

  7. Thanks for this post, Ludvig. It’s incredible that I’ve always believed this to be true but never really been all that intentional about it. I find I prefer reading books by or about people who are dead, it just seems to me like their wisdoms are less fad like, they stand the test of time. But I’ve never devised a plan around maximising what can be learned from their accomplishments and the qualities they modelled. Doing so is gonna be a priority from here on out I think. I’m focused on identifying and developing weaknesses right now. Great post.

    • Thanks bro.

      “I prefer reading books by or about people who are dead, it just seems to me like their wisdoms are less fad like, they stand the test of time”

      — That might be a good principle. I don’t see myself spending more than maybe 10-20 % of my time reading any books that aren’t at least 10-50 years old.

  8. Say Ludvig ( or anyone else who’d like to answer), in the article you say “inspire to greatness”…

    What,more specifically, do you mean by greatness?

    Ofc, It’s individual. I’m not trying to prove you wrong or anything, just interested in getting your take on it.

    I’m curious to hear what you think.

    • Hey Tony,
      Greatness = feeling great and accomplishing big things. As you say, totally arbitrary.

      Whenever you’re feeling great you should strive to focus on it for as long possible to preserve it for as long as you can, from a neurological standpoint. Because it enforces more repetitions and makes it more likely that you’ll feel that same way again.

      If you feel that way by comparing yourself to the greatest men in history, you should.

  9. I think it’s very misogynistic to make an offhand comment about how “hot” women have “ugly” friends. Thanks dude. I like to know my worth is judged on my attractiveness and that any friends I have that are better looking are just using me and any friends who aren’t, well I’m using them.

    Also, I think this is a lazy post. You shouldn’t compare yourself to other people. This is how insecurities start. There are lot’s of people who you should look up to who aren’t famous. No one is 100% admirable – Gandhi did some shit things too.

    Pop psychology, eh.

    • “You shouldn’t compare yourself to other people.”

      “There are lot’s of people who you should look up to…”

      “No one is 100% admirable…”

      Maybe there is some alternate universe where these statements are logically consistent. I bet it is also a universe where women do not judge themselves, and each other, on physical attractiveness. Tell me, in this alternate universe, do unattractive women still resent the fact that men are attracted to attractive women?

    • “I like to know my worth is judged on my attractiveness and that any friends I have that are better looking are just using me and any friends who aren’t, well I’m using them.” ==> The reality is, we are using everyone all the time whether we’re conscious of it or not. And that’s OK, it doesn’t make us bad people. Why do you hang out with fun people more than others? Because they give you good vibes etc right? So are you using them?

      About the “hot” and “ugly” friends. Don’t read what you see literally, I don’t think any of us here would be using each other for that purpose. I read it as a joke, don’t take life so seriously. :) Though what he says about ugly people making others look more good-looking than they really are remains a fact. You just have to accept that.

      “You shouldn’t compare yourself to other people. This is how insecurities start.” ==> A lot of people talk about not “comparing” with others but don’t really know what they are saying. If you want to make a good argument, you need to elaborate on why insecurities start as a result. If something means a lot to me, I always “compare” with the best people I know in the field, and I’ve never felt “insecure” of myself.

      “There are lot’s of people who you should look up to who aren’t famous.” ==> I agree.

      “No one is 100% admirable.” ==> True that. But the things you can learn from most of your average friends are limited.

    • Hey Laura,
      I didn’t mean it in a misogynistic way. It’s just win-win evolutionary psychology:
      –The hot girl gets to look even hotter by comparison. The ugly girl gets access to the social circle of the hot girl, which she probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This does two things:

      1. It’s a synergistic relationship, both people get value from it.
      2. It would increase the chance for them both to spread their genes.

      It’s unlikely that either party would consciously think about it.

  10. Oh boy! No women to look up to? :)

  11. Interesting post here! One of my mentors and a person I highly look up to is John Maxwell who is a leadership author and expert. His content and life have greatly influenced and impacted my own life.

  12. Great post, and smart move. I do have a fascination to great minds, but never thought about applying this strategy. I do notice that listening lectures for hours about inspiring people that change my life on a daily basis (by listening again and again what they have to say) that they become “real” somehow as their words have a big impact. I’d add mine, less known next to these great men, but a real brain: Terence Mckenna.

    thanks for this one Ludvig

  13. If 45% if the readership of this blog is female, how come no one has taken up my “Ten great women who made it on their own merits” challenge? If it makes it easier on y’all, I’ll accept them one at a time from ten different women (and/or men, I ain’t doin’ the Crocodile Dundee test) as necessary.

  14. Hey Ludvig. Although he is still very much alive, I find Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the among the greatest men to have ever lived. True, he hasn’t changed the world but he proves that if you want to be successful at anything, no matter how ridiculous, then it’s possible.

    WWAD – What would Arnie do?

    I’m actually writing an article about him as soon as I finish reading his ‘Total Recall’ book. Inspiring stuff if you haven’t read it.

  15. I cant help but think, what about fictional characters?
    I think that Clint Eastwood is one of my Dunbar Number’s. Though the cowboy version of him is fictional, I would still see him as a bad ass guy.

  16. What would Jesus do? I like the concept of this. I have a few more modern heroes: Woody Guthrie and Edward R. Murrow.

  17. Even though this man is still living, I would have to say Stephen Hawking should be added to the list. Whenever I think I’m having a bad day, I remember that he has been paralyzed since he was in graduate school, and yet he is, some might say, one of the greatest contributors to our current understanding of the universe. He has made countless discoveries, written books, and inspires others to look for answers. He sets an example for how one should live their life. You have to live and do what you were meant to do, regardless of what obstacles are thrown in your way. He also reminds me to question EVERYTHING.

    • Two great examples, Rick!

      Voice recognition technology has helped Stephen Hawkins a lot. If he was born 30 years earlier he might not have had the same impact.

      As far as voice recognition, another impressive guy (not on the same level, but still) is Jon Morrow — a professional blogger. He’s also an inspiration.

  18. Ludvig, another great article! Where do you find the inspiration?

    I know women are not the topic of interest here, but in terms of “people who have ruled empires and won over large territories” there was Empress Wu Zetian, China’s only empress who was able to expand China’s territories beyond what it had ever been before (but in all honesty I do not know much more than that).

    • Hey Max,
      No special inspiration. Just externalizing some of my internal dialogue.

      Interesting contribution. Never heard of her before. But I’m not very knowledgeable about China. I’ve read Brian Power’s (cool pseudonym) book “The Puppet Emperor”. But that’s about it.

  19. Just historical men? Door goodness sakes. Is this a site just for men?

    • I literally laughed when I saw your message again in my inbox. Read some of the above comments about mentioning historical men only.

    • Why yes, “patty,” yes, it is. There is a secret scrotum test that is administered to everyone shortly after his first post. Turn your head and cough, “patty”.

    • Patty,
      This is not a site “just for men”. According to my Google Analytics account 45 % of readers are female and 55 % are male. (surprisingly many females. Must be my good looks).

      You may add historical women if you feel like it.

  20. Agreed.

    I think anyone who wants to be someone should read biographies of great men. Look for the secret of how the person rose in power. When you dive into enough lives of great men, you’ll see a pattern — the secret for greatness.

    Then go live it out.

  21. If you’re going to compare yourself to others, then why not compare yourself to some of the most legendary guys in the history of mankind.

    My pick is Marcus Aurelius. What a legend. I have his book “Meditations” lying on my bookshelf and this article gave me the motivation to start reading it!

    Thanks Ludvig!

  22. In a weird way this post reminds me of a book “The 48 Laws of Power”. If you’ve never read it, it’s about historical figures and how they either used or misused certain tactics to gain power in their period of time. I always took a point of the book was to get you thinking about what these people did and how you could incorporate their behavior into your own lives.

    And to be honest, isn’t this why we study history? We do it to learn about other people and what they did right so we can emulate them? That’s what I always got out of it.

    Anyway, I love your list of people to compare yourself to. I would add Bruce Lee and Norman Borlaug to your list too.

    • Steve,

      I read that book a long time ago when I was like 16. But I was too young to fully comprehend it, and I didn’t think it was particularly fun to read. I’ve skimmed through it again in later years and like it. I’ve got a friend who likes to go around quoting that book. He’s a cool guy.

      “And to be honest, isn’t this why we study history? We do it to learn about other people and what they did right so we can emulate them? That’s what I always got out of it.”

      — That’s a big part of it for me as well.

      Thanks for the great comment.

  23. Ludvig,

    Love the list and love the ideas. IN some ways this seems like an outgrowth of being like the 5 people you spend the most time with.

    Thinking about these historical greats and thinking about what YOU FEEL makes them great is a wonderful practice.

    Just to be contrarian, I decided to add some great historical women to your list.

    Boudica of the Celts (Badass woman who took on the might of Rome after being raped and whipped -and almost won!)

    Joan of Arc
    Amelia Earhart
    Elizabeth I
    and in honor of the Olympics being in Russia –
    Catherine the Great

    • Hey SJ!

      Great thoughts, mate!

      “Thinking about these historical greats and thinking about what YOU FEEL makes them great is a wonderful practice.”

      — Great way of putting it.

      Thanks for the comment & contributions.

    • Earhart is somewhat famous, but for what was really a (failed) publicity stunt, and above all for being a woman in a man’s game. Who today remembers Shackleton or Byrd, let alone Nungesser? Marie Curie won a Nobel prize, but how many Nobel prize winners can you name off the top of your head, and were they really so great? Henry Kissinger, Walter Freeman, Barrack Obama? Yeah, right.

      Other great women were born monarchs, like Good Queen Bess or Cleopatra. One must admit that this conveys a certain advantage so far as opportunities to be perceived as “great”. Jeanne d’Arc was a rare exception, probably insane, and was callously manipulated by a mediocre (male) monarch. Other women attained fame only through their husbands (e.g. E. Roosevelt, H. Clinton), and some by making themselves enemies of men (and therefore still defined by men), e.g. G. Steinem. Some women are famous for being stupid whores (e.g. B. Spears) but I don’t call this greatness.

      I dare anyone here to name ten women who have /earned/ greatness for themselves, as opposed to being born monarchs, or riding the coattails of successful husbands/fathers, or being famous as stupid whores.

      • Yeah. Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger truly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize…

        From what I gather, Cleopatra seems to have been incredibly goal-oriented. Even though her seducing Caesar didn’t happen the way described by mainstream history (the carpet approach), she definitely was very strategic.

  24. thanks you startgainingmomentum

  25. “Why hot girls have ugly-ass friends. (It makes the hot girl look even hotter.)”

    Ludvig this is genius.

  26. Here’s a controversial nominee for your list of Great Men:

    Osama bin Laden.

    He masterminded what has to be the most spectacular covert operation in history (so far) without the resources of a government. And he has had a dramatic impact on the world – maybe not what he hoped for, but certainly closer to what he envisioned than was achieved by Herr Hitler. So, credit where credit is due: “bad” doesn’t always mean “good”.

    • TouchĂ©!

      Do you know any good book or resource for learning more about him?

      I borrowed a biography written about him about 6 months ago. I read 30 pages and then decided the book was a piece of shit.

      • I’ve read jack shit about him and I wouldn’t expect anything written in the next thirty-forty years to be objective. But there is no denying that he had dedication, courage, and ability, and he did change the world. Not the way he intended, but that’s usually how it works.

  27. This is awesome. Keep writing nice stuff man!

    Thank you so much for the recommendations. I looked through half of them now and will look at the others tomorrow. Ill create a list

    My addition to the great men:

    Eazy E
    Nate Dogg

    And me… (in 500 years!)

  28. I only know this blog for 2 weeks but it`s one of the best that ever came my way.

    Great men are mentioned here. The only one i`m missing is Teddy Roosevelt, very disadvantaged, very badass. He lived what he was talking about. Just start with this speech and work yourself forward: http://thinkexist.com/quotation/it_is_not_the_critic_who_counts-not_the_man_who/12121.html

    And if somebody is interested in some badass ladies i would say Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I. and above all, if there is somebody who always has reasons why he cannot or why everthing is “so hard”, should read about the very inspiring story of Madam C.J. Walker, the first black selfmade female millionaire in america: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-01/the-first-black-millionaire-echoes.html

    • Now I’m thinking of Oprah. She had quite a fucked up life.

      Seems like a lot of people who have super fucked up lives either rise up becoming wildly successful or they stay there and become shit their whole lives. You don’t really see them becoming just in the middle.

      By the way. “I only know this blog for 2 weeks but it`s one of the best that ever came my way.” ==> 100% agree man, haha.

    • I assume you mean Liz I of England, not Liz I of Russia?

    • I am familiar with those people, Ramya.

      Thanks for the insightful comment!

      PS: Oprah is truly badass. I don’t like her much, and I think her TV show sucks. But she is incredibly strategic and intelligent. Definitely someone worth studying, and a true role model for young women.

  29. Bruce Lee
    Norbert Wiener
    Scott Adams

    • I read Scott Adam’s book “How to Fail at Anything and Still Make it In Life” (or whatever it’s called) during Christmas. It’s a good book with many interesting and useful tips. I recommend it.
      Didn’t know about Norbert Weiner. Thanks for mentioning him. He seems interesting. I’m putting him on my list. And I encourage anyone reading this to create a list like this.

  30. Great piece Ludvig.

    I think this is something Sebastian Marshall does frequently as well. Motivates him to push harder and get more ambitious.

    • Thank you, Unrogue.

      A reader sent me an eamil recommending I check out his blog a while back. I did, and I contacted him as well. He seems like a great guy, and he gave me some book recommendations that I appreciated. He’s definitely someone I will look up more in the future.

  31. Hi Ludvig,

    You’ve had some really interesting comments. I see you’ve mentioned that you don’t take any interest in great historical women, so it feels pointless for me to mention any.

    My additions would be Ghandi and Buddha as I’m big on the power of the mind. Oh, and I can’t forget Martin Luther King. All three achieved their vision peacefully which is rare and much more difficult.

    In regards to your suggestions I’ve noticed you’ve added a few warlords like Hiter and Hannibal Barca. Which some may consider evil, brutal murders. I’m curious to why you’ve chosen these types of men (not that I think anythings wrong with your choice, just interested).

    Is it because of what they achieved? How they achieved it? What they stood for? Or none of the above?

    Great thought provoking post


    • “You’ve had some really interesting comments.”

      — Indeed. Readers of SGM tend to add value.

      Gandhi led a really interesting life. Truly a man of immense willpower and zero fear.

      “Is it because of what they achieved? How they achieved it? What they stood for? Or none of the above?”

      –> What they achieved is a large part of it. I don’t care the least how evil they were. It’s their strategies, mindsets, and daily routines I am mostly interested in. And that they had the guts to truly stand for something even if it cost them their lives.

      And as for Hannibal, he doesn’t seem that evil to me. He was a product of his time. He was actually much more forgiving and kind than many of his contemporaries. He spared plenty of Roman soldiers (though sometimes as a ploy to spread disloyalty towards the Roman state). He did many good things as a suffete (ruler) of Carthage later in life as well.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Naomi.

      • Not suggesting that you are after genocide, or even dictatorship. But Herr Hitler’s political success was truly remarkable, and instructive.

    • There are very, very few great women in history. To a slight extent this may be due to the fact that until 300-400 years ago (even less in the East) society had little interest in the greatness of women. The deeper reason is that women are very rarely interested in greatness (as defined by men). No doubt you are familiar with the evolutionary explanations; for every Joan d’Arc there are a million mothers, and if greatness is measured by importance rather than fame, we know that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

      • In the Classical music world, females hardly make it to the “legendary status.” Always guys. And I don’t know if it still happens today, but I remember reading something about your chances of having a successful audition with the top few orchestras in the world being much slimmer.

        Even with the symphonic band I used to play in, the best players were guys, heh. :)

      • Abgrund,

        “. The deeper reason is that women are very rarely interested in greatness (as defined by men).”

        — Well said. I would guess that it’s much easier — genetically speaking — for women to lead a “happy” life than for men. Men are programmed for competition, fighting, and creating things. And if they don’t do any of that, they feel awful.

        ” So you think he is not a guide as to /what/ should be sought after? Well, if you need guidance as to the morality of genocide, I can only hope that you never accede to any power. But if you want a guide as to /how/ one might accede to power, Herr Hitler has provided a remarkable example.”

        — I am not striving to accomplish a genocide. I just find Hitler to be a remarkably interesting person. Everyone would find him interesting if they read about him. I really recommend reading the book “The Young Hitler I Knew”, it’s a free pdf on Google. You can download it.

      • “…the dreadful miracle of our century…”

        Perhaps not your century, Ludwig, but still mine. Thank you for the recommendation.

    • “What they achieved is a large part of it. I don’t care the least how evil they were.”

      Indeed. The achievements of men like Herr Hitler are nothing less than staggering. So you think he is not a guide as to /what/ should be sought after? Well, if you need guidance as to the morality of genocide, I can only hope that you never accede to any power. But if you want a guide as to /how/ one might accede to power, Herr Hitler has provided a remarkable example.

    • Also again: M. L. King was famous mainly as a martyr. It always bugged me a little that he was chosen to be honored above F. Douglass, who was ten times the achiever and was probably at greater risk throughout his life, even if he got lucky and wasn’t actually murdered.

  32. My contribution to this list:
    Bruce Lee
    Muhammad Ali
    Nelson Mandela

  33. John Lennon. From a creativity standpoint, everything he and the Beatles produced was better than the last. And timeless.

    • Interesting.

    • I’m not so easily impressed. I’ve read Lennon’s poetry (pre-Yoko) and it’s mediocre. I’ve seen recordings of his work (post-Yoko) and it would be an offense to worthless things to dignify it with the name of “worthless”.

      • That seems a bit harsh to me. But even if you dislike the poetry, he still symbolizes many other important things. For instance, being the undisputed leader/rebel of the hippie era.

  34. Abgrund has it right, dead people won’t dissapoint you by some really brainless deed. I used to look up to Tony Robbins and Mel Gibson…
    I advise also the practice recomended by Hill in “Think and Grow Rich”, the imaginary mastermind assembled from great people.
    I try to imitate the saints, I read a book written by saint every day.
    I recommend to study Jim Rohn and Stephen R. Covey.

    • Oh, and of course Jesus Christ, the greatest human in the history of the world.

      • I left J.C. out on purpose. Almost nothing is known about him, even compared to highly fictionalized characters like Gautama and Mohammed. The religion allegedly founded by Jesus appears to be mainly the creation of one Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul the Apostle, aka The Deceiver (as referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Whatever Jesus intended, died out within a very few generations of his death (look up Ebionites). So there is very little to go on, even compared with his contemporary Gautama. We might as well assert that Herakles or Gilgamesh were “great men” to be learned from.

    • Mel Gibson?
      I don’t know anything about him. What has he done worth studying?

      • He is a great actor, he amassed a fortune, but I looked up to him as an integrity monument in the crazy show business world…

  35. Great idea, Ludvig.

    Why compare with your peers when you can compare with the greats? Makes sense there.

    My suggestion for others is if you want to choose who you want to compare with, pick ones that follows the similar path you are on.

    An extreme example:

    For those who wants to write novels, compare yourself with J.D.Salinger who wrote Catcher in The Rye. He writes almost 16 hours every day. If you find yourself lazy to write, ask yourself what will Salinger do.

    Or maybe follow Paulo Coelho, he writes and FINISHES his novel in weeks and not years. But before he starts his writing session, he travelled and do some interesting stuff to get experiences.

    Another example and this one if you are really young and want to be smart like a neurosurgeon:

    Ben Carson is a really famous neurosurgeon and you can find information about him in the internet. When he was young, his mother forced him to go to the library and read 2 books a week.

    So if you want to be a good doctor, compare yourself with him. How much are you reading a week?

    Anyhow, thanks for the post, Ludvig. Although my politically correct mind tells me that there might be people asking “Why great historical MEN only?” I hope people dont blatantly assume you’re a chauvinist because there are those who care too much about words and political correctness.(eg. Feminism)

    And here I am giving examples of men only. To balace it out, for writers compare yourself with Virginia Woolf(is this the correct name?) and for politician, Golda Meir or maybe Margaret Thatcher.


    • And another example I cant get out of my mind:

      Lucius Cornelius Sulla. He’s one legendary badass.

      Ps. I realized that some of my examples are still breathing today. My apologies. But i guess they are valid because they have their own biographies. That’s close enough to dying.

    • Wan,
      Interesting about Ben Carson & JD Salinger. Both good examples.

      I didn’t know Salinger wrote that much. He has to be one of the most prolific writers ever. As far as I know, Isaac Asimov is the most prolific writer in terms of written/published books. He wrote ca 500 of them, and he did it while HOLDING A DAY JOB. He did his writing, every single day, 100% consistent, from 8-12 AM for 40 years.

  36. You nailed it again man. I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s like, I want to be as great as them, so I better do the same or more than them.

    They definitely put things in perspective.

    It’s also like, “lets see what qualities we have in common” sort of.

    What I learned man, is that most these people were so weird. They are the greatest incentive to not caring about being different.

    I haven’t researched them individually but I have read about several of them in Robert Greene’s books.


    • Hey Sebastian!
      I’ve also read some of Robert Greene’s books and essays. I think he does a great job retelling their lives, but comes up a bit short on the practical part.

      To be honest, after a while of being interested in self-development — or whatever you want to call it — it becomes “tough” to identify with most normal people. And it becomes a necessity to use more impressive people as reference points.

  37. Ludvig,

    As always a great post! This is not a bad idea to start practicing. I think my historical figure will be Napoleon Bonaparte! Why because he was able to rise up from nothing to Emperor of France!

    Hey why not!

    Thanks for commenting on my blog!

    • Hey Jose!

      Napoleon is one of my favorites as well. Such a genius. Perhaps the most significant man of the last 500 years.

      Here’s (probably) the best/most detailed, biography of his life:

      • If, by “most significant” you mean “most influential”, I have a few competitors:

        Isaac Newton: Galileo may have been the first to introduce the notion of universal natural law, but Newton made it stick. He bound the Earth to Eternity, and created the world in which Science Knows What Happens.

        Voltaire: For spreading the idea that men can, and should, THINK about what they believe and why they do what they do. If that seems obvious now, it wasn’t always so.

        Karl Marx: A bad writer with poorly reasoned ideas, yet he popularized key concepts (like class warfare) that dominate virtually ALL socio-political-economic thinking today, including that of his bitterest enemies.

        Sigmund Freud: For popularizing the idea that what people /think/ on the surface doesn’t always agree with what they really /want/. This is of utmost importance to the man who /deliberately/ aspires to be great.

      • As usual, you make some brilliant points, Abgrund.

        By significant I did indeed mean “influential”.

        I suppose Newton, Voltaire and Marx could contend with Napoleon… However, none of them made even close to as much impact on the world during their time alive. Nor do I think they had as wide an impact on different disciplines as Napoleon. He was a such a polymath. He strived for mastery in all areas of life — with the exception of physical fitness.

        The others were also polymaths, but I don’t think they accomplished as many different epic things as Napoleon did. But, of course, it’s a matter of opinion.

        As for Freud, I very much disagree. I am certain someone else would have been come up with that. A bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but I would never place him on the level as the others.

      • Agreed, Napoleon’s impact was far more dramatic. Concerning Freud, the same might be said of all great thinkers, discoverers, and inventors: certainly someone else would have done the same, and written it down. Had Newton not created science, someone else would surely have done so within the next few generations. Nothing Voltaire wrote would not have been produced soon enough anyway, perhaps by multiple authors. The thinking of Marx was fundamentally polemical, and probably inevitable after 1848. There were others who had the same basic ideas as Freud, but did not state them clearly or did not attract the same attention. If Edison had not invented the light bulb, or if Ford had not mechanized the assembly line, someone else would have done so very quickly.

        For that matter, the religious principles of Zoroaster or Buddha or Paul or Mohammed all embodied a Zeitgeist that did not arise from their ostensible authors. Robert Clermont was a half-assed engineer who outran his (superior) competitor by mere months. Bill Gates was a lousy programmer with a talent for hiring lousy programmers. Yet we label these men as great. It is only partly because of what they achieved; it is, largely, because they were successful /promoters/. Tesla was ten times smarter than Edison but he got nowhere /because/ he was a scientific genius, not a promotion genius. So I am still going to claim Freud for his enormous /influence/, even though his /ideas/ were mostly rejected within a half century. The very idea of “psychology,” upon which you lean so heavily, came to the world through S. Freud.

        P.S. Darwin is a bizarre exception, but perhaps outside our present scope.

  38. Hey Ludvig,

    This is all very insightful. I just started on a 48-hour partial fast(my protein powder has ~150 kcals, but it’s the best I could do with Gutamine here) and this is going to help me occupy a lot of the time that I usually spend eating.

  39. Marc Anthony … That’s all I got to say. Coolest guy to ever live. Rode on a chariot through Rome completely naked, dragged by lions!

  40. Dead men are not only more awesome, they are less likely to disappoint you by showing up in drug rehab or endorsing Hillary Clinton.

    In fact, the longer they’ve been dead the better, because the less is really known about them. All “great” men are seriously flawed if you look closely at their personal life, and sometimes you don’t even have to go that far. So I wouldn’t recommend fixating too much on any one hero; it’s more instructive to study what great men had in common and what made them great.

    That said, I would nominate a few others for your list:

    George Washington. He was a badass, went exploring completely alone in Indian territory, led men in battle, and held together the Continental army, which started out as nothing but a rabble, long enough to defeat the British Empire. Supposedly he did it for glory, not power or money – he was the kind of man who wanted adulation, and he got it.

    Simon BolĂ­var. He made G. Washington look like a pussy. Started off with fewer than a hundred volunteers, mostly unarmed, and no backing from any government; he went on to liberate a large part of South America. Once, he led an attack against a royalist army which outnumbered him six to one and was dug in on a hill – and won. Mostly he lost battles, though. In the long run he won because of his infinite persistence and his ability to rebuild after every defeat.

    Also Nietzsche, Gandhi, Attaturk, Mohammed, Ieyasu, Gautama, Peter the Great, Confucius, Marx…

    • ” All “great” men are seriously flawed if you look closely at their personal life, and sometimes you don’t even have to go that far. So I wouldn’t recommend fixating too much on any one hero; it’s more instructive to study what great men had in common and what made them great.”

      –Absolutely. This is important.

      Great examples Abgrund. Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t know about Simon Bolivar!

      • BolĂ­var was the B-A-D in badass. I cannot think of any human being in history who accomplished so much, starting with nothing and enduring constant setbacks and, repeatedly, total defeats. For sheer success, I would put him up against Alexander, Iosip, Julius, or Jesus any day.

    • Badass guy! Know any good books on him?

  41. Oh, throw in Michael Jordan! Lots to learn from his journey to becoming a basketball legend.

    “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    Classic quote.

  42. I actually did this a lot as a musician. I literally studied the top musicians and their lives.

    It’s like Jim Rohn’s quote on becoming the average of the 5 people you meet. Keep comparing yourself with people in the top of your field and learn from them, because they are the people you want to become!

    “You want to reach the point where your brain starts thinking that they are “real” and “alive”.” ==> I think I can relate to this.

    By the way, no historical women? Haha! As a classical musician, I feel compelled to add at least a Mozart. :D

    • Jeremy,
      Smart thing with the music. I try to do the same for everything I am trying to learn.

      “By the way, no historical women? ”
      — I don’t find them particularly interesting. I can’t identify with them or learn from them as much. But then again, I haven’t exactly gone out of my way to read about them all.

  43. Hey Ludvig,
    Just started reading SGM this week. Great stuff and this post is no different. The post under “resources” was very eye-opening as well. I have had the same thoughts as you, but i have never articulated them, at least not as clearly.

    Here’s my contribution (inspired by your post hehe):
    Vincent van Gogh.

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