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Success Advice

Why You Should Study Great Historical Men



Julius Caesar

There’s a common fallacy among the mainstream that success happens quickly.

One reason why it looks this way is because success seems to happen almost instantly – like an explosion. Gangnam Style gaining a billion views on YouTube, What Does the Fox Say going viral, 13 things mentally strong people avoid being covered on Forbes, and so on.

These are recent online examples where success did happen almost instantly.

But what most people don’t think about is that these occurrences are not the rule – they are the exception. These examples are extremely rare. It’s just that they’re the ones you notice – just as you notice the big time lottery winner being shown on TV, but not the thousands of people who bought lottery tickets and drew blank.

This occurrence is explained by the availability heuristic.

We see a disproportionate amount of winners, while not seeing how many losers there are. This distorts our view and makes it seem like it’s easier to become successful that it really is.

Another example of the availability heuristic is that most people are more afraid of flying than they are of driving a car, because they think flying is riskier. But it’s not –it’s just that whenever a plane crashes or explodes, it’s newsworthy, which means that you’re much more likely to hear about it.

A little car accident on the other hand is not newsworthy. Car crashes happen every day, but you’re still a lot less likely to hear about them.


The Greatness of Julius Caesar?

By the exact same logic – because of the availability heuristic – many people get a distorted view of historic men, such as Julius Caesar.

They think: “Well, of course it was easy for Caesar – C’mon he was Caesar! He crossed the Rubicon, he came, he saw, and he conquered!”

Then they think: “But I’m no Caesar, I’m just little old me… How could I possibly do something remarkable like that?”

If they had studied Caesar more closely they would understand that it wasn’t necessarily easy for him. They would also understand that he spent years practicing public speaking, years networking with the right people, and years studying politics.

Caesar also borrowed enormous sums of money. He borrowed more money than he was statistically likely to ever make. He needed the money to pursue his political ambitions.

While Caesar did make that money back, many of his political peers did the same thing and were unable to repay their creditors. Some of these men resorted to suicide. But you don’t hear about that because history is written by winners.

Many things had to go right for Caesar to become the man he is now believed to have been. A lot of things could’ve gone wrong along the way – it’s just that they didn’t.

Caesar – just as Napoleon, Churchill, JFK, Mandela, and many others – has become an icon for something much greater.  It’s easy to think that these men were chosen by destiny to succeed – heck, many of them even believed it themselves.


This is why you need to study great historic men – so that you to get a less distorted view about what really happened.

So that you can: 

  • Understand that before these men became iconized they were human beings just as you are. Figure out what they did that made them brilliant.
  • Understand just how many things had to fall in place for them to become the icons they are now regarded as. See how many losers there are for each historic winner.
  • Understand that they too went through many hardships, just as you do now. But they overcame these hardships by being creative and putting in a ton of effort.


Going Through Hardships

Julius Caesar

Julius CaesarWhen Caesar was sixteen years old his father died, making him the new man of the family. At eighteen, Caesar was forced to divorce his wife Cornelia by the Roman dictator Sulla.

Caesar refused to obey the most powerful man in the Roman Empire and as a result had to go on the run with a bounty on his head equivalent to 100 yearly wages of a Legionnaire.


Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon BonaparteBefore Napoleon Bonaparte was acknowledged as a military genius at around age 20, he spent a considerable amount of time walking the streets aimlessly, dressed in shabby clothes. He even wrote a pathetic copy of the book The Sorrows of The Young Werther.  In Napoleon’s book the protagonist was a version of himself instead of Werther. The book ended with the young male protagonist – a French soldier – killing himself because he was unlucky in love.


Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van GoghFor as long as he lived, Vincent van Gogh never achieved the recognition that he so desperately craved as an artist. His life story is one of the most tragic in history. He was so poor that he couldn’t even afford his own brushes and canvases, but repeatedly had to write letters asking his brother for money.  The same paintings that van Gogh then traded for a warm meal and a place to stay for the night are now traded for millions of dollars.

Van Gogh never saw much success during his short life, but he never stopped believing in his own abilities. He is the perfect example of a man whose life has become iconized and distorted after his death.


Winston Churchill

Winston ChurchillThe young Winston Churchill sought out as many war zones as possible in pursuit of adventure. He risked his life over and over and survived only through coincidence and freakish luck. Thousands of other people died where he survived time and again.

Did Churchill learn his lesson, pack up, and go back home to safety?

No. He kept it up until he was eventually captured as a POW and imprisoned in Pretoria.  When the rest of the British inmates chickened out, Churchill escaped by himself and nearly died from starvation in the process.


What’s the Point?

Do you see how strongly these men must have wanted to become successful?

Strong enough for them to risk their lives repeatedly.

Ask yourself:

What price are you willing to pay for being able to do what you want to do and become successful at it?


The Reason You Should Study Highly Successful People

Why should you take time out of your busy life to read about these remarkable men?


1. To learn more about them and understand how they overcame their shortcomings.

For example:

–Churchill lisped and was unable to spontaneously retort to political opponents. He had to write and practice every little thing he was going to say.  Do you see what a huge impediment this constitutes to a politician?

Yet Churchill overcame this by spending hours preparing  in advance the things he would say to his opponents in parliament.

If an opponent unexpectedly said something clever Churchill knew that he was screwed, so he had to try to anticipate everything that would come up – and practice a counter argument until he had it memorized.  He described this process as preparing ammunition, where some of the things he had prepared would work, and some wouldn’t.


2. To become inspired as result of teaching your mind that it is possible for one man to have a profound impact on the world.

By getting a clearer view of the lives of these historical men you get a much better understanding of what success means – and what it takes to accomplish it.

Studying these men teaches you that someone who aims his life at a very specific purpose – a man who fine-tunes his actions by consistently putting in that tiny bit of extra effort every day –is likely to become successful.


But here’s the thing:

Most people don’t even believe that they can do the things they’d like to do. So they’re rarely motivated to remain completely consistent.

The difference between these historically great men and average people lies in consistency and luck. They were fiercely consistent in practicing their skills, meeting influential people, and reading books every day for many years.

You can do nothing about luck, but consistency can be mastered.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca


The next time you struggle with willpower or consistency – remind yourself of the following:


1. The availability heuristic is making it seem like success is easier, and happens more quickly, than it really does.

2. Some of the greatest men in history had it far worse than you do and they still managed to turn it around.

3. These men overcame their shortcomings by being more creative and more consistent than their peers. They stuck to their crafts day in and day out for many years.


And if that doesn’t help you there one more trick that you can use:

— View your current situation as if you were reading a biography written about yourself hundreds of years from now on.

Ask yourself many times daily:

What would that biography say?

Ludvig Sunström runs Start Gaining Momentum where he writes about practical self-development and gives no-nonsense tips for becoming more efficient and stepping up in life. He is also the author of Breaking out of Homeostasis , a book about claiming more control over your life by overcoming the brain's innate mechanism for staying the same. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter and Google+.



  1. Joe Greco

    Jun 30, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Interesting read, there are some great points and interesting facts making a great case as why people should study great historical people.
    Thanks for the article 🙂

  2. Nathalia

    Feb 13, 2015 at 3:06 am

    It is a great article! Those mans inspire me a lot! But as a woman I think you should add some great historical females that made history too!

  3. James Hughes

    Feb 12, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Great article Ludwig.

    This just shows that to become successful you need to face a number of hardships to get there.
    Go through the pain to get power.

    Many people don’t see or realise this they just see the success which they put down to luck.

    Great read.

    James Hughes

  4. Shane Peterec

    Feb 12, 2015 at 1:17 am

    Great article, history is so underated.

  5. Tirzah Libert

    Feb 11, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    The reason why success might seem easy is because we admire and even adore poeple after they achieve ‘financial’ success. I wrote an article Adversity is my University where I dare to be vulnerable and share my entrepreneurial struggles in the prime of hardship. My unofficial degrees are:
    Phd: persistence humility determination
    Bsc: bold sincere courageous
    Msc: motivation simplicity commitment

  6. Scott Campbell (@SharkAnalogy)

    Oct 7, 2014 at 2:29 am

    Great Article. The book “Think and Grow Rich” should be mandatory reading for everyone. The author is right, success doesn’t happen overnight. The reason why I think that book is timeless is because he literally spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours studying and interviewing great men such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, etc….

  7. Jeremy

    Feb 9, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    From what I’ve noticed and read, it seems most successful people had a very strong why due to the kind of life and environment they started out with. The second thing is that they are all obsessed with succeeding. And the third is that they are freakin persistent about it. There’s no stopping them.

  8. Daniel

    Feb 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Can you be a success story without undergoing hardship?

  9. tsam21

    Jan 24, 2014 at 4:16 am

    woow! this is a great way to stir up the greatest in us,if they did it back then,when things were super tough,then we can surely do great and amazing things too!

  10. Sebastian

    Jan 19, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Spot on. I don’t really study historical men that much but I do study the people that did what I want to do. Rebels, rockstars, revolutionaries, weird and crazy people.

    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 20, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Close enough, Sebastian!
      You’ll learn a lot from doing that.

  11. Boy Toy

    Jan 18, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Great point about the fact that we mostly see the successes and not the failures.
    It’s everywhere: tv, online, facebook, radio, magazines: Always successful people.
    But hey, it’s good – gives us a kick in the ass to strive for more. I appreciate that 😉

    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 20, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      I agree with you. It’s just that most people seem to be getting the wrong idea.

  12. Naomi@BusinessPlanning

    Jan 16, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Ludvig,

    Really great advice. And a lesson I learnt about a year ago. Success is not a overnight thing. Some of world’s biggest entrepreneurs have started out selling ice-creams. But unfortunately we don’t get to see the years of hard work and consistency.

    They only show us the £100,000 car and £3 million pound house. I think the celebrity culture (similar to the Gangnam Style effect) of stars who shoot to fame and riches overnight lead us to believe this is a common occurrence. As a results more kids in the UK are more likely to want ‘overnight success’ careers like footballers, singers and glamour models rather than teachers and doctors which require years of studying.

    Good going media!

    Thanks for great read.


    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 16, 2014 at 4:11 pm


      Haha. Yes, Good going media! This is why I don’t own a TV.

      “As a results more kids in the UK are more likely to want ‘overnight success’”

      —> That seems familiar. I recently read “How to Get Rich” by Felix Dennis. In that book he says the following:

      “It came as a shock to me to read in The Week that 20 % of British teenagers in school claim they would abandon their education if they could just get themselves on television. In any capacity whatever. Just to be a “celebrity”. Which probably explains the queues clamoring to be humiliated on “reality TV”, a modern equivalent to ancient Rome’s gladiator circuses.”

      Thanks for reading and leaving a great comment Naomi.

  13. Jared

    Jan 15, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    My new goal is to read one biography a month and learn from these great historical figures.. Thanks for sharing!

    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      That sounds like a great plan Jared,

      Here’s two tips that might be helpful:
      1. If you’re an avid reader, be sure to seek out the most credible biographies — even if they are less fun to read than those without many references.

      2. If you’re not an avid reader, try reading an easy and short book to become acquainted with the topic first. Then you dive in for real and start reading heavier books once the interest has been established. It becomes easier and more fun this way because now you already have some associations in place.

  14. Amanda B

    Jan 15, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Interesting thing about Van Gogh becoming an icon.

    Sure he is now successful. But I just wonder if it was worth it… Maybe he should have quit it and enjoyed his life?

    You do make a good point though.

    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 16, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Good question. But what makes you think he COULD quit?

      From what I’ve read about Van Gogh it seems he was rather obsessed with his art, that he couldn’t have stopped painting even if he had wanted to.

    • Solomon

      Jan 16, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      @ Amanda B, it was his passion to paint (Van Gogh) to quit would simply mean to cease breathing. Maybe he should have got a proper job to Subsidies his passion for art.

  15. Derek Brettell

    Jan 15, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Great article! I read it over breakfast in Scotland and it’s set next up for the day. Thank you

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