How to Be Your Best Self: Three Lessons From History

Do you want to be your best self? Do you want to become the best that you can be?

I just finished Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s an insightful book that contains many lessons from history. While the lessons are mostly related to nations and cultures, I believe we can apply some of them to our lives as individuals as well.

In particular, I’d like to take the lessons from how European empires came to dominate the world in the past 500 years.

Before the fifteenth century, Europe was backward in science and technology compared to Asian empires. But something happened that propelled them forward. Between 1750 and 1850, they eventually became the dominant force in the world after defeating Asian empires.

But how could they make such progress? What are the reasons behind the breakthrough?

Well, there are three main reasons linked to the three main forces of history in the past 500 years: science, imperialism, and capitalism. Here are the three reasons along with relevant quotes from the book.

1. They admitted their ignorance and sought new knowledge (science)

European imperialism was entirely unlike all other imperial projects in history. Previous seekers of empire tended to assume that they already understood the world. Conquest merely utilised and spread their view of the world… In contrast, European imperialists set out to distant shores in the hope of obtaining new knowledge along with new territories.

2. They aimed to conquer distant lands (imperialism)

These European explore-and-conquer expeditions are so familiar to us that we tend to overlook just how extraordinary they were. Nothing like them had ever happened before. Long-distance campaigns of conquest are not a natural undertaking… Most great empires extended their control only over their immediate neighbourhood.

3. They reinvested their profits (capitalism)

The idea that ‘The profits of production must be reinvested in increasing production’ sounds trivial. Yet it was alien to most people throughout history. In premodern times, people believed that production was more or less constant. So why reinvest your profits if production won’t increase by much, no matter what you do?

From these, we can digest three lessons on how to be your best self: be curious, aim big, and invest in your future. Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Be Curious

Curiosity is an important trait in life. In fact, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett once said that this trait is essential for their success. Why? Because curiosity pushes them to keep exploring the world and updating their model of the world. The model then helps them make the right decisions that lead them to success.

If you weren’t curious, you would act like the medieval empires: you think you already know everything that you need to know. But if you were curious, you would act like the European empires in the Age of Exploration: you believe that there is still a lot that you need to know. As a result, you will go out, explore the world, and find new opportunities.

2. Aim Big

Here is another interesting quote from the book:

…not one expedition of either exploration or conquest was ever sent to America from the Islamic world, India or China… It is hard to argue that the Ottomans or Chinese were too far away, or that they lacked the technological, economic or military wherewithal. The resources that sent Zheng He from China to East Africa in the 1420s should have been enough to reach America. The Chinese just weren’t interested.

Many people only focus on their “immediate neighborhood.” Their dreams are based on what they see around them and the people they meet. They are not interested in “conquering distant lands.”

Don’t let that happen to you. Aim big. Aim to conquer “distant lands”.

3. Invest in Your Future

To be your best self, you need to believe that the best is yet to come. If you believe that, you would invest in your future. You would “reinvest your profits” to “increase your production”.

That means spending your resources (time and money) to improve certain areas of your life. There are at least two areas where you should invest in: your self-education and personal finance.


Be curious, aim big, and invest in your future. Put these into practice and you will become your best self.

Do you have other tips on how to be your best self? Feel free to share them in the comments!

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  1. Thank you Sir Donald, its really educative!

  2. Charles Bartholomew
    Charles Bartholomew

    Thank you, I am going to work on myself

  3. You have said it all. When you are curious you learn and when you claim you know everything, you loose many things.And when you invest in your future, you conquer the fears of loosing tomorrow and that builds confidence that will then push you to aim big and win big. Thanks Donald.


    Thank you Donald.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

  6. Thanks so much Sir, for your writings it’s shaped my life and motivated me to do great things. And inspiring to do more.

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