Most people know very little about history, and they think it’s boring.
They also think it’s useless:
“What’s the point of knowing the names and dates of this person or that event!?”
There is a point. Actually, there are several.
Studying history is surprisingly useful — and grossly underestimated.
Read on, and I’ll tell you why.
If you’re not already an avid student of history, I’m hoping you will become one after having read this article.
Because, I’m going to show you HOW and WHY studying a bit of history can help you a lot. You don’t need to become a historian or anything, but there are certain things that you should know when it comes to history.
I’ll tell you which ones soon.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll be going though:
- Why studying history will boost learning and make you more curious
- Why studying history will motivate you
- Why studying history is good for practical purposes — like sales, persuasion, writing, etc.
Let’s start with…
Why Reading History Will Boost Learning and Make You More Curious
Have you ever had to learn something but felt a complete lack of interest?
Yes you have — and you didn’t like the feeling. That’s what school was like.
Here’s the thing, you have predispositions. These are certain things that you’re genetically inclined to be more interested in or talented at. You cannot control this.
But, there ARE strategies that you can use to become more interested in learning things. All of these strategies I’m about to show you have to do with gaining more mental associations. The earlier in life you start building a ton of associations, the easier it becomes for you to learn new things.
Here’s what you do in 4 simple steps:
- 1. Start by reading easy books on the topic
That will give you an overview and lots of associations. The more associations the better. This will motivate you to read harder books.
- 2. Read a lot of quotes from great people
Reading quotes from experts is like taking a crash course in the subject.
It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.
Wrote Winston Churchill in 1930, in his autobiographical book My Early Life. Indeed, Churchill himself, who never claimed to be particularly educated, devoured the book Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and found that it gave him the motivation to study the works of many great historical men.
- 3. Study history and use it as a tool for crafting more associations.
This is a BIG one.
By studying any type of history you will soon form a rich bank of associations. Your mind effortlessly turns these associations into analogies:
The European crisis?.. Oh, that’s like what happened when (insert historic event)
For example, when I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I came to think that the battle between the Looters and the Men of the Mind was similar to the feud in Ancient Greece between Socrates and the Sophists. If I hadn’t studied history I would not have been able to make that connection — and I probably wouldn’t remember it today.
On a neurological level, what’s happening in your brain is this: You build up a large web of neural pathways. Kind of like a net. Then when you cast that net out into the sea you can more easily catch things because your net now has hooks in it!
Sea = Information
Catch things = Learn and remember
Hooks = Associations
Why Reading History Will Motivate You
Adam Smith, Frederick Taylor, and to some extent David Ricardo — all economic and managerial philosophers — thought that the best way of maximizing productivity, and thus profitability, was to specialize work tasks.
They wanted to separate work tasks and train each worker into becoming a specialist in one thing only.
This strategy of separating and specializing work was then taken to a grand scale by Frederick Taylor. This became known as Taylorism
Other philosophers, like Karl Marx, thought that it would be more productive to have the workers know a bit of everything about the factory. Because then the workers wouldn’t be as reliant on each other, and they would appreciate the work more as a result of understanding exactly how they contributed to the business.
Marx thought that the worker would become more motivated if he understood the context of his work role and how it helped contribute to the end product.
Remember that I told you history speeds up learning and curiosity by giving you an overview and more associations?
Don’t you think Marx’s reasoning is similar to that?
It sure is. He was onto something there.
But of course, Marx couldn’t prove it because the fields of psychology and neurology were so primitive at that time. They didn’t know this stuff back then. We do now — or rather, we do — but most people do not.
Anyway, what we can learn from Marx vs Smith & Co is that the answer to achieving the greatest amount of productivity probably lies somewhere between both of their arguments:
- To train the workers into becoming specialists
- Showing them the big picture, their context in it, and why their work matters
So then, this means that the workers need to know as much as possible about the business and what the value chain of the company looks like. The more the worker understands, the more he can appreciate his work. The worker would then realize:
“Ah, I am part of this ecosystem that is larger than me, and my specific role is to produce. My work matters.”
Alright. So what does this have to do with motivation and personal development?
Because you are the factory worker.
Your factory is LIFE and your work is PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.
When you study history you will better understand the context of your life. This makes you appreciate things more, and take fewer things for granted.
The factory worker is like the typical student. None of them know why they’re working or what they’re working for. They just know they’re supposed to do it.
When you’re in school, you have no idea of your context. All you know is that your teacher wants you to learn some information. And when you ask WHY you need to learn this stuff, your teacher gives you some unconvincing answer about how it’s part of the curriculum. And for all you know, the curriculum is decided by some old bearded guy who hasn’t been able to keep up with recent progress in technology, science, or business.
Why is it good for you to learn outdated and time-consuming accounting methods from 200 years back?
No one knows.
Why is it good for you to learn some history?
Because it helps you understand the context you’re in, and it makes you motivated.
If you don’t know your context you will be confused. When you are confused, your motivation is weak. Because you don’t know what you’re working towards.
Why Studying History is Great for Practical Purposes
If you read about successful people you’ll notice that most of them are avid students of history. And not just in their particular field of expertise.
Not only do they study the greats who came before them, but they also study history for other reasons. For example, because it helps them persuade people or to communicate a message more efficiently:
- By creating credibility and making your arguments more convincing and believable (backed up with historical facts)
- By making people understand easier and faster (with associations and historical analogies)
- By creating a meaning and a context for something (by explaining how things led up to this point)
I use history for examples and building a convincing case for what I am saying.
–Nicholas Nassim Taleb
So, if you’re an aspiring writer, salesperson, politician, or just someone who needs to make a persuasive presentation, you should read up on some relevant historical trivia.
It pays off.
Studying History IS Important to Your Personal Development
It’s funny how most people think that history is boring and useless. Because, as you see, they think it’s boring because they don’t know enough about it.
If those people built up more associations, their interest would go up, and it would also help them in other areas of life by speeding up their learning process.
And clearly, studying history is not useless. So they’re just wrong about that.
If you’re really interested in something, if you work in a particular industry, or if you are educating yourself towards a certain profession, you should:
- Read quotes from the greats (Wikiquote is a good place to start)
- Read simple and general books that give you an overview
- Read harder books
- Study the history of that particular field
- Understand the context you’re in to boost motivation
- Use historical facts to build your case and persuade people. Draw on relevant historical examples to make your arguments more credible
Over to you:
Do think studying history is useful or not?
Can you think of another reason why history is beneficial to personal development?
Have you learned any interesting historical trivia lately?
Do you know the history in your industry or the history in something else you’re deeply interested in?