Dream Big Start Small with: Biographies

Ever felt that you need a bit of a boost? Or a dose of moral medicine? Or a kick of excitement and adventure in your life?

Well, look no further than the library.

No. Seriously.

3 months ago, I started the 30 day sleeping challenge – to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. How? I hit the sack early, and read at least half an hour before shut eye to ensure I was mentally conked.

In the summer, a podcast gave me some advice – to read more biographies. Having never even considered reading such monotonous tomes of boredom, I now find myself ruefully shaking my head.

What the hell have I been reading for the past 20 years?

The fiery biographical love-affair had begun people.

After 3 months of reading them, biographies hands-down win the “my book of choice” award. In my opinion, biographies are the ultimate grow-stronger tool, and here’s why.

But first,

How To Engineer Yourself Some Magic Reading Time

Before this semester, reading has always been relegated to a holiday-time necessity.

Cos ain’t nobody got time for that, foo!

But I was so, so wrong.

Friends, discover the Magic Reading Time, and a lifetime of books will be yours.

Q: What do you do when your head hits the pillow at night?

Do you:

a) Insta-drift off into the land of dreams?

b) Think about life’s biggest problems, and lie awake for about half an hour.

If you’re in the (a) camp, then sorry, Magical Reading Time ain’t for you. But if you’re in camp (b), you’re in for a treat.

Those 30 minutes spent thinking, and trying to get to sleep? That’s time wasted. And from these 30 minutes, Magical Reading Time will be born.

Try this.

  1. Go to bed, and read a paper book for around 30 mins. Because reading is a mental exercise, it makes your brain tired.
  2. When you feel tired, put the book down and hit the pillow.
  3. If you’re feeling awake, go back to step 1 and repeat until sleep-like-a-baby-mode is induced.

After a while of doing this, your brain will associate the reading with sleeping, and you’ll almost instantly drift off to catch some zzz’s.

So, you’ve replaced the time spent thinking and trying to get to sleep, with reading. You’ve got your very own Magical Reading Time right there. Huzzah.

And what to fill it with? Biographies. Here’s why.

  1. Discover exactly what makes the great minds tick.

*Disclaimer: When we’re saying “biographies”, we’re not just talking about any biographies. We’re talking about the biographies of the great men and women that have come before us. Not a runner-up in Big Brother. Come on now.*

The “greats”. Leonardo Da Vinci, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Marie Curie, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein….

They’re the “greats” because they did things that were…. well, great.

But just like Olympic champions are made champions during training instead of on the podium, the greats are great because of the lives they led, not just because of their crowning achievements.

What we’re interested in is… what exactly made them so great? What made them tick? What was their mindset? Their attitude towards challenges? What was their perspective on the world around them? What were their personal philosophies?

How did they live their lives, so that they could achieve great things?

Perhaps they have peculiar hobbies. Perhaps they have unusual morning or evening routines. Perhaps they lived by a personal mantra. Perhaps they made an effort to interact with people in a certain manner.

Charles Dickens went for long walks in the countryside and in London, allowing him to soak up the atmosphere around him, and describe it perfectly in his novels.

Leonardo Da Vinci. “The most relentlessly curious human being to have ever lived”. He wrote a constant stream of questions in his pocket note book. Why do clouds form? Why do people smile? Why is stone hard?

Theodore Roosevelt. A passion for keeping himself fit, going on adventures – his personal philosophy of leading the “strenuous life”.

NBA champion Ray Allen – incredible pre-game routines and preparation.

Reading biographies allows us to see just what made these people tick. And with that, implement new habits, routines, perspectives, mantras and personal philosophies into our own lives.

It’s perfect 30-day challenge inspiration. 30 days of walking like Dickens. 30 days of questioning like Da Vinci.

  1. Learn what it truly takes to achieve great things.

In today’s world, we often see people at the pinnacle of their journey, draped in success. We see the Olympic champion on the podium, we see the scientist win the Nobel Prize, we see the businessman earning XYZ a year.

We rarely, if ever, see the countless hours of pain and sacrifice it took to get them to where they are.

Biographies (good ones) are raw. They show how tough the journey was. And the character-defining failures along the way.

What the greats learned from their failures and how they got back up. It’s insightful, inspiring, and offers us nuggets of wisdom that we can use in our own lives when we fail.

Dig deeper than the tip of the iceberg.


  1. Think Your Life Is Tough? Think Again.

If I’ve got a problem I’m wrestling with, or getting frustrated with something, it’s amazing how reading about an actual problem just melts all the frustration away.

Got too many assignments? After reading about Martin Luther King’s struggle against inequality in the United States, it’s pretty damn hard to think you’re not making an absolute mountain out of an inconsequential mole hill.

A good biography puts everything into perspective.

And in this way, biographies sprinkle a bit of grit into our lives.

You’ve just read the epic tale of how your hero failed, and failed, and failed again. On the brink of collapse, when the end is seemingly nigh, they get the job done with heroic courage and determination.

Now, when times get tough in our lives, you’ll remember just how bad they had it yet managed to pull through, and how easy you and I have it, and how we’ll damn well pull through too.

If one man can struggle through and conquer it, then anyone can. Roger Bannister – first runner to run the sub-4 minute mile. As soon as he did it, hundreds of runners then broke it. Because they knew what could be achieved.



  1. Physical Embodiment Of Virtues

This is a huge one.

A while back, I did a post about values and virtues. There’s a huge list of values and virtues to choose from.

Scanning the list, and reading the words alone… for example,

Courage, kindness, empathy, determination.

They’re not that powerful. They don’t hit me like the freight train that they should. Because they’re just words.

Let’s take leadership for example, and get someone to explain it to you.

Leadership: stepping up in times of crisis, and the ability to think and act creatively in difficult situations. Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring.

Are you feeling it? Has that ignited some fire deep within you? No? I’m not surprised. Me neither.

Because it’s all words! Virtues are something more than just words. We need to feel, touch and see them.

And here lies the true magic of biographies.

When you know a character or person who physically embodies the virtue, the virtue takes on an entirely new meaning.

Now you have a concept that’s far easier to grasp and a meaning that goes way beyond words on a page. The virtue is something we can feel, and see.  And this means we’re better able to go develop and embody that virtue ourselves.

Let’s take leadership again.

Leadership is the ability to lead people through thick and thin.

Wishy washy.

I’ll tell you what leadership means to me.

Leadership is Che Guevara leading an out-gunned, out-supplied, and out-numbered force of guerrillas through the harsh Sierra Maestra mountains during the Cuban revolution. All whilst holding himself to such high standards and living by his own morals – serving as the perfect example for his troops to follow.

Leadership is Winston Churchill giving an incredible speech in dire times – boosting the nation’s morale and binding Britain together when Europe was crumbling to Nazi Germany.

Hell, leadership is Maximus taking on the chariots in the Battle of Carthage in the colosseum in Gladiator.

Don’t give me a wishy washy definition of some virtue. Don’t give me 5 core values to live by. Give me 5 inspiring people who I can aspire to be like.

That is the true power of biographies, and that is the power of epic movies. But epic movies are for another post, and can’t be read before bed.

People make virtues, not the Oxford Dictionary. If you truly want to live up to a virtue, and want values to mean something, biographies are an incredible place to start. Find someone who embodies the virtue you want to develop.

Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King Jr. That’s what I call leadership.
  1. Vocabulary Drainage Is Real People

When I spend months without reading anything, words escape me. Either someone lets them out of their cage, or someone’s stealing them. Cos by the end of semester, they’re long gone, and I’m left quite a bit more illiterate than when I arrived.

Damn. I spend the next month constantly groping for words whilst conversing.

But an entire semester of Magic Reading Time?  You’ll be throwing out words like circuitous with reckless abandon in your day-to-day conversations.

Your arsenal of words improves. Big time. And who doesn’t like more words? Win.


  1. You Learn Things

Physics is awesome. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m a big believer in striving to be good in many areas in life. So after 12 weeks of religiously studying one subject, I feel kinda cooped up. I want to spread my wings a bit.

And this is what’s great about reading biographies. By exploring the lives of the great people before us, you reflect on your own character and you grow as a person all the time.

And, you get the added bonus of knowing the historical events that surround them. How can that be a bad thing?

Knowing about the Cuban revolution, the Second World War, the Italian Renaissance period, life in Charles Dicken’s London and the events surrounding Martin Luther King can’t be a bad thing.

So… to conclude.


Why Biographies Are So Great

Biographies are just the greatest. To summarise:

  1. Discover exactly what makes “the greats” tick. Gives you things to try out in your own life.
  2. Learn what it truly takes to achieve great things. Pain, sacrifice.
  3. They put your own problems into perspective.
  4. Sprinklage of grit.
  5. Physical embodiment of character virtues.
  6. Expand your knowledge and your vocabulary. Never lose a word again.


So. Biographies. Hands-down one of the greatest keys to unlock the strongest version of yourself.

Get onto worldofbooks.com, pick up some second hand biographies, and get started.

As always, Dream Big Start Small!

Love you all,


Like the article? Aspire to live in the world you dream of? Then like DreamBigStartSmall on Facebook so you never miss a beat, and tell us what you think.

photo credit: The Origional Che Image via photopin (license)