9 Life Lessons From Leo Tolstoy’s Quotes

post written by:  Ken@ProductivityBird

Leo Tolstoy was a Russian writer that is now known as one of best writers in the history of writing.  His writings are beautiful and filled with wisdom.  Let’s look at the important lessons that we can learn from some of his deepest quotes.

1. Deliberately Choose to be Happy

“If you want to be happy, be.” - Leo Tolstoy

You can choose to be happy and choose to be sad.  It’s your choice.  It’s true that things happening around you can make you easier to lean towards one way or the other.  But if you can be aware of that external force, you have a better chance to not let the force arouse your negative emotions.  

2. Change Yourself So That You Can Make The World Better 

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” - Leo Tolstoy

If you want to contribute, strive for becoming the best version of yourself.  Along the way, you would directly or indirectly make the world better. 

3. Be Satisfied With Imperfection

“If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.” - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Don’t look for perfection.  You can strive for perfection but a part of your mind has to be aware that you would never achieve it.  Enjoy the process of closing the gap between your existing state and perfection.  

4. Be Humble

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” - Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Thinking that you are the smartest person meaning you are not going to learn.  When you are praised, be thankful to the tools that are given to you and the people that have helped you.  

5. Be Aware of Prejudice in Your Thinking

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.” - Leo Tolstoy

Be aware that your thinking is biased, almost all of the time.  It’s almost impossible to think without any prejudice.  One way to reduce this problem is to force yourself to argue with yourself.  If you think idea A is right, force yourself to come up with arguments to support idea B.  Another method that you should also consider using is to be aware that there has to be an idea C and D.  If you are reading an article that is about idea A vs idea B, be aware that this is likely a biased article.  That’s like an article titled “Should You Eat Apples or Should You Eat Oranges?”.  What about the banana lovers?

6. Don’t Assume the Majority Is Right

“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” - Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

Most people consume a lot of media everyday and their thoughts are heavily influenced by it.  However, the media’s goal is to make money, not to explain things in unbiased ways.  The most juicy story is often about team A vs team B.  The minds of millions of people are filled with dramas like that.  

7. Be the Tortoise Who Wins the Battle

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” - Leo Tolstoy

Explosiveness is exciting to watch.  People love to see slam dunks, not layups.  However, when it comes to work, being able to score consistently in boring ways beats being able to slam dunk once in a while.  

8. Quality Beats Quantity

“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” - Leo Tolstoy

Instead of striving solely for quantity, focus more on the quality of your work.  Reduce your number of tasks and do the important tasks in a better and deeper way.  

9. Be the Best Version of Yourself

“Each person’s task in life is to become an increasingly better person.” - Leo Tolstoy

There are so many books that tell us to figure out our life purpose and then set our short term goals and long term goals to achieve the life purpose.  However, finding the life purpose is easier said than done.  If you don’t have a specific life purpose yet, one life purpose that you can safely use is to become the best version of yourself.  Being the best version of yourself doesn’t mean that you try to play center in the NBA while you are not even close to be tall enough.  It’s about knowing what area you are good at and making that part of you better and better.  


Following these 9 principles for living can make you live a more purposeful life.  Try adopting these principles, one at a time.  If 9 is too many for you, choose one that you think will bring your life the biggest impact and do it.  

Ken@ProductivityBird shares ideas about productivity and mindfulness that he has learned from books and his own experience on ProductivityBird.
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