12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson Summary and Analysis

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian YouTube personality, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He grew up in the wastelands of northern Alberta. He earned his PhD and post-doctorate in clinical psychology at McGill University before working as a professor at Harvard University.

In his book, 12 rules for a life, Jordan B Peterson shares 12 principles to improve oneself, be happier, become more responsible… . For this summary, I will try to present these 12 rules and the keys he addresses for each of them.

Rules? More rules, really? Isn’t our life complicated and constraining enough, without abstract rules that never take into account our particular situations? Our brain is malleable, it develops in different ways depending on our experience. How can we believe that a few rules can be useful to everyone?

Jordan Peterson’s Perspective

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian YouTube personality, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He grew up in the wastelands of northern Alberta. He earned his PhD and post-doctorate in clinical psychology at McGill University before working as a professor at Harvard University.

Peterson’s various television appearances for commentary on personality, religion, and cultural Marxism have made him famous. Most recently, in 2016, Peterson posted a series of videos on YouTube that criticized new gender identity discrimination laws. Based on these videos, he has received significant media coverage ranging from criticism to praise.

Peterson describes himself politically as a classical British liberal and traditionalist. As such, he supports individual freedom and the preservation of tradition, but does not align himself with a right-wing ideology.

Peterson has experienced the world deeply. He has performed a hammerhead barrel roll in a carbon fiber aerobatic plane and explored a meteorite crater in Arizona with astronauts. He has also taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and businessmen. He has served as a consultant to the Secretary General of the United Nations and as an advisor to the senior partners of major Canadian law firms. 

About the 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life is about discipline, responsibility, freedom, and adventure. Peterson distills worldly wisdom into twelve wide-ranging essays based on ancient tradition and groundbreaking scientific research. Peterson argues that happiness is an unnecessary goal. Instead, we must seek meaning as an antidote to the chaos of our times. To observe our lives in total balance, we must hack the ineluctable chaos with setup.

The most effective way to find request is to look for significance. This quest for significance ought not be an end in itself, however a safeguard against the experiencing natural for our reality. At the point when you experience this misery, you can either pull out or defy it. Pulling out will permit the haziness we as a whole have to beat us. Confronting it will assist us with testing those dim driving forces and change our objectives.

The book provides life advice through essays of abstract ethical principles, psychology, mythology, religion and personal anecdotes. The book has been translated into many languages and has sold millions of copies since its release in 2018.

Rule #1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

“So pay attention to your posture. Stop slouching and crouching. Express your thoughts. State your desires, as if you have a right to them – at least the same right as others. Walk straight and look straight ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage serotonin to flow in abundance through neural pathways that are desperate for its calming influence.” – JORDAN PETERSON

Forswearing of a significant truth can prompt torment. Rejecting your obligation for managing enduring can prompt an irredeemable casualty mindset. This attitude is progressively normal and depends on the assumption that others will take care of your concerns. Adopting this strategy keeps you from tracking down significance in your life. Probably the most grounded individuals have defeated huge measures of torment, enduring and misfortune. Taking responsibility for enduring has permitted them to view as importance. Notwithstanding attitude, our body act is essential.

To learn how to stand up for yourself, Peterson uses the metaphor of the lobster inside you. The lobster shares many of the same neurological structures as humans. Like the human brain, the lobster’s brain has specialized areas for social hierarchies. Peterson explains that studies suggest that lobsters that lose their social status by losing fights stop producing serotonin. This lack of serotonin can lead to depression in lobsters. Dominant lobsters also adopted a strong posture, while other lobsters cowered. 

The body and mind are deeply connected. So do your best to succeed by adopting proper body language. Stand straight with your shoulders back for two key reasons:

1. It exerts dominance and confidence.

2. It also shows that you accept responsibility.

Research has shown that physical stature, even a small muscle movement, can affect your emotions. It’s hard to accept responsibility for your actions when you’re slumped or slumped over. By standing up straight with your shoulders back and your feet shoulder-width apart, you exude confidence and a willingness to take meaningful action.

The author shares several tips for gradually developing a confident posture:

  • Showing strength of character and expressing the substance of your thoughts and desires
  • Dare to say “no”. By stating your refusal without hesitation and by being sincere in your words, you considerably reduce the influence of oppression.
  • Dare to let anger and aggression speak, but always keep a language of truth and encourage to move forward
  • Establish a routine and automate daily actions. Stable and reliable habits allow to gain serenity and simplicity.

Rule #2: Treat yourself as someone you are responsible for helping

Peterson encourages people to praise themselves and those around them for acting productively and with care. He also recognizes that patients show genuine interest and care for others. They can express their emotions because they are simply themselves. When you are a patient, you simply accept that you are a patient. You don’t try to be someone else. 

The lesson of the “patient” approach is to respect yourself and know that you are worthy of help. You are important to others as much as you are to yourself. You have a vital role to play in the unfolding of the world’s destiny. Therefore, you are morally obligated to take care of yourself. You must take care of yourself, help yourself and be charitable to yourself. Act toward yourself in the same way that you would care, help and be conscientious toward someone you love and appreciate.

As part of taking care of yourself, you need to determine where you are going to negotiate so that you don’t end up being resentful, vindictive and cruel. You need to formulate your own principles for two reasons:

So that you can defend yourself against others who take advantage of you.

So that you can be safe when you work and play

When you take care of yourself, you can begin to make sense of your life. Don’t underestimate the power of your vision and direction. They are irresistible forces. They can turn obstacles into open paths and expanded opportunities. 

“Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care of yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being. As the great 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, “He whose life has a why can endure almost any how.” – JORDAN PETERSON

Rule #3: Make friends with people who want the best for you.

Your friends have a big impact on your behavior. Their sayings and mannerisms often rub off on you. This means they can also influence you negatively with toxic habits. 

But if you surround yourself with people who support your upward goal, they will not tolerate your cynicism and destructive spirit. Instead, they will encourage you when you do good for yourself and others, and carefully punish you when you don’t. This encouragement will help strengthen your resolve.

People who do not aim to elevate themselves will do the opposite. Peterson explains that managers often place low performers in group projects with high performers. Their goal is to raise the latter to the level of their colleagues. But research suggests that the opposite effect is more common. High performers are likely to be brought down to the level of low performers. 

So strive to surround yourself with good people. Look beyond superficial characteristics like sense of style or socioeconomic status and identify the people who will help you create positive change. It takes strength and courage to stand alongside such brilliant people, as you may feel inferior. Be humble and courageous so you can grow as an individual.

Rule #4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Find your being

Once you are an adult, you are a singular being. So be careful about comparing yourself to others. You have your own unique issues – financial, intimate and psychological. They are part of the unique and larger context of your life.

Your career or job may or may not be working for you. If it does, it is in a unique interaction with the other specifics of your life. As you find your Being, you need to decide how much of your time to spend on your career and how much to spend on other parts of your life. You must also decide what to let go of and what to pursue. These decisions require careful observation, education, reflection and communication with others. In essence, by doing this, you are scratching the surface of your beliefs. This helps you make decisions without feeling overwhelmed by your problems.

Avoid comparing yourself to others

We all have an innate need to compare ourselves to others. Your brain releases a hormone called serotonin when it sees that you are more capable than others. When you have serotonin in your blood, you feel confident and in control of your life. 

But your brain limits serotonin when someone threatens your status in society and makes you look incompetent. You begin to doubt yourself and feel a sense of worthlessness.

You are now connected to billions of people online. This means it doesn’t take long for your brain to notice how you compare yourself to others. When you are exposed to so many better people, you are more likely to lose hope. You will stop acting and let your life descend into chaos. The best way to avoid this is to stop comparing yourself to who someone else is today. Instead, start comparing yourself to who you were yesterday.

“Even a man on a sinking ship can be happy when he boards a lifeboat! And who knows where he might go, in the future. Having a happy trip might just be better than arriving successfully…” – Jordan Peterson

Get your psychological house in order

Your psychological house is the most important thing to monitor and improve. Comparing yourself today to where you were yesterday is what Peterson calls “taking stock” of your psychological house. You can see the progress you have made and decide if you think you are progressing at the required pace. Then you need to identify where your psychological house needs to be renovated. Determine if these changes are a cosmetic repair or a structural defect. Make a list of these areas for improvement and match them with fixes.

This approach will help your inner critic become less obsessed with his or her shortcomings and more focused on improving. This is also a key part of Peterson’s sixth rule, “Get your house in order before you criticize the world,” which makes it very important.

Rule #5: Don’t let your children do anything you don’t like

Parents must treat their children in a way that prepares them for the real world. For Peterson, this means making sure they can function well in society by instilling the proper rules. When parents ignore this, their children are likely to be rejected by society in many painful ways. This may seem like a very difficult challenge, as our children are blank slates that will impact future generations. Deciding what to write on those blank slates can be paralyzing.

Peterson first encourages readers to accept the innate aggression found in humans. This is why almost everyone has a history of bullying as a child. To overcome this aggression, the author believes that your primary concern should be raising kind children. This does not mean that you should become your child’s best friend. That would prevent you from enforcing the rules necessary for your child to become a better person. Peterson gives the following examples of effective rules to set:

Never use violence, except in self-defense.

Show others kindness and respect.

Peterson also recommends that you avoid superficial rules like:

You must always be in bed by 7 p.m. 

You must never have mismatched socks.

In addition to setting rules that will guide children to a better future, parents must also learn to help their children through failure and pain. These experiences are inevitable and should be used as a learning experience. Raise children who have a passion to change the world. And create children who seek to improve themselves so they are better equipped to change the world.

Rule #6 – Get your house in order before you criticize the world

“If one wishes to live life to the fullest, one must first put one’s own house in order; and only then can one reasonably aim at assuming greater responsibilities.” – JORDAN PETERSON

Before you complain about the world or your situation, you should start small and consider your own situation:

Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities you’ve been given? 

  • Are you working hard for your career? Or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? 
  • Have you made peace with your brother? 
  • Do you treat your spouse and children with dignity and respect? 
  • Do you have habits that destroy your health and well-being?

Have some humility. If you can’t bring peace to your home, then you are not equipped to run a city. Let your soul guide you. Then watch what happens over the days and weeks after you get your house in order. When you are at work, you will begin to speak your mind. You will start telling your wife, husband, children or parents what you want and need. When you know you have neglected something, you will take action to correct it. Your head will begin to clear when you stop filling it with lies that everything is fine. Your experience will improve as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions that don’t fix the problems you have in your home.

Rule #7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Peterson uses the term “expedient” to describe putting off activities we know we should be doing in order to seek short-term gratification instead. We do this because life is full of suffering. But there is so much more to life than suffering. So try to enjoy life as much as you can by looking for something meaningful. Searching for meaning will help you become a better and happier person, while helping you deal with suffering. 

You can start doing this by seeking sacrifice rather than instant gratification. This sacrifice must be made for the benefit of others rather than for your own benefit. For example, Peterson does not consider working long hours to get a promotion as a sacrifice, because your actions are always motivated by a positive outcome for yourself. 

Peterson explains that these small positive impacts will help you grow like a lotus flower. These flowers start at the bottom of a muddy lake and grow slowly. Eventually, the lotus flowers burst beautifully in the sunlight. This is how sacrifice for the sake of others can make your life much more fulfilling in the future. 

“To ride this fundamental duality is to be in balance: to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure. When life suddenly feels intense, captivating, and meaningful; when time passes and you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing that you don’t even realize it – that’s when you find yourself precisely on the border between order and chaos.” – JORDAN PETERSON

Rule #8: Tell the truth – or at least don’t lie.

You can use words to manipulate the world and get what you want. This includes both lying to others and lying to yourself. But this approach is driven by an ill-formed desire that doesn’t consider the negative impact.

Let’s assume that you are very careful about what you do and say. In this case, you can learn to feel a state of internal division and weakness when you behave badly and express yourself badly. This is an embodied feeling, not a thought. But if you blindly and voluntarily direct everything toward one goal, you will never discover whether another goal would be more useful.

If you continue to live according to the truth, you will have to accept and deal with the conflicts that this way of being generates. If you do, you will continue to mature and become more responsible, in small and large ways. You will approach your formulated goals with more wisdom and become even wiser as you discover and correct your inevitable mistakes.

Rule #9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Listen rather than judge

A person who listens can mirror the crowd. He can do this without speaking. He lets the speaker listen to himself. This is what Freud recommended.

Freud asked his patients to lie on a couch, look at the ceiling, let their minds wander and say whatever came into their heads. This is his method of free association. Freudian psychoanalysts used this method to avoid transferring their biases and opinions into the patient’s internal landscape.

If you listen instead, without premature judgment, people will usually tell you everything they think – and with little deception. People will tell you the most amazing, absurd and intriguing details. Few of your conversations will be boring.

What you know now is not enough

“Then listen, both to yourself and to those to whom you speak. Your wisdom then consists not in the knowledge you already possess, but in the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.” – JORDAN PETERSON

Unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough. You remain threatened by disease, self-deception, unhappiness, malice, betrayal, corruption, pain and limitation. You are subject to all these factors because you are simply too ignorant to protect yourself. If you knew enough, you could be healthier and more honest. You would suffer less. You would recognize, resist and even triumph over malice and evil. You would not betray a friend and you would not make false deals or deceive in business, politics or love.

Your present knowledge has neither made you perfect nor provided security. It is therefore insufficient. This is why the priestess of the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece praised Socrates. Socrates always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest man alive, because he knew that what he knew was nothing. Therefore, assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Rule #10: Be specific in your speech

When we have a problem, we are often tempted to hide it or hope that it will go away on its own. It is easier to keep the peace and avoid the anxiety, despair and sadness that come with facing your problems. It’s easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist than to admit it does and accept the pain.

But this is not an effective solution. So whenever you plan to do something, you need to be explicit and specific in your goals. Unclear goals can create unclear actions, which can then create unclear results. If you have a vague discomfort, you will struggle with it until you explicitly define it and give it concrete form. Once you have identified the problem specifically, you will probably realize that you were much more afraid than you should have been. You now have a specific target to confront. And specificity allows you to start challenging the chaos.

Rule #11: Don’t disturb children while they are skateboarding

“The fundamental moral question is not how to completely shield children from mishap and failure, so that they never experience fear or pain, but how to maximize their learning so that useful knowledge can be acquired with minimal cost.” – JORDAN PETERSON

Peterson believes that parenting influences how children will respond to danger in the future. Parents often encourage their children to engage in safer activities than skateboarding or rock climbing. The author believes that if children are removed from these activities, they will have difficulty dealing with the dangers of the adult world.

Peterson also addressed gender equality in this chapter. He believes that modern society increasingly wants gender equality. Therefore, he points out the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. When gender equality means equality of opportunity, rights and treatment, that is good. But equality of opportunity should not be achieved at the expense of equality of outcome. According to the 12 rules for life, the idea of literal and complete equality is not supported by biology. It could be counterproductive because it forces people against their nature.

Rule #12: Pet a cat when you meet one on the street

Peterson admits that it’s easy to focus on the most unpleasant aspects of life. After all, some examples of suffering can seem completely overwhelming. He uses the example of his daughter, who has struggled with severe arthritis all her life. The easy solution to these crises is to become nihilistic or negative about everything. In reality, this approach can often be worse than the initial suffering. 

To counteract potential nihilism, pay close attention to the love and beauty around you. This may be a sunset, flowers, or simply petting a cat. Consider these moments when you can to increase their impact. Life is too short to suffer.

Final summary and review of 12 Rules for Life

12 Rules for Life describes the modern world as chaotic. We are constantly searching for happiness without having the foundation to be happy. Peterson believes that this foundation comes from meaning. That meaning must come from within and not from others. Once you get your house in order, you can begin to make a positive impact on the lives of others. To chase a meaningful life, Peterson offers 12 rules for living:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself as if you are someone you need to help
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.
  5. Don’t let your children do things you don’t like.
  6. Get your house in order before you criticize the world.
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
  8. Tell the truth – or at least don’t lie.
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
  10. Be specific in what you say
  11. Do not disturb children when they are skateboarding.
  12. Pet a cat when you meet one on the street.

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