- Title: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
- Author: Jordan B. Peterson
- About the author: Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance. Dr. Peterson skyrocketed in popularity after he began uploading his lectures on YouTube in 2013. In addition to 12 Rules for Life, he authored Maps of Meaning in 1999 and Beyond Order in 2021.
- Pages: 409
- Published: 2018
- Link to book
The title “12 Rules For Life” sounds like a title you would see used for a blog post. This book is anything but that; though the genesis did come from one of Jordan Peterson’s responses on Quora, a site where individuals ask questions and other qualified individuals answer said questions.
Someone asked, “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” Jordan Peterson wrote a list of rules. His response was so well-received that it became a 99.9 percentile answer on Quora.
From this list, he took out 12 rules and constructed this book with hopes of relaying what everyone in the modern world should know. The 12 rules in the book cover a broad spectrum of areas from discipline, to freedom, to adventure and responsibility, and more. He doesn’t just cover topics in breadth, but he covers them in depth as well.
The titles of each rule are the tip of the iceberg for the analyses that Dr. Peterson dives into.
He discusses how on one hand, people generally have a distaste for rules, but on the other hand, there is a hunger today among younger people for rules, or at least guidelines. Instead of restricting us, rules help us facilitate our goals and make for fuller, freer lives.
I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to expand their knowledge and find guidance on how to better their life.
This isn’t your typical read, but one that is particularly challenging and thought-provoking. It will require effortful reflection to take away the main lessons of the book and apply them to your life.
12 Rules For Life can enlighten you on how to bring order—and find meaning—within a chaotic modern world.
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Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back
1. The dominance hierarchy, however social or cultural it might appear, has been around for some half a billion years. It’s permanent. It’s real. The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism. It’s not communism, either, for that matter. It’s not the military-industrial complex. It’s not the patriarchy. It’s not even a human creation.
2. The body, with its various parts, needs to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra. It is for this reason that routine is so necessary. The acts of life we repeat every day need to be automatized. It is for such reasons that I always ask my clinical clients first about sleep.
3. There are many systems of interaction between brain, body and social world that can get caught in positive feedback loops. Depressed people, for example, can start feeling useless and burdensome, as well as grief-stricken and pained. This makes them withdraw from contact with friends and family. Then the withdrawal makes them more lonesome and isolated.
4. If you slump around, with the same bearing that characterizes a defeated lobster, people will assign you a lower status, and the old counter that you share with crustaceans, sitting at the very base of your brain, will assign you a low dominance number.
5. Circumstances change, and so can you. Positive feedback loops, adding effect to effect, can spiral counterproductively in a negative direction, but can also work to get you ahead.
Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
6. Recipients of transplants still suffer the effects of organ rejection, despite the existence and utility of these drugs. It’s not because the drugs fail (although they sometimes do). It’s more often because those prescribed the drugs do not take them.
7. But—and this is the amazing thing—imagine that it isn’t you who feels sick. It’s your dog. So, you take him to the vet. The vet gives you a prescription. What happens then? People are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.
8. Even the most assiduous of parents cannot fully protect their children, even if they lock them in the basement, safely away from drugs, alcohol and internet porn. It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them. How could the nature of man ever reach its full potential without challenge and danger? Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong?
9. You need to consider the future and think, “What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly? What should I be doing, when I have some freedom, to improve my health, expand my knowledge, and strengthen my body?” You must discipline yourself carefully. You must keep the promises you make to yourself, and reward yourself, so that you can trust and motivate yourself.
Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you
10. Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
11. We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce very much of everything.
12. Every game comes with its chance of success or failure. To begin with, there is not just one game at which to succeed or fail. There are many games and, more specifically, many good games—games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, and sustain and even improve themselves across time. The world allows for many ways of Being. If you don’t succeed at one, you can try another.
13. We must see, but to see, we must aim, so we are always aiming. We cannot navigate, without something to aim at and, while we are in this world, we must always navigate.
14. Five hundred small decisions, five hundred tiny actions, compose your day, today, and every day. Could you aim one or two of these at a better result?
15. Aim small. You don’t want to shoulder too much to begin with, given your limited talents, tendency to deceive, burden of resentment, and ability to shirk responsibility. Do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And, with each day, your baseline of comparison gets a little higher, and that’s magic. That’s compound interest. Do that for three years, and your life will be entirely different.
Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
16. Preferential treatment awarded to a son during development might even help produce an attractive, well-rounded, confident man.
17. This happened in the case of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, by his own account: “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.” None of this means that all mothers favour all sons over their daughters.
18. It is the things that occur every single day that truly make up our lives, and time spent the same way over and again adds up at an alarming rate.
19. The vital process of socialization prevents much harm and fosters much good. Children must be shaped and informed, or they cannot thrive. Children can be damaged as much or more by a lack of incisive attention as they are by abuse, mental or physical.
20. A child who pays attention, instead of drifting, and can play, and does not whine, and is comical, but not annoying, and is trustworthy—that child will have friends wherever he goes.
Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
21. Here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is. After some months and years of diligent effort, your life will become simpler and less complicated.
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
22. The discovery that gratification could be delayed was simultaneously the discovery of time and, with it, causality (at least the causal force of voluntary human action).
23. Expedience is the following of blind impulse. It’s short-term gain. It’s narrow, and selfish. It lies to get its way. It takes nothing into account. It’s immature and irresponsible. Meaning is its mature replacement. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organized and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay between the possibilities of the world and the value structure operating within that world.
Rule 8: Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie
24. A sin of commission occurs when you do something you know to be wrong. A sin of omission occurs when you let something bad happen when you could do something to stop it.
25. If you say no to your boss, or your spouse, or your mother, when it needs to be said, then you transform yourself into someone who can say no when it needs to be said. If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character.
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
26. The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: It takes a village to organize a mind.
27. Much of what we consider healthy mental function is the result of our ability to use the reactions of others to keep our complex selves functional. We outsource the problem of our sanity. This is why it is the fundamental responsibility of parents to render their children socially acceptable.
28. So, listen, to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.
Rule 10: Be precise in your speech
29. Why refuse to specify? Because while you are failing to define success (and thereby rendering it impossible) you are also refusing to define failure, to yourself, so that if and when you fail you won’t notice, and it won’t hurt.
30. If we speak carefully and precisely, we can sort things out, and put them in their proper place, and set a new goal, and navigate to it—often communally, if we negotiate; if we reach consensus.
31. If you refuse to tell your doctor about your pain, then what you have is unspecified: it could be any of those diseases. But if you talk to your doctor, all those terrible possible diseases will collapse, with luck, into just one terrible (or not so terrible) disease, or even into nothing.
32. Don’t hide baby monsters under the carpet. They will flourish. They will grow large in the dark. Then, when you least expect it, they will jump out and devour you.
Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
33. Kids need playgrounds dangerous enough to remain challenging. People, including children (who are people too, after all), don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize. Thus, if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.
34. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.
35. The women at female-dominated institutes of higher education are finding it increasingly difficult to arrange a dating relationship of even moderate duration. The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date.
36. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates.
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
37. Dogs are like people. They are the friends and allies of human beings. They are social, hierarchical, and domesticated. Cats, however, are their own creatures. They aren’t social or hierarchical (except in passing). They are only semi-domesticated. They don’t do tricks. They are friendly on their own terms.
38. If you pay careful attention, even on a bad day, you may be fortunate enough to be confronted with small opportunities of just that sort.
39. What does all that mean? Orient yourself properly. Then—and only then—concentrate on the day. Set your sights at the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, and then focus pointedly and carefully on the concerns of each moment.
40. Aim continually at Heaven while you work diligently on Earth. Attend fully to the future, in that manner, while attending fully to the present. Then you have the best chance of perfecting both.
What I Liked
The thing I liked most about 12 Rules For Life was how Jordan Peterson would elaborate on each rule in the book. At the surface, a title like “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” seems straightforward.
But in that chapter, he’ll touch on dominance hierarchies, lobsters, unequal distribution in the world, and more.
As I read each chapter, I didn’t know what twists and turns it would take. This made for an entertaining read, though not an easy one.
It takes genuine effort and concentration to make your way through the book and synthesize all the information and stories presented to you. His work is thoughtful, to say the least.
Benefits To Your Life and Career
Collectively, the 12 rules can provide order, meaning, and an overall improvement to your life and career. Take the 12 rules at face value, but also understand all the lessons within the 12 rules.
The subtitle of the book is “An Antidote to Chaos.” Life is filled with chaos. Dr. Peterson’s book can hopefully help you navigate that chaos and bring order.