The 12 Rules for Life is a book by Jordan B. Peterson that touches on many topics including science, philosophy, psychology, religion, and politics. It is a self-help book, and at its core are two key concepts.
Firstly, that you should take personal responsibility for your life and the life of those in your charge (your children).
Secondly, that by living a “good” life and being a “good” person you create meaning and purpose in your life.
Jordan B. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
Firstly, Jordan Peterson is a controversial character. He has received criticism for his comments concerning free speech and political correctness.
Secondly, although the 12 Rules for Life isn’t religious, Peterson refers to the Bible throughout the book.
So, if you’re willing to suspend judgment and keep an open mind, then let’s jump in and look at each of the 12 rules for life.
Our subconscious brain is constantly scanning our environment to figure out where we fit into the hierarchy of society.
If we see people responding positively to us and looking to us for direction then serotonin is released to our brains, we feel good, and we elevate how we see ourselves.
Conversely, if we see people responding negatively to us, or treating us as a subordinate, less serotonin is released to our brains and we lower how we see ourselves in the world.
Because everyone is looking at everyone else to access their place in the world, you can use this to your advantage.
To do this all you have to do is stand up straight with your shoulders back. Fix your posture, act confident, and others will assume you are confident. They’ll start to treat you better and that magical serotonin will be released to your brain making you feel better too. This, in turn, will make you more likely to feel like standing up straight. You’ll have created a virtuous cycle.
You can think of rule 1 as being a subset of fake it until you make it. Only, in this case, it’s act confident until others see you as confident, and eventually, you see yourself as confident too.
If you’d like to download this book summary as a PDF you can do so by clicking here.
Many people are kinder to their pets than they are to themselves. One reason for this is that you are your own worst critic. Each of us is patently aware of our own flaws, and the mistakes we make because of them. This leads almost all of us to mentally berate ourselves for our shortcomings.
This, in turn, can lead to us sabotaging ourselves daily. Perhaps you don’t take care of your health, or perhaps you keep making a promise to yourself that you never keep.
We need to change our thinking from believing that we are not worth helping, to believing that we have much we can give and therefore plenty to live for.
Start being kind to yourself. To do this:
Most of us don’t give much thought to how we form friendships. Usually, friendships are formed around something you enjoy doing. Maybe you enjoyed studying together, or maybe you enjoyed partying together.
You may be familiar with the phrase, “you are the average of the five people you hang around with”. What does this phrase say about you?
Good friends will pull you up. They won’t tolerate negativity or bad behavior. Bad friends pull you down and sometimes facilitate or encourage bad behavior. Often this is to make themselves feel better about themselves.
If you want to improve yourself you may need to improve your friends.
To make friends with people who want the best for you:
We’ve already discussed how we compare ourselves to those around us all the time. And how, based on what we see, our serotonin levels increase or decrease.
More serotonin can make us feel confident and in control, whereas less can make use feel less confident and out of control.
With the advent of the internet, we are connected to billions of people across the globe. If you compare yourself to those you see online, it doesn’t take long to realize your ineptitude.
For example, suppose you think you’re a good husband. Well, you’ve probably got multiple of friends on Facebook who appear to be even better husbands. You think you’re a good singer? There are hundreds of better singers on Youtube. Comparing yourself to these singers will make you look incompetent.
When you encounter people everywhere that seem better than you, you are more likely to give up and start to feel there is no point in even trying.
Rule 5 of the 12 Rules for Life is all about how to parent.
Children constantly test the boundaries of behavior in order to learn the rules of the world. It is your job as a parent to teach your child what is acceptable and what isn’t.
If you don’t set the boundaries then your children will learn the wrong boundaries of behavior, because they haven’t received the feedback they need. They will grow up to be adults who are poorly adjusted to the norms of society. This will impact their happiness.
If you don’t teach your children the rules then society will punish them for you!
Peterson gets a little controversial here in advocating force if necessary and also highlighting that two-parent families are better for raising kids than single-parent families.
It’s easy to be a critic. To sit at home on your couch pointing out flaws in others, their work, and their behavior. Sometimes this extends to blaming others for the situation in life in which we find ourselves.
It’s an easy excuse to blame others as it takes the responsibility away from us.
Tend to your own wrongs before you point fingers at others.
There may be no inherent meaning for your existence or mine.
In the face of this potential reality, should you seek out pleasure today? Should you avoid hard things today even though you know in the long run they might make your life better?
No, because although there may be no inherent meaning in your existence you can make your own. Doing good and delaying gratification can provide your life with meaning. It can make you happier.
There are different types of lies:
We lie in the short-term to avoid pain. This may actually work in the short-term, but it weakens our character because we’re not acting in accordance with our values. Things get even worse when we lie to cover up previous lies.
People with weak characters tend to get run over when adversity strikes, and adversity comes to us all at some point.
Peterson believes that any improvements you make today to who you were yesterday (rule 4 of the 12 Rules for Life) will be capped and limited by how truthful you are today.
You can’t really learn anything by talking, but you can learn a lot by listening.
Having someone listen to you and being understood is a basic human need. So by listening to someone you are giving them a gift as you are helping them fulfill their basic human need to be understood.
Truly listening to another person also helps build trust with that person.
Precision can help remove anxiety. Anxiety can occur when we face the unknown.
Perhaps you have a persistent pain in your body. What could it be? Well, it could be nothing or it could be terminal. Or it could be somewhere in between these two extremes.
The possibilities cause our brains to race and so our anxiety increases. If you visit your doctor to find out what is wrong your anxiety will reduce no matter how serious the issue. This is because an unknown will become known.
We are hard-wired as humans to enjoy an element of risk.
If we take a small risk and succeed we acquire just a little bit more competence and skill. This competence will serve us well later. It is competence or lack of competence that creates our place in society.
The only way for children to develop into functioning adults is to be exposed to danger. While skateboarding might seem like a dangerous activity, it is that danger that children are seeking. It is helping them to build competence.
Life is tough.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
You can hate yourself and the world too because of this. Or you can just accept that suffering is a part of life.
By paying attention to little things you can brighten up any bad day. But you have to be looking out for them.
The cat in this rule is a metaphor for noticing the little things in life.
If you’ve made it this far you’ll know that Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life cover a vast array of topics.
Most of the rules are explained in the book by means of anecdotes. So if you’d like to understand the rules better I’d recommend you purchase the book to read yourself.
Personally, whilst I enjoyed 12 Rules for Life and found it thought-provoking, I found it a hard read. I think this was because when reading the book I often felt like what I was reading wasn’t connected to the rule I was supposedly reading about. Other times, I simply felt like I didn’t agree with what he was saying.
So, on balance I’m scoring the 12 Rules for Life 7 out of 10.
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