In this international bestseller, author, clinical psychologist and University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson draws on religion, philosophy, neuroscience and anthropology to formulate “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” for living a meaningful life. His rules seem familiar because many derive from Christian ethics – which, Peterson says, inform Western culture – most notably the duty to accept suffering and to alleviate it.
Put Your House in Order
Jordan Peterson doesn’t shy away from controversy or moral certitude as he posits 12 rules for life.
Readers may be put off by Jordan’s references to God and philosophy, not to mention his controversial remarks about men and women and his thoughts on disciplining children with force. But Peterson never lacks sincerity and his message is clear: You must accept responsibility for your life.
The Observer said, “Peterson can take the most difficult ideas and make them entertaining. This may be why his YouTube videos have had 35 million views.” The Guardian called Peterson, “One of the most eclectic and stimulating public intellectuals at large today, fearless and impassioned.” And The Times wrote, “You don’t have to agree with [Peterson’s politics] to like this book, for once you discard the self-help label, it becomes fascinating. Peterson is brilliant on many subjects.”
Peterson’s 12 rules for life are:
“Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back”
Peterson believes people must stand up to aggression and defend themselves. Renouncing oppression, he avows, is a moral imperative; you must take on the burden of existence.
“Treat Yourself Like Someone Who Deserves Your Help”
Peterson compassionately recognizes that feelings of shame and unworthiness are primal aspects of humankind’s collective psyche.
You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much as to yourself…You are therefore morally obliged to take care of yourself. – Jordan Peterson
People have a tendency to think poorly of themselves and carry dark thoughts and uniquely terrible desires. Despising yourself isn’t virtuous, he preaches, it’s a form of oppression and bullying. Instead, take better care of yourself.
“Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You”
Peterson advises you to leave bad friendships and surround yourself with people who support your aspirations, hold you accountable and praise your efforts. As throughout the book, Peterson urges you to find and rely on your own strengths.
“Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else Is Today”
To organize and articulate your priorities, see your life for what it is, Peterson suggests. He is adamant that you can overcome nihilism. Decide that you have something better to do with your life, he states, because you do.
“Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them”
Normal kids test boundaries, either by spontaneous or deliberate acts of aggression. Peterson says the obvious aloud: Parents are responsible for teaching their children right from wrong and making it clear that aggression isn’t socially acceptable. Parents must support one another at all times in this process, but, he warns, they must not – as they commonly do – abuse their authority.
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. – Jordan Peterson
Have rules, but keep them to a minimum. Begin by using the minimum necessary force to regulate your children. But, he says, apologize to your kids when you wrong them – whether accidentally or intentionally. Remember that you are their model. This confusingly contradicts Peterson’s repugnant advocacy of violence in the name of discipline.
Rendering your children competent in the face of inevitable danger, tragedy and rejection is far more responsible than protecting them, Peterson teaches.
“Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World”
Peterson tells you to perceive your flaws honestly, and gird yourself for life’s inescapable tragedies. Your upbringing need not define your adulthood. In his view, your will is the strongest force for good in your life.
Set your sights on the Good, the Beautiful and the True, and then focus pointedly and carefully on the concerns of each moment. – Jordan Peterson
If you know where you are, you can decide where to go next. If you know where you are going, you can limit the omnipresent chaos, bring about order and restore hope. With this knowledge, you can avoid being a bad person. You can help the world become a better place.
“Do What Is Meaningful, Not What Is Expedient”
Survival depends on cooperation and, Peterson counsels, delayed gratification. He prioritizes finding meaning in the balance between transformative chaos and pristine order.
“Tell the Truth. Or, at Least, Don’t Lie”
Peterson shows genuine insight when he writes that lying manipulates the world to conform to your desires and limits your curiosity, which inhibits your growth. He celebrates self-compassion and admission of your flaws and mistakes. Humans create reality through the gift of transformative speech, he contends, and truth makes that reality livable, renewable and reliable.
“Assume that the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t”
The reason people talk to one another, Peterson states, somewhat reductively, is to figure out how they really think. He anoints the listening person as standing in for common humanity. Thus, according to him, the highest form of conversation occurs when everyone seeks to learn and solve a common problem.
“Be Precise in Your Speech.”
When you deny the problems in your life, Peterson notes, they fester and grow. Instead, articulate a problem precisely so you can confront and manage it. His language throughout is clear and simple – manifesting his precise thinking.
“Leave Children Alone When They Are Skateboarding”
Culture has always been oppressive, Peterson acknowledges, but that’s what forms society. To become strong and capable, children must learn independence. When they learn to skateboard or push their limits in other ways, don’t stand in their way or try to protect them “to the point of weakness.” In a highly functioning society, it is people’s competence – not their raw power – that determines their worth.
Peterson says women want strong, dependable men in their lives, and if society makes gender differences obsolete, that will push men toward toxic masculinity. Here Peterson describes centuries of cultural conditioning as innate human truths – a rare error of superficial, limited thinking.
“Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street”
Peterson argues that when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations, but because of them. He recommends controlling what you can and accepting what you can’t. To deal with the inevitable crises that life presents, manage them by compartmentalizing.
To the best of my ability, I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering. – Jordan Peterson
As you walk in your neighborhood, notice the good things, appreciate the moments – however small – when the light gets in. And when you see a cat, he says, pet it. Readers may wonder if Peterson lives out this advice. If so, he must have really scratched-up hands.
Complexity Made Comprehensible
Peterson has a rare gift for stating remarkably difficult and even paradoxical philosophical, religious and evolutionary questions so that they seem straightforward and comprehensible. This gift for turning the complicated into the understandable with no loss of complexity makes his thoughts worth reading and re-reading, regardless of your stance on his ideology.
You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know, if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. – Jordan Peterson
At times, he sounds surprisingly didactic for someone who perceives and reports multiple sides of fundamental life questions. That near-stridency derives from something even more rare in today’s relativistic, volatile times: moral certainty. Peterson believes he is right in a factual, moral and religious sense; his belief springs from his faith. And whether you hold with his position or not, Peterson presents a staunch moral compass as the most necessary human attribute for transcending the uncertainty of current times.
Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced long periods of uncertainty and self-doubt. To prevent these chaotic periods in my work life, I picked up Jordan Peterson’s book to find rules I can rely on to regain order and a sense of certainty.
Here are two rules that I find to be the strongest antidotes to chaos:
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday
You and I have an innate need to compare ourselves to other people.
If you notice that you’re more skilled and successful than others around you, your brain will release a hormone called serotonin. When you have serotonin in your blood, you feel confident and in control of your life.
But the instant you mind notices someone who threatens your status in society and makes you look incompetent, your brain restricts serotonin. You start doubting yourself and feel a low sense of self-worth.
Now that you are connected to billions of people online, it doesn’t take long for your brain to notice ways in which you compare unfavorably to other people.
You think you’re a good guitar player? There are dozens of exceptional guitar players on YouTube that will make you look completely incompetent…You’re proud of graduating from that local college with a business degree? Your friend just posted a photo on Facebook of him graduating from Harvard with an MBA.
When you’re exposed to so many people that are better than you, and the gap between you and someone else is huge, you’re more inclined to lose hope, stop taking action, and let your life slip into chaos.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to stop comparing yourself to who someone else is today and start comparing yourself to who you were yesterday.
I like to see every day that I’ve lived as a different version of myself (like a separate person living out each day), isolate who I was yesterday and ask myself: “Was I the best possible version of myself yesterday?”
I then rate yesterday’s version of myself on a scale of 1-10 (10 being my ideal self). If I’m slightly better than who I was yesterday, I’ll know that I’m improving my skills and increasing my status in society. This realization will provide me with a steady dose of serotonin and stop my downward spiral into chaos.
“Even a man on a sinking ship can be happy when he clambers aboard a lifeboat! And who knows where he might go, in the future. To journey happily may well be better than to arrive successfully…” – Jordan Peterson
Tell the truth – or at least, don’t lie
The amount you can improve on yesterday will be limited by how truthful you are willing to be today.
Until you face the truth, any improvement you make on who you were yesterday will be meaningless. Instead of moving forward, you’ll just be moving sideways. To make forward progress you need to acknowledge what truth you’re avoiding and what uncomfortable conversations you need to have with yourself and others.
Author Tim Ferriss once said, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
Having an uncomfortable conversation is like having a controlled fire to burn off the deadwood in a forest so that the deadwood doesn’t build up and lead to a larger fire that destroys all the trees in the forest and ruins the soil.
After reading this chapter in Peterson’s book, I now ask myself a second question when assessing who I was yesterday. Each morning I ask myself: “Did I do my best to tell the truth yesterday?”
If I agreed to do something just to avoid an uncomfortable conversation or pretended to know something when I, in fact, didn’t know what I was talking about, I’ll rate myself a 1 or a 2 on a scale of 1-10.
Enough 1’s or 2’s in a row provide me with the motivation to speak up, have uncomfortable conversations, and stop my downward spiral into chaos.
“If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. If you cling desperately to an ideology, or wallow in nihilism, try telling the truth. If you feel weak and rejected, and desperate, and confused, try telling the truth. In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth. That is what makes it Paradise.” – Jordan Peterson
“So why not call this a book of “guidelines,” a far more relaxed, user-friendly and less rigid sounding term than “rules”? Because these really are rules. And the foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life. Period.” – Dr. Norman Doidge, MD
About the author
Jordan B. Peterson, PhD, also wrote Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief and Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. He is the co-author of Political Correctness Gone Mad? Along with Stephen Fry, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg.
Psychology and Counseling, Health, Philosophy of Ethics and Morality, Popular Applied Psychology, Personal Transformation Self-Help, Personal Development, Religion, Politics, Science