12 Rules for Life discusses discipline, responsibility, freedom, and adventure. Peterson distills the world’s wisdom into twelve wide-ranging essays based on ancient history and groundbreaking scientific research. Peterson argues happiness is a pointless goal. Instead, we must search for meaning. This search for meaning should not be for its own sake but as a defense against the suffering intrinsic to our existence.
Jordan Peterson grew up in the wastelands of Northern Alberta. However, he has since deeply experienced the world. Jordan has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt plane and explored an Arizona meteorite crater with astronauts. Jordan has also taught mythology to lawyers, doctors, and business people. He has consulted for the UN Secretary-General and served as an adviser to senior partners of major Canadian law firms. Plus, Jordan has lectured extensively in North America and Europe. Finally, with his students and colleagues at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Dr. Peterson has published over one hundred scientific papers.
Rule #1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
Dominance hierarchies will always exist in society. We need to come to terms with this reality because the denial of a profound truth can lead to suffering. Jordan Peterson suggests avoiding the hopeless victim mentality. Some of the strongest people have overcome massive amounts of pain, suffering, and adversity. On top of mentality, though, our body posture is crucial.
The body and mind are deeply connected. Set yourself up for success by exerting the proper body language. Stand up straight with your shoulders back for two powerful reasons:
1- It exerts dominance and confidence.
2- It also shows you accept responsibility.
Further research has shown that a physical stature, even a small muscle movement, can affect your emotions. It’s tough to accept responsibility for your actions when you’re slouching or sprawled out on the floor. By being upright with your shoulders back and your feet shoulder-width apart, you exude confidence and a willingness to take meaningful action.
“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).”– Jordan Peterson
Rule #2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping
Jordan encourages people to credit themselves and those around them for acting productively and with care. On top of this, he also credits patients for showing genuine concern and thoughtfulness toward others. Respecting yourself is critical. You are important to other people, as much as you are to yourself. You have a vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help, and be charitable to yourself. Act towards yourself in the same way you would take care of, help, and be dutiful to someone you love and value.
You must determine where you will bargain for yourself so that you don’t end up resentful, vengeful, and cruel. You have to articulate your own principles for two reasons. Firstly, so that you can defend yourself against others taking advantage of you. Plus, so that you are secure and safe while you work and play.
Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces. They can transform obstacles into open pathways and expanded opportunities.
The main tips for looking after yourself are:
- Strengthen the individual.
- Take care of yourself.
- Start with yourself.
- Define who you are.
- Refine your personality
- Choose your destination and articulate your Being.
Rule #3: Make Friends With People Who Want the Best for You
If you surround yourself with people who support your upward aim, they will not tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness. Instead, they will encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and carefully punish you when you do not. This encouragement will help appropriately bolster your resolve.
People who are not aiming upwards will do the opposite. It is not easier to surround yourself with healthy people than with unhealthy people. Despite this, it is crucial you strive to surround yourself with good people. It requires strength and courage to stand next to brilliant people like this. Have some humility and courage.
“If a child has not been taught to behave properly by the age of four, it will forever be difficult for him or her to make friends.”– Jordan Peterson
Rule #4: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else Is Today
Find Your Being
Be cautious when you’re comparing yourself to others. Once you’re an adult, you’re a singular being. You have your own particular, specific problems—financial, intimate, and psychological. Those are embedded in the unique broader context of your existence.
Your career or job either does or does not personally work for you. If it does, it does so in a unique interplay with the other specifics of your life. You must decide how much of your time to spend on your career and how much on other parts of your life. You must also decide what to let go of and what to pursue. These decisions take careful observation, education, reflection, and communication with others. Essentially, by doing this, you are scratching the surface of your beliefs.
Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and the door will open. These actions will allow you to be offered the chance to improve your life. With that improvement, some progress will be made in your Being.
Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
You have an innate need to compare yourself to other people. We all do. Your brain will release a hormone called serotonin upon noticing you are more skilled than others. When you have serotonin in your blood, you feel confident and in control of your life. However, your brain restricts serotonin when someone threatens your status in society and makes you look incompetent. Subsequently, you will start doubting yourself and experience a low sense of self‐worth.
You are now connected to billions of people online. Hence, it doesn’t take long for your brain to notice how you compare unfavorably to other people. When you’re exposed to so many better people than you, you’re more inclined to lose hope. You will 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. Instead, start comparing yourself to who you were yesterday.
“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
Rule #5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them
“The fundamental moral question is not how to shelter children completely from misadventure and failure, so they never experience any fear or pain, but how to maximize their learning so that useful knowledge may be gained with minimal cost.”– Jordan Peterson
Parents have to treat their kids in a way that prepares them for the real world. From kindergarten through four years of college, we usually learned nothing about how to manage money. That is something valuable in the real world. It is an obligation for you to teach your children how to manage money properly.
Additionally, parents must learn how to help their children overcome failure and pain. These experiences are inevitable and should be used as a learning experience. Create children who are passionate about changing the world. And, crucially, create children who seek to improve themselves so they are better equipped to change the world.
Rule 6 – Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World
Consider your circumstances and start by considering the small things.
- Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you?
- Are you working hard on your career? Or, are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down?
- Have you made peace with your brother?
- Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect?
- Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being?
Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, then you are not equipped to rule a city. Let your soul guide you. Watch what happens over the days and weeks after you have set your house in order. When you are at work, you will begin to say what you think. You will start to tell your wife, your husband, your children, or your parents what you want and need. When you know that you have left something undone, you will act to correct the omission.
Your head will start to clear up as you stop filling it with lies. Your experience will improve as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions.
Rule #7: Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)
Life is suffering. However, life is not only suffering. Therefore, try to enjoy life as much as you can by pursuing something meaningful.
With over seven billion people globally, it can be hard to be valuable and stand out. However, the way that you can stand out and be valuable is by pursuing something meaningful. This ‘something’ should help you and others. The meaningful work that we do for our vision and purpose is the most satisfying thing that we could do with our time.
“To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced: to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure. When life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping and meaningful; when time passes and you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing you don’t notice—it is there and then that you are located 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 into delivering what you want. To conduct life like this is to become possessed by an ill-formed desire. Then, to craft speech and action in a manner that appears likely to bring about that end.
If you do not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean you suppress who you are. So much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward. Suppose you pay attention to what you do and say. In that case, you can learn to feel a state of internal division and weakness when you are misbehaving and misspeaking. It’s an embodied sensation, not a thought. If you bend everything blindly and willfully towards attaining a goal, you will never discover if another goal would serve better.
As you continue to live per the truth you will have to accept and deal with the conflicts that the mode of Being will generate. If you do so, you will continue to mature and become more responsible, in small and large ways. You will approach your newer and more wisely formulated goals and become even wiser, as you will discover and rectify your inevitable errors.
“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. Tell the truth. Or, at least, don’t lie.”– Jordan Peterson
Rule #9: Assume the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t
Listen Rather Than Judge
A listening person can reflect the crowd. He can do that without talking. He lets the talking person listen to themselves. That is what Freud recommended.
Freud had his patients lay on a couch, look at the ceiling, let their minds wander, and say whatever wandered in. That’s 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 generally tell you everything they are thinking—and with little deceit. 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
“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.”– Jordan Peterson
You already know what you know. Unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough. You remain threatened by disease, self-deception, unhappiness, malevolence, betrayal, corruption, pain, and limitation. You are subject to all these factors because you are just too ignorant to protect yourself. If you knew enough, you could be healthier and more honest. You would suffer less. You could recognize, resist, and even triumph over malice and evil. You would neither betray a friend nor deal falsely and deceitfully in business, politics, or love.
However, your current knowledge has neither made you perfect, nor kept you safe. So, it is insufficient. For this reason, the priestess of the Delphic Oracle in Ancient Greece spoke most highly of Socrates. Socrates always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest living man because he knew that what he knew was nothing. Hence, assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
Rule #10: Be Precise in Your Speech
When you have a problem, there is often the temptation to paper it over or suppose the problem will go away by itself. It’s easier to keep peace and avoid the anxiety, despair, and sadness that are associated with confronting your problems. It’s easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist than to admit it does and the pain that accompanies it.
Whenever you plan to achieve something, you must be explicit and precise in your goals.
Unclear goals can create unclear actions, which then can create unclear results. So, if your goals are important enough you should make them precise. Specificity allows you to start challenging chaos. If you have a vague unease, you will struggle with it until you define it explicitly and give it a concrete form. Once you precisely identify the issue, you will likely realize you were far more afraid than you should have been. You now have a specific target to confront.
“Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life. How could it be otherwise? Confront the chaos of Being. Take aim against a sea of troubles. Specify your destination, and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you who you are. Narrow, and gaze attentively, and move forward, forthrightly. Be precise in your speech.”– Jordan Peterson
Rule #11: Gender Equality
This chapter is meandering and confusing, but the main point is this: modern society desires gender equality. When gender equality means equal opportunity, rights, and treatment, this is good. However, gender equality can be taken too far. For example, denying any biological difference between males and females. Plus, insisting that behavior and outcomes be equal in every way.
According to 12 Rules for Life, this idea of literal, 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 Encounter One on the Street
People cooperate in groups to gain security, safety, and company. And competition within the group promotes personal growth and status. The size of the group matters, though.
If a group is too small it will have no power or prestige. If it’s too large, then the chances of making it to the top of the group is minimal. Subsequently, people willingly identify with groups. These groups allow them to organize and protect themselves, as well as giving them a higher likelihood of thriving. Favoring their own group helps people thrive. After all, climbing the hierarchy of a failing group is not beneficial.
Take some time to appreciate the passing joys in life. Take a moment to look up in the sky and smile at a random person. Life’s too short to suffer.
If you have feedback about this summary or would like to share what you have learned, comment below.
New to StoryShots? Get the audio and animated versions of this summary and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, The UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.
Would you like to see more free book summaries like this, get free lifetime access to our apps, print copies of all our summaries and more? Support us on Patreon.
Related Book Summaries
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone
Principles by Ray Dalio
Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
Tao Te Ching by Laozi
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven
How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro
Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw