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12 rules for life free summary, ebook, audiobook and animated summary on StoryShots

In the book summary of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, we will cover all the 12 rules and key insights from the book written by Jordan B. Peterson, who became very popular recently.

About the author 

Jordan Peterson, raised and toughened in the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta, has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt plane, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with astronauts, and built a Kwagu’l ceremonial big house on the upper floor of his Toronto home after being invited into and named by that Canadian First Nation.

He’s taught mythology to lawyers, doctors, and business people, consulted for the UN Secretary-General, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an adviser to senior partners of major Canadian law firms and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.

With his students and colleagues at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Dr. Peterson has published over a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, while his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief revolutionized the psychology of religion.


Book Summary of 12 Rules for Life

Here are some of the rules in more detail:

Rule #1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Dominance hierarchies exist in society no matter what. We need to come to terms with this reality because the denial of a serious truth can lead to suffering.

Jordan Peterson’s content has a consistent message to avoid adopting the hopeless victim mentality. Some of the strongest people among us have overcome massive amounts of pain, suffering, and adversity.

It’s interesting how connected the body and mind are. We all know the difference between body language. Set yourself up for success and exert the proper body language. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Standing up straight that’s two powerful things:
1- It exerts dominance and confidence
2- It also shows that you accept responsibility

Further research has actually shown that a physical stature even a small muscle movement can affect your emotions.

It’s hard 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 a 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).” 

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

In my clinical practice, I encourage people to credit themselves and those around them for acting productively and with care, as well as for the genuine concern and thoughtfulness they manifest towards others.

We deserve some respect. You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some 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 good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued.

You must determine where you are going so that you can bargain for yourself so that you don’t end up resentful, vengeful and cruel.

You have to articulate your own principles so that you can defend yourself against others’ taking inappropriate advantage of you, and 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, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding 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.

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.

They will instead encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and punish you carefully when you do not. This will help bolster your resolve to do what you should do, in the most appropriate and careful manner.

People who are not aiming up will do the opposite. Don’t think that it is easier to surround yourself with good healthy people than with bad unhealthy people. It’s not.

A good, healthy person is ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some 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.” 

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

Be cautious when you’re comparing yourself to others. You’re a singular being, once you’re an adult. You have your own particular, specific problems—financial, intimate, psychological, and otherwise. Those are embedded in the unique broader context of your existence.

Your career or job works for you in a personal manner, or it does not, and 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 this, and how much on that. You must decide what to let go, and what to pursue.

It takes careful observation, and education, and reflection, and communication with others, just to scratch the surface of your beliefs.

Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and the door will open. If you ask, as if you want, and knock as if you want to enter, you may be offered the chance to improve your life, a little; a lot; completely—and with that improvement, some progress will be made in Being itself.

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.

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.

“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…” ‐

Rule #5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Parents have to treat their kids in a way that prepares them for the real world.

“Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong?” 

All the way from kindergarten through four years of college, we usually learned nothing about how to manage money. That is something that is very important in the real world, kind of our own personal obligation that we have is to help teach our own children about how to manage money properly.

Managing money is something that has to do with the real world so if we want to help our children out, let’s talk to them about real-world things.

“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.” 

Rule 6 – Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

Consider your circumstances. Start small.

Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, 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, how dare you try to rule a city? Let your own soul guide you. Watch what happens over the days and weeks.

When you are at work you will begin to say what you really think. You will start to tell “your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your parents, what you really 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. Enjoy it while you can. We may be licensed to reason in this way since there is no denying the initial proposition, but it isn’t only that life is suffering.

With over seven billion people in the world, it can be hard to be valuable and to stand out; but the way that you can stand out and be valuable is by pursuing something that is meaningful. Something that can help you and others.

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.” 

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 some ill-formed desire, and then to craft speech and action in a manner that appears likely, rationally, to bring about that end.

If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward.

If you pay attention to what you do and say, 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 totally, blindly and willfully towards the attainment of a goal, and only that goal, you will never be able to discover if another goal would serve you, and the world, better.

As you continue to live in accordance with the truth, as it reveals itself to you, 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 ways (don’t underestimate their importance) and in large.

You will ever more closely approach your newer and more wisely formulated goals, and become even wiser in their formulation when you 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.” 

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

A listening person can reflect the crowd. He can do that without talking. He can do that merely by letting the talking person listen to himself. That is what Freud recommended.

He 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. That’s the way the Freudian psychoanalyst avoids transferring his or her own personal biases and opinions into the internal landscape of the patient.

If you listen, instead, without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking—and with very little deceit.

People will tell you the most amazing, absurd, interesting things. Very few of your conversations will be boring.

You already know what you know, after all—and, unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough. You remain threatened by disease, and self-deception, and unhappiness, and malevolence, and betrayal, and corruption, and pain, and limitation.

You are subject to all these things, in the final analysis, because you are just too ignorant to protect yourself. If you just knew enough, you could be healthier and more honest. You would suffer less. You could recognize, resist and even triumph over malevolence 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, by definition—radically, fatally insufficient.

“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.”

It is for this reason that the priestess of the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece spoke most highly of Socrates, who always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest living man because he knew that what he knew was nothing.

Assume that 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, to think the problem will go away by itself. It’s easier to keep the peace and avoid the anxiety, despair, sadness that will come 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 very clear and precise in your goals.

Unclear goals can create unclear actions which then can create unclear results. So if your goals are important enough, make them precise so you know you’re aiming for.

Specificity turns chaos into a thing that you can deal with. If you have a vague unease, you will struggle with it until you define it explicitly and give it a concrete form.

According to Jordan Peterson’s Rule 10, once you precisely identify the issue, you will likely realize that you were far more afraid than you should have been, and you now have a specific target to confront. “Be precise in your speech.”

“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.” 

Rule #11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

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 – like denying any biological difference between males and females, and insisting that behavior and outcomes be equal in every way.

According to 12 Rules for Life, this idea of literal, complete quality is not supported by biology, and it could be counterproductive because it forces people against their nature.

Skateboarding is dangerous just like how life is dangerous. so when kids are skateboarding they’re learning how they can take something that is unsafe and make it safe. Now think about that compared to other things in life.

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 has no power or prestige. And if it’s too large, then the chances of making it to the top of the group is very low.

It might be for that reason that people identify with groups willingly. It allows them to organize and protect themselves and gives them a higher likelihood of thriving. Favoring their own group helps people thrive. After all, climbing the hierarchy of a failing group is not useful.

Take some time to appreciate the little joys in life, that’s what this rule is all about. Take a moment to look up in the sky and smile at a random person, because life’s too short to suffer.


What did you learn from the book summary of 12 Rules for Life? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.

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12 Rules for Life book summary
Summary of 12 Rules for Life

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