12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Written By Adam Drake

10 min read

Jordan B. Peterson - 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos written by Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor Jordan Peterson is a set of rules and principles to implement in your life which will bring order, meaning and purpose. Jordan believes that now more than ever the young (specifically men) are crying our for what these rules will bring.

Summary of main ideas

1. “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”

Jordan introduces lobsters to the reader in this chapter and it’s a fantastic analogy for getting across his first rule. You may wonder how lobsters' social hierarchy relates to humans but there are many similarities.

In any hierarchical system (and humans definitely exist in one!) there are conflicts and a lobster with low serotonin levels and high octopamine levels does not do well in conflicts. Their body language is scrunched up and negative to make themselves look small and they cower away from more dominant lobsters. Therefore they don’t get the prime real estate, best hunting ground or the prime lobster mate. Their chances for survival and bearing offspring are lowered and this is not good.

In humans it has been shown that adopting a dominant body posture can actually affect your levels of testostorone and serotonin, watch this video. Therefore Jordan proposes that standing up straight with your shoulders back will not only influence your posture but also influence your position in life. It will enable you to take on the responsibility of life face on and transform the potential chaos around you into habitable order.

2. “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”

In this second rule Jordan proposes that people are not the best carers of themselves and it’s been proven that people will look after others around them far better than they would themselves. This was proven to me when doing an exercise in a meditation course and recording how we would speak to a friend about a situation and then how we would talk to ourselves in our heads in the same situation. The difference is scary!

However when you are responsible for someone else or something else the whole dynamic changes and humans are naturally inclined to shoulder that responsibility and do what they can to take it on. So why can’t we make the subject of our responsibility ourselves? Jordan’s second rule suggests we do exactly that.

3. “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”

If there was a person who you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, brother, father to be their friend why would you choose them to be your friend? This is a difficult one for many because a sense of loyalty runs deep towards certain people in their lives even if they are fully aware that the relationship is a toxic one. But this rule is imperative in your life if you want to move forwards. It’s about making good decisions about the people you surround yourself with and sometimes the best decision is the toughest decision.

4. “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.”

Whatever you do in life and no matter how well you do it, there will always be someone out there in the world who can do it better than you. If you constantly compare yourself to someone else your own measure of progress will consistently be distorted. Only by measuring yourself against your yesterday’s self can you measure your progress in life.

5. “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”

Jordan gives an example from his own personal life for this rule. He was out for dinner and his children were very well behaved and other customers in the restaurant gave praise and smiled favourably upon the children. He suggests that well behaved kids get more positive attention and are more likely to be included in social gatherings and this overall gives them an advantage in life.

He also talks about taking immediate and appropriate action when your child misbehaves. Sometimes a stare is enough to let the child know they have crossed a line but sometimes it takes a little more. If immediate action is not taken then this can lead to problems down the road. For example resentment can build up and this can be very dangerous because you never know when it will spring its ugly head. An overreaction beckons and this will only confuse your child.

Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world and if the proxy is inconsistent and unreliable what will happen to the child when he has to go out into the real world?

6. “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”

It's all too easy to look around at everyone else and find fault. It’s all too easy to sit with a close friend and put someone else down to make yourselves feel better. What isn’t easy is looking in your own backyard and seeing the mess that is there and doing something about it. Taking care of your own business requires some humility, awareness and some real effort to get things in order.

No matter how small there are always areas in your life that can be improved. There are certain things you are doing that you shouldn’t be doing so now is the time to stop doing these things. Today. Right now. Don’t waste anymore time carrying these feelings of guilt around with you. Start changing even the smallest of things and take control back of your life.

7. “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).”

Jordan relates throughout the book to passages in the bible. From the story of Cain and Abel through to the story of Christ himself. Christ’s 40 days and 40 nights in the desert tempted constantly by the devil and how this story is the archetypal story of pursuing what is meaningful. It is better to sacrifice now so you can gain later. Jordan also states that doing what is expedient now can lead to serious consequences, including what happened in the Gulag in the Soviet Union and also the prisoner of war camps in Auschwitz.

Carl Jung explained it beautifully: ‘No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell. ‘

8. “Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie.”

By learning to tell the truth you will learn to understand yourself. You will be able to communicate this in a more direct and wholesome way and you will attract like minded people into your life. Life will become easier because there are no alternate realities you have to hold in your head.

9. “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”

Most people don’t listen. Really listen I mean. When you really listen to someone, they will generally tell you everything they are thinking and with very little deceit. People will tell you about the most absurd things and Jordan gives some examples from his therapy sessions he held with some of his patients. Listening is part of having a genuine conversation. Listening is paying attention.

10. “Be precise in your speech.”

How many arguments are caused by imprecise articulation? How many relationships break down because people fail to portray their real feelings? How many people remain confused because they don’t take the time to articulate how they really feel?

Putting something into words that has been in your head floating around as thoughts can be very tricky. It can take multiple attempts to convey what you really want to say. Jordan argues though that it is very important. Precision of speech plays an integral role in the way we communicate in our relationships and relationships play an integral role in our life.

11. “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.”

Boys are naturally more opposed to authority. Girls are more agreeable. Children like to push the boundaries to see where the edge is. How else can they learn to behave and function in a society? Society however is teaching boys to behave more agreeably like the girls and this is leading to problems Jordan argues.

When a child is deeply involved in something, concentrating and putting themselves out there, exposing themselves to risk they are developing and growing as a person. This is fundamental for their development and their self confidence. By interfering and reducing the risk we are reducing their development and thus making a worse future for them and society. Risk is needed in life, it allows the species to progress and without progress there is only decline.

12. “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.”

Enjoy the small things in life. Life can be terrible and life can be suffering so when a cat crosses your path and lays on its back, stroke its belly because it’s part of being too. If you don’t take a moment to enjoy these little things in life you will be drowned by the seriousness of it all.

How this book can help you

Jordan has a channel on Youtube and there you can find plenty of videos of lectures and interviews. There is an underlying theme to everything he speaks about. He sees in the world and culture many lost souls and his basic answer to this is ‘pick up a load and carry it’. Take on a responsibility. Shoulder a burden and upon that you will find meaning.

With meaning you will find direction and when you have a direction you have somewhere to aim at, a direction to move towards, a purpose. Jordan frequently speaks about a large percentage of his viewership on Youtube being males. Around 85% to 90% and he is very intrigued by that. Afterall he is a psychologist by trade and in universities this subject and others in the humanities have a higher female attendance (around 60%).

So why are so many males, particularly young males, are watching his videos and attending his speaking engagements?

Jordan is striking a chord. He is blunt in his speech and direct. He has strong opinions but they are well thought out based on years of observation, learnings and deep thought. He is considered in his approach but you can tell he has thought deeply about every word he utters.

I listened to this book instead of reading it and it was read by Jordan himself. This man captivates you with his speech and shows the true power of the human voice and spoken word and I urge anyone who wishes to read this book to also listen to it because I think Jordan’s voice carries across even more of the soul of what he is saying.

Some good further reading/watching/listening

Jordan has a wealth of material on Youtube and I suggest to anyone interested in finding out more about Jordan to check out some of his videos. Some of my particular favourites include:

He has also appeared on Joe Rogan’s Podcast multiple times which are much more long form but well worth setting aside some time as these discussions allow for much more in depth conversations and explorations of certain topics:

Where to get it

Get 12 Rules for Life on Amazon.

About the author

Jordan Bernt Peterson (born 12 June 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. You can find out more about him at his website or on his Youtube channel.

Published by

Random House Canada

Publication Date

Feb 05, 2018

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