The 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson has sold 5 million copies. And for a good reason. Jordan’s advice is helpful.
The reason it’s helpful is because Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and he’s worked with many people to help improve their psychological well being.
We all have a psyche, and if any advice can help us improve our lives I think we should take heed.
For the rest of this article, I’ll be summarising the 12 rules for life as concisely as I can.
Rule 1. Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
Jordan puts forward the point that to stand up straight with your shoulders back is to face the world in a courageous manner.
Whereas being hunched over is a sign of defeat and helplessness symbolic of a prey animal.
Jordan gives the example of lobsters having a fight, and explains the different outcomes.
For example, a lobster who wins a fight has higher levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter chemical serotonin.
Because of this the winning lobster develops a confident yet aggressive stance and goes on to win more fights.
Thereby climbing up the lobster hierarchy ( the lobster world). And becoming more attractive to female mates.
Whereas the defeated lobster has lowered levels of serotonin, is likely to lose future fights and lives a wretched existence.
Even when free moving lobsters are injected with serotonin they develop more aggressive and confident postures similar to animals.
The bottom line of this rule is if we develop a good posture by standing straight with our shoulders back. We face the world in an optimistic and courageous manner.
To quote an interesting study that was done on 74 participants who developed an upright or a slumped posture. During the experiment the results found:
” Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress. The research is consistent with embodied cognition theories that muscular and autonomic states influence emotional responding. “
The Reason Jordan compares lobsters to humans is because like us lobsters exist in hierarchies and have a nervous system that adapts to status.
The higher the lobster climbs the hierarchy, the more the brain makes serotonin available.
Rule 2 – Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping
In this rule, it basically means if you were someone else, and you were responsible for helping the person that is you. How would you go about it?
Obviously, there’s no simple answer for this. But there are general things that can improve our lives no matter what.
Some things include:
- Eating a healthy & nutritious diet.
- Exercising multiple times per week.
- Getting a good amount of sleep.
- Reading 30 minutes per day.
- Improving in our careers through hard work.
- Not smoking.
- Not drinking alcohol in excess.
Why We Care About Others More Than Ourselves
Jordan gives the example of someone with a sick dog, the individual would need to feed the dog medication so it can get better. Apparently, most people would do this no questions asked.
But when it comes to looking after ourselves, we don’t fare so well. Many people neglect things that help them and instead replace healthy productive behaviours with unhelpful ones.
Why is it that some people would devote themselves to others ( and even animals) yet neglect themselves?
Why We Should All Treat Ourselves Like Someone We Are Responsible For Helping
When we help ourselves to become healthier, stronger and better individuals, we in turn help others become better as well.
There are a few different ways we can do this:
- If we help ourselves and set a good example others may follow, and without knowing it we might just help them to improve their own lives.
- If we help rather than denigrate ourselves we’ll be happier individuals. Thereby becoming a nicer more pleasant person to be around. Who knows your presence might make someone’s day better.
- If we help ourselves we’ll become more productive individuals. This will help us take a step closer to our realised selves, and hopefully, improve the world for others.
When we treat ourselves like someone we are responsible for helping, we make better decisions for ourselves and in the long run, these decisions improve our lives.
Rule 3 – Make Friends With People Who Want The Best For You
At the heart of this rule, we need to have friends who want the best for us.
For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking because you know how bad the long term implications of smoking are and your friend knows you’re trying to quit, yet offers you a cigarette. That friend does not want the best for you.
Or if a friend becomes spiteful when you start to do well, that’s another red flag.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that if a friend is going through a difficult time in their life and isn’t exactly a positive influence (which is understandable), to kick them when they’re down.
We should be the type of friend that we’d like to have. But if a proposed friend takes more than he or she gives and doesn’t, necessarily want the best for you, find new friends. There’s plenty of people out there.
This rule also applies to family members and associates throughout our lives. Not everyone wants the best for us (sorry for sounding sceptical) in fact some people want you and me to fail.
But there is a subset of people that want you to succeed as well and I promise they are out there if you look hard enough.
And going back to the second rule, psychologically sometimes we don’t want the best for ourselves.
When we engage in unhealthy behaviours and avoid the important things we ought to do. Self-sabotage is real.
But if we can make friends with people who want the best for us and if we can treat ourselves like someone we’re responsible for helping. Life can work for us rather than against us.
Rule 4 – Compare Yourself with Who You Were Yesterday, Not With Who Someone Else Is Today
The Entrepreneur and Investor Naval Ravikant Says:
” One day, I realized with all these people I was jealous of, I couldn’t just choose little aspects of their life. I couldn’t say I want his body, I want her money, I want his personality. You have to be that person. Do you want to actually be that person with all of their reactions, their desires, their family, their happiness level, their outlook on life, their self-image? If you’re not willing to do a wholesale, 24/7, 100% swap with who that person is, then there is no point in being jealous. “
Comparing ourselves to others is completely futile.
When we compare ourselves to others we see only one perspective of their life, not the truth.
For example, In fitness, it takes a long time to get the physique of a fitness model ( roughly 3-5 years).
But if at the very beginning of your journey you’re comparing yourself to individuals who have been training for 5, 10, or even 20 years, then the journey can seem overwhelming.
Instead of comparing yourself to others focus on the process and improving just a little bit every day.
And even if we compare ourselves to a particular part of someone’s life whether that be their physique, wealth, car or whatever. Other parts of their lives may be in a neglected state.
For example, the wealthy individual might have very little family time and his relationships with his wife and kids may be neglected.
Car Jung Says:
” The shoe that fits one person pinches another ; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.”
Why would we compare ourselves to others when we’re all different?
All we can do is focus on improving ourselves one day at a time.
And each day we make progress toward our goals should provide enough motivation for making more progress tomorrow.
Rule 5 – Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them
I personally don’t have children. But what I get from this rule is don’t let your children do anything that makes you dislike them because it will sour your relationship with them and turn the parent’s and children’s lives into a sorry state of affairs.
Because if you allow your children to do things that make you dislike them. There’s a good chance other people dislike them as well.
And likeability is an important trait in order to get on life.
On the other hand, Jordan says if you allow your children to do things that make you like them and don’t let them do anything that makes you dislike them.
You’ll be able to turn your relationships with your children into something special to be cherished.
I suppose you could take this rule for people in general. If a trend or social custom that individuals engage in is ugly and bad for humanity as a whole call it out.
Or if a friend or family member is doing something that makes you dislike them, tell them your concerns in an open, but not condescending way.
As Marcus Aurelius puts it:
” If they’ve made a mistake, correct them gently and show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, then the blame lies with you. Or no one. “
Rule 6 – Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticise The World
This isn’t the first time this pithy piece of wisdom has manifested itself.
Confucious said over 2000 years ago:
“Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof when your own doorstep is unclean.”
Almost 2000 years ago Marcus Aurelius said:
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
Think of the successful and effective people of this world. People like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Luther King Junior etc.
It’s not what these people say that makes us look up to them, it’s what they do. And how they do it.
Complaining in general is a waste of mental energy. It doesn’t really achieve much especially when actions aren’t taken to resolve whatever you’re frustrated about in the first place.
Before we criticize the world we first must as Mahatma Gandhi says ” Be the change we wish to see in the world. ”
Rule 7 – Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)
Carl Jung said in the book Modern Man In Search Of A Soul:
“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”
To pursue what is meaningful is to as Viktor Frankl Says in Man’s search for meaning:
” To live is to suffer , to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all then there must be a purpose in suffering and dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities. Frankl is fond of quoting Nietzsche “he who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
One way Frankl prompts us to find meaning in the suffering is to ask ” why do you not commit suicide?”.
Everybody has some form of tragedy in their lives. No matter how rich or poor you are.
But in all of our lives, we have things to be grateful for. And things that make life bearable.
Some things that help me find meaning.
- Spending time with family and friends.
- Reading, learning for its own sake.
- Writing, I also like doing it for its own sake and I always learn more about whatever I write about.
- Working out, getting stronger and seeing your body change in a good way is cool.
- Watching/playing sport, playing is always enjoyable and watching athletes of the highest level is fun and inspiring.
- Walking in nature.
- Helping others.
- Eating and cooking good food.
Everyone can find meaning in their lives in different ways. So try and pay attention to the things that you enjoy (the things that make life worth living).
Rule 8 – Tell The Truth – Or At Least Don’t Lie
For me, this is probably the most important rule. Honesty is a virtue worthy of respect. To lie is to go against yourself.
For me, I just can’t lie. It makes me feel bad. And if we get into the habit of lying to others, we get into the habit of lying to ourselves. Which can make life more complicated than it needs to be.
The key is to be an honest person. This way we can live life how we genuinely want to live it. Being an honest person also helps us to build and maintain relationships with others becasuse no one likes a lier.
Jordan also mentions that we can’t know the absolute truth about everything all the time, there’s just too much to know and the world is too complex.
But we all have the ability to not tell a lie.
What Jordan proposes we do is:
Not say or write things we intentionally know are false.
Think of getting on in the world like following a map. If your map is full of lies and is incorrect you won’t get to your destination.
Whereas if the map is based on truth and is made correctly and honestly you’ll get to your destination.
Being an honest person above all knows him/ her self. And can make decisions and act accordingly to their honest values and self.
In Stoicism honesty is one of the four greatest virtues that Marcus Aurelius practised.
Also, one of the 13 Virtues that founding father and polymath Benjamin Franklin practised was Sincerity.
Practising the virtue of sincerity is defined as:
” Sincerity is the virtue of one who communicates and acts in accordance with the entirety of their feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and desires in a manner that is honest and genuine. “
Jordan says that telling lies is dangerous and he wholeheartedly advises against telling them.
Rule 9 – Assume That The Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t
What I take away from this rule is:
Learn what you can from others.
In general, we should be humble individuals willing to learn. And as we go through this life we should learn from the people we meet. Chances are they probably know things that we don’t.
In the book, Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher he says to become remarkable in any field, you should read 500 books on a subject or have one great mentor.
We never know what we can learn from the people we meet. And that’s why it’s important we keep our ears wide open and be generally interested in people.
If we can stay, humble, and curious and can become good listeners we can learn a lot from other individuals.
Marcus Aurelius the Roman Emperor in his outstanding book Meditations says:
“Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds”.
And if we’re doing things in an inefficient way that we could do better, it’s best to listen to the experts so that we can take their advice and improve.
We should also listen to enemies/competitors because unlike our friends, enemies/ competitors don’t care about our feelings so there’s no filter with them, and they’ll tell us some important things about ourselves that may be harsh but true that our friends are too nice to say.
I remember when I first started this website, I emailed Andy Morgan from rippedbody.com and told him I’d recommended his books (the muscle and strength pyramids) on my website.
And he got back to me, grateful of course that I recommended his books. But he also gave me some helpful criticism on some of the not so good things I was doing on my website.
But he also gave me tangible tips on how I could improve my website.
And I gladly listened to his advice and took it on board.
Always Learn What You Can From Others, Even If It Shatters Your Previous Paradigms (Mental Models).
Rule 10 – Be Precise In Your Speech
Carl Jung said in the book Modern Man In Search Of A Soul:
” It is probable that one form of neurosis is conditioned by the predominance of secrets, and another by the predominance of restrained emotions. “
To get where we want to go in life, we must describe what it is we’re feeling, what problems we have and where it is we want to go.
Only then when we have a clear view of the problem and the solution can we develop a clear plan on how to resolve it so that it ceases to be a problem.
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms”.
The key is to capture whatever it is we want to say in a precise and truthful way. So that we can Say What We Mean And Mean What We Say.
The more we read and actually understand each word as fully as we can. The more we can be precise with what we’re saying. And the more precise we can articulate ourselves the easier it will be to get on in this world.
Rule 11 – Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skate-Boarding
Carl Jung said in his book modern man in search of a soul:
“Man is completely human only when he is playing “.
Most of life’s joy and happiness comes from what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines as being in a flow state.
Mihaly says in his best selling book flow:
” The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. “
This rule essentially means we need to immerse ourselves in activities that push us to get into that flow state.
I remember when I was a kid, I used to ride a BMX and me and my friends at the time would try to master different tricks for hours each day we went to the skatepark.
Time goes by so quickly when you’re in this flow state.
Essentially this flow state that I’m referring to is one that athletes, composures, and artists immerse themselves in.
A lot of happiness comes from activities that help us enter this flow state.
For children to do difficult, courageous and sometimes dangerous things like skateboarding requires them to be in a flow state.
We should encourage children to do difficult and hard things that push their abilities and fully immerse them in consciousness.
We should also try our best to immerse ourselves in this flow state as much as possible in our daily lives.
Being in the flow state is part of why I write this blog, why I read books, and work out at the gym. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposes that being in the flow state is the key to happiness.
The more we’re engaged in activities that get us into a flow state the better our lives will be.
Rule 12 – Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street
This rule essentially means:
We need to pay attention to things in our lives that are good for the soul.
This could mean petting your cat, or dog, or even just enjoying nature in general by going for a walk.
For example, in the book, Man’s Search For Meaning By Viktor Frankl (which is essentially about Viktor’s experiences in a concentration camp) Viktor would pay special attention to the beautiful sky at the crack of dawn and be in general awe of the beauty of nature during some of the most horrendous experiences you could imagine.
On the front cover of the book theres a beautiful robin amidst the suffering of a concentration camp.
Which carries an important message:
Essentially life is suffering and we must pay attention to the things that make it worthwhile.
My Favourite Jordan Peterson Quotes
“We experience much of our positive emotions in relation to goals. We are not happy, technically speaking, unless we see ourselves progressing. And the very idea of progression implies value.”
” We must have something to set against the suffering that is intrinsic to being.”
“Dominance Hierarchies have been an essentially permanent feature to which all life has adapted.”
” If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up people will look and treat you differently.”
” How could the nature of man ever reach its full potential without challenge and danger? “
Each of us should ask ourselves:
“ What might my life look like if I was caring for myself properly?”
On helping someone who doesn’t want to be helped:
“Maybe instead of continuing our friendship I should just go off somewhere, get my act together, and lead by example.”
On the importance of gratitude in our daily lives:
“Gratitude is great protection over the dangers of victimhood and resentment.”
“The past Is fixed but the future- it could be better by some precise amount. The amount that can be achieved within a day with some minimal engagement. The present is eternally flawed. But where you start isn’t important as where you are heading. “Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak” much of happiness is hope no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived. “
The importance of the rules of religion and virtues to achieve our goals:
“You cannot aim yourself at anything if you are completely undisciplined and untutored.”
On the importance of being present:
“Take therefore no thought for tomorrow. For tomorrow shall take thought for things of itself.” – Jordon quotes Matthew 6:34 The Bible.
On the importance of discipline in parenthood:
” Nature and society will punish in a draconian manner whatever errors of childhood behaviour remain uncorrected if the parent Forgo’s discipline. “
On the importance of delaying instant gratification:
” That something better might be attained in the future by giving up something of value in the present.”
“There is little difference between sacrifice and work.”
” The successful among us delay gratification. “
The Bottom Line On 12 Rules For Life By Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson’s work ( especially his lectures and his books) provides pithy nuggets of wisdom. His reading list has also changed the way I look at the world. I highly recommend you read the 12 rules for life. And listen to Jordan’s lectures. I always come away with something.