Over the years, (former) Harvard and (current) University of Toronto professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson has developed what he believes to be a definitive set of rules for leading a successful and fulfilling life. Originally conceived of with 40 rules, Peterson has condensed them into a well thought out, manageable list of 12 total rules that he shares in this book. He believes strongly in truth telling, human hierarchy, and gender roles. He believes that suffering is an inevitable aspect of life, that we can usher in heaven or hell on earth, and that people have it within themselves to create order out of chaos. It’s also worth noting that this is an aggressive, in-your-face kind of Self-Help book — one which he packages and presents as the intersection of “ancient wisdom” and “scientific research.” Much of the ancient wisdom seems to come from religious scripture, while the scientific research serves as a way to backup the beliefs the author already holds near and dear to his heart. Nonetheless however—regardless of whether you consider yourself religious, un-religious, or somewhere in between—this is a powerful book that can help you develop a higher sense of self-discipline and self-reliance.
Here’s What You’ll Learn About in This Summary:
- The powerful impact of always telling the truth—no matter what.
- The benefits of paying close attention to the world around you.
- How to turn life’s most chaotic situations into successful ones.
“We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything.”
“Clear rules and proper discipline help the child, and the family, and society establish, maintain, and expand the order that is all that protects us from chaos and the terrors of the underworld. Where everything is uncertain, anxiety provoking, hopeless and depressing. There are no greater gifts that a parent can bestow.”
“The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future.”
Always tell the truth. Admit and learn from the past, make order of its chaos, and work towards not repeating the same mistakes. Pay close attention.
- 1. Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
- 2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
- 3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
- 4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
- 5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
- 6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
- 7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
- 8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie.
- 9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
- 10. Be precise in your speech.
- 11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
- 12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
1. Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
“Standing up straight with your shoulders back is something that is not only physical, because you’re not only a body, you’re a spirit so to speak, a psyche as well. Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of being.”
Using examples from nature, like the humble lobster, Peterson explains the importance of understanding dominance. How order and chaos work together, how paying attention to your posture, speaking your mind, walking tall, and being daring encourages serotonin to flow and portrays an image of competence to the world. In return you will begin to be less anxious, more confident, and increase the probability of good things happening in your life.
This newfound confidence will help you develop grit to be bold during difficult times. It will help you face the terror of the world and still find joy. Here’s how Peterson sums up this first rule for life:
“So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them— at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence. People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent and able (or at least they will not immediately conclude the reverse). Emboldened by the positive responses you are now receiving, you will begin to be less anxious. You will then find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social clues that people exchange when they are communicating. Your conversations will flow better, with fewer awkward pauses. This will make you more likely to meet people, interact with them, and impress them. Doing so will not only genuinely increase the probability that good things will happen to you— it will also make those good things feel better when they do”
- Often times, your feelings follow your physiology. When you don’t feel confident stand up taller with your shoulders back. You will appear more confident to others and a chain reaction will occur that, given time and consistency, will help you become a more confident individual.
2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
“Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your being.”
It is easier to show sympathy to others, including animals, than it is to self. Part of the reason is because there is no greater critic than the self. The self knows all of its flaws. But you should take care of yourself in the same way that you would take care of someone else that you love.
Give yourself grace, you have a responsibility to care of yourself. You must consider what is truly good for you, not what you want or what would make you happy—but what is actually good for you.
- Reward yourself for doing unpleasant tasks that you do not want to. Make sure you follow through with the promised reward. Example, take yourself out for a coffee after doing paperwork you don’t want to do.
- Get to know yourself in the same way you would get to know a new friend.
- Articulate your own principles, discipline yourself, and keep the promises you make to yourself.
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
“People create their worlds with the tools they have directly at hand. Faulty tools produce faulty results. Repeated use of the same faulty tools produces the same faulty results.”
Don’t keep friends around that you wouldn’t recommend for a sister, a brother, or another loved one.
You have to choose people who want the world to be better, not worse. You need to associate with people who support your upward aim and will not tolerate you when you self-sabotage.
- Stop hanging around people who support your bad habits. Instead, surround yourself with people who want you to succeed and push you to do so.
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
“What you aim at determines what you see.”
Align yourself with the greater good around you. Focus on little things daily that make you a better person. Figure out what it is you need to sacrifice to pursue a higher good. Figure out how you can better your life, while bettering the life of your family, friends, strangers, and even enemies.
Pay attention and tell the truth.
Know how your actions harm or improve the lives of others. Don’t be envious or frustrated but instead learn to be patient and discover who you are and what it is you want to do. Your problems need personalized goals, what works for others won’t work for you. You don’t have to be the same person you were yesterday or last year if you don’t want to be… As long as you’re always working at pursuing a greater good, and consistently growing yourself bit by bit every single day, you can transform your life and become a better version of yourself.
- Ask yourself the following questions: what is it that is bothering me, and is it something I can fix? Would I actually be willing to fix it? If the answer is no to all of these questions then aim lower, look for something that is bothering you that you can fix.
- Notice your fear and have some sympathy for it. Ask yourself what would motivate you to do the task or take the job in front of you and then give yourself a reward for doing it.
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
“Clear rules make for secure children and calm rational parents. Clear principles of discipline and punishment balance mercy and justice so that social development and psychological maturity can be optimally promoted.”
Pay attention to your children. You are the adult—not them.
Make sure the rules are clear. Children need adult guidance to become well-functioning adults one day. It is not the parent’s job to be the child’s friend but rather to train them in how to be competent, contributing, socially desirable members of society.
If your children’s actions make you dislike them, think about how much others, who don’t love them like you do, will dislike them for those actions – and the consequences of that over time. Raising children that you like gives them an edge socially opening up more opportunities for them.
- Plan discipline prior to the problem. Know what you are going to do and make sure the child knows the consequences of choices they make. Be consistent.
- Discuss your likes and dislikes regarding your child with a partner or a friend. Then make your children behave and take responsibility for their discipline.
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
“People who experience evil may certainly desire to perpetuate it, to pay it forward. But it is also plausible to learn good by experiencing evil. A bullied boy can mimic his tormentors, but he can also learn from his own abuse that it is wrong to push people around and make their lives miserable.”
Why do some people respond to evil with evil and others respond to evil with good? It is because they don’t trust their own instincts. Instead of becoming bitter and making life unnecessarily difficult, take control of the parts of your life you are able to take control of and let go of the rest.
Peterson also tells us to resist sinking down to the desire for revenge.
Suffering is a normal part of every human’s life. If suffering is unbearable and you are starting to slip towards evil then start cleaning up your life.
Start small but look to ways you can take control and make your life better. Don’t allow bitterness to bring you down. Instead, take on the responsibility of your life. Trust yourself when you feel that something is wrong and stop doing it. If everyone did this in their own lives perhaps the world would stop being an evil place. Perhaps, who knows, we would even see heaven on earth.
- Stop doing what you already know is wrong.
- Say and do only the things that contribute to you becoming a stronger, and more honorable individual. Stop doing the things that make you feel ashamed.
- Stop blaming others. Instead, take ownership of your life and be honest with others and yourself.
7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
“What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice. Things get better as the successful practice their sacrifices.”
Once you become aware that you yourself are vulnerable, you understand how this feeling can impact others. It is through this awareness that we become capable of hurting others, of sinning, and also of making the world better. Begrudging sacrifice is no sacrifice, angry resentment and bitterness spring up and a vicious cycle is created. Instead, sacrifice what is meaningful today to make tomorrow better.
The central problem of life is identifying what we need to sacrifice in order to rid ourselves of suffering and evil.
Pursue what is meaningful, not what is easy or expedient, because being expedient only transfers the curse to another or pushes it off to later. Working hard today to make your life meaningful is better than what you think you want. What is expedient only works for the moment. What is meaningful is powerful and enacts change. It brings forth heaven on earth.
Meaning is how you protect yourself against the suffering that life entails. This means that despite the fact that we’re all emotionally wounded by life, we’ve found something that makes it all worthwhile. Peterson tells us that meaning is instinctual, a vision of sorts. Meaning lets us know when we’re at the right place, which is usually somewhere between chaos and order…
If you get too comfortable within order, then you’re unable to grow. But if you stay within chaos, then you’ll stay lost and confused. The middle is the sweet-spot—a combination of skill and challenge to keep things interesting.
Expediency is about short-term gain at the cost of long-term loss… This is not a good thing. Rather than doing what gets you off the hook today (expediency), aim high. Look for things that you can make better, then work to make those things better.
- Identify the greatest evil you know of in the world—that you can do something about—and then actively work to create the opposite.
- Do not lie. Even a little. Little lies lead to ill-gotten expedient gains that will only come with costs later.
8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie.
“It is our responsibility to see what is before our eyes courageously, and to learn from it even if it seems horrible, even if the horror of seeing it damages our consciousness and half blinds us. The act of seeing is particularly important when it challenges what we know and rely on, upsetting and destabilizing us.”
Don’t lie. The smallest lies are what build the big lies. To tell the truth strengthens our society, creates wealth and safety, and makes men partners rather than enemies. Truth is the light in the darkness and the most important resource.
When we admit the truth about the past we are better equipped to create a better future. Everyone has their own personal truth that they are responsible for communicating to themselves and to others. Peterson endeavors to always tell the truth as not doing so is damaging to character and leads to disappointment, failure, vengefulness and even hell.
- Simply choose honesty over dishonesty. Always tell the truth.
9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
“You remember the past, not so it is accurately recorded but so that you are prepared for the future.”
By listening to the stories of others you can learn the same lessons while avoiding the pain they experienced to learn the lesson. By listening to one another’s stories, we are working on making all of our futures better. Careful listening helps you fix your own problems by listening to what their problems are. When we go into a conversation with our own theories of their interpretation we will not uncover the truth, instead we will uncover confirmation of our theory but by damaging the truth and those around the untrue story.
Memory is a tool that helps us learn how to avoid the same thing from happening again.
Good listening has to be managed carefully so as not to interject one’s own interpretation without the full truth. Words have an effect on the listener and on the sharer. Together you work through problems and learn from one another. The conversation of mutual exploration requires people who believe the unknown makes a better friend than the known. We would all be healthier, happier, pain free, and more successful if we knew more. Listening is a step in that direction because your current knowledge has not gotten you to where you need to be.
- Don’t simply wait to speak. Instead become a good listener and focus on what the one speaking is saying. The goal is to learn something new from the other person every time you are listening.
- Allow one person at a time to have the floor. Don’t speak over one another.
- Respect the personal experience of those you are conversing with.
10. Be precise in your speech.
“…even what is terrible in actuality often pales in significance compared to what is terrible in imagination. And often what cannot be confronted because of its horror in imagination can in fact be confronted when reduced to its still-admittedly-terrible-actuality.”
Take marriage seriously. Be honest with your partner about what annoys or bothers you. Everything clearly articulated is purposeful. Everything ignored will compound and become worse.
Using marital issues as an example, Peterson tells us that the small things—lack of sex life, annoying habits, poor housework, money, children, etc.—build up when we avoid addressing them as they arise.
Avoidance poisons the future and does not allow one to confront the real issue. People hide in vagueness because they do not want to confront their own flaws and insufficiencies. Knowledge of reality in fact offers a better reality. If we speak carefully and precisely we can navigate to a new goal. But if we are not precise, the destination and goals remain vague.
When something goes wrong, perception has to be evaluated. The problem has to be admitted to, as close as possible to when it presents itself. If problems are not brought to light or fixed, it is impossible to move away from chaos and towards order. Ignoring reality will only make reality worse–creating chaos and suffering.
The past can be redeemed, the present can flow by, the future can look better when all of it is explained and shared with precise language.
Be truthful with yourself and with your loved ones.
- Confront conflict with loved ones head on. Do not avoid the issues because they will only build up and become worse.
- Identify things with careful attention and language in order to simplify them and control them.
- Consciously define a conversation topic or the conversation will become about everything and will be too big to handle.
- Say what you mean.
11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
“When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles for the good of others there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better usually aren’t concerned with changing other people or if they are they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first.)”
Ideas have consequences. To know what motivates a person, look at the consequences of their actions—that will actually tell you more about their intentions than their words.
This rule emphasizes the misinterpretation of the feminist movement to crush the patriarchy. A number of men are pointed out who played a part in providing more freedom for women: men who had a part in creating tampons, birth control, and anesthesia for child birth.
Peterson also discusses the biological differences between men and women and how they effect the workplace. He also believes that today, men are being treated as oppressors who engage in destructive activities.
He then goes into a controversial line of thinking, telling us that liberals are turning boys into girls and girls into boys… Further fueling the fire, Peterson also writes that girls should do girl things, like raise children and be thankful for the men who protect them.
He goes on to share stories about various historical trends related to gender and the consequences they reaped on whole societies when played out. He closes his point by reminding us that order is always opposed by chaos. And that gender roles are part of order, so any fight against them is part of chaos.
- Before fighting for a cause or working towards an idea think through all of the possible outcomes of that cause/idea. Be sure that the end result supports the actions you are about to take before taking them.
- Don’t allow extremists on either end of the spectrum (ie. alt-right <—> liberals) to skew the facts. Be objective when discovering why certain systems are the way they are and the truth about the patriarchy.
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
“When you love someone it’s not despite their limitations, it’s because of their limitations.”
This final rule comes from an experience Peterson once had, observing a stray cat on the street. He saw the cat adapting to rough conditions and circumstances—lack of food, random weather conditions, and cars driving up and down the street. These things can threaten a stray cat’s very existence. But if the cat can adapt itself to its’ circumstances, the cat can live to see another day.
Navigating our own lives is much like a stray cat navigating his. Crazy and chaotic things will happen in your life—that’s guaranteed. But how will you adapt when they do?
When there’s no challenge and no suffering then there is boredom and emptiness. Why? Because without challenge we can’t grow; without challenge there’s nothing to overcome.
Suffering produces strength, but of course, that does not take away the pain of it all. People are tough. We can survive a great deal of pain and loss, but to persevere we must be able to see a purpose in doing so…
When things get tough, remember what matters most—why must you prosper and rise? Who are you doing it for other than yourself? Do you have a family that depends on you? Everyone’s reasons for pushing past pain is different, but to push past it, we all need purpose. We must always look at that which is meaningful even when you’re in the midst of something challenging.
When you’re dealing with something painful or stressful or challenging, and everything around you seems like it’s falling apart, STOP. Take pause. And shorten your time-line: rather than thinking about everything you need to make happen in your life over the coming months, consider thinking about just this week instead. Then shrink the time-line down to this day. Then to this hour. Then to this minute. The idea is to bring yourself into the present moment, and to simply have the best next hour, minute, or moment that you possibly can. This is the key to dealing with chaos elegantly and effectively.
- Put the things you can control in order, to help you manage life and survive the areas you cannot.
- Look for the small things in life that remind you of the pleasure of being.
- Always be honest, both with yourself and others. Little lies or untruths build into big ones and those lead to suffering and hell. Acknowledge the suffering in the world but seek out the good. Seek to create heaven on earth by doing good, creating order from chaos, and always telling the truth.
- Always tell the truth.
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- Surround yourself with people who want the best for you.
- Pay attention.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Jordan Peterson | A well-loved Canadian psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. Author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief and over a hundred scientific papers.