12 Rules for Life - Jordan Peterson

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Rated: 6/10

Available at: Amazon

ISBN: 0345816021

Related: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Summary

I really struggled to come up with a rating for this book.  Ultimately, the rating I gave it (6/10), is a reflection of the poor organization and flow of this book.  There is good information here, but I found the book unnecessarily bloated and cluttered.

The main problem I have with it is the poor flow.  This seems to be a result of a few things:

  1. The book feels disjointed - there should be more than 12 rules, and more sections, and the book would be much clearer.
  2. At the same time, many sections feel meandering, and the connections that Peterson tries to make often don’t make sense to me, to the point that I have to re-read repeatedly, and ultimately just make me frustrated.  
  3. Despite the complicated sections that could be broken up, some rules could have been summarized in a much shorter form, and indeed, Peterson originally came up with the list in a much shorter form for Quora - at times it feels like this.

Overall, there are great sections, and a large amount of information in the book.  In my opinion, the organization just makes it far too difficult to actually absorb it.

Favorite Quotes

  • "Virtue signalling is, quite possible, our commonest vice."
  • "It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them."
  • "What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know."
  • "There is little, in a marriage, that is so little that it is not worth fighting about."
  • "What shall I do when my enemy succeeds? Aim a little higher and be grateful for the lesson."

Notes

OVERTURE

  • Shared beliefs simplify the world, as well, because people who know what to expect from one another can act together to tame the world.
  • It isn’t precisely that people will fight for what they believe. They will fight, instead, to maintain the match between what they believe, what they expect, and what they desire.
  • There’s more to it, too. A shared cultural system stabilizes human interaction, but is also a system of value—a hierarchy of value, where some things are given priority and importance and others are not. In the absence of such a system of value, people simply cannot act. In fact, they can’t even perceive, because both action and perception require a goal, and a valid goal is, by necessity, something valued.
  • We experience much of our positive emotion in relation to goals. We are not happy, technically speaking, unless we see ourselves progressing—and the very idea of progression implies value.

RULE 1: STAND UP STRAIGHT WITH YOUR SHOULDERS BACK

  • Emotion is partly bodily expression, and can be amplified (or dampened) by that expression.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

RULE 2: TREAT YOURSELF LIKE SOMEONE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HELPING

  • Chaos is where we are when we don’t know where we are, and what we are doing when we don’t know what we are doing. It is, in short, all those things and situations we neither know nor understand.
  • Order, by contrast, is explored territory.
    • Order, when pushed too far, when imbalanced, can also manifest itself destructively and terribly. It does so as the forced migration, the concentration camp, and the soul-devouring uniformity of the goose-step.
  • Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering.
  • 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.
  • To treat yourself as if you were someone you are responsible for helping is, instead, to consider what would be truly good for you. This is not "what you want." It is also not "what would make you happy."
  • 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 must discipline yourself carefully. You must keep the promises you make to yourself, and reward yourself, so that you can trust and motivate yourself. You need to determine how to act toward yourself so that you are most likely to become and to stay a good person.

RULE 3: MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU

  • In a fit of inspiration, the well-meaning manager moves that problematic person into the midst of his stellar team, hoping to improve him by example. What happens?—and the psychological literature is clear on this point. Does the errant interloper immediately straighten up and fly right? No. Instead, the entire team degenerates.
  • Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? You might say: out of loyalty. Well, loyalty is not identical to stupidity. Loyalty must be negotiated, fairly and honestly. Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse.
  • 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 an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some courage. Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity.

RULE 4: COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY, NOT TO WHO SOMEONE ELSE IS TODAY

  • It was easier for people to be good at something when more of us lived in small, rural communities.
  • No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is someone out there who makes you look incompetent.
  • Failure is the price we pay for standards and, because mediocrity has consequences both real and harsh, standards are necessary.
  • We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce very much of everything. The winners don’t take all, but they take most, and the bottom is not a good place to be.
  • We might start by considering the all-too-black-and-white words themselves: “success" or “failure." You are either a success, a comprehensive, singular, over-all good thing, or its opposite, a failure, a comprehensive, singular, irredeemably bad thing. The words imply no alternative and no middle ground. However, in a world as complex as ours, such generalizations (really, such failure to differentiate) are a sign of naive, unsophisticated or even malevolent analysis.
  • To begin with, there is not just one game at which to succeed or fail. There are many games and, more specifically, many good games—games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, and sustain and even improve themselves across time. Lawyer is a good game. So is plumber, physician, carpenter, or schoolteacher. The world allows for many ways of Being. If you don’t succeed at one, you can try another.
  • Furthermore, if changing games does not work, you can invent a new one.
  • It’s also unlikely that you’re playing only one game. You have a career and friends and family members and personal projects and artistic endeavors and athletic pursuits.
  • You might think you should be winning at everything (all these pursuits)! But winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning but you’re not growing, and growing might be the most important form of winning.
  • Finally, you might come to realize that the specifics of the many games you are playing are so unique to you, so individual, that comparison to others is simply inappropriate. Perhaps you are overvaluing what you don’t have and undervaluing what you do.
  • You are interested in some things and not in others. You can shape that interest, but there are limits. Some activities will always engage you, and others simply will not.
  • Five hundred small decisions, five hundred tiny actions, compose your day, today, and every day. Could you aim one or two of these at a better result? Better, in your own private opinion, by your own individual standards?
  • Aim small. You don’t want to shoulder too much to begin with, given your limited talents, tendency to deceive, burden of resentment, and ability to shirk responsibility. Thus, you set the following goal: by the end of the day, I want things in my life to be a tiny bit better than they were this morning.

RULE 5: DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU DISLIKE THEM

  • Children need to be shaped and informed.
  • Children can be damaged by lack of attention as much as by abuse, mental or physical.
  • Children who do not learn social behaviour will be ignored by their peers because they are not fun to play with.
  • Every parent therefore needs to learn to tolerate the momentary anger or even hatred directed towards them by their children, after necessary corrective action has been taken, as the capacity of children to perceive or care about long-term consequences is very limited.
  • It is an act of responsibility to discipline a child. It is not anger at misbehavior. It is not revenge for a misdeed. It is instead a careful combination of mercy and long-term judgment.
  • Infants are like blind people, searching for a wall. They have to push forward, and test, to see where the actual boundaries lie (and those are too-seldom where they are said to be).
  • Consistent correction of such action indicates the limits of acceptable aggression to the child. Its absence merely heightens curiosity—so the child will hit and bite and kick, if he is aggressive and dominant, until something indicates a limit.
  • Kids do this frequently. Scared parents think that a crying child is always sad or hurt. This is simply not true. Anger is one of the most common reasons for crying.
  • Anger-crying is often an act of dominance, and should be dealt with as such.
  • Skinner observed the animals he was training to perform such acts with exceptional care. Any actions that approximated what he was aiming at were immediately followed by a reward of just the right size: not small enough to be inconsequential, and not so large that it devalued future rewards. Such an approach can be used with children, and works very well.
  • Emotions, positive and negative, come in two usefully differentiated variants. Satisfaction (technically, satiation) tells us that what we did was good, while hope (technically, incentive reward) indicates that something pleasurable is on the way. Pain hurts us, so we won’t repeat actions that produced personal damage or social isolation (as loneliness is also, technically, a form of pain).
  • We therefore do our children a disservice by failing to use whatever is available to help them learn, including negative emotions, even though such use should occur in the most merciful possible manner.
  • Children need to be well socialized by age four (at this age, peers become primary source of socialization).
  • So now we have two general principles of discipline. The first: limit the rules. The second: Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.
  • About the first principle, you might ask, "Limit the rules to what, exactly?" Here are some suggestions. Do not bite, kick or hit, except in self-defence. Do not torture and bully other children, so you don’t end up in jail. Eat in a civilized and thankful manner, so that people are happy to have you at their house, and pleased to feed you. Learn to share, so other kids will play with you. Pay attention when spoken to by adults, so they don’t hate you and might therefore deign to teach you something. Go to sleep properly, and peaceably, so that your parents can have a private life and not resent your existence. Take care of your belongings, because you need to learn how and because you’re lucky to have them. Be good company when something fun is happening, so that you’re invited for the fun. Act so that other people are happy you’re around, so that people will want you around. A child who knows these rules will be welcome everywhere.
  • About the second, equally important principle, your question might be: What is minimum necessary force? This must be established experimentally, starting with the smallest possible intervention Some children will be turned to stone by a glare. A verbal command will stop another. A thumb-cocked flick of the index finger on a small hand might be necessary for some. Such a strategy is particularly useful in public places such as restaurants. It can be administered suddenly, quietly and effectively, without risking escalation.
  • People will really like your kids if you give them the chance.
  • So here are a few practical hints: time out can be an extremely effective form of punishment, particularly if the misbehaving child is welcome as soon as he controls his temper. An angry child should sit by himself until he calms down. Then he should be allowed to return to normal life. That means the child wins—instead of his anger. The rule is "Come be with us as soon as you can behave properly." This is a very good deal for child, parent and society. You’ll be able to tell if your child has really regained control. You’ll like him again, despite his earlier misbehaviour.
  • Disciplinary principle 1: limit the rules. Principle 2: use minimum necessary force. Here’s a third: parents should come in pairs.
  • Here’s a fourth principle, one that is more particularly psychological: parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful, angry and deceitful.
  • Here’s a fifth and final and most general principle. Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world—merciful proxies, caring proxies—but proxies, nonetheless. This obligation supersedes any responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem. It is the primary duty of parents to make their children socially desirable.

RULE 6: SET YOUR HOUSE IN PERFECT ORDER BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE WORLD

  • Many, perhaps even most, of the adults who abuse children were abused themselves as children. However, the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.
  • 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? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?
  • Have you cleaned up your life?
  • If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is. Inopportune questioning can confuse, without enlightening, as well as deflecting you from action.
  • You can know that something is wrong or right without knowing why.

RULE 7: PURSUE WHAT IS MEANINGFUL (NOT WHAT IS EXPEDIENT)

  • There is little difference between sacrifice and work. They are also both uniquely human.
  • Both have to do with the ultimate extension of the logic of work—which is sacrifice now, to gain later.
  • It is better to have something than nothing. It’s better yet to share generously the something you have. It’s even better than that, however, to become widely known for generous sharing. That’s something that lasts.
  • The society produced by Christianity was far less barbaric than the pagan—even the Roman—ones it replaced.
  • If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced—then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.
  • It was from this that I drew my fundamental moral conclusions. Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency—your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred.
  • Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering.

RULE 8: TELL THE TRUTH—OR, AT LEAST, DON’T LIE

  • Someone living a life-lie is attempting to manipulate reality with perception, thought and action, so that only some narrowly desired and pre-defined outcome is allowed to exist. A life lived in this manner is based, consciously or unconsciously, on two premises. The first is that current knowledge is sufficient to define what is good, unquestioningly, far into the future. The second is that reality would be unbearable if left to its own devices. The first presumption is philosophically unjustifiable. What you are currently aiming at might not be worth attaining, just as what you are currently doing might be an error. The second is even worse. It is valid only if reality is intrinsically intolerable and, simultaneously, something that can be successfully manipulated and distorted.
  • This kind of oversimplification and falsification is particularly typical of ideologues. They adopt a single axiom: government is bad, immigration is bad, capitalism is bad, patriarchy is bad. Then they filter and screen their experiences and insist ever more narrowly that everything can be explained by that axiom. They believe, narcissistically, underneath all that bad theory, that the world could be put right, if only they held the controls.
  • If you say no to your boss, or your spouse, or your mother, when it needs to be said, then you transform yourself into someone who can say no when it needs to be said. If you say yes when no needs to be said, however, you transform yourself into someone who can only say yes, even when it is very clearly time to say no.
  • What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know.
  • Some reliance on tradition can help us establish our aims. It is reasonable to do what other people have always done, unless we have a very good reason not to. It is reasonable to become educated and work and find love and have a family. That is how culture maintains itself. But it is necessary to aim at your target, however traditional, with your eyes wide open. You have a direction, but it might be wrong. You have a plan, but it might be ill-formed.
  • Set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain about what they should be.
  • Watch and observe while you move forward.
  • Perhaps it is better to conceptualize it this way: Everyone needs a concrete, specific goal—an ambition, and a purpose—to limit chaos and make intelligible sense of his or her life. But all such concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal, which is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves. The meta-goal could be "live in truth.”
  • 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.

RULE 9: ASSUME THAT THE PERSON YOU ARE LISTENING TO MIGHT KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON’T

  • Genuine conversation is exploration, articulation and strategizing. When you’re involved in a genuine conversation, you’re listening, and talking—but mostly listening. Listening is paying attention.
  • Memory is not a description of the objective past. Memory is a tool. Memory is the past’s guide to the future. If you remember that something bad happened, and you can figure out why, then you can try to avoid that bad thing happening again. That’s the purpose of memory.
  • People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking. True thinking is rare—just like true listening. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult. To think, you have to be at least two people at the same time. Then you have to let those people disagree. Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world.
  • Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said.
  • You need good, even great, reasons to ignore or defy general, public opinion.
  • He suggested that his readers conduct a short experiment when they next found themselves in a dispute: "Stop the discussion for a moment, and institute this rule: ‘Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.’"
  • The third advantage to employing the Rogerian method is the difficulty it poses to the careless construction of straw-man arguments. When someone opposes you, it is very tempting to oversimplify, parody, or distort his or her position. This is a counterproductive game, designed both to harm the dissenter and to unjustly raise your personal status.
  • 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.
  • A well-practised and competent public speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing. In this manner, he infers and reacts to the attitude of the entire group (insofar as such a thing exists).

RULE 10: BE PRECISE IN YOUR SPEECH

  • There is little, in a marriage, that is so little that it is not worth fighting about.
  • 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.

RULE 11: DO NOT BOTHER CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE SKATEBOARDING

  • People, including children (who are people too, after all) don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize it.
  • When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop.
  • Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient—negatively—or more independent—positively—than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, at least after both sexes hit puberty. Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in.
  • Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy—by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys’ hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls. Girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friends, even though they might like them, whatever that means.
  • The situation in the universities (and in educational institutions in general) is far more problematic than the basic statistics indicate. If you eliminate the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs (excluding psychology), the female/male ratio is even more skewed. Almost 80 percent of students majoring in the fields of healthcare, public administration, psychology and education, which comprise one-quarter of all degrees, are female. The disparity is still rapidly increasing. At this rate, there will be very few men in most university disciplines in fifteen years. This is not good news for men. It might even be catastrophic news for men. But it’s also not good news for women.
  • Children in father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor. That means their mothers are poor too. Fatherless children are at much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Children living with married biological parents are less anxious, depressed and delinquent than children living with one or more non-biological parent. Children in single-parent families are also twice as likely to commit suicide.
  • In societies that are well-functioning—not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures—competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually.
  • Furthermore, the most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness). There are exceptions. Entrepreneurs and artists are higher in openness to experience, another cardinal personality trait, than in conscientiousness. But openness is associated with verbal intelligence and creativity, so that exception is appropriate and understandable. The predictive power of these traits, mathematically and economically speaking, is exceptionally high—among the highest, in terms of power, of anything ever actually measured at the harder ends of the social sciences.
  • A good battery of personality/cognitive tests can increase the probability of employing someone more competent than average from 50:50 to 85:15.
  • The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously ("you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous") when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s antihuman, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing. No one aiming at moving up would allow him or herself to become possessed by such a thing. And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.

RULE 12: PET A CAT WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER ONE ON THE STREET (DOGS ARE OK TOO)

  • Something supersedes thinking, despite its truly awesome power. When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself. In such situations—in the depths—it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick. Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.
  • And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.

CODA

  • To stand behind my daughter? That’s to encourage her, in everything she wants courageously to do, but to include in that genuine appreciation for the fact of her femininity: to recognize the importance of having a family and children and to forego the temptation to denigrate or devalue that in comparison to accomplishment of personal ambition or career. It’s not for nothing that the Holy Mother and Infant is a divine image—as we just discussed.
  • To act to justify the suffering of your parents is to remember all the sacrifices that all the others who lived before you (not least your parents) have made for you in all the course of the terrible past, to be grateful for all the progress that has been thereby made, and then to act in accordance with that remembrance and gratitude.
  • To encourage my son to be a true Son of God? That is to want him above all to do what is right, and to strive to have his back while he is doing so.
  • What shall I do when my enemy succeeds? Aim a little higher and be grateful for the lesson.
  • What shall I do in the next dire moment? Focus my attention on the next right move.