12 Rules for Life

For those of you who haven't read the book, go buy it, as for the others, it is a good refresher of the principles.

For those of you who haven't read the book, go buy it, as for the others, it is a good refresher of the following principles.

The Rules:

1. Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back

Some people have bad posture and that is much more meaningful than you may have thought it would be. Peterson takes the behavior of lobsters as an example. Lobsters can change their behavior according to their serotonin/octopamine levels. Lobsters fight all the time. When a lobster wins, it’s serotonin levels go up in contrast with octopamine levels. On the other hand, low serotonin/high octopamine lobsters are characterized as losers and are very likely to vanish at the first hint of challenge that would bring them trouble.

A similar effect applies to people. As soon as we meet someone, we size him up to see where they fit in the social hierarchy. When serotonin levels fall, depression appears and also a tendency to form a hump as you walk becomes visible to others. Instinctively, they are very likely to think low of you, making you one of the easiest targets if they decide to take advantage of someone. Acting like a loser will make people think of you as a loser. Fixing your posture may be very simple, but very important at the same time to help you get started back up again.

So, stand up straight with your shoulders back and dare to express your thoughts and desires. You have at least the same right as others, if not bigger sometimes.

2. Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping

Peterson states the fact how most people have self-contempt and there are many times that they don’t even realise it. In fact, on most occasions people take care of their family, friends and even their pets but neglect their own self. Of course, helping those you love and care about and taking some responsibilities on behalf of them is very good, but we must realise that we must do the same thing for ourselves, for our own good too. This may be something simple such as keeping our room and things clean or something much deeper such as having self-respect and considering ourselves an important person with potential, rights and desires.

Besides, the more we look after ourselves the more healthy and powerful we’ll be to support the ones we care. On the contrary, if we neglect ourselves then we’ll make a pattern of bad mistakes, our life will get worse not only for us but for people around us too. A person’s actions echo, sometimes in ways that cannot be imagined.

3. Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You

Almost every person has two kinds of families. The one that he is born with and the one that he chooses by himself. Friends. The selection of these important people is not to be taken lightly as they often have an impact in our life. It is your obligation to keep away people who are making your life worse or hurting you. It is your right to decide who should be close to you and who shouldn’t. There are no ethical dilemmas about that. If you have a friendship that you wouldn’t recommend to someone, then why are you still keeping it? End it, now!

So why many people are not making good choices? That’s because surrounding yourself with good and healthy people is harder than the opposite. Being good and healthy requires strength, daring and the determination to choose the difficult, but right paths. Consequently, standing up near such a person you have to be strong, daring and determined person, ready to accept some harsh criticism from time to time which would benefit you.

On the other hand, being around bad and unhealthy people is much easier to choose. Being on bottom is much more convenient than being on top. Bad people will make you adopt laziness, easy unhealthy life, pity, tolerating being hurt or even hurting others for your benefit.

4. Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else is Today

People always have the tendency to compare themselves to other persons who seem or happen to be more successful and have a better life. Even if you see or believe that someone you know is living a better life than yours, comparison is meaningless and unhelpful especially when you are a grown up. Besides, you never know what different problems he is facing or whether he is very happy or not, since you only see a slice of his life.

What’s really beneficial, is to focus on yourself, on your life and its surroundings. Seek what’s bothering you in order to change or improve it and honestly think whether or not you are able to do something about it. If it’s not something within your power then leave it alone and focus on something else, with lower demands. Moreover, you can’t always change your life for the better in just a couple of days. Some things require some time and effort. Take one step every time and live by the thought that you are in a better shape than yesterday and that you’ll eventually reach higher and higher, if not the top.

5. Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them

Parents are human beings too, meaning that they are not perfect and they can easily make mistakes which can affect their kids. Parents are not always as nice as they think. People often will take revenge on someone who messes them up, even on their own children, because it happens unconsciously. You might think, “oh this is impossible, I’d never do anything to hurt my kid”, but all people have a subconscious proclivity for tyranny deeply rooted within them and that tyranny is more likely to be shown against someone who is much less powerful than you, e.g. your children. So, hunger, stress, fatigue or even a bad day at work are more than enough to make you lose your temper and become unreasonable over your children.

Peterson states some principles on disciplinary procedure. Parents should limit the rules and secondly use the least possible force to enforce them. They also need to understand how much they should be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful or angry each time in front of their kids. Parents are somewhat of proxies for the real world who will teach and prepare their children to be socially desirable for the world outside.

6. Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World

Wherever we look, we see many abnormalities and a lot of things to complain about. It’s true that life is tragic, for most people at least, and surely there is malevolence. However, if we dwell on it there is no benefit at all since we become more and more resentful. Cursing and criticizing all the time is pointless and we should start taking more meaningful actions.

First of all, we have to correct ourselves. Being busy of criticizing the society all the time makes you neglect yourself and you ignore that you may be similar to what you are despising. So, take a good care of yourself first, stop doing anything that you know to be wrong and start doing and saying only things that make you proud. The first step is to bring peace to your household and after that you can criticize the state and attempt to contribute to change the society you are living in for the best.

7. Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient)

Meaning is about the way you protect yourself from all the suffering that life entails. All people get emotionally wounded by life so they have to find something to make that pain worthwhile. According to Peterson, meaning is like an instinct or a form of vision that lets you know whether you are in the right place or not. The right place is somewhere in between chaos and order. Staying safe within order all the time and facing only things you understand then you won’t develop any further and won’t grow. On the other hand, if you stay within chaos then you’ll get lost. The best choice is to leave your safe point and try to risk for anything that’s worthwhile, without losing your path to chaos though.

Expediency is what people do to get themselves out of trouble here and now, but the drawback of this is that they sacrifice the future for the present. That means that expediency is only good for temporarily escaping your problems. In order to countermeasure this, aim high. Stop doing whatever will make you avoid your problems temporarily and try to see around. Understand what things you can improve and improve them. You’ll eventually gain knowledge and more experience but be cautious not to fall in the trap of becoming arrogant and remain humble.

Peterson also mentions the importance of being aware of our weaknesses. These may be our secret resentments, cowardice, hatred and other failings. Learn to be lenient when you accuse others because all people conceal evil impulses.

8. Tell The Truth—or, at least, Don't Lie.

One of the hardest things to do sometimes is telling the truth. Truth can be harsh and there are also times difficult to sense it. However, it’s very easy for us to know when we are lying. Consequently, when we don’t know the truth or we find it hard to tell it, then the next best option we have is to simply not lie. Truth is very important in our lives as it is associated with meaning, according to Peterson. Only truth can bring you out of trouble, maybe not immediately sometimes, but on the long run you’ll have everyone’s trust. There will be cases that you won’t know what to do but remember this: Start by just telling the truth! It will make it easier to face any situation.

On the other hand, lying makes you weak. Most of the times, the moment you lie you start immediately feeling strange, weak and insecure. The others can sense it too and start doubting you. Even if they happen to not be able to prove you wrong, you still are not satisfied because you know you’re lying and you’re fake. Lying is the antithesis of meaning and reality. The only thing you could achieve by lying is only get away from a situation, but only temporarily. As Peterson says: “It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.”

9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't.

When people argue about something, they often fall in the trap of trying to win over that argument and miss the true point of a good conversation. That is to come out wiser than you went into it. First of all, winning over an argument does not necessarily mean that your thinking was smarter. If you happen to be more verbally fluent than your interlocutor chances are against him even though he might be wiser than you, because as long as he cannot express his opinions with ease he can’t win because you don’t give him fair chances to win. And as mentioned before: It’s not about winning.

The best thing to do is to take a good advantage of what someone is trying to tell you. Give him a chance to fully explain and make you understand what he is exactly thinking. Who knows maybe in the end you could find his ideas or suggestions better than some of yours and prevent you from facing future problems. Peterson even says to listen to your enemies. Surely, they will lie about you, but also be sure that they will be frank about things that your friends might not see or don’t want to tell. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

10. Be Precise in Your Speech

According to Peterson there is an undivided connection between communication and reality. Language takes what’s unknown from chaos and gives it a name making it into a thing. Once that thing is addressed with a name then you can control it. A simple example would be the feeling of touch. Imagine that you see a pot in front of you for the first time. Without touching it you don’t know what’s wrong with it. Once you touch it you feel it’s too hot to hold it for too long. So, you give it a “name”, a hot pot. Now you can do something about it and use a pair of heatproof gloves to do your job.

On the other hand, the unnameable is terrifying, at least much more than the nameable. As an example, the movie “The Ring” didn’t describe and name the evil at all. Objectively speaking, in this movie the scary scenes are very few in number in comparison with other horror thrillers. It’s all about the unnameable. If you can’t name something then that makes it more terrifying to you. It also makes you feel weaker against it if you don’t actually know what it is.

That’s why, according to Peterson, precise speech is important. I can bring things out of the realm of unspeakable. Words are not to be underestimated as they have a creative power. Don’t create more mark and darkness by imprecise speech.

11. Don’t Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding

This rule is essentially about masculinity. Peterson tells us that when children do all kinds of these crazy stuff on skateboards and handrails, we should let them be. Of course, it might be dangerous but it’s important for them to develop masculinity, competence and face danger. Normally, a lot of rebellious behavior in school is called “toxic masculinity” but Peterson believes that the benefits are bigger than the probable problematic situations.

When people are untrammeled and feel encouraged they prefer to live on the edge. By living this way, they can be confident in their experience and confront chaos that helps them develop. They’re made for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of them more than others). Besides, overprotected they will fail when something dangerous or unexpected will suddenly occur, which inevitably will happen sometime.

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

This final rule is mainly autobiographical and Peterson tells us about tragedy and pain. When tragic things are in front of us and we’re powerless, we must keep our eyes open for those little things that make life worthwhile. The title of this chapter is inspired from the author’s experience of observing a local stray cat and watching it adapt to its surroundings in a harsh environment.

When you feel that your life is screwed up there is a way to make it easier to handle until you make it back on your feet. That is to shorten your temporal horizon. Stop thinking about what’s going to happen in the next months. Think about what and how you can improve today’s day or maybe just the next hours. Shrink the time frame until you can eventually handle the rest of it and this is how you adjust to devastation. It’s very important to not give up. Even in worst situations, even if you’re at a place you’d rather not be, always try to look for what’s meaningful and worthwhile.

In a Nutshell

Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back
Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping
Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You
Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else is Today
Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them
Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World
Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient)
Tell The Truth—or, at least, Don't Lie.
Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't
Be Precise in Your Speech
Don’t Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding
Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

This summary doesn't do real justice to the book, I would recommend for those who haven't read it yet to go buy it.

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