In life, there is a constant struggle between order and chaos.
As human beings, we crave order and meaning in our lives in order to help us deal with the chaos and uncertainty we face on a day-to-day basis.
In order to help us better deal with the realities of the world we live in, Jordan Peterson (Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto) gives us his 12 Rules For Living.
Join me for the next 10 minutes as we explore those rules and how you can apply them to achieve the life you’ve always dreamed of.
Rule 1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
Peterson starts off the book by discussing lobsters and how the pecking order is determined at the bottom of the ocean.
Basically, they determine the pecking order by fighting each other. Except, most of the fights are determined before any punches (or claw slams?) are thrown.
When the lobsters come face to face, they size each other up. Most of the time, it’s clear who the more dominant lobster is.
As Peterson describes it, they are easy to pick out of a lobster line-up: they are a cocky, strutting sort of shellfish and they are much less likely to back down when challenged.
Of course, this is a metaphor for how things work in the real world for us. If you walk around with a straight back and your shoulders back, other people will view that as a signal of confidence. People conveying confidence get treated differently than people who convey weakness (slouched posture, shoulders slumped forward).
It’s a virtuous cycle, because the social reinforcement of being treated better will lead you to become more confident.
So, stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
As Peterson points out, most people are better at filling prescriptions for their dogs than themselves. I personally have a dog that is on two medications, one of which is for anxiety and he gets treated as good or better than anybody else in my family.
Why is it that we are willing to take better care of others – even animals – than we are ourselves?
The only answer, Peterson says, is that we don’t believe that we are worth helping.
This is a mindset we must change if we want to get the most out of our lives.
So take a look at your life and ask yourself some simple questions, starting with this one:
“What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly?”
Then, make a promise to do those things for yourself, no matter what.
Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you.
This rule follows from the previous one. One of the best things you can do to help yourself is to make friends with people who want the best for you.
You can’t choose your family, but you can and should choose your friends.
Here’s a question that Peterson suggests we ask ourselves:
“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 yourself?”
Instead, surround yourself with people who support you and want to see you succeed. You’ll push each other to do more and better things with your lives and you’ll be there to remind each other to smarten up if you become cynical or when you mistreat yourselves.
In short, good friends will make you a better person and because you want the best for yourself, from now on you’ll choose them carefully.
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
This rule (like anything worth doing in life, really) falls into the bucket of easy to say, but hard to do.
Mass media has been giving us distorted views of what “the best” in every field looks like – standards of beauty, wealth, marriage, and so on – for decades.
These days we also need to contend with the constant stream of people posting only the best of their lives to their social media accounts, leaving us all with the distinct impression that it’s hard or impossible to measure up.
As Peterson points out, we are all unique individuals, dealing with unique sets of circumstances in distinct stages of our lives. Because of that, there is no definitive bar that you need to compare yourself against.
Instead, compare yourself to something that you have direct control over – where you are today compared to where you were yesterday.
If you don’t like what you see, make some changes. Today. Not tomorrow.
Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Nobody likes to think of their children as doing things that make people dislike them and getting a parent to admit – even temporarily – that they don’t like their kids, is almost impossible.
However, it’s true that sometimes your children do things that would make other people dislike them. This is easy to prove. Think back to a time when somebody else’s child was throwing a tantrum, and you thought “I would never let my child act like that in public.”
Peterson gives us sound advice here. Talk to your partner about what you like and dislike about your children. Once you’ve clarified those things, make your children behave like you expect them to.
You love your children, and if you are being honest, there are things that they do you dislike. If their actions have that kind of effect on you, imagine the effect they’ll have on people who don’t love them like you do.
This exercise is ultimately doing your children a huge favour.
Rule 6: Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticise The World
When things go wrong in your life, take 100% accountability for the results.
It’s easy to blame your circumstances or other people for the bad things that happen to you.
This principle has nothing to do with what is fair and just – this is a principle about what works.
Get to work finding the things in your life that you know you should stop doing, and stop doing them. Make peace with your estranged family member before you give other people relationship advice. And so forth.
You can use your own standard of judgement here, and for heaven’s sake don’t waste time questioning things that you know are wrong. Just stop doing them, immediately.
Keep on going until you have your house in perfect order, and then, and only then, turn your attention to criticising the outside world.
The point, obviously, is that it’s more helpful to fix yourself than try to fix other people or circumstances.
A great side benefit is that it’ll help in creating the right level of humility in your life.
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
When we focus only on doing what is expedient in the moment, we transfer bad outcomes to our future selves, or even worse, other people.
When we pursue what is meaningful, we often find ourselves doing the exact opposite – giving up something today so that something better might be attained in the future.
Meaning emerges when our impulses are regulated, organised and unified.
The ultimate meaning is to strive to make the world a better place. Not just for you, but for everybody.
Peterson suggests that when we do this, we’ll experience ever deepening meaning. It’s not happiness, or bliss, but something different.
It requires courage and sacrifice to pursue what is meaningful over what is expedient.
Rule 8: Tell the truth. Or, at least, don’t lie
Why not lie?
That’s the question that Peterson poses at the heart of this section.
Why not lie and distort the truth to smooth things over with people, to avoid conflict or hurting people’s feelings?
Because when we do, things fall apart.
He’s not only talking about the lies that we speak out loud, but also the lies that we live out.
He asks us to imagine going to engineering school because our parents want us to, even though we don’t want to.
We start telling ourselves that, yes, in fact, I did want to be an engineer after all. Those little lies require other little lies to prop it up, until eventually, one day, everything falls apart.
Instead, try telling the truth. Be the person you want to be.
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
Here is my favourite line in the whole book:
“You already know what you know, after all – and, unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough.”
Another way to think about this is that instead of walking around trying to show everybody how much you know, walk around in a continual search for things you don’t.
Quite often the person sitting across the table will surprise you with a golden nugget of wisdom you can take away and use to get better results in your life.
The most effective way to listen is to summarise what people have said to you and ask them if you have understood properly. Sometimes you’ll hit the nail on the head, sometimes you’ll need a small correction and other times you’ll miss the point completely.
The only thing that’s sure to happen when you follow this rule is that you’ll learn something valuable.
Rule 10: Be precise in your speech.
Being precise helps you in many ways.
First, it ensures that you are properly understood. The less you leave for interpretation, in most cases, the better. This is really helpful, for instance, when you are talking about things that are bothering you in a relationship.
Second, being precise about defining problems you are facing turns chaos into something you can deal with.
For instance, Peterson suggests that if we had cancer, we’d want to know exactly what kind it was, where it was, and precisely how we would get it treated. This is the same approach, he suggests, that we should use for any problems we have in life.
Third, being precise in what you want out of life is the best way to ensure that you get it. Once you are precise about what you want, you can go out and get it, correct course when you aren’t making progress and ultimately end up at your destination.
Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
This section is about how parents these days have become over protective, because we want to protect our children from danger.
As long as you take the right precautions – like wearing a helmet when you are skateboarding to avoid turning your brain into mush – it’s ok to push the limits to see what you are made of. Even if you happen to skin your knees.
We need our children to push their boundaries to see what they are made of. It’s the only way to grow.
We might also consider taking on this advice for ourselves, too.
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
Finally, we need to learn to appreciate the small things in life when they come our way.
Life is tough and much of it consists of figuring out how to get through the suffering.
If you are paying attention, even on your worst days, you just might find some magic. Like, as Peterson points out, a little girl dancing on the street because she is dressed up in a ballet costume. Or when you unexpectedly encounter a friendly cat on the street.
Then, even if it’s only for a few seconds, you’ll understand that moments like those make everything else worth it.
Hope you enjoyed this summary. Leave a comment if you did.
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