12 Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson

Today’s world can be chaotic and unpredictable. We often study ancient philosophy to help us attempt to understand universal truths. This book covers 12 general and universal rules to help one through life’s difficult events, and give our life meaning.

Rule #1: Stand Up Straight (Posture)

Society is hierarchical, since ancient times. Norwegian zoologist: Thorleif Shjelderup-Ebbe studied chickens in the 1920s and defined the term: “the pecking order”. He observed that the same alpha chickens always got to peck at the chicken feed first. The weakest chickens only got the leftovers and got to peck last. Most species in the animal kingdom have their own pecking order.

When studying competition between lobsters, scientists determined that those with the highest levels of Serotonin to Octopamine were more competitive and even had better posture and quickness. These lobsters would often fight for the best spot to hide from predators.

Humans follow the same rules as lobsters. Those with the most physical prowess, best posture and physicality are perceived to be most intelligent and successful as a result. If you want to give yourself an advantage, stand up straight, and maintain strong posture, so that you are perceived as a winner.

Rule #2: Love yourself just as much as you love the special people in your life.

We often beat ourselves up because we are aware of our own weaknesses deep down inside. This causes us not to take good care of ourselves. For example: we may frequently ignore doctors’ advice or medication prescriptions.

We often have internal guilt, self-doubt and a feeling that we don’t deserve amazing outcomes for ourselves. This dates back all the way to the story of Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit. We therefore may think that we are evil by nature and not deserving of good things.

Another way to look at the world, however, is that it’s corrupt, chaotic or complex, and not just we are evil. The notion of the Yin-Yang talks about balance and that both sides in a balanced equation have a smaller part of the opposite side in them. The answer, therefore, is balance and remaining in the center of light and dark, without moving too far in either direction.

An example of “moving too far in the light side” is being overprotective over your child. By being this way, you are depriving them of exploration, their own richness of experience, and weakening them by imposing “too much order” through your own tyranny.

Don’t strive for perfect order as it’s impossible. Chaos in life is inevitable. Try to do what is objectively good for you rather than what satisfies you. This is done by going through the difficult steps of figuring out what your direction should be in order to reach your goals.

Rule #3: Choose your friends and co-workers wisely

The people you spend time with and your friends have more impact on you than you realize. If you put a low performer into a team of high performers, you would think that the lower performer’s habits would improve. Studies have shown, however, that in reality the rest of the team will instead get weaker by adopting bad habits from the lower performer.

Jordan Peterson also observed from personal experience that each time he returned to his hometown in Alberta to visit his childhood friend, he noticed his friend’s gradual disappointing descent into mediocrity and regret, because his friends were all slackers and bums.

You should consciously choose your friends and pick those that would not drag you down, but help you up when you need it. Negative, cynical, lazy or permanently skeptical friends will affect your mindset, and you will be in an uphill battle of trying to drag them along.

Rule #4: Compare yourself to past versions of yourself and not to other people.

It’s natural to want to improve ourselves in order to get to a brighter future. A trap one can fall into, however, is when you start comparing yourself to other people who have a totally different situation from yours. The internet erased all borders, so there is an unlimited supply of those people to compare yourself to. This can paralyze you and sap your motivation to improve yourself.

Focus on incremental daily improvement. Avoid looking at individual components that are stronger in other people, because that may needlessly exaggerate those elements in relation to the bigger picture of your long term goals. If you for example suddenly find that you are less productive compared to your co-workers, you have to also consider other factors in your life that went well, such as your family life. Judging yourself negatively without proper perspective may falsely make you feel like you’re a failure.

Don’t compare yourself to others at all, instead compare yourself to your past results. If all you see is perfect performance in the past, it most likely means your goals aren’t big enough, and you should be failing a lot more. Inspect your performance “from the outside” as an external auditor. Make a list of what’s going well and what’s not, and identify important issues versus ones that are superficial. Focusing on yourself on this level of detail will also prevent yourself from caring about others and their progress.

Rule #5: As a parent, it’s your job to raise a child that’s kind and responsible.

Children have some aggressive instincts from birth, and we have to work on helping them become civilized, kind and gentle. Children also are programmed naturally to push boundaries so they can find out how far they can go. Just read “Lord of the Flies” to see what happens when kids are left to their own devices. We can’t just be a friend to our child. We have to raise them to be likeable and responsible. If we teach them early on, they will have a head start on life, and won’t have to go through bad experiences in later years to learn the same fundamental concepts.

Jordan’s rules for parenting are three-fold:

  1. Limit Rules. Keep the rules down to only the most important ones, such as: No fighting unless you absolutely have to, in self defence.
  2. Use the least force necessary for an appropriate punishment in each situation. In some situations, even a talk and an expression of disappointment will be enough to make the child understand. In others, they could be deprived of TV or video games for days on end.
  3. Parents must be united in their decisions, so that the child does not manipulate one parent against the other. You may make errors in judgement while parenting, and your spouse can help catch and correct that, if they are supportive.

Rule #6: The world isn’t fair, but we shouldn’t blame others for our situation.

Famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy also thought that life was hugely unfair and full of horror. He listed four options to living life in our tough world in his essay: “A Confession”:

  1. Remain ignorant like a child.
  2. Only pursue pleasure and follow your desires.
  3. Commit suicide.
  4. Struggle through it, and try your best.

Tolstoy actually says that suicide is the most honest option. There were people responsible for terrible mass shootings, such as the Columbine school massacre, that followed this school of thought, but also took other people’s lives with them.

Although Tolstoy’s world view is dark, there is another Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who decided to reject the cruelty of life, and make the most of what he had.

Solzhenitsyn fought in World War II against Germany, but has been betrayed and imprisoned by his own political party and sent to Soviet labor camps for a life sentence. While there, he also found out he had cancer. Despite all this, he did not blame the outside world because of his situation, and still strived to do good in the world. He wrote a transformative book “The Gulag Archipelago” that colourfully describes the horrors of the Soviet concentration camps from first hand experience. This book discredited Stalin’s inhumane and oppressive regime to the rest of the world forever.

Rule #7: Seek meaning and goal achievement over short term pleasure.

This goes much deeper than “just working for a paycheque so you can go on vacation later”. If you have large, long-term and ambitious goals, you often need to make serious sacrifices in order to accomplish them. The bigger the sacrifices, the bigger the rewards at the end.

There are people who party hard and go for pleasures that are not in their long term best interests. They use such actions as a coping mechanism to justify the fact that the world is tough and unfair. Therefore seeing the world in a negative light is more likely to make you justify binge eating, drinking heavily, use of drugs, or excessive sexual indulgence.

Other people are un-willing to sacrifice anything in the short term for the sake of their long term goals. Rewards only come if you stick with something for long enough, and make sacrifices in order to get it.

Rule #8: It’s easy to lie to ourselves. We should be truthful instead.

It’s easy to lie to yourself through rationalization. Friedrich Nietzsche said that the strength of your spirit is defined by how much raw truth you can tolerate.

One of the main reasons we lie to ourselves is to make ourselves believe that our poorly thought out goal became reality. A real plan must always have concrete steps that take you to its destination. If the goal is too ambiguous, then it’s also easy to rationalize to ourselves that perhaps we don’t really want it, or come up with artificial reasons of why we can’t have it.

One ignorant perspective is to think that you already know everything there is to know about a subject. This is harmful because it impedes further growth.

There are also worst case scenarios where you may find out that a large part of your life is a lie. In such s case, we may need to stop, re-evaluate, question and challenge the truths we believe in. This includes adjusting our existing goals based on updated understanding of the world.

If you feel a lot of negative emotions such as worthlessness, weakness, or fear, re-examine what the reasons for them may be, and re-evaluate your personal truths. Embracing reality is necessary, so that you can adjust course.

Rule #9: Conversation is for learning and growth, and not for competition.

Socrates was an ancient philosopher who is still regarded to this day as one of the wisest men of all time. He understood that he knew nothing, therefore he was permanently hungry for conversation and learning.

Conversation is an extension of thought. When you talk to yourself, you try to present both sides of an argument, while trying to stay objective. The best conversations are where both parties adjust course because they are learning new truths about the topic. While people trade opinions, they actively challenge their preconceptions, and it may feel uncomfortable to do so, especially when it involves long-ingrained opinions.

It’s psychologically more comfortable to validate your own preconception in conversation than to accept it as false. This is why many conversations end up being arguments that function as a contest, rather than a learning opportunity.

One great strategy for having healthy conversations is to listen to what the other person said carefully, then re-phrase it back to them, and build your response on top of their point. Firstly, this lets the other person know that you heard and understood their entire argument, and not just the part of it that supports your own points. Secondly, repetition and re-phrasing is a great memorization technique for yourself.

Every time you hear a painful point in conversation because it disproved your previous beliefs, be thankful for that, because you are in the process of growing.

A common question to frequently ask yourself is: “How was I wrong?”. The answer may be painful, but it brings truth, growth, and ultimately satisfaction.

Rule #10: Use Clear and Precise language

Being exact and precise with your language makes life easier by solving individual problems more efficiently. For example: if your life partner does something that bothers you, like makes a mess in the kitchen, you can be honest and precise with them about it, and work towards a solution.

If you’re sick, then being precise with your language about the symptoms can help you get to the cure faster.

Life is actually very complex, but we can’t think of all those complexities all the time. It’s only natural that we simplify it down to its component parts, such as “a car”. We don’t need to think about the thousands of parts used in the car. However, when you break down on the side of the road, there is suddenly more value in understanding what exactly went wrong. (Is it a dead battery, a flat tire, or an overheated engine because the oil level is low?)

We often only see the parts of life that have direct impact on us, but not their components. Many times in our life, we need to deep-dive into solving a problem that became complex, but seemed simple at first, and using Precise Language helps do so better.

Rule #11: Avoid suppressing basic human nature.

Many educational institutions around the world today focus on tearing down “male macho culture” and male-dominated leadership called “the patriarchy”. A popular proponent of this movement is Max Horkheimer who is focused on dismantling the notion of the “powerful ruling male”, instead of empowerment of women. Jordan is critical of this view because it’s not constructive and focuses on destruction.

Jordan argues that strong and aggressive male attitudes have their place in healthy competition and high risk occupations. He states that suppressing male dominant behaviour has negative effects that are manifested in other undesired ways. He is generally against emasculation, and believes every child should be allowed to explore independently. If prevented to do so, they risk becoming a needy adult with the mind of a child.

An example Jordan gives is when the University of Toronto prohibited skateboarding on campus. It was done to encourage safety by forbidding an inherently risky activity. Jordan argues this did more harm than good, because taking risks allows for exploration and self-confidence.

Jordan stands strictly against the notion that gender is a social invention.

Rule #12: Celebrate the small wins in life

Life can have a lot of suffering. Jordan’s daughter had severe arthritis since age 6. She required multiple joint replacement operations, frequent injections and therapy. She eventually improved her condition after finding a different physiotherapist. Taking care of his daughter, Jordan thought about the meaning of suffering and the appreciation of times of peace.

Jordan argues that life is full of waves that have peaks and valleys. Without the tough valleys, you can’t appreciate the peaks. You also want to be appreciating those peaks, so that you are in a stronger mental position to deal with the valleys when they come. Suffering in life gives us meaning so that we can persevere. It makes our moments of happiness that much better. Our times of joy would not be as significant without previous suffering which we had to work to overcome.


Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

This is a defining book on the subject of Stoic philosophy and is the personal journal of Marcus Aurelius who was emperor of Rome between 161 and 180 AD, and the most powerful man in the world. This personal diary was never meant to be published. Emperor Marcus Aurelius is remembered as one of the most influential stoic philosophers.

There was a period of prosperity in the Roman Empire starting around 100 AD, after a lot of hardship and turmoil. During this period of peace and prosperity, there were 5 roman emperors. Marcus Aurelius was the last of these “Five Good Emperors”.

Stoicism is a greek school of thought that focuses on self-control, rationality and calmness to deal with large challenges and negative emotions. Here we look at all major elements of stoicism and Marcus’ interpretation of them.

  • “Logos” is a stoic concept that means “reason” pioneered by Aristotle and Heraclitus.
  • Logos makes up everything physical in the world: our environment, ourselves, all events and the general notion of order in the world.
  • Logos determines people’s status in society, and rationalizes their current standing relative to other people. It embraces the fact that some are given preferential treatment over others.
  • Logos is constantly evolving and advancing our world and our universe. It’s a master plan for everyone that lives.
  • Logos gives us the notion of a “greater purpose” even if we may not be religious. Marcus Aurelius stayed calm and content even after losing most of his family and facing uprisings from his citizens, believing that it’s all part of a larger master plan of Logos.
  • Death should not be feared. It’s inevitable.
  • Logos states that there is “recycling of essence” of those who die into other young living beings.
  • There are millions of hypothetical things that could kill you. It’s a useless exercise to be afraid of all of them.
  • You could die frail of old age, or in a war, or from an unforeseen accident. It’s all the same in front of Logos and the natural order of things.
  • The emperor frequently reminded himself that he was going to die and forced himself to embrace that fact.
  • Since we can only control the events that occur in the present time, we must focus on our current efforts. There is no point in worrying about hypothetical scenarios.
  • There is also no point in complaining, because action to rectify a situation is more useful.
  • Complaining causes suffering to others. Marcus felt it was not fair to expose them to that, so he did not complain when having to do things he hated, such as holding court.
  • Stoicism focuses on the scarcity of time, and the shortness of your life, so it discourages over-sleeping or laziness.
  • Even though people often wasted Marcus’ time with small talk or arguments, he was at peace with that because it too was part of Logos and his greater purpose.
  • Think rationally and not emotionally.
  • Be calm, analytical and logical. Do not let desires, emotions and feelings throw you off or affect your clarity.
  • Every event has many perspectives. Be prepared to examine them, and focus on the positive ones.
  • A perception of an event is more important than the event itself. Your mind can overcome the negative feelings that event brings, by viewing it from a different angle.
  • If a bad event happens to you, keep in mind the notion of serendipity and opportunity that got created by fate for you, when dealing with the aftermath of that event.
  • Emotional desires and obsessions will skew how your mind works, and introduce confusion.
  • Marcus fought feelings like lust, revenge and hatred, instead focusing on a reasonable, calm and collected response. His primary objective was to remain an effective ruler.
  • Marcus frequently reflected and meditated on Logos, what it meant, and how he fit into its greater picture.
  • Some people suffer unbearable physical pain, sickness, danger and torture. Even these things were necessary for Logos to continue, and were meant to happen.
  • Marcus had 13 children, but lost most of them at infancy. His wife also died at a young age. He was able to cope with these losses by focusing on Logos and requiring clarity from his mind. Perhaps practicing dealing with loss can make you more resilient in the long term.
  • We have full control of our own actions and in that there is freedom. Complaining and claiming to be unlucky is disrespecting the natural order of things, and refusing to accept reality as it unfolds.
  • If you make the best actions you could according to your own choices, then there can not be any regret or suffering as a result of your own actions.
  • Taking the high road of kindness, fairness and dignity is always the right choice, when responding to any person’s action and elevates those around you.
  • All things happen for a reason – which is an all-encompassing governing force around society and the world.