12 Rules for Life

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Jul 27 2020 | Psychology

Author: Jordan Peterson



One sentence summary

The antidote to life's chaos and suffering is the voluntary adoption of responsibility - meaning.

Why you should read it

Eye-opening and thought-provoking book by my favourite psychologist - the prolific Dr Jordan Peterson. I've learn more about myself and people from reading this book than I have reading any other book. And I've already read it twice. Are there proper and meaningful ways to live? Peterson says yes. Here's to living a meaningful life.



Without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions - and there's nothing freeing about that.

We all have to deal with the unknown, and we all attempt to move from chaos to order.
Plans have to change depending on the reality of the situation.


Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power (hubris), a simple-minded I know it all approach is no match for the complexity of existence.


Triumphant heroes have to go into the unknown, into an unexplored territory, and deal with a new great challenge, take great risks. In the process, something of himself has to die, or be given up, so he can be reborn and meet the challenge. Heroism requires courage.

The foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life.

Meaning is found on the border between the pair of order and chaos. To walk that border is to stay on the path of life, the divine Way.

We experience much of our positive emotion in relation to goals.

We aren't happy unless we see ourselves progressing - the very idea of progression implies value.

Meaning of life without positive value isn't just neutral. We're vulnerable and mortal, pain and anxiety are integral part of human existence.

Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Take on responsibility and voluntarily decide to transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order in life.

Defensive and aggressive behaviours are built right into our nervous systems. It's biological.

The dominance hierarchy has been around for half a billion years. It's older than trees.

There's a primordial calculator, at the very foundation of your brain, far below your thoughts and feelings. It monitors exactly where you are positioned in society.

If you can bite (have the potential to be aggressive; fight back), you generally don't have to.

To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the responsibility of life. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order.

Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

The capacity for good and evil runs down every single person.

Understand your own individual Hell and decide against going there or creating it - that makes your life meaningful.

What we subjectively experience can be likened much more to a novel or a movie than to a scientific description of physical reality.

Chaos is all those things and situations we neither know nor understand.

In order, we're able to think about the long term. Things work, and we're stable, calm and competent.

Humans have a great capacity for wrongdoing, for malevolent actions.

Everyday heroism is the rule, rather than the exception.

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.

Take Stock

We only see what we aim at. The rest of the world is mostly hidden. If we start to aim at something different - "I want my life to be better" - our minds will start presenting us with new information, derived from the previously hidden world, to aid us in that pursuit.

Ask yourself, habitually, "What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better?

Make Friends with people who want the best for you

Not all who fail are victims, not all at the bottom wants to rise. The desire to improve is the precondition for progress.

Before you help someone, you should find out why that person's in trouble. Don't assume he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation.

Rogers, humanistic psychologist, believed it was impossible to start a therapeutic relationship if the person seeking help didn't want to improve.

If you surround yourself with people who support your upward aim, they won't tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness.

It takes strength and courage to stand up near an Ideal person, because your inadequacies are revealed and won't be tolerated.

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

There are many games in life that match your strengths, talents, situation that comparison to others is inappropriate.

We're not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce very much of everything. Winners don't take all, but they take most, and the bottom isn't a good place to be. People are unhappy at the bottom. They get sick there, remain unknown and unloved. They waste their lives there.

Many good games

There's not just one game in life at which to succeed or fail. There are many good games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, sustain and even improve themselves across time.

If you don't succeed at one game, you can try another. You can pick something better matched to your unique mix of strengths, weaknesses and situation. If changing games doesn't work, invent a new one.

Growing might be the most important form of winning.
Upward trajectory across time should take precedence over victory (winning) in the present.

The multitude of games you're playing are so unique to you, so individual, that comparison to others is simply inappropriate.

Once you're an adult, you're a singular being. You have your own particular specific problems - financial, intimate, psychological, etc. You must decide how much of your time to spend on this and that. You must decide what to let go, and what to pursue.

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Children must be shaped and informed through discipline and encouragement, or they cannot thrive.

Children can be damaged as much or more by a lack of attention as they are by abuse, mental or physical.

Minimum Necessary Force

Two general principles of discipline:

1. Limit the rules.

2. Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.

Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world

Life is suffering and filled with tragedy. People make it worse through corruption and tyranny.

You can make your life better just by doing the things you could do and would do.

Life is in truth very hard. Everyone is destined for pain and slated for destruction.

If you are suffering - that's the norm. People are limited and life is tragic. If your suffering is unbearable, however, and you are starting to become corrupted, pay attention.

Clean up your life

Start cleaning up your life by taking full advantage of the opportunities offered to you.

If you haven't cleaned up your life, try this: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong.

Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

The successful delay gratification and sacrifice for a better future.

By being disciplined and privileging the future over the present, you change reality in your favour.

Life's tragedy and suffering has been used to justify the pursuit of immediate selfish gratification for a very long time.

To alleviate suffering, forego expediency and pursue meaning by adopting responsibility.

Man's capacity for evil amplifies the catastrophe of life, increases the motivation for expediency already there because of the essential tragedy of Being.

Ideas have consciousness, will to power, motivation and action. They have a value structure.

Freud and Jung posited that the human psyche was battlegrounds for ideas.

Tell the truth - or, at least, don't lie

If you won't reveal yourself to others, you can't reveal yourself to yourself.

This doesn't only mean you suppress who you are, it means that so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward.

The greatest temptation of the rational mind is to glorify its own capacity and and to believe that there is nothing to be learnt beyond its domain of knowledge.

Be willing to learn from what you don't know.

Never sacrifice what you could be for what you are.

The better ambitions are the development of character and ability, rather than status and power.

You can lose status and power, but you carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity.

When you are aiming towards your goal, don't lie, especially to yourself.

It's our responsibility to see what is before us, courageously, and to learn from it, even if it seems horrible, even if it can cause damage to us.

Seek and tell the truth. The truth is personal to you.

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

The present can change the past. The future can change the present.

The purpose of memory isn't 'to remember the past', it's to try to avoid bad things from happening again and again.

True thinking is rare, difficult and demanding, as it's an internal dialogue between two or more viewpoints, each with its own ideas about the world and how to act.

Truly listening requires courage - and we don't always have it.

Wisdom consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.

Be precise in your speech

We perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by. This hugely simplifies the world for us.

We must be precise in our speech and articulate our aims to protect ourselves from the complexity of life.

The world is simple only when it behaves. People are simply only when they behave.

Chaos wants to be noticed, and it will grow until it consumes.

Not thinking about something you don't want to know about doesn't make it go away.

Don't ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission.

When things fall apart, and chaos re-emerges, we can give structure to it, and re-establish order, through our speech.

Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

Beware of single cause interpretations and beware of people who purvey them.

In well-functioning societies, competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status.

People are increasingly being fed pseudo-truths as truths. From both sides of the political spectrum. This is dangerous. It's so easy for people to resort to dogma. Even the educated.  

On Hierarchies

The collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (some will be better and some worse at that pursuit no matter what it is). It's the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its meaning.

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 (industriousness and orderliness).

Exceptions: Entrepreneurs and artists are higher in openness to experience, another cardinal trait.

Every person is unique - not just in a trivial manner: significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership can't capture that variability.

Compassion as a Vice

Agreeable, compassionate, empathic, conflict-averse people (all those traits group together) let people walk on them, and they get bitter.

They tend to treat those around them as if they were distressed children. They tend to be naive. They assume that cooperation should be the basis of all social transactions, and they avoid conflict which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work.

The dark side of compassion is resentment, because of subjugation.

Two major reasons for resentment: being taken advantage of (or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of), or whiny refusal to adopt responsibility and grow up.

Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Vulnerability and the fragility of life are interlinked.

When you love someone, it's not despite of their limitations, it's because of their limitations.

People are social because they like the members of their own group. People are antisocial because they don't like the members of other groups.  

When dealing with catastrophe, tragedy, how do you manage it

Set aside time to talk and think about the crisis and how it should be managed every day. Do not talk or think about it otherwise.

If you don't limit its effect, you'll become exhausted, and everything will spiral into the ground.

The demands, machinery of every life doesn't stop, just because of a crisis.

Shift the unit of time you use to frame your life.