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12 Rules for Life

This is a summary (available in PDF) for Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Read online or download the summary. The book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” by Jordan Peterson outlines a set of principles and guidelines for living a meaningful and fulfilling life. 

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What are the 12 rules for life?

12 Rules for Life List

Here are the 12 rules:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

12 Rules for Life Summary

Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life are intended to provide guidance for personal development, relationships, and making a positive impact on the world around us. It’s important to note that the interpretation and application of these rules may vary among individuals.

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back

This rule encourages people to adopt a confident posture and take responsibility for their lives, facing the challenges of the world with courage.

The first rule, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back,” is about adopting a posture of confidence and taking responsibility for one’s life. It draws inspiration from the animal kingdom, where dominant creatures typically hold themselves upright and display physical signs of confidence and assertiveness.

Jordan Peterson suggests that adopting a similar posture can have a profound impact on our psychology. By standing up straight and pulling our shoulders back, we not only improve our physical presence but also send signals to ourselves and others that we are capable, confident, and ready to take on the challenges that life presents.

The rule extends beyond mere physical posture and encourages people to confront the chaos and unpredictability of existence head-on. It implies that we should not shy away from our responsibilities and should instead face our fears and challenges with courage. By embodying this rule, people can cultivate a sense of resilience and determination. It is a call to take control of our lives, to face the difficulties we encounter, and to strive for personal growth and success.

Additionally, standing up straight with shoulders back is not solely about external appearances but also about developing inner strength and self-belief. By assuming a confident posture, we can influence our own mindset and attitude, fostering a sense of empowerment and self-assuredness.

Ultimately, this rule serves as a reminder that we have the capacity to shape our own lives and navigate the chaos and complexities of the world with strength and purpose.

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

This rule emphasizes the importance of self-care, self-compassion and urges people to prioritize their own well-being and take care of themselves.

Jordan Peterson argues that many people are better at taking care of others than they are at taking care of themselves. We often prioritize the needs of others and neglect our own physical, emotional, and mental health. This rule challenges that tendency and urges individuals to treat themselves with the same care and concern they would extend to someone they are responsible for helping, such as a loved one or a close friend or even a pet.

By adopting a mindset of self-responsibility, individuals can make choices and engage in behaviors that promote their own well-being. This includes practicing self-care activities like maintaining a healthy lifestyle, setting boundaries, pursuing personal interests, seeking support when needed, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Furthermore, this rule encourages individuals to approach themselves with compassion and understanding. Often, we are quick to criticize and judge ourselves harshly, holding ourselves to impossibly high standards. By treating ourselves with kindness, we can develop a healthier relationship with ourselves and cultivate a sense of self-worth and self-acceptance.

Taking responsibility for our own well-being not only benefits us individually but also allows us to show up more fully for others. By attending to our own needs, we can become more emotionally and mentally available to provide support and care to those around us.

In essence, the second rule serves as a reminder that we have a moral obligation to ourselves. Just as we would extend care and help to others, we should extend the same level of care, compassion, and responsibility to our own lives. By prioritizing our well-being, we can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives and contribute positively to the world around us.

3. Make friends with people who want the best for you

Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people can greatly impact your personal growth and happiness. This rule emphasizes the importance of choosing healthy relationships.

Jordan Peterson emphasizes the profound impact that the people we surround ourselves with can have on our lives. Friends and acquaintances who genuinely care about our success and well-being can provide invaluable support, encouragement, and guidance as we navigate life’s challenges.

This rule encourages people to evaluate their relationships and consciously choose companions who have their best interests at heart. It encourages us to seek out individuals who inspire us, motivate us to become better versions of ourselves, and challenge us to reach our full potential.

Choosing friends who want the best for us also means avoiding toxic or negative relationships that can hinder our progress. It entails recognizing and distancing ourselves from those who undermine our goals, drain our energy, or perpetuate unhealthy behaviors or attitudes.

By surrounding ourselves with positive and supportive people, we create a social environment that nurtures our personal development and happiness. These relationships provide a sense of belonging, emotional support, and constructive feedback, enabling us to overcome obstacles and achieve our aspirations.

However, making friends who want the best for us also requires reciprocity. It involves being a good friend in return and actively supporting and encouraging others on their own paths to success. Building mutually beneficial relationships creates a positive feedback loop, where everyone involved can thrive and grow together.

In summary, the third rule prompts people to be intentional and selective when it comes to their friendships and highlights the significance of cultivating relationships with those who support our personal growth, happiness, and well-being. By surrounding ourselves with people who genuinely want the best for us, we enhance our chances of personal growth, happiness, and fulfillment. These relationships can serve as pillars of support, inspiration, and accountability, helping us navigate the complexities of life and achieve our goals.

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

Rather than comparing yourself to others, focus on your own progress and strive to become a better version of yourself each day.

This rule encourages people to focus on their own personal growth and progress rather than comparing themselves to others. Jordan Peterson suggests that comparing ourselves to others can often lead to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and frustration. When we constantly measure our worth based on the achievements or qualities of others, we undermine our own sense of self-esteem and hinder our progress. Instead, this rule advocates for a mindset of self-improvement and self-compassion. By shifting our focus inward and comparing ourselves to who we were in the past, we can recognize our own growth and development. This perspective allows us to appreciate the progress we have made, no matter how small, and encourages us to continue striving for personal betterment.

By setting goals and benchmarks for ourselves and working towards them incrementally, we can measure our success based on our own individual journey. This approach acknowledges that each person has unique circumstances, abilities, and aspirations, and it is unfair to compare ourselves to someone who may be in a different stage of their own path.

Moreover, the rule encourages people to learn from others and find inspiration in their achievements without falling into the trap of envy or self-doubt. Rather than feeling threatened or inferior when encountering someone who is more successful or accomplished, we can view them as a source of motivation and guidance, learning from their experiences and applying those lessons to our own lives.

Ultimately, the fourth rule promotes self-acceptance, self-growth, and a healthy perspective on personal achievements. By focusing on our own progress and embracing a growth mindset, we can cultivate a sense of fulfillment and contentment, and continue moving forward on our individual paths to success.

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

This rule advises parents to set clear boundaries for their children and provide guidance and discipline in order to raise responsible and well-behaved individuals.

This rule addresses the importance of setting appropriate boundaries and providing guidance for children to help them develop into responsible, respectful, and well-behaved individuals.

Jordan Peterson argues that as parents, it is crucial to establish clear expectations and limits for our children’s behavior. While it is natural to love our children unconditionally, it is equally important to hold them accountable for their actions and teach them the difference between right and wrong. This rule advises against enabling or tolerating behaviors in children that would lead to them becoming unpleasant or disrespectful individuals. By addressing problematic behaviors early on and providing consistent discipline, parents can help children understand the importance of responsibility, self-control, and respect for others.

Setting boundaries and establishing rules can provide children with a sense of structure and guidance, which ultimately contributes to their overall well-being and development. When children understand the expectations placed upon them and the consequences of their actions, they can develop a sense of personal accountability and learn to make better choices.

However, it’s important to note that this rule does not advocate for harsh or punitive parenting. Rather, it emphasizes the significance of fair and consistent discipline that is rooted in love, understanding, and a desire to foster the child’s growth and character development.

By instilling values, teaching empathy, and promoting positive behaviors, parents can cultivate a healthy and respectful relationship with their children. The goal is to help children become individuals who are well-liked not only by their parents but also by others in society, thus facilitating their social and emotional success.

In summary, the fifth rule underscores the importance of establishing boundaries and providing guidance for children to help shape their character and behavior. It encourages parents to be proactive in addressing negative behaviors and guiding children towards becoming responsible and respectful individuals. Through consistent discipline, love, and understanding, parents can nurture their children’s development in a way that fosters positive relationships and prepares them for a successful and fulfilling life.

6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

Before attempting to fix the problems of the world, Peterson suggests that people should first address their own personal issues and work towards improving themselves. This rule emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and self-improvement as a foundation for making a positive impact on the world.

Jordan Peterson suggests that before we engage in criticizing or attempting to fix external problems, we should first address the chaos and challenges within our own lives. The rule encourages people to take a close look at their own actions, behaviors, and choices, and strive to improve themselves before seeking to impose changes on others or society at large.

By setting our own lives in order, we can gain a sense of control and stability. This involves taking responsibility for our actions, relationships, and personal well-being. It requires identifying areas of our lives that may be disorganized or causing unnecessary suffering and actively working to rectify them.

The rule recognizes that personal transformation is a gradual and ongoing process. It encourages people to engage in self-reflection, identify areas for growth, and develop strategies to address them. This may involve improving communication skills, establishing healthy habits, pursuing education or self-development, or resolving emotional or psychological challenges.

Furthermore, setting our own lives in order allows us to lead by example. When we demonstrate personal responsibility, integrity, and resilience, we inspire and influence others positively. By embodying the change we wish to see in the world, we create a ripple effect that can motivate and empower others to embark on their own journeys of self-improvement.

It’s important to note that setting our own house in order does not mean ignoring or turning a blind eye to larger societal issues. Rather, it emphasizes that genuine and lasting change often starts at the individual level. By addressing our own shortcomings and striving for personal growth, we develop the skills, insights, and strength needed to make a meaningful impact on the world.

In summary, the sixth rule calls for people to take responsibility for their own lives and work on improving themselves before attempting to change the world. By setting our personal affairs in order, we cultivate the strength, wisdom, and resilience necessary to contribute positively to society. It is through personal growth and self-improvement that we lay the groundwork for creating a better and more harmonious world.

7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

This rule encourages people to seek out meaningful goals and values in life, even if they require effort and sacrifice, rather than pursuing short-term pleasures or instant gratification.

Jordan Peterson argues that true fulfillment and purpose are found by engaging in endeavors that align with our values, contribute to our personal growth, and make a positive impact on the world. While it may be tempting to pursue immediate gratification or take the path of least resistance, this rule reminds us that long-term fulfillment comes from pursuing what truly matters to us.

By identifying and pursuing meaningful goals, people can derive a sense of purpose, direction, and fulfillment in their lives. This may involve pursuing a meaningful career, engaging in creative pursuits, cultivating meaningful relationships, or making a difference in the lives of others through acts of kindness and service.

The rule encourages people to reflect on their values, passions, and aspirations, and make choices that align with those principles. It emphasizes the importance of personal growth and the willingness to take on challenges and endure temporary discomfort in order to pursue what truly matters.

While expedient choices may provide immediate pleasure or relief, they often lack deeper meaning and can lead to dissatisfaction in the long run. By contrast, choosing what is meaningful requires thoughtful deliberation, self-discipline, and a willingness to delay gratification for the sake of long-term fulfillment.

Furthermore, pursuing what is meaningful often involves embracing responsibility and shouldering the burdens that come with it. It requires people to take ownership of their lives, make sacrifices, and face the challenges and uncertainties that accompany the pursuit of meaningful goals.

In summary, the seventh rule calls people to prioritize what is meaningful over what is expedient. It encourages people to prioritize meaningful pursuits and values in life rather than seeking short-term pleasures or instant gratification. By aligning our actions and choices with our values and pursuing goals that bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment, we can lead more meaningful and purposeful lives. This rule serves as a reminder that true fulfillment lies in the pursuit of what deeply resonates with us, even if it requires effort, sacrifice, and delayed gratification.

8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie

Honesty is seen as a fundamental virtue in this rule, emphasizing the importance of integrity and truthful communication in personal relationships and society.

This rule emphasizes the importance of honesty, integrity, and the avoidance of falsehoods in our words and actions. Jordan Peterson argues that telling the truth is essential for maintaining healthy relationships, personal growth, and societal harmony. Honesty fosters trust and allows for open communication, enabling individuals to connect with others on a deeper level and build meaningful connections.

The rule acknowledges that telling the truth can sometimes be challenging and may require courage, especially in situations where it may be easier or more convenient to lie. However, Peterson suggests that even if we cannot always speak the truth, it is crucial to avoid consciously lying or deceiving others.

The rule also highlights the importance of being honest with oneself. It encourages people to confront their own flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings rather than evading or denying them. By embracing self-reflection and acknowledging the truth about ourselves, we can embark on a journey of personal growth and development.

While absolute truth can be complex and subjective in certain situations, striving for honesty and integrity serves as a guiding principle. It involves aligning our words and actions with our values and being accountable for the consequences they bring.

However, the rule acknowledges that being brutally honest or insensitive can also cause harm. It suggests that truth should be tempered with compassion and consideration for others’ feelings. This means finding a balance between expressing our thoughts and opinions honestly while maintaining empathy and respect for others.

In summary, the eighth rule emphasizes the importance of truthfulness and integrity in our interactions with others and ourselves. By speaking honestly, we build trust, foster genuine connections, and contribute to a more harmonious and transparent society. It calls for the cultivation of self-awareness, the courage to face the truth, and the willingness to communicate with honesty and compassion. Ultimately, this rule encourages individuals to strive for authenticity, moral responsibility, and the pursuit of truth in their lives.

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

By actively listening to others and considering their perspectives, you open yourself up to new ideas and opportunities for growth. This law emphasizes the importance of open-mindedness, humility, and active listening when engaging in conversations with others.

Jordan Peterson suggests that each individual possesses unique experiences, perspectives, and knowledge that can offer valuable insights and wisdom. The rule encourages individuals to approach conversations with a mindset of curiosity and a genuine willingness to learn from others, even if their views may differ from our own.

By assuming that the person we are listening to might have knowledge or insights we lack, we open ourselves up to new perspectives and ideas. This fosters intellectual growth, expands our understanding of the world, and enables us to make more informed decisions.

The rule also promotes empathy and understanding. By actively listening to others and seeking to comprehend their viewpoints, we develop a deeper appreciation for their experiences and challenges. This helps to bridge divides, reduce conflicts, and foster a sense of unity and connection.

Furthermore, assuming that others may know something we don’t cultivates humility. It acknowledges that none of us have a monopoly on knowledge or wisdom and that learning is an ongoing process. This mindset encourages us to approach conversations with respect, curiosity, and a willingness to challenge our own beliefs and preconceptions.

However, the rule does not imply blind acceptance or abandonment of critical thinking. It calls for discernment and a balance between being open-minded and maintaining a healthy skepticism. It is important to engage in constructive dialogue, ask probing questions, and critically evaluate the information presented to us.

In summary, the ninth rule encourages people to approach conversations with humility, open-mindedness, and active listening. By assuming that others may possess knowledge or insights we lack, we create opportunities for personal growth, empathy, and connection. This rule promotes intellectual curiosity, encourages respectful engagement with differing perspectives, and fosters a more inclusive and understanding society.

10. Be precise in your speech

This rule emphasizes the importance of clear and accurate communication, encouraging people to express themselves effectively and avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.

Jordan Peterson argues that precise speech is crucial for effective communication and meaningful understanding. By choosing our words carefully and articulating our thoughts accurately, we can convey our intentions more clearly and avoid misinterpretations or misunderstandings.

The rule encourages individuals to strive for clarity in expressing their ideas, beliefs, and emotions. It promotes the practice of organizing our thoughts before speaking and using language that is specific, concise, and well-defined. Precise speech helps to convey our message with precision, making it easier for others to comprehend and engage in meaningful dialogue.

Being precise in our speech also requires honesty and integrity. It means avoiding exaggerations, distortions, or manipulations of the truth. By speaking truthfully and accurately, we build trust and credibility in our interactions with others, fostering genuine connections and effective collaboration.

Moreover, precise speech enables self-reflection and self-awareness. It encourages individuals to examine their own thoughts and feelings more closely, identify any inconsistencies or contradictions, and communicate their authentic selves more effectively.

The rule also highlights the importance of actively listening to others and seeking clarity when engaging in conversations. By asking for clarification, paraphrasing, or requesting additional information, we demonstrate a genuine desire to understand and engage with others’ perspectives. This promotes effective communication, mutual understanding, and the resolution of conflicts or misunderstandings.

However, being precise in our speech does not imply being rigid or inflexible. It allows room for open-mindedness, empathy, and the recognition that language can be nuanced and complex. It encourages us to adapt our communication style to different contexts and to consider the impact our words may have on others.

In summary, the tenth rule underscores the significance of precision, honesty, and clarity in our communication. By choosing our words carefully and communicating with accuracy, we enhance our ability to convey our thoughts and intentions, build trust, and foster meaningful connections. This rule encourages active listening, self-reflection, and a commitment to open and honest communication, ultimately contributing to more effective and harmonious interactions with others.

11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

This rule suggests that people should allow children to engage in challenging activities and take risks, recognizing the importance of exploration and learning through experience.

The statement “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding” refers to the importance of allowing children the freedom to engage in activities that bring them joy and help them develop their skills. It is a specific rule that reflects the broader philosophy of promoting individual autonomy and not unnecessarily interfering with others’ pursuits.

Skateboarding is often seen as a recreational activity enjoyed by many children and teenagers. By not bothering children while they are skateboarding, it suggests that adults should respect their choice of activity and give them the space they need to explore and grow. This rule emphasizes the value of independence, self-expression, and allowing young individuals to take risks and learn from their experiences.

The overall idea behind this rule is to encourage adults to be mindful of unnecessarily interrupting or hindering children’s endeavors, as it can have a negative impact on their confidence, creativity, and personal development. Instead, it encourages adults to support and provide guidance when necessary, but also to recognize the importance of children having the freedom to explore their own interests and passions.

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

This rule serves as a reminder to appreciate the small moments of joy and beauty in life, encouraging people to find happiness and gratitude in simple pleasures.

Despite the hardships and challenges we face in life, it is important to find moments of joy and appreciate the small pleasures that come our way. Life can be tough and painful at times, but by taking the time to embrace the little joys, like petting a cat on the street, we can find solace, meaning, and a sense of respite.

This rule highlights the significance of finding happiness and contentment in the present moment, even amidst difficulties. It encourages people to seek out and appreciate the simple pleasures that can bring comfort and joy, serving as a reminder that life’s beauty can be found in the small and seemingly insignificant moments.

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