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12 Rules of Life Summary and Key Lessons

“12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” is a self-help book written by Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. It was first published in 2018. 

The book presents moral and philosophical guidelines for living, interlaced with personal anecdotes, psychology research, and diverse cultural references, such as the Bible, ancient myths, and modern literature.

12 Rules for Life Summary

Here’s a summary of the twelve rules outlined in the book:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back: This rule suggests that people should face the world with confidence and dominance. It’s based on the observation of lobsters and their hierarchical structures.

  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping: Peterson suggests that we often fail to take care of ourselves as carefully as we would care for others. He emphasizes the importance of self-respect and self-care.

  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you: This rule encourages readers to surround themselves with positive and supportive people who push them to improve rather than those who drag them down.

  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today: This rule advocates for personal growth, with the emphasis on self-improvement rather than comparing oneself to others.

  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them: Peterson emphasizes the importance of setting appropriate boundaries and discipline for children, enabling them to behave in ways that make them likable and sociable.

  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world: This encourages readers to focus on improving themselves and their immediate surroundings before seeking to change larger societal structures.

  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient): Peterson stresses the importance of long-term gratification over short-term, instant rewards. He encourages readers to find and pursue meaningful life goals.

  8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie: This rule emphasizes the importance of honesty, not just with others, but also with oneself.

  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t: Here, Peterson emphasizes the importance of active listening and humility in learning and communication.

  10. Be precise in your speech: This rule encourages clear and direct communication to ensure understanding and to confront and resolve issues effectively.

  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding: This metaphorical rule advises against overprotecting people (particularly children), asserting that risk-taking is a vital part of growth and development.

  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street: This rule suggests that one should appreciate and enjoy the small, good things in life, especially when life is difficult or tragic.

Throughout the book, Peterson combines these practical rules with an exploration of a broad range of topics, including religion, mythology, philosophy, literature, and personal experiences. The book encourages readers to take full responsibility for their lives, confront their suffering, and strive for individual betterment.

12 Rules for Life Summary

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Our Top 4 Rules

1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back (Rule 1)

This rule emphasizes the importance of self-confidence and self-respect. The author uses the example of lobsters to illustrate the behavioral and neurological impacts of social hierarchy. 

Just like lobsters, humans also engage in hierarchical behavior. If we carry ourselves confidently and assume a posture of competence, we signal to others and ourselves that we are capable and deserving of respect. 

This does not mean being aggressive or arrogant, but asserting oneself when necessary and not shying away from responsibility or challenge.

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping (Rule 2)

Peterson encourages readers to extend the same level of care and respect they might offer to others to themselves. 

He cites the intriguing fact that people are often more careful when prescribing medication to their pets than when doing so for themselves. 

This rule calls for self-compassion, recognizing our own worth, and the understanding that caring for ourselves is a vital part of being able to help others effectively.

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3. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today (Rule 4)

This rule is about focusing on self-improvement and personal growth rather than getting caught in the trap of comparing oneself to others. 

In today’s age of social media, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap, leading to feelings of inadequacy and discontent

Peterson suggests that a healthier alternative is to compare ourselves to our past selves, tracking how far we’ve come in our personal journeys and setting goals to continue to improve in ways that matter to us individually.

4. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie (Rule 8)

Peterson delves into the pernicious effects of lying, not just on society but on the individual as well. He posits that every time we lie, we move away from our ideal self and potential, eroding our sense of self-worth and integrity. 

He emphasizes the power of truthful communication in building trust and in facilitating personal growth. 

Speaking truth, according to Peterson, requires courage to face the potential backlash, but ultimately aligns us with our values and leads to a more meaningful life.

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Final Thoughts

“12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” has been both praised and criticized for its unique blend of psychology, philosophy, and personal anecdotes. On one hand, it provides valuable, practical advice for personal growth, encouraging readers to take responsibility for their lives and aim for betterment. 

On the other hand, some readers might find Peterson’s references to biblical stories and Jungian archetypes difficult to follow if they are not already familiar with these subjects. Some critics have also pointed out that Peterson’s views can be quite polarizing. His traditional views on gender roles, hierarchies, and societal structures have been particularly controversial.

However, the book’s impact largely depends on your openness to Peterson’s perspectives and the willingness to critically engage with his arguments. 

It’s recommended for those who enjoy a combination of psychology, philosophy, self-help, and cultural commentary.

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