For centuries, religion has played a major role in man’s quest for stability and meaning. The rise of secularism and nihilism brought new ideologies, but also a growing sense of emptiness. Based on years of research across various topics (from history to religion, mythology, neuroscience and psychology), Jordan Peterson developed the 12 rules for life, to help you live with meaning and purpose. In this 12 Rules for Life summary, you’ll learn the 12 rules and how you can use them as an antidote to chaos to re-establish direction, order and fulfillment in your life.
Do also check out our book summary bundle in pdf/mp3 infographic, text and audio formats!
Human beings don’t like rules and restraint. Yet, we need structure in our lives, which is impossible without rules. Rules bring order, facilitate cooperation and stable relationships, without which there’ll be chaos and uncertainty. Peterson believes that the way to live a free and full life is to embrace rules that help you to do good in life.
The 12 Rules for Life
Jordan Peterson suggests that Good is the simply the prevention of Evil, and good rules that reduce unnecessary human suffering will help us to live better lives. The 12 Rules for Life in this book are built on the fundamental rule that we must each take responsibility for our own lives. Get your life in order and do the best for yourself, your society and the world at large. Only then will you discover the true extent of your potential and resilience, while helping mankind to thrive collectively.
Here’s a visual overview of the 12 rules for life.
We’ll zoom into the first rule in detail, with a brief outline of the remaining rules. We have reworded the rules to better reflect the essence of the chapters. However, for the ease of reference, we’ve also included Peterson’s original wording in quotation marks below. Do get a copy of our full 15-page summary for more details on all 12 rules for life.
Rule 1: Fix your Posture
“Stand up straight with your shoulders back”
All animals, including humans, are governed by dominance hierarchies and involuntary biochemical responses. Lobsters, for example, battle for dominance. During a confrontation, 2 lobsters size each other up using their body/claw sizes and chemical secretions (which signal their health, strength and mood). Dominant lobsters have higher serotonin levels, project greater confidence, a better posture, and can fight longer. An alpha lobster typically “wins” without even having to fight physically.
After each confrontation, a lobster’s brain changes—the loser avoids further conflict, whereas the victor gains even higher confidence and serotonin levels. Similar patterns can be found in other animal species—generally, stronger animals get more food, better “homes”, higher status, better mates, and greater cooperation from others. That’s nature’s way of distributing scarce resources.
Likewise, humans have a dominance detector in our brain. How we perceive our social/economic status affects our well-being which reinforces our status in a positive feedback loop.
• People with strong self-esteem feel/transmit a sense of security and confidence, which makes them more attractive and respected. This improves their productivity and well-being, which further reinforces their self-perception. Higher serotonin levels are associated with greater resilience, happiness, health, lifespan, pro-social behavior and leadership.
• On the other hand, people with a low self-perception feel insecure. They’re more likely to be stressed, jumpy and reactive. They make poor decisions, fail to command respect/resources, which reinforce their loser complex.
In short, our self-perception affects the vibes we transmit to create a self-reinforcing loop. If you feel like a loser for whatever reason, the first step is to break the negative cycle by correcting your posture.
• Don’t slouch. It conveys defeat and a low status, which prompts others to treat you poorly and reinforce your low self-perception.
• Fix your posture. Stand straight, push your shoulders back, speak up and make eye contact. This signals confidence to yourself and others. You’ll feel better, others will show you more respect, and it starts a virtuous cycle. It’s about standing tall, facing up to reality and taking responsibility to become all you can be.
Rule 2: Care for yourself like how you’d care for someone else
“Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping”
We tend to take better care of our pets than we do ourselves. When a pet is sick, we diligently follow the prescribed care. Yet, when we’re sick, we fail to fill/take our prescriptions. In the book and our full book summary we look at how our self-loathing plays a part and how to counter it.
Rule 3: Surround yourself with people who want the best for you
“Make friends with people who want the best for you”
We become the average of the people we spend the most time with. In the wrong company, we can end up in crime or even suicide. So, why do we hang around people who drag us down? Find out more from the complete 12 Rules for Life summary, and learn how to surround yourself with the right people.
Rule 4: Improve your own game instead of playing others’
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today”
In a highly-connected, populous world, you can always find someone who’s better than you—be it in looks, wealth, status or relationships. No matter what you’ve achieved, you can still feel miserably inferior compared to others. Check out our full 12 Rules for Life summary to learn how to improve your own game, make your life progressively better, and fundamentally shift your viewpoint.
Rule 5: Teach your children to abide by society’s rules
“Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them”
Children aren’t born with social-cultural skills—they must be taught how the world works and how to navigate human society. Parents who don’t set clear boundaries for their young kids actually end up hurting them in the long run. Click here for the full summary to learn the 5 principles to help your kids become well-liked.
Rule 6: Get your own house in order before criticizing others
“Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”
Setbacks and suffering are inevitable in life. Some people respond with denial, helplessness, anger, or even acts of vengeance (e.g. genocide). Yet, others are positively transformed by adversity—they make peace with what happened and devote themselves to making a positive difference. Which type are you? Learn more about getting your own house in order first, from the full 12 Rules for Life summary.
Rule 7: Focus on a higher purpose, not instant gratification
“Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”
We can use suffering as an excuse to live carelessly in the moment, or we can do something meaningful to minimize the suffering. In our complete 15 page summary, we share more insights on discovering who we are and what values to live by.
Rule 8: Find your personal truth and live it
“Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie”
All of us are guilty of lying to ourselves and others. Find out why we lie, how we get stuck in a “life-lie” because and what it means to find and live your personal truth.
Rule 9: Learn to be a good listener
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
People need a listening ear. As a good listener, you can learn while helping others to solve problems. In the full version of our 12 Rules for Life summary, we explain how talking helps people to think, how to be a good listener, and get the most from your conversations.
Rule 10: Define your problem precisely to make it manageable
“Be precise in your speech”
We avoid looking deeply into a problem in hope that it’ll go away by itself, but this only causes the doubts and uncertainties to build up into a catastrophic failure. Find out why/how to use specificity to bring order to chaos.
Rule 11: Accept that inequality exists
“Do not bother children when they are skateboarding”
Some post-modernists argue that gender is entirely a social construct or a tool for men to oppress women, and that hierarchies are created by the rich to exploit the poor. Peterson disagrees. Find out why this is so, and see inequality from a different perspective–more details from the full 15-page summary here.
Rule 12: Take time to appreciate the good things in life
“Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”
Suffering is inevitable and some people just seem to have a worse lot in life than others. Peterson’s own daughter suffered from a rare juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and was plagued with years of chronic pain. If you find yourself wondering about the seemingly-pointless suffering around us, this last rule from the 12 Rules for Life helps us to see things from a different perspective and to balance the good and bad in life so life seems worth living.
Other Details in “12 Rules for Life”
If you’d like to learn more about all 12 rules, do check out our 12 Rules for Life book summary bundle. This includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.
In the book, Jordan Peterson shares (in great detail) a range of personal stories and perspectives, his interpretation of Biblical and mythical stories, references to and citations from various ancient texts, philosophers, psychologists, etc., to explain how he arrived at the 12 rules for life. You can check out more details at jordanbpeterson.com.
Check out our Beyond Order summary for 12 more rules to help you embrace chaos in times of turbulence!
Find purpose and meaning in life with these 12 Rules for life!