12 Rules For Life Summary (Jorden B. Peterson)

For centuries, religion provided a guiding light, offering stability and meaning. But in today’s secular world, many feel adrift.

Enter Jordan B. Peterson’s groundbreaking book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Drawing on psychology, philosophy, and even mythology, Peterson lays out a practical roadmap to help you navigate the complexities of life and find direction.

This guide isn’t about empty promises or unrealistic expectations. Instead, Peterson offers 12 straightforward rules designed to help you:

  • Take responsibility for your own life
  • Develop discipline and integrity
  • Find meaning and purpose
  • Build fulfilling relationships

Ready to ditch the chaos and live a life of purpose and fulfillment? Let’s dive into Peterson’s wisdom with a clear and concise breakdown of his 12 life-changing rules.

The Journey of 12 Rules For Life

In 2012, the author started contributing to a website named Quora, where anyone can ask a question and reply. The answers people liked the most were upvoted, and those that people didn’t like were downvoted.

So, while answering different types of questions, he came across one that asked, “ What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” He wrote some rules and maxims to answer the question, which many people liked.

Today, his answer has been viewed by almost 1,20,000 people and upvoted by 23,000 people, which inspired him to write this book. In it, he has explained those rules in detail.

First, he resorted to writing all the rules he had written in his answer, but then he reduced it to 16 and then again reduced it to the most important 12 rules, which we will discuss now.

But before understanding the rules, first, we have to understand Yin and Yang because in the later chapter, we’ll need them. Yin & Yang are two serpents entwined together.

  • Yin is black in color and signifies dark and feminine energy, but here in this book, it represents chaos.
  • Yang is white and signifies bright masculine energy but ‘order’ in this book.

The two dots indicate a possibility that order can transform into Chaos and vice versa. So, now that you have understood yin and yang, let’s move on to rule 1 of this book.

Rule 1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back

What do you think this posture reminds you of? A confident person, right. But what if I tell you that humans and many animals make this kind of posture, and they show it after successfully winning a fight or catching their prey?

Let me give you an example of Lobsters. When there are many lobsters and only a small place to live, they fight. The one who wins makes a confident posture to resemble his bravery.

The one who lost had a low posture because he lost. His brain dissolves, and a new brain is formed according to his status in society. 

The winner gets many good-quality mates and ample food, which forms a hierarchy of good-quality lobsters, while the loser thinks he will never win, even if his opponent is weaker than him.

The secret behind the confidence of the lobster is increasing levels of serotonin and low levels of octopamine. These are two hormones that control the confidence and low mood of lobsters.

The lobster that lost will remain in a dull mood because of low serotonin production and high levels of octopamine.

This is what we call the principle of unequal distribution. Vilfredo Pareto (80/20 rules), an Italian polymath, discovered this principle and showed the unequal distribution of wealth worldwide.

This is also applied to humans: below our thoughts and feelings, there is a calculator deep within us that monitors our status in society on a scale of one to ten.

If you are number 1, then you are a successful lobster. But if you are on number 10, then you are not at all successful, and even money is also of little use to you because you don’t know how to use it, and eventually, you will fall into the trap of drugs and alcohol.

But there is also a malfunction. If you are number 1 but you have bad sleeping and eating habits, then you can fall.

In this chapter, standing straight with your shoulder back means accepting the responsibility of life. It means deciding whether you want to live in Chaos, in other words, a pathetic life like a lost lobster, or in order like a powerful lobster who won.

And that’s why the author says, “Standing straight with your shoulders back means withstanding the ensuing uncertainty and establishing, in consequence, a better, more meaningful and more productive order.”

Know How Robert Greene’s 48 Laws to Help You Be Smart, Make Good Plans, and Defend Yourself.

Rule 2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping

We usually take better care of our pets than we do for ourselves. When a pet is ill, we diligently adhere to the prescribed treatment. However, when we are sick, we fail to fill or take our prescriptions. We explore how our self-hatred contributes to this issue and how to combat it. Lets understand.

Chaos and Order are the most basic divisions of Being itself.

  • Order is known to us and is associated with masculinity because, from ancient times, man has been the builder of cities and towns, the engineer, and the bricklayer. 
  • Chaos is unknown as it is associated with the feminine because Chaos is the origin or source, like a mother who gives birth to a child, and this is all unknown to us. 

In a positive way, we can say that Chaos is a possibility and source of ideas, but in its negative form, it is like a mother grizzly bear who can tear you down into pieces to protect her cubs.

Let’s understand them more clearly through a biblical story of the Garden of Eden. According to this story, the god created a bounded space (well-watered place) or paradise called Eden, protected by a wall.

Then he created Adam and two trees; one was the Tree of Life, and another one was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But he forbade Adam to eat fruits from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, he created a female partner, Eve, for him. 

In other interpretations, it is also said that God subdivided the first person into two: male and female. At first, they were not self-conscious, as told in the story, because they were naked but not ashamed. 

After a while, a serpent appeared, but he had legs. His presence in the Garden of Eden shows the black dot on the Yin side of the Taoist symbol because it represents the possibility of the unknown.

The serpent decided to play a trick on Eve. He told Eve that if she ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, then she would never die, her eyes would be opened, and she would become God.

As she was a human, her curiosity awoke, and she ate the fruit. When she woke up the next morning, she became self-conscious for the first time. So, she also shared the fruit with Adam, and he became self-conscious, too.

When both of them found out that they were naked, they hid themselves in bushes and trees. In the evening, when God came for his evening stroll, he found that Adam was absent, and so he called out his name.

Adam reveals himself but badly and tells God that he is ashamed to come out because he is naked. Then God asks him if he ate the tree’s fruit, which he was not supposed to. He replies by blaming Eve for giving the fruit to him. And Eve blames it on the serpent.

Instead of neglecting yourself, treat yourself with the same care you’d give someone you’re responsible for helping. Think about what makes you feel good and not just what looks good right now. Unlike Eve with the forbidden fruit, don’t blindly follow fleeting desires without questioning their long-term impact.

Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping
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Rule 3: Make Friends With People Who Want The Best For You

Your real friends will always support you in reaching your goal, wish you success, and punish you if you get distracted from it.

But in this world, these friends are hard to find. Instead, this world is full of people who want to drag you down. They will demotivate you by saying that they have also tried reaching the same goal but failed miserably.

They show this kind of behavior because your improvements reveal their weaknesses, which they’ve been trying to avoid for a very long time.

If you are the kind of friend who helps your friends when they need it and punishes them when they get off track, I would say that you should choose your friends carefully.

It’s because just one bad friend of yours can destroy your whole friend circle, and also, you will always find it easier to have bad friends than good friends. And likewise, a bad friend can infect you with his bad habits and addictions.

And I also won’t say that, ‘It’s better to have no friends rather than bad friends’, because human beings are social beings and they need friends and family to live and enjoy with.

But don’t think that while making those bad people your friends, you are rescuing them. Sometimes, people don’t need rescuing because those who want to get rid of their suffering will surely uplift themselves.

As Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, states, it’s impossible for him to start treating a patient if the patient himself doesn’t want to improve. The willingness to improve is the precondition for the patient’s progress.

When you see people falling into the trap of their bad addictions because they judge their self-worth less, they think they don’t deserve anything better in the world. And so they make friends with new people but of the same type, which proved disastrous for them in the past. And this is called a ‘repetition compulsion’.

And as the author’s friend Freud explains that, “ Repetition compulsion is an unconscious drive to repeat the horrors of the past – sometimes, perhaps, to formulate those horrors more precisely, sometimes to attempt more active mastery and sometimes, perhaps, because no alternative beckons.”

Rule 4 : Compare Yourself To Who You Were Yesterday, Not To Who Someone Else Is Today

It doesn’t matter how accurate you are in your work, but someone else is always more competent than you.

And if you are a comparing geek and can’t stop comparing and getting disappointed, then it’s better to compare yourself with the past and the present.

The thing that matters is how much we have improved over time. And with time, everyone improves. Even if you can do better than others, remember that only a few people can do everything. The winners don’t take all, but they take most.

We can also apply this philosophy to ourselves. If we are better than others, then some people are better than us, and some are worse than us.

It’s not just our fault that we are always comparing ourselves; our eyes are also somewhat responsible for that because they are built according to the hunting and gathering instinct.

That’s because our eyes always search for things we are interested in or want to inquire about. Our eyes aim at them, so in ancient times, when we hunt, we aim first and then try to achieve it. And likewise, in modern days, when we aim at something, it means we want to achieve it.

In ancient times, gathering meant specifying and grasping, which we also do in modern times by accumulating ideas and then executing them.

To become better, you first have to become conscious of your mistakes. If you can not identify your mistakes, then ask someone else to help you.

Let me give an example: When you build a house, you hire an inspector to inspect its flaws, and you even pay him for giving bad news. But asking someone about your flaws doesn’t require any payment, and it’s effective because later, you can rectify your mistakes or flaws and become a better version of yourself.

Do you know that there is a little voice inside of you? You have been hearing it since you were a child, but suddenly, that voice disappears, and you become sad and start comparing yourself.

To be happy again, you should awaken your little voice again. And it can only be awakened when you start caring for yourself. This doesn’t mean being selfish; it means rewarding yourself for the many years of hard work you’ve done to improve yourself.

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Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them

There are some rules that you should follow to discipline your child. If your child is not disciplined, he/ she can make you feel embarrassed at public gatherings or places, which can lead you to dislike them. This can create problems for both the parents and the child.

Limit the Rules

The author is giving us rules to eliminate chaos from our lives and establish order, and that’s why he has introduced 12 rules. But he is saying to limit the rules because when you introduce so many restrictions and rules for your child, he/ she gets frustrated and, in return, irritates you, too. So, it’s better to decrease the number of rules and only keep some basic rules for your child.

Use Minimum Necessary Force

When you force your child to stop what he or she is doing, then your child thinks that it’s the only way to get your attention, and so they repeat their act again. Although there are many types of babies or children of different temperaments. Some are tough and irritating, some are stubborn, some get scared just by your glare, and many more types of children are there. So, it is upon you how you treat them, but I recommend using minimal force like the author did.

The author shares his experience with a stubborn child. He and his neighbors and relatives follow a method named babysitting swap. In which all the couples would take care of all the children and one couple would go out for dinner or a movie. One day a new couple joined them, their son was a strong boy who was 2 years old. His parents informed all the other parents that their son would not sleep until he watched Elmo’s video, and they went out for dinner. But the author thought that he wouldn’t reward a child for his misbehavior, but of course, he didn’t tell this to the parents of the child if they weren’t ready to listen. Two hours later, he put all the kids to bed, and everyone slept except the misbehaving child, he started howling.

It was his way of gaining attention and of waking other children up and watching Elmo videos. But the author went into his room and told him to lie down, but he didn’t. The author laid him down firmly, but he got up, and this cycle continued for some time. After that, the author laid him down and kept his hand on his back. He struggled for a while, but then the baby relaxed and closed his eyes. But as the author started to get up and move, he was again on his feet. Then the author told him to “lay down,” and he did what he was told.

This shows us that when you reward a child for his behavior, he is likely to repeat it again, whether it is good or bad, because he doesn’t know what is good or bad.

Parents Should Come in Pairs

It means that mothers are responsible for giving birth to a child, raising him/ her, doing household chores, and all the other things. She gets irritated by all these things. So, fathers should also take up some responsibility for their kids.

Rule 6: Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World

It basically means that before you judge the world and criticize it, you should also try to improve yourself.

When you criticize the world, you are acting like a criminal or murderous person because they also criticize the world without improving themselves. In this chapter, it is stated that the criminal thinks that the human race doesn’t deserve a life.They think these things because they themselves have remained victims of them.

Let me give you an example.

This example is of Carl Panzram, an unforgiving criminal of the twentieth century. He became a criminal because of his hatred towards the world and the people. He hated the world because he himself was raped, betrayed by the people, and was given inhuman treatment by people.

So as he grew up, he also started to become a thief, a rapist, and a serial killer. He hated the people who had hurt him, and his resentment towards them led him to burn their properties and murdered them.

He mentioned all these things in his autobiography, which he wrote in jail. From this example, the author wants to tell us that if all the people in this world would first analyze themselves and then judge others, it would be better.

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Rule 7: Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)

Humans have a long history of making sacrifices in the present, believing it will lead to a better future. This concept is illustrated in the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Eve (discussed in Rule 2) and considered the first humans born on Earth (as Adam and Eve were created by God).

Within the story’s context, Cain and Abel offer sacrifices to God. However, the outcome differs. Despite both following the rituals, God favors Abel’s offering and blesses him with prosperity. Cain, on the other hand, receives no such reward for his toil.

This distinction is often interpreted as God disapproving of Cain’s lack of sincerity or commitment during the ritual.

Just think if you have worked hard for something but still failed to achieve it. How would you feel, and on top of that, the people around you are flourishing, but you’re not? You might feel rejected and want to take your revenge from the person who is responsible for your condition.

And that’s what happened with Cain. He became jealous and bitter, and he started accusing and cursing god. But God told him that by doing so, he had become a sinner. But this is not what Cain wanted to hear and to take his revenge; he murdered his brother Abel.

As Abel was no longer alive, Cain’s offspring were also like him. You can also understand this through his descendants’ actions. One of his descendants was Lamech. 

If Cain committed sevenfold sins, then Lamech committed seventy-sevenfold sins. That’s why the author says to do what is meaningful, not what is expedient.

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Rule 8: Tell The Truth Or, At Least, Don’t Lie

You might say that you have heard this phrase many times, but tell me, how many times have you applied it to your real life?

Your answer might be less satisfactory, but the author has always believed it and acted upon it. I can prove this also by sharing one of his experiences with you.

At that time, the author was living in a rented apartment with his wife, Tammy. His landlord was Denis, a strong, French-Canadian man with a gray beard. He was also a gifted electrician.

But one of his weird talents was that he had a miraculous capacity for alcohol. He can drink up to 50–60 glasses of beer in just two days, and what is more surprising is that even after consuming so much alcohol, he can stand straight and talk consciously.

Denis also has a dog. Sometimes, the author hears both of them howling in the backyard at the moon. Also, when Denis has spent all his money on beer, he comes to the author’s house with his home appliances, so the author purchases them, and Denis gets some money to buy more beer.

Sometimes, the author would purchase his items, too. But one day, the author’s wife told him that he shouldn’t buy things from Denis because it is bad for Denis as well.

So the next time Denis came to their door, the author told him the truth by saying that it’s bad for him to drink too much, and sometimes he made Tammy nervous when he came so drunk and so refused to take his item.

At first, Denis stared at the author for a full 15 seconds, but then he left. He also remembered the author’s words and never came back to sell his items.

The author wants to teach us from this experience that it is better to tell the truth when you don’t know what to say. You should also tell the truth because if someone gets to know that you’ve lied to them, then they will get hurt. And sometimes, in tricky situations, just like the author’s, telling the truth might be helpful for you.

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Rule 9: Assume That The Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t 

Instead of saying we should listen to others more, and in this way, both the one who is listening and the one who is saying will get to know each other and learn from each other.

Let me give you an example. Once a client came to Peterson, he thought that he could give answers to all of his patients. But this case was different. His client was an alcoholic. She explained her problem to him.

He also listened to her patiently, but after some time, he noticed that she was exploring her thoughts and could solve her problem herself. So he let her explore, and without the author’s help, she was able to find the solution to her problem.

From this experience, he wants to tell us that listening to others without judging them will change our perspective and how we see the world.

He also says that wisdom can be obtained from anyone. It doesn’t matter what the person’s age is because sometimes, the person we think is less knowledgeable can give us more valuable lessons than we think.

Rule 10: Be Precise In Your Speech

You should clearly state what you want to avoid conflict or misunderstandings. When you choose your thoughts and words carefully, then the person you are talking to, will understand better and try to understand things from your perspective.

Being precise in your speech also reduces the chances of fighting or, indirectly, chaos. Clear and precise speech also helps build good and healthy relationships.

If you still don’t understand why clarity is necessary in your speech, I’d like to share an example. 

If someone is not listening to you and is always busy watching or checking his/ her phone, you should say, “ I feel unheard when you check your phone while I’m speaking.” Instead of saying, “You never listen to me.”

Saying the second statement can cause you to argue with that person. You can use precise speech not only in your personal life but also in your professional life and in any field you work. You can use precise speech to give advice to someone without hurting his/her sentiments.

Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding

Give your child the freedom to explore his/ her limits without the interference of adults. Skateboarding is more than just children doing dangerous stunts. It is about getting out of your comfort zone and taking risks.

If someone doesn’t know the taste of a bad coffee, how will he/she be able to distinguish between a good one and a bad one?

Children or adults can learn many things from skateboarding. For example, when you skateboard, there is always a risk of falling or getting hurt, but you skateboard anyway, and this helps to build confidence.

When you fall, you can learn from it. When you try to do new stunts, you also learn the art of adaptation. You change yourself a little bit to adapt to that new stunt, but when it doesn’t work for you, you try a new stunt.

Not only the one who is skateboarding can learn from it, but the one who is not doing it can still learn something from it. If you are a parent, you should allow your children to explore their interests freely.

And help them when they need your help instead of telling them the dangers or consequences of that task. Even though it’s good to tell your children the difference between good and bad, you’re stopping them from doing what they want to do.

It is human nature to do sufficiently safe tasks. For example, there is a playground that is too safe for children, so they lose interest in playing in it and go looking for places where they can do hilarious work.

So, it is better to design playgrounds that are dangerous enough to remain challenging for the child so he won’t lose interest in them.

Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding
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Rule 12: Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

Petting a cat when you encounter one on the street reminds you to be gratuitous. Suppose you are stressed about something or angry about someone while walking down the street, and suddenly, you see a cat. You pat her or stroke her fur, which calms you down.

Through this act, you will learn to appreciate your life’s small but happy moments, making you a grateful person. Cat is just a metaphor used here, it can be anything as little as a bird that can give you happiness.

When you wake up in the morning and hear the sound of birds chirping, you feel good and fresh. The emails that are pending on your phone will matter no more because God has given you this life to enjoy the small, pleasurable moments.

God has given you a reasoning mind to find meaning in the smallest things. Think of your dinner table when all the family members gather together to share their stories, experiences, and laughter.

This moment of connection and togetherness between the family members brings meaning to life.

You can also say that love and affection for others will bring you closer to humanity. For example, you are in a park and you see a cat, you pet her and give her some food, showing you affection.

And one cat-lover sees you doing all that, and this act of yours creates a willingness in another person’s mind to make you his friend. This shows us that your affection for that cat has helped you to form new bonds.

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