12 Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson

Date read: 2020-01-15

Rating: 9/10

Amazon page

A book that gives some structure if you’re scattered mentally or thinking Nihilistically. Extracts amazing practical wisdom out of biblical stories. Addresses the resentment that tends to come with extreme agreeableness and those who tend to avoid conflict. Rule 11 is a 10/10. I recommend watching some of his lectures, he has a captivating way of speaking.

My Notes

Rule 1 Stand up straight, with your shoulders back. 

Lobster pyramid of dominance. Settled by size and a ritual that rarely comes to be fatal.

Winning lobsters have a higher chance of winning future encounters, their posture grows. Losing ones have a higher chance of losing.

The dominance structure is millions of years old. There’s a very old part of your brain that measures your status in the pyramid.

Low serotonin = low confidence, more pain and anxiety, more illness and a shorter lifespan.

Pareto’s law (80-20 distribution). The high-status lobsters get all the good shelters, hunting grounds and they get all the girls.

Ying-yang. Permanence/Order vs Caos/Change.

Money is harder for the poorest because it’s scarce and it’s easier to fall to drugs and alcohol when you’ve lived a life of little pleasure.

There’s a part of the brain that assigns status. If it assigns you a low status based on how your peers treat you, it will restrict serotonin availability.

Lower serotonin means you’re more physically and emotionally reactive to events or circumstances that might produce emotion, particularly negative ones. Why you need to be more reactive? Emergencies are common at the bottom but being on the lookout at all times burns up resources, this is called stress.

Routine is so important. Habits make behaviors loose complexity and make them predictable. FAP: the dark side via Michael Pollan, “the good thing is I’m seldom surprised. The bad thing is I’m seldom surprised.”

  • A good example is with children. Delightful when sleeping and eating schedules are stable but horrible when not.
  • Do you wake up at roughly the same time every day? Fix sleep first
  • Depression and anxiety are hard to treat when you have unpredictable routines. The systems that mediate negative emotions are properly tied to the cyclical circadian rhythms
  • Then comes fixing breakfast. The author counsels to eat a fat and protein-heavy breakfast as soon as possible after waking up. No simple carbohydrates or sugar as they are digested rapidly and produce a blood sugar spike and rapid dip.

FAP: the author uses the generic masculine. He doesn’t write she/her a lot.

Spirals and amplifiers. Positive loops like a microphone and speaker feedback, it can destroy the speaker of it continues long enough. Common examples are addiction to drinking, mood-altering drugs, depression.

  • With drinking, it only gives you an exhilarating feeling while blood alcohol levels are actively rising and that means it lasts as long as you keep drinking. You can “cure” your hangover by drinking more
  • Agoraphobia. It usually comes after a panic attack (the trigger for the positive feedback loop). Usually, middle-aged women who went from over-dependence on father to dependence on an older man with no break for independence existence. Some form of trauma usually occurs (loss of partner, health issues, conflict in marriage or a couple close to you).
    • A common situation (like a busy grocery store) may trigger anxiety, heart rate increases, you detect it. Fear of a heart attack increases heart rate even more and anxiety becomes panic (which is regulated by another brain system designed for the severest of threats)
    • The next time you have to go grocery shopping it reminds you of the last panic attack you had. You go anyway, you can hear your heart pounding and now you’re afraid of going to the store. Then it becomes similar stores.
    • Your nervous system catalogs as dangerous anything you run away from. All stores are dangerous, then all buses and taxis and subways, soon are everywhere, even your own home if you could run away from it but you can’t 
  • Depression. It can lead to a feeling of useless and burdensome. That leads to isolation from friends and family which leads to being lonelier and more isolated which leads to more feelings of useless and burdensome. Then you withdraw more. 

Dominance counter. High-status individuals have a lot of benefits, but some responses can backfire. Trauma can lead to even more pain.

Individuals that have suffered trauma but have become higher status like successful people that have been bullied carry that to adulthood.

  • Crouched posture and low eye contact. Usually avoids behaviors associated with a dominance challenge
  • More likely to be bullied in adulthood
  • Usually can’t fight back in childhood due to size and strength
  • Just as often happens because people won’t fight back. Common in more compassionate or self-sacrificing temperaments, people who repress aggression because it is morally wrong or had a parent (usually a father) that was excessively angry or controlling
  • If you can bite, you usually don’t have to. Being able to react violently actually decreases the likelihood of acting with violence
  • People who are likely to get oppressed are naive and compassionate. They think good people don’t get angry (or shouldn’t), but that is contrary to their usually bottled up internal resentments

Resentments first are anger and then an indicator that something needs to be said or done. It’s the force that holds tyranny at bay. Standing up for yourself protects everyone from the corruption of society.

  • When naive people realize their ability for anger, they are surprised. An extreme case of this is PTSD of something you did, not so much something that happened to you, you realize you’re terrible potentially but also can stand up to tyranny because you can be terrible too

You can have an upward-moving positive loop. Be more, have more.

Emotion is partly bodily expression and can be amplified or dampened by that expression. Having good posture will make you feel higher status, while a bad one will make you feel lower status.

Standing up straight is voluntarily taking on the burden of being and generate a productive and meaningful reality.



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

We’re better at making sure our pets take their prescription medicine than we are to ensure we do it.

Adam and Eve’s story has a self-despise element. We blew it and that’s why we’re flawed.

Perhaps man is something that should never have been. Is that why it’s hard to tend for oneself when sick?

They believe other people shouldn’t suffer and they will work diligently and altruistically to help them alleviate it. They will do it to other animals but not to themselves.

It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself.

On the golden rule. Standing up for yourself is as important as standing up for someone else.

We are not God, but we’re not nothing.

You deserve some respect.

Nietzsche: the person whose life has a why can bear any how.



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

Delinquency spreads, not stability. Bad habits are easy to pick up.

How do you know that by trying to help someone you are actually helping instead of worsening?

Surrounding yourself with good, healthy people is harder than the easy path of staying in relationships that are destructive.

Rogers said that the key to getting better in therapy is the desire to get better.

Some people don’t want to be helped. It’s easier than shouldering their share of responsibility.



Rule 4: compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.

It was easier for people to be good at something when more of us lived in small rural communities.

If you’re one in a million now, but you’re from modern New York, there’s 20 of you. We’re digitally connected to the entire 6 billion humans.

How The internal critic operates. It selects a single arbitrary domain of comparison (fame or power) then it acts as if that domain is the only one that is relevant. Then it compares you with someone truly stellar within that domain. 

How much can you push yourself to work and sustain your desire to work? How much can you sacrifice to your partner before generosity turns into resentment?

Do you negotiate with yourself or are you a tyrant with yourself? Do you know what you like? When do you despise your parents, your partner or your children? Why?

Resentment comes from immaturity or presence of tyranny, in that case, you have a moral obligation to speak up because the consequences of remaining silent are worse.

You can negotiate with the internal critic in a civilized way. If we do the dishes, we can go for a coffee, you like coffee, what else do you like?

What you aim at, determines what you see.

Sight, aim, and value. Daniel Simons: the gorilla and counting the passes. Vision is expensive

Jung: a tree can’t reach heaven without having its roots in hell.



Rule 9: Assume that the person you’re listening to might know something you don’t.

Giving advice is not necessarily listening. I don’t want to steal my client’s problems.

The rule for actual listening via Carl Rogers: the other person needs to restate the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately.



Rule 10: Be precise in your speech

There’s no such thing as a Dragon story by Jack Kent. A child sees a dragon the size of a house cat, fun and friendly. His mother says, “there is no such thing as a dragon”. The dragon grows until it fills the whole house. The mother can’t clean effectively because the dragon is everywhere. The dragon takes off with the house. As soon as they acknowledge that dragons exist it shrinks again, it had to get so big because maybe it had to be noticed. The dragon represents an affair, hidden addiction, etc. It comes from ignoring, lying about issues, hiding (turtling).

Resentment (the dragon) builds when ignored.

Maybe love slowly turned into hate without mention.

Sophisticated and well-practiced martyrdom.

Even what is terrible in actuality it’s usually less terrifying than what we imagine.




Rule 11: don’t bother children when they are skateboarding.


The Vice of Compassion

Insufficiently aggressive people (the majority are women but also men), characterized by agreeableness and neuroticism, can be trained through assertiveness training.

They do too much for others, they tend to treat those around them as if they were distressed children, they tend to be naive, they assume cooperation should be the basis of all social transaction and they avoid conflict, which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work. They continually sacrifice for others.

This may sound virtuous and it is an attitude that has certain social advantages, but it can and often does become counterproductively one-sided. Because too agreeable people bend over backward for other people, they do not stand up properly for themselves.

Assuming that others think as they do, they expect, instead of insuring, reciprocity for their thoughtful actions. When this does not happen, they don’t speak up. They do not or cannot straightforwardly demand recognition.

The dark side of their character emerges because of their subjugation and they become resentfulOne reason is being taken advantage (or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of) or winy refusal to adopt responsibility. If someone is taking advantage of you, you have a moral obligation to speak up for yourself.

Confrontation to do. This might mean confronting your boss or your partner or your child or your parents.

  • It might mean gathering some evidence, strategically, so when you confront that person, you can give them at least three examples of their misbehavior so they can’t easily weasel out of your accusations
  • It might mean failing to concede when they offer you their counter-arguments. People rarely have more than four at hand
  • If you remain unmoved, they get angry or cry or run away. It’s very useful to attempt to tears in such situations, they can be used to motivate guilt on the part of the accuser due, theoretically, to have caused hurt feelings and pain
  • If you can push your point past the first four responses and stand fast against the consequence emotion, you will gain your subject’s attention and perhaps, their respect
  • You must also know clearly what you want out of a situation and be prepared to articulate your desire. It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you’d like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing
  • You might think: “if they loved me, they would know what to do”. That’s the voice of resentment. Assume ignorance before malevolence

Oedipal mother (sometimes father play this role too) says “I only live for you”, they do everything for their children. The deal is this: above all, never leave me. In return, I will do everything for you. As you age without maturing, you will become worthless and bitter, but you not have to take any responsibility. Everything that you that’s wrong will always be someone else’s responsibility.


When things are made too safe, people, including children, will either stop using them or find ways to make it more dangerous.

Jung: if you can’t understand why someone did something, look at the consequences and infer the motivation. It’s a psychological scalpel, and it’s the last resort option because it cuts too deeply. For example, someone burning the food, leaving the bathroom dirty.

Chris (Peterson’s friend) had great guilt over his ancestors taking the native’s land. He developed a hatred for masculinity and later for women as he wasn’t attractive to them, he had no job, no life. The smell of the unemployable. It’s a bitter odor. It was the product of a psyche and a body that didn’t operate harmoniously.

Antihuman behavior. My group of humans poses a threat to: the planet, natives, etc. They are self-appointed judges of the human race. For the judges of the human race, we are a failed and corrupt species. And if something is a plague or a cancer, then the person who eradicates is a hero. This follows mass shootings and suicide after.

No one may say without objection that existence would be better with the absence of Jews, blacks, Muslims or English people. Why is it virtuous to propose that the planet may be better with fewer humans?

It’s not as if life is easy for human beings. The planet is hard on us. We can cut ourselves some slack.


Gender differences, dynamics and group identity politics:

Boys are more disobedient (negatively) but more independent, they are less agreeable (related to compassion, empathy, and avoidance of conflict), their interest generally leans towards things, a girl’s towards people.

Boys suffer from a decline in mental health for being beneficiaries of the patriarchy, their accomplishments are considered unearned, their ambitions make them plunderers of the planet.

Women in power are having difficulties establishing a dating relationship of even moderate duration. Women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy, they become more vulnerable when they have children. Men show a preference for younger mates. Marriage is becoming reserved for the rich. Most women in top law firms leave when they get into their 30s, it’s full of hyper-competitive people, most of who tend to be men. The women that leave want a job and life that allows then some time for her family.

Postmodernists/neo-Marxists believe that western society is an oppressive structure created by white men to dominate and exclude women and other select groups, successful only because of that domination and exclusion.

Culture is an oppressive force, it crushes us into a socially acceptable shape, but it offers great gain too: language, thoughts, infrastructure, technology, wealth, lifespan, freedom.

Women also had to put up with the serious practical inconvenience of menstruation, the high probability of unwanted pregnancies, the chance of death or serious damage during childbirth and the burden of too many young children. Perhaps that is sufficient reason for the different legal and practical treatment of men and women that characterized most societies prior to the recent technological revolutions including the invention of the birth control pill. At least such things might be taken into account before the assumption that men tyrannized women is accepted as a truism.

Most of the physically demanding and dangerous work is still done mostly by men.

Here’s an alternative theory: throughout history, men and women both struggled terribly from the overwhelming horrors of privation and necessity. Women were often at a disadvantage in that struggle as they had all the vulnerabilities of men with the extra reproductive burden and less physical strength.

Power is a motivational force, A, not THE. Or even the primary role. Beware of single cause interpretations.

The most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in western countries are conscientiousness and intelligence, measured in cognitive abilities or IQ test (FAP: although this doesn’t cover all forms of intelligence).

Ideology for social Reconstructionists: all outcome inequality must be eliminated (inequality being the heart of all evil), all gender differences must be regarded as socially constructed.

Equality of outcome is a noble, compassionate and fair claim. But all outcomes can’t be equalized. The problem of group comparison:

  • Should salaries be adjusted for all parameters of race? At what level of resolution? Women, black women, American natives, how about the levels of
  • Using disability be used to equalize salary. Who is disabled? Is someone living with a parent with Alzheimer’s disabled? If not, why not? Someone with a lower IQ? Someone less attractive? Someone overweight?
  • Some people clearly move through life overwhelmed with problems that are beyond their control, but it is a rare person who is not suffering from at least one serious catastrophe at any point in time, particularly if you include their family in the equation, and why shouldn’t you?

Group identity can be fractioned right down to the level of the individual. (FAP: fair, but is there an achievable balance?).


Muntz (the bully from the Simpsons) is a corrective force. He’s tough and self-sufficient who uses his capacity for contempt to decide what line of immature and pathetic behavior cannot be crossed. Abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother.

If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher, if they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they already can’t provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates. It’s hard to find men who are higher in income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position.

The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to men.

If you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.

Skateboarding or acts of dare (always involve danger) is the process of Toughening up or of testing the boundaries.




Rule twelve: pet a cat when you encounter one in the street.

Fragility and existence/being. Jewish story: imagine a being who is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. What does such a being lack? Limitation.

Superman’s power grew to become invulnerable and he got boring. Superman then became vulnerable to kryptonite, green would weaken him, red would make him behave strangely. Deus Ex Machina: saving the hero at the final moment by a powerful god/power/friend. Superman was rebooted and made more vulnerable.

A superhero who can do anything turns out to be no superhero at all.

Being of any form appears to require limitation.

Perhaps it would be better Not to be at all (flirting with suicide) or if there was no being at all (flirting with genocide). It’s horrifying that those conclusions are understandable or even inevitable. What God allows such a world as this to exist? Thoughts and actions based on these thoughts worsen the situation, unbearably worse.

Noticing, not thinking is what does the trick. We love someone because of their limitations, not despite them.

Tips in handling a catastrophe. It’s a war, not a battle.

  • Set a time to talk and think about the crisis every day. Else don’t think or talk about it, it will exhaust you if you don’t limit its effect. Don’t do it at night, it’ll be harder to sleep
  • Shift the unit of time you use to frame your life. One day at a time. Matthew 6-34 “sufficient onto the day are the evils thereof”

God is not a genie:

  • Maybe it’s because the questions in prayers aren’t phrased in the proper manner. Perhaps it’s not reasonable for God to break the rules of physics every time we fall by the wayside or make a serious error
  • Perhaps you could ask instead what you need to do now to increase your resolve, buttress your character and find the strength to go on. You can ask to see the truth (see the shadow?)

On disagreements with an intimate partner:

  • Go to separate rooms if possible
  • What did we each do to contribute to the situation we were arguing about? However small
  • Do you want to be right or do you want peace?

Perhaps the question “what have I done wrong” is true prayer. What can I do to make things better? Your heart must be open to the terrible truth. Maybe that is the same as consulting with your conscience, maybe that is the same as a discussion with God in some manner.

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