Book notes: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson book summary review.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson



“Humorous, surprising, and informative, Dr. Peterson tells us why skateboarding boys and girls must be left alone, what terrible fate awaits those who criticize too easily, and why you should always pet a cat when you meet one on the street.

What does the nervous system of the lowly lobster have to tell us about standing up straight (with our shoulders back) and about success in life? Why did ancient Egyptians worship the capacity to pay careful attention as the highest of gods? What dreadful paths do people tread when they become resentful, arrogant, and vengeful?

Dr. Peterson journeys broadly, discussing discipline, freedom, adventure, and responsibility, distilling the world’s wisdom into 12 practical and profound rules for life. 12 Rules for Life shatters the modern commonplaces of science, faith, and human nature while transforming and ennobling the mind and spirit of its listeners.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

Yet again, I picked up this book because audible recommended it. Very high average rating and a lot of reviews. I briefly skimmed the synopsis and a handful of user reviews, and it seems interesting. We’ll see

The 12 Rules:

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

Key notes:

  • Shared belief systems, partly psychological and partly acted out, simplifies everyone in their own eyes and in the eyes of others
    • Shared beliefs simplify the world as well because people who know what to expect from one another can act together to tame the world
  • We experience much of our positive emotion in relation to goals
    • We are not happy technically speaking unless we see ourselves progressing
    • The very idea of progression implies value
  • Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back
    • The principle of unequal distribution applies to many areas in the world
      • Dominance hierarchies have been an essentially permanent feature of the environment to which all complex life has adapted

Reader’s note: About 50 minutes in and it seems like a lot of fluff. Right now he’s talking about evolution, chaos versus order, change and adaptation. I hope this picks up soon with more relevant stuff. Otherwise it’s looking like a three out of five rating for now.

  • Low-ranking human beings have low levels of serotonin, which means decreased confidence
    • It means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency
    • Lower serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness and a shorter lifespan
  • Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically
    • Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of being
    • Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily
    • You respond to a challenge instead of bracing for a catastrophe
  • Rule 2: Treat your self like someone you are responsible for helping

Reader’s note: now the authors having a discussion on order versus chaos. This is the second time. Is very esoteric and lots of fluff. I don’t really need him to define order and chaos for me especially at this length.

Reader’s note: This would be a great book for like an alien or someone outside of this world, or a baby who doesn’t know anything about the world. It’s very philosophical and high level discussion on broad topics of life.

  • It is far better to render beings in your care competent than to protect them
    • How can the nature of man ever reach its full potential without challenge and danger?

Readers note: It’s very interesting how he references The Bible a lot in this discussion of chaos and order. However, compared to a Christian view, his interpretations seem very secular, which is very interesting to me as a Christian.

  • It is much better for any relationship when both partners are strong
    • You do not simply belong to yourself
      • You are not simply your own possession to torture and mistreat
      • This is partly because your being is inextricably tied up with that of others, and your mistreatment of yourself could have catastrophic consequences for others
    • You have the spark of the divine in you. Which belongs not to you, but to God
      • We are after all, according to Genesis, made in his image
      • We have this semidivine capacity for consciousness
    • Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble
      • You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation
    • It impossible to convince someone to change for the better
      • The desire to improve was instead the precondition for progress
  • Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you
    • You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place
      • You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse
      • It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you
    • When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future
      • Then you disturb others in the depths of their souls where they understand that their cynicism and immobility are unjustifiable
        • You play Abel to their Cane
  • Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who some else is today
    • Any idiot can choose a frame of time within which nothing matters
    • Talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound critique of being, its a cheap trick of the rational mind
    • When you have something to say, silence is a lie, and tyranny feeds on lies
    • What you aim at determines what you see
  • Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
    • Parents are the arbiters of society. They teach children how to behave so that other people will be able to interact meaningfully and productively with them
    • It is an act of responsibility to discipline a child
      • It is not anger at misbehavior
      • It is not revenge for a misdeed
      • It is instead a careful combination of mercy and long-term judgment
    • Every child should be taught to comply gracefully with the expectations of civil society
    • On disciplining children:
      • Limit the rules, then figure out what to do when one of them gets broken
      • Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules
    • Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world
      • Merciful and caring proxies, but proxies nonetheless
      • This obligation supersedes responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem
      • It is the primary duty of parents to make their children socially desirable
    • Clear rules and proper discipline help the child, the family, and society establish, maintain, and expand the order that is all that’s protects us from chaos and the terrors of the underworld where everything is uncertain, anxiety-provoking, hopeless, and depressing
      • There are no greater gifts that a committed and courageous parent can bestow
  • Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

Reader’s note: I totally zoned out and almost purposefully didn’t take notes in this section because I didn’t hear anything that wasn’t fluff. At this point, I’m thinking I should have just read the intro and ending paragraphs of each rule. That would have saved so much time and probably cut the book down to at least 1/4 the length.

  • Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient
    • Practice sacrifice and sharing until you become an expert at it and things will go well for you
    • The successful among us delay gratification and bargain with the future
    • If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, it’s time to examine your values
      • It’s time to read yourself of your current presuppositions
      • It’s time to let go
      • It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best so that you can become who you might become instead of staying who you are
    • A long period of unfreedom, adherence to a singular, interpretive structure, is necessary for the development of a free mind
    • The artful infliction of suffering on another for its own sake is wrong
    • Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge
      • Strive for humility because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture, and death
      • Become aware of your own insufficiency, your cowardice, malevolence, resentment, and hatred.
    • Above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever
    • To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth
      • That is a state and state of mind at the same time
    • Meaning trumps expedience
      • Meaning gratifies all impulses, now and forever
      • Mere expedience multiplied by many repetitions produces the character of a demon
  • Rule 8: Tell the truth. Or, at least, don’t lie
    • Taking the easy way out or telling the truth
      • Those are not merely two different choices. They are different pathways through life
      • They are utterly different ways of existing
    • If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself
    • Lies warp the structure of being
      • Untruth corrupts the soul and the state alike. One form of corruption feeds the other
    • Set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain about what they should be
      • The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability rather than status and power
      • Status you can lose. You carry character wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity
    • If you pay attention when you are seeking something, you’ll move towards your goal
      • More importantly, however, you’ll acquire the information that allows your goal itself to transform
    • All people serve their ambition
      • In that matter, there are no atheists. There are only people who know and don’t know what god they serve
    • If you tell the truth, your values transform as you progress
      • If you allow yourself to be informed by the reality manifesting itself as you struggle forward, your notions of what is important will change
    • Apprehend your personal truth. Communicate it carefully in an articulate manner to yourself and others
      • This will ensure your security and your life more abundantly now while you inhabit the structure of your current beliefs
  • Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
    • The present can change the past. And the future can change the present
    • People need to talk because that’s how they think
      • People need to think otherwise they wander blindly into pits
      • When people think, they simulate the world and plan how to act in it.
    • People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking
      • True thinking is rare and difficult
      • Thinking is listening to yourself. You have to be at least two people at the same time.
    • Thinking is an internal dialogue of two different views of the world
    • True listening is dangerous and requires courage
    • Listening technique: someone can only talk after they repeated what the other person said and to that person’s satisfaction
      • If you listen without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking, and with very little deceit
    • People organize their brains through conversation
      • If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.
  • Rule 10: Be precise in your speech
    • Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission
    • Knowledge of reality enables mastery of reality
      • And if not reality, at least the stature of an honest amateur
    • The problem itself must be admitted to as close to the time of emergency as possible
    • Even what is terrible in actuality often pales in significance compared to what is terrible in imagination
    • Ignored reality manifests itself in an abyss of confusion and suffering
    • You need to determine where you’ve been in life otherwise you can’t get to where you’re going

Reader’s note: I’m so confused. This whole chapter was about being precise, and yet there was an hour discussion about infidelity and how that shakes up your world. It makes you question your beliefs and everything. I still am having a hard time figuring out how that connects or relates to the chapter thesis.

Reader’s note: WTF? I’m so lost.

    • When things are made to safe, people start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again
      • When untraveled and encouraged, we prefer living on the edge
        • There we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop
    • In well-functioning societies, competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status
    • The most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in western countries are intelligence and conscientiousness
  • Rule 11: Leave children alone when they are skateboarding
    • Too much protection devastates the developing soul
    • If they are healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men
      • They want someone to contend with, someone to grapple with. If they are tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter
      • They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide
    • If you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.
  • Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Reader’s note: WTF. So the title start it off with cats in this chapter. Then he digressed into discussion about dogs because he has one. Then he discussed an idea where people tend to favor their own group because it’s to their advantage. Then he compares that with cooperation versus competition. And then he says, don’t hate me whether not you like dogs or cats. Now he’s talking about suffering. This guy is literally all over the place. It’s very frustrating.

    • A superhero who could do anything is no hero at all. He has nothing to strive against, so he can’t be admirable
      • Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because being requires becoming as well as mere static existence
      • And to become is to become something more, or at least something different
        • That is only possible for something limited
    • When you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations, it’s because of their limitations

Reader’s note: I’m starting to get really irritated by how the author reads this. With every rule, he’s yelling at the listener about what to NOT do. “DO NOT DO THIS!” He sounds like one of those sterotypical “doom and gloom” religious fanatics who stand on street corners and would tell you to repent or will burn in hell. It’s the exact same feeling I get when he reads and explains his rules

    • Put the things you can control in order. Repair what is in disorder and make what is already good better
      • It is possible that you can manage if you are careful
    • The wonder of being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it

Reader’s note: The end of this chapter solidifies my belief that I really dislike this authors writing style. He uses a cute/ambiguous idea like “pet a cat when you see them”. Then, he takes an entire chapter or about 1vhour to explain what the hell that means (in a nutshell: enjoy the little things to offset all the suffering). However, he goes on PLENTY of unrelated tangents into some bigger and deep topics/ideas. I’m frequently thinking “how TF did we get here?” Then he will abruptly bring it back at the end of the chapter. The gold nuggets are there, but way too much fluff and yelling at the listener about what to do.

  • At a point, you must decide whether you want to be right or you want to have peace
  • It’s better to rule your own spirit than to rule a city
    • It’s easier to subdue an enemy without than one within
  • The best way to fix the world is to fix yourself
  • Hell = to suffer terribly and to know yourself as the cause

Closing thoughts:

Wow. I have to say this was one of the most irritating books I’ve listened to in a long time, or maybe even ever. I can’t even remember the last time I was this irritated.

My biggest qualm is that the author goes off on these HUGE tangents that have nothing to do with the main idea. It’s like, he just vomited all of his philosophical thoughts about LIFE on paper, then he came up with 12 cute-sounding rules, and then tried to stuff all of his thoughts into those 12 rules. But it’s painfully obvious that many of these thoughts don’t belong in those rules. Some of these are larger discussions or topics that I don’t think need to be in the book. OR maybe he should have restructured it in a better way so that he could get his thoughts out.

However, I imagine with all he has to say, it might be closer to “100 Rules for Life: My Personal Musings and Thoughts”.

While I don’t think all 22-hours of this audiobook is worth listening to, I think the 1/4 of the material is solid and does deliver great value. Lots of good nuggets of wisdom to be found, it’s just the sifting through all the fluff that’s really annoying.

My biggest suggestion to anyone interested is to read THIS book notes post or any other chapter summary or key ideas to get the full value of it. I also don’t recommend listening to it because the author reads it and he sounds very “DOOM AND GLOOM”, constantly yelling at the listener to NOT do something instead of encouraging them or giving them a new perspective. For example, he’ll yell at us and say “DON’T LIE, EVER!”. I’m like, jeez, okay, I know that. You don’t have to yell that at me like I’m a little kid.

I mentioned in my reader’s notes, but this would be a great video for an alien who wants to know about how the world and humans work. But not necessarily ideal for actual humans who live here.

My recommendation: Read my book notes, but skip reading the actual book (especially skip the audio).


Dozens of the author’s big ideas stuffed into 12 “rules for life”. Great rules and ideas, but too many tangents, rambling, and fluff.



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