In “12 Rules for Life“, Jordan Peterson sheds light on how we can all live better, more fulfilling lives in a chaotic world. A philosophical read, this book is more than just a common self-help book. It presents a worldview distilled into 12 Rules.
Here’s a summary of the first 6 rules and my personal reflections:
1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
Alluding to the analogy of lobsters, Peterson describes how when lobsters win a fight (e.g. to compete for their territory), it changes their biology.
Winning lobsters experience a boost of serotonin, which makes them more “proud” and they stand taller.
By contrast, their weaker counterparts have less serotonin, remain timid and they curl up out of fear. Likely to be defeated by the tall, confident lobsters in the next fight. This reinforces the pecking order of lobsters.
Similarly, humans often mimic this behaviour too. Our hierarchies are determined by our behaviours.
People who frequently “win” at life become emboldened by their winning streak. Their confidence allows them to face new challenges head on. And their previous wins fuel their cycle of success.
Whereas people who constantly feel like life is never in their favour, often hunch and slouch around life. They are more risk-averse. And they tend to approach each situation as if they know they’re going to fail. Over time, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, reinforcing their negative outlook on life.
So, if you are trying to get ahead in life, think like a winning lobster. Pay more attention to your posture and how you stand.
Even if you are not in a winning situation, having an upright posture exudes dominance and confidence. Always strike your winning pose.
Your posture matters more than you think — it’s not just about how the world sees you, but how you see yourself.
“So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them — at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.”
2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
It’s funny how we often tend to treat others better than how we treat ourself. We think that we don’t deserve the same care.
For example, if your family member is sick you’ll tell them to go see the doctor. But conversely, when you’re sick, you’ll come up with a ton of reasons to convince yourself not to visit the doctor.
“I’m fine, it’s only a minor ache..”
Or, “Don’t have to see a doctor, save money.”
If we are caring towards our loved ones, why are we not extending the same care to ourselves?
Treat yourself like how you’re caring for a friend.
By that, it means you should consider what would be truly good for you. Not only what would make you happy.
Take good care of your health, get your finances in order and build quality relationships.
No one else is responsible for taking charge of your life except for yourself.
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
Pick your friends wisely because they can heavily influence your decisions.
Contrary to what we think, it is not easy to surround ourselves with good healthy people. It’s difficult to detect “toxic” friendships on the onset, and cut them out of our lives completely.
And it’s even harder to stand next to someone who is better than you because that requires courage and humility.
Ask yourself, “If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?”.
“Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity. Make friends with people who want the best for you.”
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
Often, we tend to judge someone else’s life superficially.
Especially with social media, we tend to get stuck in a cycle of shallow comparison.
It always seems like others are having a better life than you — driving a luxurious car, living in a nice house and spending weekends having fun with their family and friends. Or in Singapore’s context, achieving the 5C’s (car, cash, credit card, condo, country club).
On the surface, life seems perfect for them.
They have it “all sorted out”. And we need to play catch up.
The truth is, you’ll never know the reality and trade-offs.
Yes, they might bag home a high salary each month. And gained respect from others for their work.
But in reality, they are struggling with relationship issues. Neglecting their family and loved ones as they exchange their time for money.
You must recognise that the games you play are unique to you. There is no point in comparing yourself to someone else’s life.
(1) There is always going to be someone out there better than you.
There is an old Chinese proverb, “一山还比一山高”.
No matter how good you are, there is always going be someone who has achieved greater heights.
(2) The games you play are unique to you.
Don’t compare your Day 1 to someone else’s Day 100.
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, 6 months, 1 year or even 5 years ago – How much have you improved?
The only competition is the person you were yesterday.
Aim to be 1% better every day. Take gratitude for what you have and play the best game you can with the cards you’ve been dealt with.
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Parents often think that they must protect their children at all costs.
Even if it means that they have to condone their misbehaviour.
In Singapore’s context, we often observe how parents can be overprotective of their kids. There are cases of parents suing teachers for confiscating their children’s smartphones. When in the first place, the child broke the rule of using their phone during school hours.
By sheltering them from punishment and the realities of the world, parents think that they are doing their children a favour.
Children are born into this world with a huge capacity for evil.
They need discipline if they are going to grow up to become a decent human being.
As they say “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
That is not to say that you should hit children. Rather, it’s about understanding how conditioning works. Think rewards and punishment.
Ultimately, the goal is not to overly protect them from the chaos of the world. But to instill discipline and set certain ground rules, so they can make better choices for themselves when they grow up.
Or else, it is usually children that suffer in the end.
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
There is a Chinese idiom, “各人自扫门前雪，莫管他家瓦上霜。”
Loosely translated, mind your own business before you mind other’s.
We often say things like “The government should give more money to the poor, build better roads, have better policies and CPF schemes etc.”
Whereas, we do not work hard ourselves. Instead, we rely on the government or an imaginary third person to magically fix our problems.
We are often quick to find faults in others and blame external factors. Seldom do we look inwards and examine ourselves. Remember, when you are pointing a finger at someone, four fingers are pointing back at you.
Learn to develop an internal locus of control.
Examine your own life and how you can improve it instead of blaming the world.
A few questions taken from the book to ponder about:
- Have you taken advantage of the opportunities offered to you?
- Have you made peace with your family member?
- Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being?
“Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”
First 6 Rules..
Once again, those are the first 6 rules in “The 12 Rules for Life”.
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back
- Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
- Make friends with people who want the best for you
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
- Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
- Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world
Stay tuned for the remaining 6 rules in The 12 Rules for Life.
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