Littler Books cover of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos Summary

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos Summary and Quotes

Jordan Peterson

3.9 minutes to read • Updated May 22, 2024

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What it's about in one sentence:

A thought-provoking self-help book that provides practical guidance on how to navigate life's challenges and find meaning and purpose in an increasingly complex world.

Bullet Point Summary

  1. Rule 1: Having a good and upright posture will give you an advantage
  2. The phrase "pecking order" comes from the fact that the healthiest and strongest chickens will always get to eat first when the feed comes. This hierarchy is prevalent among all animals, including humans.
  3. Humans naturally associate one's physicality with their ability and intelligence. Standing up straight with your shoulders back will automatically make you seem more capable, or higher on the pecking order.
  4. Rule 2: Care for your yourself as you would care for a loved one
  5. People follow the vet's prescriptions for their pets, but one-third of people don't follow their doctor's prescriptions for themselves. We take better care of our pets than ourselves.
  6. We are conscious of our flaws and we all have some degree of self-loathing. As a result, we foster a sense of unworthiness of feeling good and create unnecessary self-punishment.
  7. We need to do what is best for us and not what is the easiest or make us the happiest. For example, as children we brush our teeth even though we might not enjoy it. We did it because it should be done.
  8. Rule 3: Choose friends that won't drag you down and want the best for you
  9. Studies have shown that when an underperformer in the workplace is placed among high performers, the underperformer's work quality does not improve, and the high performers actually adapted the underperformer's bad habits and their work quality decreased. In other words, the underperformer will negatively influence the high performers.
  10. It is important to have friends that are supportive and won't negatively influence you. An indicator of a good friend is that they won't let you wallow in negativity and will push you towards the right direction.
  11. Rule 4: Do not compare yourself to others, but to your past self
  12. Self-criticism can be helpful, as it motivates us to become better. However, when we base our self-criticism on other people, it is always a losing game because there will always be someone better in some way due to different circumstances.
  13. When we measure our success against other people, it then becomes a win-or-lose situation, and we lose track of the important progress and incremental growth we make. It is far more effective to improve upon your former achievements.
  14. Rule 5: As a parent, it is your obligation to raise a responsible child
  15. Humans are born with innate aggressive instincts. It is up to the parents to cultivate the children so that they become responsible adults.
  16. If the children don't learn to become responsible from the parents, they will eventually learn it from other less effective ways that won't involve love or understanding.
  17. Limit the rules given to the children, and keep them simple. Too many complex rules will frustrate the children.
  18. Use the minimum necessary force to correct a misbehavior, and make the consequences clear for infractions. Sometimes a timeout is required, other times a disappointed look could be enough.
  19. Parent the children in pairs -- the parents should always be on the same page.
  20. Rule 6: Take responsibility of your own life before you blame the unfair world
  21. Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, fought the Nazis as a communist and was imprisoned by his own state in a Russian gulag after World War II. However, he didn't wallow in the unfairness of his situation. Instead, he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, an influential book documenting his experiences. The book diminished Stalin's support worldwide and made a historical impact. It is now required reading for Russian schools.
  22. There will always be injustices in the world, but there will also always be a way for you to influence your own life for the better.
  23. Rule 7: Seek meaningful goals over instant gratification
  24. We should do what is right and not what is expedient. If we gave into the temptation of instant gratification, we would develop bad habits like binge eating, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc.
  25. Sacrifices need to be made in the short term to obtain long term success and happiness. We should be like the lotus flower -- it starts in darkness at the bottom of the lake and methodically climbs up until it reaches above the surface to blossom.
  26. Rule 8: Tell the truth and don't lie
  27. Friedrich Nietzsche said the measurement of a person's strength is determined by how much undiluted truth they can tolerate.
  28. Many people tell life-lies to themselves. Psychologist Alfred Adler defines life-lies as unrealistic or poorly thought-out life goals that we are trying to achieve. Believing in life-lies will lead you astray and bring undesirable consequences.
  29. Our ideas and life goals should be flexible and change as our worldview and circumstances change.
  30. Rule 9: Don't treat conversations as competitions, but as opportunities to learn
  31. Socrates is considered as one of the wisest men in history because of his admission that he knew nothing, and this trait allowed him to be open to learn from everyone around him.
  32. Having a conversation should be similar to thinking. In other words, you should always be exploring two sides of an issue.
  33. If you treat a conversation as a competition you won't be learning or growing, as you will only care about validating and reinforcing your own ideas.
  34. To be a better conversationalist, try to listen and summarize what the other person says. It will ensure that you've understood them correctly, help you remember what they said, and avoid distorting any details in order to confirm your own biases.
  35. You will be wrong at times, and it will be difficult to change your preconceptions and ideas, but you will be learning and growing.
  36. Rule 10: Use precise and clear language
  37. When you're sick and visiting a doctor, you should try to describe your symptoms and the events that led to your sickness as precisely and clearly as you can so the doctor can diagnose you more accurately and quickly. The same principle should be applied to other areas in your life. For example, if you're unhappy with something that your spouse did, be honest, clear, and precise in telling them about it. Do not be vague. This will make life easier for both parties.
  38. Rule 11: Don't bother kids when they are skateboarding
  39. The author posits that when kids are skateboarding, they are practicing their innate ability and desire to conquer fear and embrace danger. This human nature, which has pushed human progress, should be encouraged and not repressed.
  40. The author argues we should better our society by empowering disadvantaged people, and not by eradicating or repressing advantaged people.
  41. Rule 12: Enjoy the small joys in life
  42. Life can be painful and full of sorrows. The author's daughter has been managing severe arthritis since she was six. She has suffered constant pain and endured multiple surgeries. The author argues that it is because of these difficulties that make the small joys so meaningful.
  43. "When you love someone, it's not despite their limitations. It's because of their limitations."
  44. If you encounter a street cat, make sure to pay attention to it and pet it, it'll offer you solace from the hardships in your life.

12 Rules for Life: Resources