12 Rules for Life Summary (Best 3 to Start Using Today)

12 Rules for Life: Short summary

“12 Rules For Life” by Jordan Peterson is a self-help book designed for young people, offering straightforward guidelines for becoming more disciplined, improving behavior, acting with integrity, and balancing life while finding enjoyment.

The book has achieved remarkable success, with over one million copies sold in just four months after its release. Unlike his first book, which initially struggled with sales, Peterson meticulously developed the ideas for “12 Rules For Life” over years to create a blueprint for a better life.

Since its January release and Peterson’s worldwide book tour, the book has soared to the top of bestseller lists globally. Peterson’s influence has extended to social media, where millions now follow him, and he receives over $60,000 in monthly donations through Patreon.

While the reasons for the book’s success remain to be fully understood, it has undeniably resonated with countless individuals, as evidenced by the numerous messages from people whose lives have been positively impacted.

These are the top 3 rules from this “12 Rules for Life summary” to start using right away:

  1. Take care of your own responsibilities before criticizing others.
  2. Show yourself the same care and responsibility you would give to a child.
  3. Strive for meaningful actions, not just convenience.

These rules serve as the foundation of Peterson’s book, offering valuable guidance for readers seeking a better life.

12 Rules for LifeHow to Apply
Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders backTake responsibility for your own life. Recognize that life isn’t fair but avoid blaming the world for your problems. Focus on what you can control and make the best of it.
Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helpingCare for yourself as you would care for a loved one. Avoid neglecting your well-being and practice self-compassion.
Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for youChoose your friends wisely. Surround yourself with positive, supportive individuals who encourage personal growth.
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is todayAvoid comparing yourself to others. Instead, measure your progress against your past self and strive for continuous improvement.
Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike themRaise your children to be kind and responsible individuals. Set reasonable rules and boundaries while nurturing their growth and development.
Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the worldFocus on improving your own life before attempting to change the world. Start by addressing your own issues and responsibilities.
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)Seek meaning in your actions and decisions rather than opting for short-term pleasure or convenience. Make sacrifices for long-term fulfillment.
Rule 8: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lieBe honest with yourself and others. Avoid self-deception and embrace the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’tEngage in healthy debate and active listening. Approach conversations with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others.
Rule 10: Be precise in your speechUse precise language to communicate effectively. Avoid vague or overly abstract terms, especially in conflicts and relationships.
Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboardingEmbrace individual differences and avoid stigmatizing entire groups based on the actions of a few. Encourage and guide those with aggressive or dominant traits to use their qualities for positive purposes.
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the streetCelebrate the small joys in life. Stay positive and appreciate even the little moments of happiness that come your way.

➤ 12 Rules for Life: Full summary

1️⃣ Stand up straight with your shoulders back

You’ve probably heard the term “the pecking order” before, but do you know its origins? It was coined by Norwegian zoologist Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe, who studied barnyard chickens in the 1920s.

He observed a clear hierarchy among these birds during feeding time. The strongest and healthiest chickens ate first, leaving the weaker or timid ones with scraps, ensuring that the strong retained their advantage.

This pecking order concept isn’t limited to chickens; it extends to various animal species. For instance, lobsters exhibit similar behaviors, whether raised in captivity or the wild, revealing that the pecking order is innate, not learned.

Scientists have noted that lobsters engage in aggressive fights to secure the best shelter spots, which actually affects their biology. Winners have a stronger ratio of serotonin octopamine, leading to better health and confident posture. Conversely, losers become timid and fearful.

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Humans also mirror this behavior. Those who consistently succeed in life gain confidence, enabling them to tackle new challenges and achieve more success. Conversely, people struggling with depression or a sense of perpetual failure tend to avoid risks, expecting failure, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, if you’re aiming to progress in life or break free from a negative cycle, take a page from the lobster’s playbook—adopt a confident stance, signal to the world that you’re a winner, and keep faking it until you make it!

2️⃣ Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

Initially, the saying might seem reversed. After all, isn’t it commonly stated as “love others as you would yourself”? However, we’re flipping it for a reason. Often, we excel at caring for others but struggle to extend the same care to ourselves. This discrepancy arises from our hyper-awareness of our flaws, which can lead to self-loathing.

As we dwell on our perceived inadequacies, we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve self-care, kindness, or positivity. Consequently, we direct all our positive energy towards our loved ones, particularly our partners and pets, neglecting to show ourselves the same kindness.

Eastern philosophy recognizes these harmful patterns through its teachings on the duality of nature. The Yin-Yang symbol symbolizes a dark side and a light side, suggesting that each contains elements of the other, and neither can exist without its counterpart. This philosophy emphasizes that harmony arises from embracing both aspects and striving for a healthy balance between them.

To illustrate this balance, consider the analogy of a parent and their child. Imagine a parent who seeks only the best for their child and is overly determined to shield them from anything “bad.”

However, if they go to extremes in protecting the child, preventing them from exploring and experiencing the world, they swing to the opposite extreme. Instead of being safeguarded from negative influences, the child feels stifled and may rebel to regain a sense of freedom.

Neither of these extremes promotes healthy growth. Thus, as you pursue balance in your own life, avoid veering too far into the dark side or striving for unattainable perfection. Perfection is impossible, and chaos is an inherent part of life, so don’t waste your energy fighting the inevitable.

At the same time, don’t focus solely on pursuing what brings immediate happiness. While it may be tempting to chase only those things that provide warm, fuzzy feelings, such an approach won’t foster personal growth.

Instead, prioritize what’s genuinely best for you, just as a loving parent ensures their child eats vegetables and goes to bed on time because it’s healthy for them. In your adult life, identify your life’s purpose and direction, then make thoughtful decisions that align with your goals.

3️⃣ Make friends with people who want the best for you

Have you ever noticed how the language and habits of your friends seep into your own life, often without your awareness? Spending time with people can have a profound impact on your behavior and choices. While adopting your friends’ speech patterns may seem harmless, it becomes concerning when their negative habits and traits start influencing you.

We often select our friends based on superficial criteria like shared interests or a similar sense of humor, without considering the true nature of these individuals or reflecting on the potential consequences of their toxic behaviors on our personal growth. Unfortunately, negative influences can significantly affect both our personal and professional lives.

Consider this: some managers and professors believe that placing an underperformer within a group of high-achievers will encourage the former to improve and emulate their successful peers.

However, research shows the opposite is often true; successful team members can be negatively influenced by the underachiever. This underscores the importance of surrounding ourselves with positive individuals who actively cultivate good habits.

Discernment in selecting friends isn’t about being judgmental or snobbish. Instead, it’s a conscious effort to seek people who promote positive change in your life. A genuine friendship is mutually beneficial; a good friend won’t allow you to wallow in self-pity or engage in negative self-talk.

They will call you out when they notice you developing toxic behaviors, and you’ll do the same for them. Both of you share the common goal of self-improvement, and your friendship becomes a catalyst for personal growth. So, choose your friends wisely, as they can profoundly impact your journey to becoming your best self.

4️⃣ Compare yourself to who you were yesterday (not to who someone else is today)

How often do you catch yourself comparing your achievements to those of others? Whether it’s to boost your self-esteem with statements like, “I did better than her!” or to undermine your confidence with thoughts like, “I’ll never achieve what she has,” this habit is toxic.

Comparing yourself to others can hinder your progress. It’s crucial to distinguish between self-criticism and comparison. Self-criticism, to a certain extent, is healthy as it encourages you to evaluate your flaws and areas for improvement, motivating you to work towards a brighter future.

However, self-criticism becomes detrimental when it’s distorted by comparison. Instead of striving to improve upon your personal best, comparison makes you measure yourself against others’ standards.

This perspective erases the significance of incremental growth in your journey, reducing it to a simplistic view of either success or failure. If you believe you don’t measure up to others, you may feel like a failure. But this perspective is far from reality.

When you step back and assess your life comprehensively, you can acknowledge the small personal milestones that mark your growth. Perhaps a colleague received a promotion over you, but during that time, you prioritized nurturing your family relationships, which was right for you.

Stop comparing yourself to others and assess your progress against your past achievements. Are you better today than you were yesterday? Do you aim to improve tomorrow? If your answer is yes (as it should be), you’re on the right track. Evaluating your growth in this way allows you to appreciate the unique facets of your life that contribute to your progress.

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Evaluate your progress as if you were a home inspector scrutinizing every aspect, distinguishing between cosmetic fixes and structural flaws. Create a list of areas that need improvement, and work on renovating yourself, just as you would renovate a house. When your focus shifts to becoming the person you aspire to be, you won’t have time for unhealthy comparisons with others.

5️⃣ Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Raising children is a profound challenge, often leaving parents perplexed about the best approach. As our children begin their journey as blank slates, we grapple with the responsibility of shaping their characters.

An essential starting point, as suggested by Niebauer, is recognizing the innate human capacity for aggression. Children can be unkind to each other, and many of us have experienced or witnessed bullying during childhood. So, what if our primary goal was to raise kind children? This approach may require moments when your child doesn’t particularly like you.

While striving to be your child’s best friend might seem appealing, it can deter you from setting and enforcing necessary rules. A “friend-only” approach focuses on keeping your child constantly happy and entertained, but it doesn’t contribute to their development into well-adjusted adults.

Embracing the role of a loving parent includes the willingness to teach valuable life lessons, even if it means setting boundaries.

To navigate this journey successfully, start by avoiding an excessive number of rules. Too many rules can overwhelm your child and make them feel trapped. Instead, concentrate on practical, real-world rules, such as promoting respect, kindness, and a commitment to non-violence unless in self-defense. These fundamental rules will help shape your child’s core values and character.

Another crucial tip is to use the least force necessary. Establish clear rules with corresponding consequences, ensuring that the punishment matches the offense. Understanding your child’s unique personality and preferences is key to discerning when a simple verbal correction suffices or when more significant actions are required.

Lastly, present a united front with your partner in a two-parent household. Make it clear to your child that they cannot manipulate or pit one parent against the other to achieve their desires. Offer unwavering support to your partner, even in the face of mistakes. Acknowledging and addressing these errors together is essential for growth and maintaining a harmonious home.

6️⃣ Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

The age-old question of why bad things happen to good people remains a perplexing mystery. Often, it’s easier to attribute injustices to external sources, whether on a global or personal scale.

However, this perspective isn’t conducive to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy proposed that the human mind could only respond to life’s overwhelming injustices in four ways:

  • childlike ignorance
  • hedonistic pleasure
  • suicide
  • or resolute determination to persevere

Yet, is this truly the extent of our responses? Unfortunately, some individuals have embraced a bleak worldview, exemplified by incidents like mass school shootings, which occurred with alarming frequency in the United States.

However, these events should not lead us to despair or conclude that humanity is inherently wicked. This perspective is contrary to Peterson’s sixth rule for living, which urges individuals to take responsibility for their lives and actions before condemning the world.

Drawing inspiration from the philosophy of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Peterson contends that it’s possible to reject life’s cruelty, even when confronted with firsthand experiences of it. Solzhenitsyn, after his dedicated fight against the Nazis in World War II, found himself imprisoned by his own state and subsequently diagnosed with cancer.

Despite these adversities, Solzhenitsyn resisted bitterness. Instead, he focused on the goodness within humanity, seeking opportunities to contribute meaningfully during his remaining time. His mission included writing “The Gulag Archipelago,” a scathing exposé of Soviet internment camps that not only gave his life purpose but also played a pivotal role in eroding support for Stalin’s communism.

7️⃣ Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

The story of a monkey with its hand caught in a cookie jar illustrates a familiar human tendency—the temptation to pursue immediate desires even when we know it leads to negative consequences.

Succumbing to such desires often results from despair, a theme interlinked with previous chapters. Viewing the world as bleak can drive us to seek pleasure as a means of temporary relief, rationalizing that it can’t be wrong if it brings us happiness. This rationalization can lead to detrimental decisions.

To counter this, Peterson advises prioritizing sacrifice over instant gratification. True sacrifice involves deferring immediate pleasure for the benefit of the future, focusing on the greater good rather than self-indulgence.

While we understand the concept of sacrifice in areas such as work to earn a living or save for a vacation, Peterson emphasizes that genuine sacrifice is rooted in actions for others.

Instead of pursuing selfish and immediate pleasures, consider dedicating your time to volunteer and make a difference in someone else’s life. Concentrating on the positive influence you can have on the world offers a respite from a negative worldview and drives you with positive intentions.

Imagine the lotus flower as an inspiration—a plant that rises from the muddy depths to bloom in the sunlight through gradual growth. Similarly, prioritizing sacrifices for the greater good over instant gratification promotes personal growth and selflessness.

This not only reshapes your perspective but also makes you a better person, ultimately steering you away from unhealthy comparisons and the pursuit of selfish desires.

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8️⃣ Tell the truth (or, at least, don’t lie)

We all tend to deceive ourselves in various ways. Whether it’s setting goals without taking action or glossing over our flaws, self-deception is a common human tendency.

Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler referred to these as “life-lies,” which he defined as actions and statements aimed at obtaining what we believe we desire. It’s crucial to note that this desire isn’t always in our best interest. Similarly, we often convince ourselves that we already possess the knowledge needed for self-improvement.

This form of self-deception can be particularly harmful because it discourages learning and growth. Jordan Peterson’s eighth rule for living is simple: stop lying to yourself and face the truth. Cultivate self-awareness, recognize when you’re engaging in these life-lies, and take proactive steps to rectify them. Align your goals with your genuine aspirations and be honest about your progress.

9️⃣ Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

In today’s world, especially on social media, conflicts and harsh criticism often dominate conversations. People frequently take offense quickly, resorting to hateful comments directed at strangers online. This behavior distorts the essence of healthy debate.

To reclaim the art of meaningful conversation, we can turn to the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophers who understood that respectfully challenging ideas differs from attacking individuals.

Jordan Peterson’s ninth life lesson emphasizes the importance of listening and the assumption that there’s something to learn from others. Instead of viewing conversations as competitions or opportunities to prove someone wrong, shift your focus to active listening.

Disagreement is acceptable, but approach discussions by first listening and then summarizing your understanding in your own words. This approach not only ensures clear communication but also conveys your genuine interest in understanding others.

🔟 Be precise in your speech

Life can often be perplexing, and our relationships with others add another layer of complexity. In many cases, our failure to grasp certain concepts stems from our selective attention to details that interest or make sense to us. However, overcoming this challenge involves confronting life’s complexities with precise language.

By using clear and accurate terminology, we can break down intricate ideas into manageable, understandable pieces. This simplification allows us to establish order in our lives, whether dealing with a car breakdown, health issues, or relationship conflicts. The ability to articulate issues using precise language facilitates problem-solving and clarity in communication.

1️⃣1️⃣ Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

As society strives to rectify injustices, it’s crucial to avoid painting all individuals or traits with the same brush. Efforts to combat toxic masculinity should not lead to the stigmatization of all men and masculinity. Instead, we should focus on blending our differences to create a harmonious future.

Jordan Peterson emphasizes that qualities like aggression and dominance, often associated with men, can be channeled positively with guidance. Just as men, like women, can have both positive and negative attributes, it’s essential to nurture these traits in a constructive direction.

By avoiding stereotypes and embracing diversity, we can build a society that harnesses the strengths of various individuals without suppressing their unique qualities.

1️⃣2️⃣ Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

While life often presents moments of sorrow, it’s essential to remember that it’s also brimming with moments of joy. Even though these moments may require more effort to find, they are worth seeking out. Jordan Peterson knows this firsthand through his daughter’s battle with severe arthritis from a young age.

Despite the unfairness of her suffering, Peterson emphasizes the importance of relentless positivity. Rule twelve encourages us to cherish even the smallest joys that life offers.

Peterson’s personal experience demonstrates that maintaining a positive outlook can help us navigate even the darkest times. By appreciating the little things in life, such as a chance encounter with a fluffy cat during a walk, we can find happiness amidst adversity.

➤ 3 Lessons from 12 Rules for Life

1️⃣ Assume Responsibility for Your Life

Life often confronts us with its inherent unfairness, a lesson we each learn in our own time and through various experiences.

Whether we come to this realization early or later in life, through minor inconveniences or profound setbacks, it’s a universal truth. Consider the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who, in his thought-provoking work “A Confession,” posited that there are merely four rational responses to life’s absurdity:

  1. Ignorance: Similar to a child’s refusal to acknowledge reality.
  2. Pleasure: Resembling an addict endlessly chasing hedonistic pursuits.
  3. Suicide: Viewing it as the most candid solution.
  4. Perseverance: Holding on and persisting despite life’s challenges.

Tolstoy, in an alignment of beliefs with Jordan Peterson, ultimately chose the path of perseverance, determined to struggle on.

This choice reflects their shared perspective on leading a meaningful life: Regardless of life’s inherent unfairness, they both emphasize the importance of not assigning blame to the world.

After all, there will always be others who have endured greater suffering. Viktor Frankl serves as a poignant example in this regard.

Moreover, even when the future appears bleak, directing your focus towards taking responsibility for your own life, metaphorically keeping your house clean, can help you weather the storm. By adopting this approach, you can navigate through challenging times with the knowledge that they, too, shall pass.

2️⃣ Take Care of Your Well Being

Have you ever received a prescription from a doctor and thought, “I don’t really need this”? Surprisingly, more than one-third of people regularly make this decision.

Jordan Peterson asserts that this isn’t a wise or self-assured choice; instead, it represents a subtle form of self-punishment. It’s a behavior that many of us engage in, wherein we often prioritize the well-being of others over our own.

According to Peterson, this tendency stems from our struggle to cope with life’s inherent chaos, as discussed earlier. Much like the biblical tale of Adam and Eve partaking in the forbidden fruit of knowledge, we occasionally indulge in our darker sides, leading us to believe that we deserve punishment.

However, just as we were all expelled from the Garden of Eden, we all carry both light and darkness within us. One cannot exist without the other.

Consequently, rather than fixating on the pursuit of either extreme, Peterson’s second rule encourages us to seek equilibrium. This rule implores us to treat ourselves with the same care and compassion we readily extend to cherished loved ones. It advocates doing what is ultimately best for us, even if it doesn’t always result in immediate happiness.

3️⃣ Delay Gratification

Achieving balance between your light and dark aspects can manifest in various ways. Sometimes, it means staying in bed to recover your health even when you want to work.

At other times, it could involve working late on a Friday evening. Regardless of the form it takes, the key is always choosing meaning over immediate pleasure through sacrifice.

Jordan Peterson argues that this approach is a valuable coping mechanism, helping us maintain a harmonious life without succumbing to rampant hedonism or becoming self-righteous to the point of madness.

It’s essential to recognize that not all sacrifices are created equal. Sacrifices made for personal gain, such as working overtime to fund a vacation, hold less intrinsic meaning than those made for the greater good, like dedicating your Saturday to volunteering.

While it may feel like you’re relinquishing rewards in the short term, sacrifice is fundamentally about deferring those rewards until you can attain something even more profound, often a sense of completeness or contentment. In this regard, it serves as excellent training for strengthening your willpower.

To illustrate this concept, consider Peterson’s analogy of the lotus flower. The lotus begins its life at the bottom of a dark lake. Gradually, it inches its way upward toward the surface until, eventually, it breaks through and reaches the sunlight. Embracing the path of the lotus flower can be a rewarding way to lead your life.

12 Rules for Life: Final thoughts

Life often appears perplexing, leaving us to ponder the right choices and the path to happiness. Jordan Peterson offers 12 simple rules to guide us, eliminating much of life’s uncertainty and leading to a happier existence.

These rules encourage self-awareness, open-mindedness, precise communication, embracing diversity, and celebrating life’s small joys, all while navigating the complexities of the human experience.

The 12 Rules For Life summary is for:

  1. The college student: This summary can offer guidance and valuable life lessons to help the student navigate the uncertainties and challenges of young adulthood, providing a fresh perspective and practical advice.
  2. The parent: For someone experiencing a midlife crisis or questioning their life choices, this summary can serve as a source of inspiration and reflection. It may help them find new purpose and direction, even at a later stage in life.
  3. Anyone not feeling great: The summary’s insights on taking responsibility, self-care, and finding meaning through sacrifice can provide solace and guidance to those struggling with loneliness and depression, offering a path towards personal growth and well-being.

In essence, this 12 Rules For Life summary can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals seeking self-improvement, personal development, and a deeper understanding of life’s challenges and opportunities.

Popular 12 Rules for Life Quotes

Jordan Peterson Quotes
“When you have something to say, silence is a lie.”
“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open…”
“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do…”
“You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act…”
“And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”

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Pavlos Written by:

Hey — It’s Pavlos. Just another human sharing my thoughts on all things money. Nothing more, nothing less.