12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life

Summary of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson: Drawing on the lessons of ancient myths, his clinical experience as a psychologist and his personal life, Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life offers an ‘antidote to chaos’ by proposing 12 profound principles we can put in place to give meaning to our lives by taking responsibility and being true to our words and actions.

By Jordan B. Peterson, 2018, 512 pages. 

Note: This is a guest review written by Cyprien Guerrin from the blog Vaillants Doctorants.

Review and Summary of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson


Rules? More rules? Isn’t life complicated and restrictive enough? People don’t like rules. We don’t always like following them, even when we know they’re good for us.

We all have a hierarchical value system, with some things we give more importance and priority to than others. This value system gives meaning to our lives and enables us to reduce our intrinsic vulnerability. We can’t act without it because we’d lack direction. Having this value system elevates the individual if he decides to take the weight of his life on his shoulders and choose the heroic path by taking responsibility for his life and the world. It’s the antidote to the chaos, suffering, horror, and poison that can come into our lives. It requires sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, but the alternative is horrible, as we find ourselves living aimlessly in a chaotic, collapsing, and tragic world.

Jordan B. Peterson wrote 12 Rules for Life to indicate that we need principles in order to turn chaos into order. We need values, rules, and principles to interact with the world.

Following these rules keeps us on the straight and narrow, giving order to our lives. However, too much order can be bad. Too much chaos in our lives is also bad. The optimal situation is to have one foot in order and one foot in chaos. This is the aim of the book 12 Rules for a Life. Jordan B. Peterson provides us with a guide to straddling the line between order and chaos.

Note for PhD students

This summary will also include paragraphs aimed at helping PhD students apply the principles of 12 Rules for Life to succeed in their doctorate.

Rule 1: Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back

The lobster hierarchy 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
The lobster hierarchy

Jordan B. Peterson begins 12 Rules for Life by explaining the hierarchy of the lobster (a 350-million-year-old species) and its similarities to the human hierarchy. When 2 lobsters meet in the ocean, they engage in a multi-stage ‘status’ battle. It’s an innate and complex defensive and aggressive behavior built into their nervous system (a system similar to that of humans in certain respects).

First, the lobsters will dance in front of each other, trying to show which one is the biggest and has the biggest claws. At the same time, they’ll send each other a liquid giving information about the other lobster’s size, sex, health, and mood. This first step may be enough to calm one of the 2 lobsters. If the 2 lobsters conclude that they have a chance, they will begin step 2, which consists of advancing towards each other in turn to intimidate the other lobster and make it understand who is stronger.

If neither gives up, it’s duel time. The 2 enraged lobsters attack each other, trying to turn the other on its back. Turning the other lobster onto its back will usually suffice. If that’s not enough, they’ll enter stage 4, which consists of fighting and inflicting serious damage on the other lobster.

The neurochemistry of victory and defeat

The losing lobster will no longer want to fight in the near future, as it will lose confidence and its nervous system will change into a subordinate, dominated system, more suited to its new position. The winning lobster, on the other hand, will become stronger by secreting more serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in regulating posture, enabling the lobster to grow even larger. Injecting serotonin into a losing lobster will make it more confident. It’s like antidepressants in humans.

To him who has nothing, everything will be taken

A lobster that has just lost is more likely to lose again, while a lobster that has just won is more likely to win again. The winner takes all. This is Pareto’s law or Matthew’s principle (Matthew 25:29). Those who have everything, more will be given to them; those who have nothing, everything will be taken. If you’re successful, you’ll get everything, if you’re at the bottom, you’ll get nothing.

And the females?

Female lobsters will identify and be attracted to the best lobsters by seeing which one is at the top of the hierarchy. So they’ll let the males fight their way to the top and select the best ones. It’s a brilliant strategy, also used by human beings. Being the strongest is not enough, especially in primates, as 2 monkeys can defeat a monkey stronger than them. The dominant monkey must therefore develop reciprocal coalitions with his fellow monkeys, be honest and take care of his tribe.

Dominance hierarchies

Jordan B. Peterson explains that these hierarchies have existed for hundreds of millions of years and are therefore an integral part of our environment. This is why the human brain is capable of detecting the position of others in the hierarchy in no time at all. We are therefore easily able to detect whether someone is successful and strong, or anxious and weak. One indicator is serotonin levels. A depressed person will have low levels. The way others treat you and behave towards you will enable your brain to measure your level in the hierarchy. If you have high serotonin values, you’ll be calmer and more confident, while standing tall and strong. If you have low serotonin values, you’ll be more reactive, and more impulsive, forgetting the future in favor of survival in the present.


Your body and mind must function like an orchestra, in harmony. Each knows the exact moment of each piece and each note, and the slightest change will create chaos. That’s why you need routines like getting up at the same time every day to maintain your circadian rhythm and eating a high-protein, high-fat breakfast.

Get stronger

You also need to learn to fight back. If someone tries to victimize you, being nice and letting them walk all over you isn’t noble, it’s weak and you know it because it destroys you inside. You have to be able to bite back if the need arises. Usually, being able to hit back is enough because others will feel it’s better not to bother you. However, you need to learn to say ‘no’ and stop the aggression as quickly as possible, because you risk developing bad feelings (resentment, anger, hatred) that mean you have something to say. By daring to respond, you’ll build up your strength of character.

Stand up straight

Standing up straight will make you feel stronger and happier. It’s the magic of positive feedback. If your posture is weak, cowering, showing defeat, you’ll inevitably feel that way. So straighten up. People will start to look at you and treat you differently. Of course, it’s not enough, but it’s a first step. Next, straighten up mentally and psychologically. Standing up straight means willingly accepting, with open eyes, the burden of life. Your brain will respond to this. Stand up straight, shoulders back.

Note for PhD students

The lesson for PhD students is: stand up straight and don’t let the weight of your PhD take control of you. Develop a writing and reading routine and learn to organize your time. Don’t let your supervisor control you and impose his decisions on you. It’s your doctorate, so take control by standing up straight, shoulders back.

Rule 2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping

In general, people take better care of their dogs than they do of themselves. Why is it that people prefer their pets to themselves ?

Order and chaos 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
Order and chaos

The world of experience of order, chaos and consciousness (the process that manages the first 2). Chaos is ignorance, the unknown territory stretching out without limits, beyond all boundaries. It’s where you end up when you’ve been betrayed, your dreams crumble, your career collapses or your marriage ends. Chaos is the ocean with Monstro, which Pinocchio must face to save his father. The journey into darkness to find something of value is the hardest thing to do, but the most necessary thing to do to become real, to go from Pinocchio puppet to real Pinocchio. 

Chaos has the potential to transform itself into order.

Just as God in Genesis brings order out of darkness. Order is the territory explored. It’s the structure of society, of our biology, it’s the warmth of home, it’s calm and protected. Order is when the world’s behavior matches our expectations and desires; it’s certainty. When everything goes according to plan and everything works. 

Order and chaos are fundamental and necessary elements that go hand in hand because every situation is made up of both. We live in order surrounded by chaos. One cannot exist without the other. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent was present because even God cannot conceive of order without disorder. You can’t wall off order because chaos will inevitably come. Whatever your situation, there will be things you know and things you can’t control. The idea is to be competent in dealing with chaos.

The optimal situation is to place one foot in what you master and understand (order) and the other in what you’re exploring and don’t yet know well (chaos). This is where you’ll find meaning. Too much or too little chaos or order is bad. Indeed, too much order is bad because there are always things to learn. Too much chaos is bad because you can’t tolerate being constantly overwhelmed by the unknown.

Good and evil

We are conscious creatures, aware of our vulnerability and aware of right and wrong. Human beings know how they can be hurt, and can therefore do it to others. We have the capacity to do evil, to voluntarily decide to make things worse than they already are. So, it’s not surprising that we find it hard to take care of ourselves with care and competence.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Bet as much on yourself as on others. If you don’t do this, you’ll become the slave and the other the master. It’s better for everyone to be strong. Love and embrace the sinner in you as you would help and forgive someone who is stumbling and imperfect. Be kind to yourself. You must learn to love and respect yourself. You’re not your own possession to be tortured and mistreated. Besides, you’re bound to others, and if you mistreat yourself, it can have catastrophic consequences for them. The ultimate abuse is to commit suicide and let others deal with the consequences.

The spark of the divine

Metaphorically speaking, you’re made in God’s image. You therefore have a semi-divine capacity, being capable at your level of resolution of creating order and chaos. We therefore have a moral duty to take care of ourselves, as we are linked to others and to the world.

Do what’s right for you

Taking care of yourself as someone you have a responsibility to help means considering what’s really good for you, not what you want, nor what makes you happy. Every time you give a child a piece of candy, you make them happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. Happy is not a synonym for good. You have to help yourself become virtuous, responsible, awake, capable of reciprocity, capable of taking care of yourself and others while fulfilling yourself. Behave in a way that allows you to respect yourself.  Consider your future and ask yourself what your life would be like if you took care of yourself.

What you need to know and do

To do any of this, you need to know where you are so you can chart your course. You need to know who you are so you can understand your strengths and strengthen yourself where you’re limited. You need to know where you’re going so you can move in that direction and limit the spread of chaos in your life by not developing resentment, cruelty, or the desire for revenge.

Then you must articulate your own principles so you can defend yourself against others when they want to take advantage of you, and so you can be calm when you work and play. You have to discipline yourself. You have to keep the promises you make to yourself and reward yourself for continuing to trust yourself. And, you must determine how to act to become and remain a good person. You must work hard to bring paradise and strengthen yourself to withstand the angels of death and the sword of divine judgment. Start by taking care of yourself as a person you have a responsibility to help.

Note for PhD students

To succeed in your doctorate, you must take care of yourself. You have a moral duty not to sacrifice your life for your thesis. You can’t put your mental and physical health on hold, or you’ll probably end up with burn-out. Be kind and compassionate to yourself; it’s been shown to reduce procrastination. Click here to learn how to stop procrastinating during your PhD.

Rule 3: Make Friends with People Who Want The Best for You

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Sometimes you stay friends with someone who’s bad for you and makes your life even harder. What makes you decide to stay friends with that kind of person and not make things better? Is it inevitable? A consequence of your own limitations and past trauma? Maybe you think you don’t deserve better.


Sometimes we choose friends who aren’t good for us in order to save them, out of naivety or too much kindness. In some cases, it’s to make ourselves look good. Maybe you’re really strong, generous, and want to do the right thing. That’s possible, but it’s also possible that you simply want to draw attention to your great compassion and magnanimity.

Someone might argue, saying “it’s good to see the good in people, and the best virtue is the desire to help them.” However, failing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a victim. And when you’re down, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want to get back up (although many people do). People often decide to amplify their own suffering and that of others to demonstrate the injustice of the world.

Saving the damned

Before you try to help someone, make sure they’re asking for help and really want to be helped. Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers believed it was impossible to convince someone to change for the better. A genuine desire to improve is the prerequisite for progress. Many people asking for help don’t really want to be saved, they just want the world to look at their suffering because that’s easier than taking responsibility. Be sure you know why this person has problems. Don’t assume that this person is a noble victim of life. It’s never that simple. If the person doesn’t really want to be helped, your help probably won’t make a difference.

It’s more likely that the person has rejected the uphill path because it’s hard and it’s easier to be afraid and blame the world for their misfortunes. It’s easy to put off until tomorrow what can be done today, to cultivate a few bad habits. Maybe the person just wants you to dive in with them. The good-looking friend who offers you a cigarette or a beer when you try to quit.

Staying in bad relationships?

Maybe you decide to stay in bad relationships because you’re too weak and indecisive to leave, but you don’t want to say so, so you keep helping them and convincing yourself that you’re a good person. Or maybe you decide to associate with people who are bad for you because it’s easy. It’s easy to decide together to sacrifice the future for the present, to take the easy way out, not to say it clearly and not to take responsibility together.

A reciprocal arrangement

If you have a friend you wouldn’t recommend to those closest to you (father, sister, brother, son), why would you have such a friend for yourself ? Choose people who want to make the world a better place. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. Surround yourself with people who support you in your ascent. People who won’t tolerate your cynicism or self-destruction, who will encourage you to do good for yourself and others. People who will help you grow stronger.

Don’t be with people who are jealous of your successes, deciding to punish you for them by erasing your successes or telling you about their past successes (real or fake). Surrounding yourself with good people isn’t easy either. These are ideals to achieve. And it’s going to take strength and boldness to walk alongside them. Choose friends who want the best for you.

Note for PhD students

To succeed in your doctorate, surround yourself with people who want the best for you. If you have unhealthy colleagues who are jealous of your achievements, spend less time with them, avoid difficult collaborations, avoid spending time with professors who think PhD students are slaves and scientific article machines. Surround yourself with people who make your PhD better.

Rule 4: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Someone Else Is Today

There will always be someone more competent, intelligent, and beautiful than you. You know that.

Several good games 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
Several good games

Find the game/hierarchy you can and want to climb. There are an infinite number of possibilities. So you can choose the games/hierarchies in which you’re good, talented and more productive than the others. Likewise, if you fail at one, you can always try another.

You’re probably playing several games: career, friends, family, personal and artistic projects, sports, etc. so you need to look at the whole picture when you judge yourself and your successes. You can’t be great at everything. As you aim to grow and become better, you do new things and therefore can’t be first from the start.

This is what makes it impossible and inappropriate to compare yourself to others properly because we’re all unique when it comes to the games we play. We tend to overvalue what we don’t have and undervalue what we do have. Instead, be grateful for what you do have. Someone who is seemingly successful at their job doesn’t necessarily succeed in all areas/games of their life.

Find out who you are

Discover and explore what interests you. Find out what activities are engaging for you. Discover who you are and how you work. Get to know yourself so you can articulate your values. How many hours can you work? How generous are you before you become resentful? What do you love (about yourself)? What do you want from your life? Are you tyrannizing yourself and being your own slave?

We strive for a better self

Indeed, we’re constantly evolving from point A (less desirable) to point B (which looks more in line with our explicit and implicit values). We always have the desire to create something better. Where you start isn’t as important as where you’re going.

What can you do today to become a better person? Find what needs fixing, what you can do to improve your condition in every aspect of your life (career, personal, family, etc.), to improve the lives of your loved ones. Find the little piece of chaos you could fix right now and negotiate with yourself whether or not you want to do that today and if it’s what’s best for your future self.

Start small, because it’s hard to add too much change to your life at once. Get used to it slowly. Do a little more each day, week, month, and year and see in 3 years who you’ve become. Your life can only get better.

What you want and what you see

You see what you focus on. Do you know the gorilla’s experience? We see what’s important to us. So you can be blinded by your desires and unable to see things as they really are. Your eyes are tools to help you get what you want, but the price you pay is to be blind to everything else. It doesn’t matter if everything’s going well, but when things collapse, it can be a problem. A problem that’s easy to solve because all you have to do is look where you haven’t looked yet. 

If you’re not happy, open your eyes to the problem. Maybe the way you look at the world today and the tools you use are no longer suited to your fulfillment. Maybe it’s time to make room for new things, to update your value system, your knowledge, your skills, and your desires. See what you can desire to make your life better, instead of suffering, resentment and jealousy.

This will only work if you truly want it, if you truly want to improve your life. You have to truly want to improve your life to allow your mind to conceptualize the world differently. Compare yourself to the person you were yesterday, not to someone else.

Note for PhD students

In your thesis, there are bound to be people more intelligent, competent, and passionate than you. People who work long hours and are prepared to sacrifice everything for their academic career. Comparing yourself to others is incoherent because each of us has a unique background. Some people have been doing research since before they started their PhD, others have just started, others have a family or practice sport on the side, etc. It’s impossible and inappropriate to compare yourself to others properly because we’re all unique if you take the whole of what we do. Instead, act today to ensure that your future self becomes a better person than the self you were yesterday.

Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them

Parents or friends 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Parents or friends

Some parents today are terrified of their children. They’re afraid their children won’t love them anymore if they make remarks. They may decide to sacrifice respect in order to keep their children’s friendship. The role of parents is to teach their children how to behave in society. Disciplining a child is an act of responsibility.

Aggression in children

Aggression is innate, not cultural. Children test their parents’ limits. That’s how they learn what’s permissible, acceptable and good for them and the world. Children are like blind men looking for a wall. The parents’ role is to limit and correct the child’s actions. The child’s actions must be corrected as quickly as possible. Not doing so is a disservice to the child, who will think that anything goes, which is a lie.

Discipline and positive reinforcement

Define an action you’d like your child to do and break it down into simple, clear, possible actions, then ask your child to do it. This is a bottom-up approach. You can’t ask your child to tidy his room if he doesn’t know what “tidy his room” means. You have to say, “Take your stuffed toy and put it back in the box.” Teach behavior and reward. Let the child know he’s done the right thing.

Discipline and punishment

Negative emotions help us learn and adapt our behavior. You can’t and shouldn’t shelter your child from the reality of the world; don’t overprotect your child by trying to hide the dangers of the world from him/her.

Minimum force required

Don’t turn a blind eye to your child’s misbehavior. Set as few rules as possible, and know what to do if your child breaks the rule. Define the punishment that requires the least amount of force to achieve the desired behavior. Try it out in practice. Perhaps an intense look will suffice, if not a verbal response, then a tap on the shoulder. You can also exclude the child, or hold and block him until he calms down. Once he’s calmed down, invite him back. Reward the child for calming down. It’s a miracle the child managed to calm down, so say “bravo.” Don’t be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, spiteful or deceitful. Similarly, if you’re angry with your child, don’t make him pay by ignoring him when he does something nice and good. Good behavior shouldn’t be punished, it should be rewarded.

Some suggested rules: don’t bite, don’t kick, don’t hit (except in defense), don’t torture other children, eat like a civilized person so that others are happy to have you in their home. Learn to share so that other children want to play with you, be careful when you talk to adults so that they appreciate you, go to sleep peacefully, take care of the things that belong to you, be good company, act so that others are happy around you.

Being a responsible parent

There’s no better gift a committed and courageous parent can give their child. Don’t let your children do anything that would make you dislike them.

Rule 6: Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World

Life is hard 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Life is hard. Everyone has their moments of pain and destruction. Sometimes it’s due to your own blindness, poor decision-making, or even malice. Sometimes changing your behavior can be enough to make things better.

Revenge and transformation

It’s easy to blame the whole world. We all sometimes reject and judge reality and blame God. You might conclude that the world is bad. Instead, decide to turn evil into good, darkness into light. Decide not to hold on to your desire for revenge, not to hold a grudge against the whole world. One man’s decision to change his life, instead of cursing his fate, can transform a world. By doing so, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shook Communist tyranny to the core.

This is the principle of life: we build our families, states, countries. We form a habitable structure and, through a lack of attention, let it crumble because we fail to notice that time is passing.

Tidy up your room

So instead of blaming the world, see what you can do in your own life to make things better. Consider what’s happening in your life and start small. Do you treat your family and wife with dignity and respect ? Are you seizing every opportunity that comes your way? Are you working on your career or your job? Do you have good habits or habits that destroy you? Are you take responsibility? Do you lie? Do you say what needs to be said?

Start by stopping doing what you know is bad for you. Stop saying the things that make you weak and dishonest. If you do, you’ll see change quickly.

Don’t blame society and capitalism, and don’t try to change the world before you’ve put your life in order. Maybe you’ll notice that if everyone did that, the world would be a fairer place. Clean up your room before you criticize the world.

Note for PhD students

To succeed in your doctorate, don’t blame your supervisor for not being there for you, your research group for not helping you enough, or other people for not writing for you. Instead, see what you can do in your life to improve things. What actions can you take to regain control and succeed in your doctorate?

Rule 7: Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)

Life is suffering. There is no simpler, irrefutable, clearer truth. But what can we do about it? The short answer would be to pursue the expedient (lie, steal, manipulate), the immediate pleasure, do what’s expedient. Or is there a stronger, more compelling answer?

Delayed gratification 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Delayed gratification

A recurring notion in the Bible is that sacrifice wins God’s favor if it’s right. The notion of sacrificing today for a better tomorrow is delayed gratification. Successful people sacrifice the present for the future.

What to sacrifice?

Small sacrifices for small problems. Big sacrifices for big problems. The greatest sacrifice for the greatest good. God sacrificing his son, the greatest of sacrifices. The mother’s sacrifice for her son (Michelangelo’s Pieta). Christ sacrificing his life. Sometimes we have to sacrifice what we love most, like Abraham when he had to sacrifice his son because God asked him to (all’s well that ends well). If you want to create paradise on earth, learn to sacrifice what you love most and the present moment to create a strong future.

Cain and Abel

The story of Cain and Abel (children of Adam and Eve) is about sacrifice. God loves Abel’s sacrifices but rejects those of Cain. A sacrifice has different values, and it’s not always easy to know why a certain sacrifice will please God or not.

Cain becomes resentful, jealous and bitter. It’s as if his sacrifice had been in vain. So he speaks to God, cursing and accusing him. God replies, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”  implying that it’s Cain’s fault that he fails. This is not what Cain wanted to hear, so he decides to murder Abel, his brother and his own ideal (Cain would like to be like Abel). He does it to take revenge, to protest against the injustice of the world. Abel succeeded in satisfying God, but could not overcome evil human nature. Our capacity for evil makes everything worse.

Discover your values and take action

To be able to sacrifice, you need to know who you are. You must discover your nature and your values. Know your own inadequacies, your cowardice, malice, resentment, hatred. Find out what’s most important to you on your moral scale, the ultimate value that can serve as God’s function. Act in that direction. If you act correctly, your actions will enable you to integrate and unify the parts of yourself. This is the antidote to chaos. Ask yourself what you could do today to make things better, not worse !

If you decide to put “making the world a better place” at the top of your hierarchy of values, you’ll experience a much deeper sense of meaning in your life. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

Note for PhD students

To be successful in your doctorate, you’ll need to define in advance what “successful in your doctorate” means to you. Take the time to think about it. Why are you doing a PhD? Once you’ve defined that, you’ll be able to move in that direction.

Rule 8: Tell The Truth — Or, At Least, Don’t Lie

Watch what you say and do. Sometimes we lie to ourselves, trying to convince ourselves that we’re doing the right thing. It’s often easier than taking responsibility when you know it’s wrong. Don’t lie to yourself.

Manipulate the world 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
Manipulate the world

Dare to act and speak the truth. By doing so, you’ll open up new parts of yourself. Every time you do this, you’ll activate and express certain genes and thus produce new proteins. Each of your actions and words will transform you into a better person.

Be very careful with everything you do because you’ll become what you do repeatedly. If you say yes to everything, you’ll turn into someone who says yes to everything. Likewise, if you lie or betray.

If you spend 20% of your time lying, you’ll be 20% of a liar, is that what you want? Every time you betray yourself, say things that aren’t true, act falsely, you weaken your character. If your character is weak, the adversity of the world will devour you.

Willful blindness

Willful blindness is the worst kind of lie. It’s refusing to know something that should be known, refusing to admit what’s happening, refusing to see the elephant in the room. It’s refusing to see the errors in pursuing the plan and lying to yourself. If you fail, adapt your method or your objectives. Be ready to learn from what you don’t know. It means having faith in the possibility of transformation.

Osiris and Set

Osiris was blind, so he didn’t see Set, his evil brother, come to kill him, scatter him in pieces across Egypt and send his spirit to hell. Fortunately, Osiris was not alone, for Horus, the god of vision and observation, was able to triumph over Set after a terrible battle. After the battle, Horus went to hell to save his father.

Truth instead

As our vision of the past deteriorates, we need to be constantly attentive, keeping our eyes open. It’s our responsibility to learn from what we see. Nietzsche said that a man’s worth is determined by the amount of truth he can tolerate. 

You’re not just what you are today. You’re also what you could become and know. Nor should you ever sacrifice who you could become for who you are today. You should never give up the best that lies within you for the security of the you of today.

The truth about your ambitions

Start by stopping lying about your ambitions, even if you’re not sure you know what they are. The best ambitions allow you to develop your character and your skills. Your character will be with you, wherever you are. What’s more, your character will enable you to prevail against adversity. 

Learn to listen to yourself when you don’t act or speak as you want, when you lie. Listen to that inner feeling, that feeling of weakness instead of strength. Do what makes you feel strong instead.

The truth about your goals

Clarify a goal by defining your point A (today) and B (where you want to go). Then act and speak to achieve it. By doing this, your goal will change and become more and more specific. Be open to change and transformation.   

Define a meta-objective that dominates your goals. This could be “Live in truth,” which would imply “Act diligently towards a well-articulated, defined and temporary end.”


To speak and act truthfully is to bring a habitable reality into the world. Truth is light in the darkness. If your life isn’t what it could be, what you’d like it to be, try speaking the truth. In paradise everyone speaks the truth, that’s what makes it paradise. Speak the truth, or at least don’t lie.

Note for PhD students

During your doctorate, be real. Listen to what your body and soul are telling you, if they tell you you need a break, take that break. If there are tasks you hate doing, listen to yourself and figure out how to deal with it. The worst can happen if you decide not to listen to yourself because you risk foundering and allowing the chaos to grow.

Rule 9: Assume That the Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t

Find out for yourself 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Find out for yourself

Advice is when someone reveals their superior intelligence to you. It’s a far cry from real, authentic conversation, which consists of listening and talking. Listening is observing what the person is telling you. If you really listen to someone, they can reveal profound things about themselves and how they want to improve. Instead of trying to bring your knowledge and great understanding of the world, choose to listen. Don’t steal other people’s problems, let them talk instead.


Talking is thinking, and thinking is important. It allows you to simulate the world and define how to act in it. Thinking is an internal dialogue between several worldviews, each with a vision of the past, present and future. Thinking correctly is complex and requires good articulation and the ability to listen to oneself. It involves internal conflict between different visions. Thinking can therefore be emotionally painful, as it can result in the elimination of one of these visions.


If thinking alone is difficult, talking with someone who really listens to you will do the same. Someone who will listen to your words and thoughts without judgment, without having anything to say, ready to collaborate and oppose you if need be. This person will be happy to tell you what he thinks is true, which doesn’t mean it’s the truth, but it does give you at least 1 point of view. Before you speak, put yourself in the right frame of mind to want to make things better.

How to listen?

“The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.”

– Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers suggests that the next time you find yourself in a conflict, stop the discussion for a moment and establish a rule: each person must begin by re-explaining the other person’s ideas and feelings precisely until it suits the person in question. This helps the discussion enormously and ensures that you’ve understood what the other person has to say.

Men and women

Generally speaking, men want to solve problems quickly and efficiently and are therefore accused of not listening. However, before a problem can be solved, it must be formulated precisely. That’s why women like to talk, to formulate the problem. They need to be listened to and questioned to ensure clarity of problem formulation. Talking is important because it keeps the brain organized and healthy.

Authentic conversation

Having genuine reciprocity between different people enables an in-depth conversation about a topic, with everyone trying to solve a problem. There are also conversations of mutual exploration, deciding to explore the unknown of the other. However, you have to be prepared to accept that your current knowledge may not be sufficient. Which it probably isn’t, unless you’re perfect. You have to accept this in order to have real conversations. A good conversation connects your souls. After that kind of conversation, you feel like it was worth it.

So, listen to yourself and others. Your wisdom lies not in the knowledge you already have, but in the constant search for knowledge. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Note for PhD students

During your doctorate, you are an apprentice, here to learn. So, listen to everyone carefully. Talk to as many people in your field as you can to learn as much as you can. Be humble and accept that you don’t know, ask questions, reveal your ignorance so that you’ll only be ignorant once. That’s how you’ll overcome the PhD impostor syndrome.

Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech

Tools 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

We don’t see objects, but tools, useful or not. A ll of usperceive the meaning and usefulness of objects directly. We know that a car is made to go somewhere. We simplify things to make them functional.

The world is simple when it behaves as intended

A car or a computer is simple until it stops working and we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t understand the complexity of these machines. We’re simple when everything goes according to plan. When things go wrong, when we haven’t paid enough attention, all the complexity of life resurfaces, and so you no longer understand the complexity of your brain, your consciousness or your body, chaos arrives.

Where can we look if it’s precisely what we see that’s insufficient?

What do we see when we don’t know where to look?

We begin to see chaos. Monsters rise to the surface. We find ourselves paralyzed, turning to stone. Then we detect whether the event is frightening, useful, to be ignored, dangerous? Our body takes over from our mind and produces a stress response with cortisol and adrenalin secretion, our heart beating faster. We prepare for the worst and the best, we press the gas pedal and the brake at the same time, we laugh or scream.

How can we prepare?

We can’t ignore our problems when they arise, or they’ll get bigger. Chaos emerges slowly but surely, like a growing dragon, with no one saying anything and deciding to ignore it. And so, we find ourselves inundated by the flood, surprised because we didn’t build an ark.

The solution, then, is not to ignore your problems, but to discuss and act on each of these problematic details. We try to convince ourselves that the detail isn’t important, when in fact it’s what counts in the long run. Every little problem you have, with your life, your loved ones, your work, discuss it and solve it. If you decide to remain silent, convincing yourself that you’re a good, loving, patient person, you’re probably lying to yourself, blinding yourself, running away from your responsibilities by deciding to let the problem grow and chaos engulf everything. Having this discussion isn’t always easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

If you decide to avoid it, know that this will inevitably lead to a poisoned future. If you decide to remain vague, know that this will make your life stagnant and dark. Not thinking about the problem doesn’t make it go away. If you refuse to examine, know that you won’t be able to understand reality and master it. If you refuse to specify the problem, know that you won’t be able to find the solution because you’ll be denying the problem’s existence.

Confront the dragon while it’s still young and small, rather than letting it grow. If you decide to wait, what you least want will happen and you won’t be prepared, so you’ll be defeated.

Building the soul and the world

Without shadow, there is no light. We must dare to look into this emerging chaos. Maybe that noise you hear in the jungle isn’t a tiger ready to devour you, but simply a little squirrel. Not specifying is even more worrying. 

 Determine exactly where you’ve been in your life, so you know where you are today. And figure out where you want to go because if you don’t, you can’t get there. Say what you mean. Act on what you say to see what happens. Observe, note and correct your mistakes. That’s how you’ll find meaning in your life and be protected from life’s tragedies. Be precise in what you say.

Note for PhD students

To enjoy a peaceful doctoral experience, you have to deal with each problem as it arises and not ignore it, otherwise the problem will grow until it becomes insurmountable. So as soon as something bothers you, an action bothers you, what your supervisor is asking you to do bothers you, say so. Be precise in what you say. Click here to learn how to manage your PhD.

Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding

Culture 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

The culture we’ve developed over the centuries shouldn’t be rejected. So-called patriarchy is the creation of mankind, not men. Throughout history, men and women have had enormous difficulty gaining their freedoms and overcoming the horrors of life. Women are often at a disadvantage compared to men, as they have the same vulnerabilities with the added price of reproduction and less physical strength. In addition to the dirt, misery, disease, famine, cruelty, and ignorance that characterized both sexes, they had the added disadvantage of menstruation, a high probability of unwanted pregnancy and a high probability of death in childbirth. This is perhaps reason enough for the legal and practical differences between men and women before technological revolutions such as the invention of the pill and the tampon.

Equality of outcome?

Should we equalize the outcome in all areas? “Equal pay for equal work” may sound simple, but it’s incredibly complicated. How do we define the same work? Who decides? Another problem is group comparisons. Should women earn as much as men? OK. Black women as much as white women? OK, do we need to adjust the salary for all the parameters of the human species? At what level of resolution do we stop? Which racial categories are true? Should disabled people earn as much? OK. OK. On the surface, it’s a noble gesture, but what about people with lower IQs? Less attractive? Overweight? Etc.? Group identity can be broken down to the level of the individual. Each person is unique. Deciding to force a result of 50% men and women in all areas is a dictatorship depriving individuals of the right to choose what they really want.

Gender differences

Men and women are different in many ways. Men are less agreeable (a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and conflict avoidance), less neurotic (a personality trait associated with anxiety and emotional pain), and will prefer things while women prefer people. These differences increase in countries with gender equality, so it’s not a social construct.


Many problems at work and in the family stem from a lack of aggression. In general, women (who are more agreeable and neurotic) tend to want to do too much for others. They are often naive and prefer to avoid conflict and confrontation with their problems. They will therefore constantly sacrifice themselves for others. This may seem virtuous and have its advantages, but it can also be counterproductive.

Aggression is innate

Boys suffer in the modern world. They are asked not to express their inner nature, to hide their aggression. Men tend to be more aggressive than women, and are more likely to cause trouble in class, get into physical fights, miss school, do dangerous things like parkouring, climbing cranes, or skateboarding. Of course, this process shouldn’t go too far. But asking men to reject this nature is not advisable.

Men need to toughen up. They do this by letting their natural aggression out. Men ask for it, women ask for it (because they want men, not boys). You can’t and shouldn’t prevent it in young men. The young man must learn to control this aggression so as to use it as best as possible as an impulse towards excellence, the desire to compete, to win and to be virtuous.

Don’t brood over your child too long

Wanting to protect your child too much by making him avoid the dangers of the world is counterproductive because when the child becomes an adult, he’ll be unconscious and won’t understand what’s happening to him. They need to toughen up when they’re young. Don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding.

Note for PhD students

Toughen up during your doctorate by doing with your doctorate what you want to do with it.

Rule 12: Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

cat 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

Life is suffering and it’s hard. Tragedies happen all the time. We all have limitations and vulnerabilities, and that’s what makes us lovable. Someone without limitations doesn’t exist and can’t be loved. Superman needs kryptonite, otherwise he’s not interesting. If you have nothing to achieve because you already have everything, you can’t be admirable.


These limitations also make us suffer. To improve things, change your time unit. If all goes well, it’s easy to plan your next 10 years. However, you can’t do that if things are going badly now, so you’ll first focus on a shorter unit of time: next month, week, day, hour, minute, second.

Take a break

Pet the cats or dogs you see on the street. It’s a good break. An added ray of light on a sunny day, a second’s respite on a rainy one. If you’re careful, even on a bad day, you might be lucky enough to have a few opportunities like this. Maybe you’ll see someone dancing in the street, a beautiful blue sky, you’ll drink a nice cup of coffee, or watch a little episode of The Simpsons, whatever. Go for a walk, maybe you’ll see a cat that reminds you of the wonder of life and the world, making life’s difficulties surmountable. Pet the cats you meet on the street.

Note for PhD students

There will be rainy, stormy days in a PhD. There will be days when you feel like giving up and quitting, or when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. During those moments, stay optimistic in your ability to make it and take time to look at the beauty of the world.

Conclusion to 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

I consider Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life to be a book that can have a huge impact on your life if you read it carefully and apply its advice.

What Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life has done for me personally

When I was 19, I asked myself for the first time: “ What do I want to do with my life? Who am I trying to become?” These questions began to nag at me, to linger in my thoughts. I was in a fog, unsure of my future. As I thought about it, I came up with a goal. It was as if a blaze of fire, a desire to act, had ignited and awakened within me. Jordan decided to take responsibility and action to achieve this long-term goal of mine.

I began to work hard, every day, towards this goal. I didn’t need any motivation or anything because my desire alone was enough to keep me working hard. My goal has been refined over time, but I continue to work hard every day to reach it. Jordan B. Peterson puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of taking responsibility for your actions and moving in an upward direction towards your desired goal. I totally relate to that.

In my personal life, especially in my love life, I’ve often found myself uncertain about the best way to act.

For example, I would, at times, ignore some detail that was bothering me, thinking that it didn’t affect me and wasn’t important (after all, it’s just a detail). I was so wrong, over time, all those ignored details ate away at me and my relationship. Jordan B. Peterson explains how to deal with problems and stresses the importance of never ignoring them. He explains that you have to face your problems and have that difficult conversation because if you decide to ignore it and let it grow, things will be much worse. I wish I’d known that much earlier in my life.

12 Rules for Life helped me understand how to become a better person. 12 Rules for Life has taught me to really listen to others, not to compare myself to others, to detach myself from the outcome by preferring to act to improve it, to surround myself with good people, to take care of myself, to articulate my ideas and projects with more precision, to take the time to look at the beauty of the world. I’ve also learned to turn chaos into order (at my level of resolution), so if you want to do the same, I strongly urge you to read the book.

Jordan B. Peterson gives us a psychological interpretation of the Bible, myths and ancient stories. When I hear these stories, they resonate with me; it’s as if a part of me wakes up and understands their meaning. I invite you to open up to the interpretation of these stories and see if they speak to you too.

I would say that the most important lesson I have learned from Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is that you must always act truthfully and tell the truth to yourself and others. This is the antidote to chaos.

What the book 12 Rules for Life can do for you and how it can change your life

If you’re willing to be honest with yourself, to tell yourself the truth, to be real and authentic, to stop blaming the world and take responsibility for facing your problems and living a better, more meaningful life, 12 Rules for Life  is for you.

Jordan B. Peterson invites you to define your point A (where you are today) and your point B (where you want to go and who you want to become). The author proposes that you define who you are today by inviting you to reflect on your values, desires, skills, knowledge, principles, shortcomings, limitations, hierarchies/games in which you want to become better (career, friends, family, personal, artistic or athletic endeavors), what you find engaging, what works for you, and so on.

Once you’ve done that, the author invites you to define a point B, the point that defines what’s most important to you on your moral scale, your ultimate value. Now you can start acting every day, making the sacrifice of the present, to move in that direction and make the world a better place. This is the antidote to chaos. It’s being honest by speaking and acting truthfully. But it’s also about living in truth.

Cyprien Guerrin of the Vaillants Doctorants blog, a blog aimed at helping PhD students succeed in their thesis.

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Have you read “12 Rules for Life”? How do you rate it?

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Strong points:

  • If you read 12 Rules for Life attentively, you’ll improve your life.
  • Jordan B. Peterson invites us on our own intellectual, spiritual and ideological journey.
  •  12 Rules for Life delivers on its promise to provide an antidote to chaos.
  • Unlike many books offering a superficial answer to help us take charge of our lives, Jordan B. Peterson provides a meta-answer, enabling us to behave authentically while taking responsibility.
  • Lots of personal stories as well as myths that make for enjoyable reading.

Weak points:

  • Powerful principles, but difficult concepts and therefore potentially hard to understand and implement in one’s life.
  • 12 Rules for Life is difficult to read, integrate and apply, so you’ll likely need to read it several times to get the most out of it.
  • Putting the principles into practice will take courage, so hang in there.

Have you read Jordan B. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life? If so, how do you rate it?

A Handy Huide to Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life

The twelve rules for life:

  1. Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back
  2. Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping
  3. Make Friends with People Who Want The Best for You
  4. Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Someone Else Is Today
  5. Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them
  6. Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World
  7. Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)
  8. Tell The Truth — Or, At Least, Don’t Lie
  9. Assume That The Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t
  10. Be Precise In Your Speech
  11. Do Not Bother children When They Are Skateboarding
  12. Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life

1. How has the 12 Rules for Life been received by the general public?

Released on October 18, 2018 by Editions Michel Lafon, the book ”12 Rules for Life” has been a success with hundreds of thousands of copies sold worldwide to the point of being ranked among the best sellers on Amazon.  

2. What has been the book’s impact?

12 Rules for Life has enabled its readers to become the best they can be, by teaching them to listen to others, not to compare themselves with others, to detach themselves from the result by instead acting to improve it, to surround themselves with people who are good for them, to take care of themselves, to articulate their ideas and projects with greater precision, to take the time to look at the beauty of the world.

3. Who is the target audience of 12 Rules for Life?

12 Rules for Life is for everyone.

4. How does the author view responsible parenting?

According to the author, there’s no better gift a committed and courageous parent can give their child. Don’t let your children do anything that would make you dislike them.

5. Why not overprotect your child, according to the author?

Wanting to protect your child too much by making him/her avoid the dangers of the world is counterproductive because when the child becomes an adult, he’ll/she’ll be unconscious and won’t understand what’s happening to him/him.

Principles of success versus principles of failure

The principles of successThe principles of failure
Take care of yourselfNeglect yourself
Surround yourself with good peopleSurround yourself with malicious people
Compare yourself to yourselfCompare yourself to others
Be a responsible parentBe an irresponsible parent
Tell the truthLie

Who is Jordan B. Peterson?

Jordan Peterson

Canadian-born Jordan B. Peterson was born in Edmonton on June 12, 1962. A psychologist by profession, he is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Toronto. His research is primarily based on behaviorism, social psychology and personality psychology.

Widely read for his views on cultural and political issues, he is one of the world’s most followed intellectuals of the late 2010s. He is the author of 12 Rules for Life, through whichhe teaches his readers to listen to others, not to compare themselves with others, and to detach themselves from the outcome, choosing instead to take action in order to improve it.

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