12 Rules for Life
9 min read

12 Rules for Life

12 Rules for Life

By Jordan Peterson.

Confession: I don't write book notes for every book I read. I do this only for books that bring in tectonic shifts in my perception.

Spending energy in writing a book notes is two fold.

  1. The book gets automatically filed under timeless books category and gets added to the reference bookshelf which naturally gets into lifetime re-reads.
  2. It is also my way of paying tribute to the author for taking the effort in putting down the experience and wisdom in words.

How did I discover this book?

I read this book recently. Literally this week. I discovered the book out of Youtube serendipity. I was searching for some information around Price's law (for my upcoming psychology lecture) and Youtube took me to Jordon Peterson's snippet.  

I was mesmerised by the way he articulated the law. Out of curiosity, I started digging the rabbit hole deeper and found this book. Thanks to Kindle I purchased it immediately and started reading it. I couldn't keep the book down despite it being a heavy read. I haven't read such a dense book in one sitting so far.

In my view, this book is a perfect culmination of psychology, physiology and philosophy.

This book notes is my understanding of the book. The intent is not to distort any of author's POV but just to ponder and wonder about some of them. The book has about 12 rules of life. It truly was an antidote to chaos. Boy, what a book!

It felt like a bunch of meditations put together in the form of a book. It reminded me of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. In just 8 hours after reading the book, a lot of chaos inside me just disappeared. That is the effect it had on me which forced me to put down this book notes as a reminder to me everyday and also to my friends out there. Let's dig in!

Each chapter in the book is organised as one rule. Under each rule different topics in different directions are discussed deeply. Finally the rule is presented as a big idea in each chapter. The rules are in English  (obviously) but it is not just the English. There is much more behind the words and you must read the book for it. This is only an extract of big ideas from the book. I highly recommend this book if you are keen about designing your life and wanting to know more about life and its purpose/meaning/significance/impact.

Pay attention to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching. Stand tall.

The tall posture helps the serotonin (neurotransmitter) flow plentifully. This makes you and people around you feel that you are competent and able. The open posture helps in positive emotional regulation. As a result anxiety and awkwardness is reduced. By just having a physical open posture, the probability of good things happening to you increases multifold. Psychologically you will feel better as good things happen to you. Philosophically you will be able to accept the terrible burden of the world and still find joy in the process.

In chapter 1 the author discusses about lobster's dominance hierarchy, social cultural context, human competence hierarchy, the nature of nature and more. It was fascinating to read how hierarchies are in-built in us even before culture and society was born. Some marine biologists have questioned the lobsters and human nervous system comparison but hey, I didn't have time to dig around those.

This chapter is not about helping someone. On the contrary it is all about helping yourself by caring for self. It is more about reciprocity and not about nicety. As people we don't respect ourselves very much. The reason being, each one of us know how fragile and imperfect we are truly. It is an existential problem of mankind. All said and done, we deserve some respect from ourselves. We are morally obliged to take care of ourselves.

“He whose life has a why can bear almost any how” - Friedrich Nietzsche

To do this we need to strengthen ourselves, define who we are as individuals, refine our personalities, figure out what is good for us (not what we want), choose our destinations consciously, move a little closer to heaven and a little away from hell by starting with you. Justify your existence by taking responsibility for self. Begin by treating yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping.

This rule is not about making life easy for you but quite the opposite. Choosing friends who demand the best out of you can be hard on you. Choose friends, who will tell you, "you can be more than what you are right now".

Choose friends who support your upward aim. When you do well, they encourage and when you falter they punish you. They help you resolve in the most appropriate and careful manner. Choose people who want things to be better as your friends. It takes a lot of humility to stay around them and quieten your inner critic.

Comparison with someone who is better at something is a hard thing. It can invoke envy, bitterness, jealousy and even hopelessness. Inequality is inevitable by nature. Someone who is better at something will get more opportunities at that and as a result someone who is not good is devoid of opportunities. No wonder the gaps keeps raising (follows a parietal distribution). Instead of shutting yourself off, start paying attention to your surroundings (both physical and psychological). Ask yourself what is bothering you? Would you be willing to fix it? Would you fix it? If the answer is yes. Aim high.

With a high aim, it may be too hard to reach the goal on day one so break it down to proximal goals in such a way you will have reasonable probability of success with every step. With tiny increments compounding and moving towards the higher aim your life gets better than yesterday.

This way you would have fixed what you could fix and make your life better by making small progress in the being itself. This was very close to the 1% betterment rule everyday but a lot more deeper.

The chapter explored the nature of internal critic, aiming, sacrificing, what is wanted and what is in-front, paying attention and realising the trajectory is upward by comparing to you yesterday and not someone today.

As a parent, I felt this is the best parenting advice. The big idea is make your children eminently desirable socially which will allow them to mingle & play with other children. Parents take responsibility for their kid's discipline. They also take responsibility for our mistakes during parenting.

A child who pays attention and is alert can play. That child will have friends. Teachers and fellow parents will like them. Social development and psychological maturity can be promoted optimally. Clear rules make for secure children and rational + calm parents. The world is a chaotic, but the discipline expands the order and protects the child from the uncertain, hopeless and depressing world. Being honest about likes and dislikes about your children helps you bring discipline to the child in a committed and courageous manner. If you don't care about your children no on else does.

Typically, people are limited and life is tragic. The suffering and circumstances need not corrupt you. Listen to your resentment. Learning things about you will help you to grow up. From resentment, move to responsibility. Quit lying. Clean up your life.

Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today even if you cannot fully comprehend or articulate why you feel something is wrong. Do only things you could speak with honour. Use your own standards of judgement.

You will start speaking the truth. You will start owning up things. You will take responsibility to the omissions and mistakes. You will soon start seeing some more subtle wrong things. Stop that too. The clean up continues and slowly you will become more stronger and less bitter. Inevitable tragedies of life continue but without compounding effects of bitterness and deceit. The uncorrupted soul will start seeings it existence as genuinely good despite the vulnerabilities. You will become a source for all things good.

Expedience (convenience) is blind impulse. It is short term focused, irresponsible and immature. The mature replacement of expedience is MEANING. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organised and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay between the possibilities of the world and the value structure operating within that world.

If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It makes everything matter. It makes everything better. Do what is meaningful and not what is expedient.

One of the most straight forward rules is to tell the truth.

Truth brings the most habitable reality into Being. When we lie, we corrupt our perception and in that case we can't rely on self.  That is unsustainable for the being.

What you don't know is more important than what you know. Also what you don't know is greater than what you know. Recognise your ignorance.

Find our every moment what are you ignorant about by listening to others because you just don't know enough and they might know more. To get better continuously, keep learning than wanting to be right.

Have meaningful conversation. When you listen you get engrossed in the conversation. Listening is a transformative exercise and you get to hear amazing things from people when you intently listen. They tell you about things you have no clue about. So listen to yourself and others. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.

Socrates always sought the truth because he knew he was nothing. That is what made him the wisest man.

You don't get what you don't aim at - Psychology of perception.

Take aim amidst all the troubles. Specify your destination, and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you who you are. Narrow, and gaze attentively, and move forward, forthrightly. Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life.

No one can have a discussion about everything. You must speak forthrightly and call forth the habitable world from chaos. Ask, what is wrong, exactly? what do I want, exactly?  You must use honest precise speech to get the answers. If instead you shrink away and hide, what you are hiding from will transform itself into a monster that will devour you.


As parents,  don't shelter children against odds. Guide them to be socially desirable. World is a difficult and a bitter place. Give them courage and encouragement to strive.

They are capable of transcending oddities. Don't steal their success. Listen to their problems, aid them with strategy and don't impose any structure. Don't make them fragile. Allow them to handle the adventure. Don't bug them when they are skateboarding in life.

Life is fragile. Sometimes things happen beyond your comprehension. At those times do what is in-front of you. Appreciate everything you can. There might be times where life moves by seconds and minutes and not in months and years. Even on those bad days when your head is spinning you may be fortunate enough to see a cat and if you pay attention to it, it will remind you for just a few seconds that life is wonderful despite all the tragedies.

In a nutshell, Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility. Become aware of your own insufficiency—your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Betterment of Being is the pinnacle of value order and doing what is meaningful makes all the difference.

Though it was a heavy read it was a transformative one. I hope you get the essence of the rules for life. More than reading about it, live it. It is already making a difference in me.

🥂 to rules for life!

Stack: Kindle, Concepts App and Neuroreading the book notes were churned over a period of 8 hours. Weekend well spent!

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