12 Rules For Life Summary

One Paragraph Summary Rules can make life a lot easier as they will allow you to find a balance between chaos and order. The next tribulations will most likely be around the corner. Better you prepare yourself with some clear and consistent principles you can live by.

12 Rules For Life Summary

12 Rules For Life—An Antidote to Chaos
A book by Jordan B. Peterson

  By writing this book summary, I learned the following three things:

  • How to understand yourself
  • Why good posture is important
  • Whom you should compare yourself to 

Key Ideas

Good Posture

We live in a competitive, hierarchical society. Competitive society continually produces winners and losers. Winners and losers have different chemical balances in their brains. As has been shown by scientists, losers have a lower ratio of the hormone serotonin to octopamine. Winners, on the other hand, have a higher ratio.

These different levels of hormones will result in winners and losers having a different posture. We all have seen this when watching sports events, a winner stands upright, and the loser crouched.

The upright winner has better chances of winning the next conflict just because he appears superior.

Rule number one: take the posture of a winner, stand upright, and hold your head high.


Often it appears that we take more care for our plants, dogs, and possesions than for ourselves.

Taking care of our friends and family members is a good thing which we need to continue to do. But we should also take care of ourselves. We often do not take the prescriptions the doctor provided, we do not sleep enough, and we do not eat healthily. The list goes on.

But why is it that often we take more care of our personal belongings than ourselves?

Peterson thinks that part of the reason is that we tend to punish ourselves because we believe we are unworthy of feeling good. This unworthiness stems from our consciousness of our flaws.

Rule number two: care for yourself like you would take care of a loved one


Imagine a team of co-workers who is functioning exceptionally well. All the team members have good work habits, and the outcome the team produces is excellent.

Now imagine further that there is a problematic employee in the company, and the manager decides to put this employee in the team of the high performers to pick up some good work habits.

Studies have shown that the manager's approach will not work out as envisioned. It is more likely that the opposite will happen. The bad habits of the problematic employee will bring down the performance of the excellent team.

The same will happen to you when you surround yourself with the wrong people. Be picky about your friends. Your friends should be supportive, just like you would support your friends.

Rule number three: surround yourself with supportive friends


The Homo sapiens has an innate motivation to better himself. To be able to become a better self, it is important to examine ourselves and to be critical of our self.

Self-criticism is necessary, but it is equally vital to practice self-criticism the right way.

We often compare ourselves to others. But this is often a recipe for disaster. For example, when you compare your start in a specific area with someone who has already made massive progress in that area, the chances are high that you will lose your motivation.

What you should do instead is to compare your current results with previous accomplishments. This way, you will keep your motivation to become even better.

Rule number four: judge yourself against your prior accomplishments and never against others


Unfortunately, humans are not very gentle creatures. We are born with aggressive instincts. It is the main task of education to make us more civilized.

The author provides these three rules for good parenting:

Limit the rules to a few basic rules which are easy to understand Use the minimum necessary force to let the children learn to stick to these rules. Sometimes a disappointed look is enough; other times a week without video games might be the right force You and your parenting partner need to form a unified front. Don't let the children play one parent against the other

Rule number five: raise a responsible and likable human being

The world is cruel and unjust

The world is full of injustices and suffering.

Leo Tolstoy suggested only four valid responses to the world's injustices:

childlike ignorance hedonistic pleasure suicide struggling through life

Tolstoy's conclusion was that suicide would be the most honest answer. And because he lacked the courage to commit suicide, he chose to struggle on.

But you shouldn't blame the world for being unjust and cruel; instead, take responsibility for your life. There is still room to do something good and make the world a better place.

Rule number six: take responsibility for your life before you judge the world


The author tells the story of the monkey and the cookie jar. You probably heard it before. The story goes like this:

The monkey discovered a jar with only one cookie left in it. The monkey reached for the cookie, but he couldn't get it out because his fist was too big to pull it out of the jar. The monkey refused to let go of the cookie and was caught by animal hunters.

The moral of the story? There is a price you have to pay for your greed. The monkey lost his freedom because he insisted on having his treat.

Now we could compare the cookie to all the pleasures that surround us. We are often unwilling to sacrifice our immediate satisfaction for the greater pleasures we might enjoy later. Instead, we overeat, drink alcohol, take drugs, or engage in other self-damaging activities.

Instead, we could choose a life-goal, stick with it, make sacrifices to reach the goal, and relish our big rewards later. Sounds great, right?

Rule number seven: Seek meaningful goals over instant gratification


According to Alfred Adler, a well-respected psychologist from Austria, the main reason we are lying to ourselves is to reach our goals. Often we are not aware of those goals. Adler calls these delusions life-lies.

To become aware of your life-lies, you need to assess why you want something in life. You need to think deeply about your motivation to have a particular goal in life. Often the reality is that you strive for a specific goal because you want to avoid something else. Try to find the truth.

Rule number eight: stop lying and be truthful


Socrates, the ancient philosopher, is still today considered one of the wisest men of all time. One of the reasons he became such a wise man is that he was a great listener.

Today we often have conversations not because we want to learn but because we want to win. For most of us, it is more important to convince others from our standpoint than to understand the view of the other person. But we should do the exact opposite, we should first seek to understand and then to be understood.

Sokrates was sure of one thing only; that he knew nothing. This attitude allowed him to listen carefully to others and learn from what say had to say. His first impulse was not to convince others and win the conversation.

Rule number nine: listen to what others have to say


We tend only to see the things that are important to use. Either something is useful, or it stands in our way. Often we do not communicate things that are not important to us, which might be necessary for others.

When things are complicated and chaotic, there is only one chance to bring order to the matter: clear and precise language.

Imagine you feel sick and go to see a doctor. You know exactly how you feel, and you will have no problems to express your pain. But for the doctor, other information might be more relevant to give you a proper diagnosis.

Rule number ten: use precise language


Society requires rules; without rules, no society could function. Regulations should protect members of the community, but the rules should not suppress the good nature of people.

On the campus of the University of Toronto, where the author works, city officials decided to prohibit skateboarding. This rule suppresses the nature of those amazing skateboarders, who embrace danger to learn their admirable tricks.

Rule number eleven: don't bother young people skateboarding


When Superman appeared first in Action Comics, it was an instant success, and the superhero was very popular. But the comic book writers made a mistake; they gave Superman one power after the other, and the hero became nearly invincible and super boring.

Superman's victories were not real victories.

The same applies to our achievements. We only can celebrate our successes when we overcame difficulties in getting there.

Next time you have to go through hard times, make sure to stop along the way to celebrate your small victories, and allow yourself to find joy.

Rule number twelve: make the best out of even the smallest joys that life offers

First Insight: How to understand yourself

You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don't know what you believe before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.―Jordan B. Peterson

I read a book from Alfred Adler a while ago, so I was aware of the concept of life-lies. After reading the book, I asked myself how I could identify my own life-lies.

Peterson's advice to evaluate one's behavior to find out what the unconscious goals are is invaluable to me.

Second Insight: Why good posture is important

So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.―Jordan B. Peterson

Indeed, most of us will have heard this tip before. But I think it is worth reminding us again and again that good posture is beneficial.

If you ever attended a public speaking event, you will notice that speakers with good posture are far more convincing than others.

What I did not know is that good posture even improves your hormone levels in the brain.

Third Insight: Whom you should compare yourself to

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.―Jordan B. Peterson

I often find myself comparing myself to others. Most of the time, I feel terrible afterward. It is no exaggeration that I sense my motivation leaving my body.

The advice provided by Peterson is excellent. Stop comparing yourself to others; instead, compare yourself with who you were yesterday, last month, or last year.

This comparison will not kill your motivation. There is also a second benefit if you compare yourself with who you were last year; you will even notice if you have not evolved at all.

12 Rules For Life Review and Conclusion

This article is only a summary. It is concise and, therefore, only a collection of the 12 rules with a short abstract describing them. But do not let the review fool you. 12 Rules For Life is a book you should read thoroughly. Peterson's book makes the rules more vivid and understandable through the stories and the background he provides.

Remember, a book summary is just that, a summary.


  • Take the posture of a winner, stand upright, and hold your head high
  • Take care of yourself
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends
  • Do not compare yourself to others
  • Always judge yourself against your prior accomplishments
  • Be a friend to your kids
  • Nurture your kid to be responsible and likable
  • Take responsibility for your life before you judge the world
  • Seek meaningful goals over instant gratification
  • Stop lying and be truthful
  • Listen to what others have to say
  • Try to learn from what others have to say
  • Use precise language
  • Don't bother young people skateboarding
  • Make the best out of even the smallest joys that life offers

12 Rules For Life Summary—related resources

  Read more about Jordan B. Peterson on his website.

Get FREE access to all of my book summary PDFs.

If you liked reading the 12 Rules For Life Summary, you should also read Psycho Cybernetics Book Summary.

Posted on CuteMachine in inspiration, personal growth and philosophy.

Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter.

TOS • Privacy • Disclaimer