Rule #1: Respect and value both social institutions that have worked and creative forces that can innovate
Each new human generation doesn’t start from scratch. We already have social institutions that work. In times when these institutions are being attacked and risk crumbling, Jordan Peterson insists on the value of keeping what works.
Keeping each other insane, deciding collectively what’s important to us, and working in an efficient hierarchy are all crucial institutions that we inherited from previous generations.
Keeping each other sane:
We rely on each other to stay sane. We use each other to share our problems and goals. We also use others to get verbal and non-verbal feedback while navigating the world. Getting smiled at or frowned upon when you do a certain thing regulates your own behavior. And these responses follow a hierarchy of values.
The hierarchy of values:
How do we determine what’s important to us? How do we create a hierarchy of the things that are important to surviving and thriving individually and socially? This complex problem can’t be solved within the span of a lifetime. That’s because that time isn’t enough to produce solutions to every problem. Also, even if you come up with a solution, it has to work now and later, individually and on a scale not to mention that it has to be accepted and implemented by others.
No one can solve every problem. And even in a specific niche, multiple solutions are presented by many people who vary in skill levels.
To deal with the complexity of solution acceptance and implementation, the variability in the skills level, and our limitations in cross-domain knowledge, we act as part of a hierarchy.
A hierarchy isn’t just an invented solution to our different problems. Inside us, from a biological lens, there’s a hierarchy that keeps us moving forward as one individual. This hierarchy has been evolving for millions of years. This external social hierarchy mirrors it.
Embrace and respect the existing social institutions. Embrace your position in the hierarchy. If you’re a beginner, be grateful for what your superiors have to offer and learn from them. Be grateful to having equals who are more likely to give you truthful feedback and from whom you pick a close companion. Be ambitious and work diligently to become the authority. As the superior, constrain any power hunger and help people who are at the bottom. Remember that being at the bottom was once your present.
Social institutions aren’t enough (The dance between conservatism and the liberal tendency to innovate)
While we should respect the existing social institutions, it’s important to note that it’s not sufficient to only rely on what has always worked. These solutions aren’t guaranteed to work in the future. As the world changes, we need new solutions. Liberals have a temperament that enables them to try new things and innovate new solutions. We need these creative people who will try to defy the existing structures but not destroy them.
We need to make the distinction between extreme conservatism which tend to keep things as they were no matter what and extreme liberalism which tends to blindly destroy the existing institutions. What we need is a balance between the two.
Rule #2: Define your desired future self and focus solely on that
You need to understand your story. The story of your journey is constituted from your past, present, and future. All are important to reach your desired goals and move towards becoming the desired future self. Understand the past to avoid repeating your errors. Understand the present to know where you are. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know the starting point for your path. You need to define the future because otherwise, how would you know what you’re aiming at?
Pursue something deep and meaningful. Along the way, you need to stay disciplined and committed to continue your journey. Have the courage and the vision to face the dragons you will encounter. It is in those encounters that something inside of you will die and will be reborn again. That’s what transforms you.
Rule #3: Stop avoiding what needs to be faced
Don’t let the small things that annoy you unaddressed. These small things can be stacked over and over again. Even thousands of them can stack to form a monster. If you avoid talking about these small problems with your partner, for example, you’ll probably end up ruining the relationship. As trivial as these issues might appear, they can repeat again and again (probably daily). That’s why you need to address them.
Jordan Peterson shares the story of his father-in-law who snapped one night because he hated the plates. That’s after 20 years of eating on the same plates without saying a word. One tiny thing that you encounter every day is not tiny. Is a much bigger problem in the future.
Avoid blinding yourself willfully. If a fight is necessary to solve the problem, so be it. Be careful though. Try to investigate to understand if the problem you’re thinking about is what’s causing your frustration. Probably you’re frustrated at work, not about the damned plates.
Do not hide these problems from yourself. You’re capable of creating a narrative that skews or burry the issues you’re facing. Instead, Jordan Peterson insists that you admit to your feelings.
Then, you need to communicate what annoys you in a constructive way. The goal here isn’t to blame the other party but to solve the problem and improve the situation.
Be truthful and admit any problem you have even the smallest. Be courageous to face these problems. Otherwise, hell will slowly emerge because of your refusal to address the unwanted small trivial issues.
Rule #4: Embrace responsibility
Jordan Peterson starts this chapter by addressing the idea of doing the necessary things that others have left. To become invaluable you need to take responsibility for the problems that others aren’t solving
Take on more responsibility than you can currently manage. Even if the problem you chose is slightly greater than what you could manage, you’ll find meaning in facing that small dragon. Seek difficulty. There’s more reward to facing difficult things. It’s in taking that difficult responsibility that we begin our psychological development journey.
Give up the potential
We all start a life full of potential. Children can grow to become different things. But they grow up. In growing up, we sacrifice that potential to pursue our path. But that sacrifice is necessary. Otherwise, we’ll be childish adults with no will to take the responsibility to follow a long-term meaningful plan toward our desired future self. There’s nothing cool about the meaningless rebelliousness of an adult. What do we end up with? Since life is full of suffering (and is defined as suffering across religions), our refusal to commit and sacrifice the potential will leave us with all the hell that is to it without the meaning that we get from embracing responsibility.
Happiness vs Meaning:
Jordan Peterson encourages us to seek meaning instead of happiness. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy being happy. If it came your way, that’s great. However, you shouldn’t make happiness your goal. Instead, you need to pursue something much deeper, and that is meaning. While happiness focuses on short-term pleasure, meaning is the pursuit of something deep, difficult, and worthwhile. It’s in this pursuit you’ll get rewarded with positive emotions.
Rule #5: Do not do what eats your soul
If you find yourself forced to do something that is fundamentally against your principles, do not do it and stand your ground. It’s sometimes easy to give up to avoid the confrontation. Jordan Peterson takes the example of a client of his who was forced to avoid using the technical word “flip chart” because it’s regarded by her managers as a word of abuse. Why argue? It’s just one word after all. The reality is that this is the start of an endless series of attacks on existing terms.
Not only that this is certainly a non-productive way to exploit their time, but to submit to an ideology by doing and saying things you don’t believe in will eat your soul.
Do not betray yourself. Do not sell your soul.
This doesn’t mean taking a non-realistic hero stance. Jordan Peterson explains that you need to face these problems in a practical way. Start looking for a new job. Submit relentlessly several applications. If you get fired from your current position, you already have started the work to move forward. Don’t consider getting fired a disaster. It’s a great step towards working with people who not only won’t force you to betray yourself but who will lift you.
Refusing to do what you hate doesn’t include all the uncomfortable things that we need to do such as working hard, waking up early, and any hard yet necessary thing. Instead, refuse to do and say things that are against your principles. Remember that the path to self-betrayal starts with a tiny action (accepting to use a certain word) or inaction (pretending not to see the problem and failing to face it).
Rule #6: Ideology is the descent into hell
As Nietzsche predicted, tradition and religious belief are fading. As a result, people have lost the meaning and purpose that they got from a monotheistic religion and are falling prey to nihilism.
That’s where new seemingly promising ideas like communism get their attraction as a replacement for both religion and nihilism.
Nietzsche proposes the concept of the superman as the alternative to totalitarianism and nihilism. The superman is the individual who will be able to create his own structure of values. Jung and Freud object to this idea since individuals don’t understand themselves enough nor do they have enough time to establish their own system of values. Jordan extends this objection by indicating that there would be a conflict between the different sets of structures of values by each individual. In addition, there’s no sign that even one superman has ever existed.
So how do we create then a structure of values in the absence of tradition and religion while avoiding a destructive totalitarian system?
Jordan suggests that this should be done individually but through communication with others as a feedback mechanism. Individually, we have common values to be explored. That’s why everyone has a conscience. Jordan sees that as a piece of evidence that there are some universally common values in each of us.
Why is ideology the descent into hell?
Ideology treats our problems from one or very few dimensions:
To think that all our problems are the result of patriarchy or gender inequality or capitalism or any single or very few reasons is an oversimplification of the problem at hand. Ideologues tend to do that a lot. Feminists will blame everything on gender inequality and patriarchy. Communists will blame the rich and the existence of social classes.
Ideologues don’t investigate the problem to see the causes of the problem. They pick one or two that match their belief. They don’t generate multiple ideas and solutions to be tried. They just use their theoretical solution expecting them to solve every problem at hand. They don’t analyze the performance of the ideas and they end up hiding the truth when their solutions don’t work.
Ideology separates society into groups of oppressed and oppressors:
Ideologues, through their unidimensional or narrow thinking, end up separating society into 2 groups: oppressors and oppressed. Feminism suggests that men have always benefited from a place of privilege and are suppressing women. Men are the oppressors. Women are the oppressed. Communism claim that the rich are rich because they have always exploited the poor. The rich are the oppressors. The poor are the oppressed.
Ideologues are vengeful groups of people who will go after the ‘oppressors’ according to their narrow-minded theory. Cynics and resentful people won’t do the proper methodical approach to solving real-world problems. Instead, they’ll go after who they think to be the oppressors to punish them. With no proper problem-solving approaches, they’ll end up punishing the productive people. Just like communism punished the productive farmers.
To find purpose and meaning in life, start by solving your own problems as an individual. Then, start tackling a bigger problem with a methodical approach. Leave any ideology because that is your descent to hell.
Rule #7: Choose one path, commit and get disciplined to transform yourself
Every human has their own goals but yet we don’t control ourselves toward these goals. We seem to be controlled by distractions, inertia, and other metaphorical souls that haunt us and keep us away from that one path.
Choose one thing, commit and stay disciplined along the way. You may find cynism getting in the way. Everything can be meaningless if you want it to be. ‘I’m not going to change the world’, ‘we’re all going to die anyway’. Abandon that thinking. Instead, choose something. In the worst case, committing to one career is much more meaningful than having nothing. Nothing is painful.
To become the master, you need to accept your position as the apprentice first. Respect the rules of the game you’re playing. Once you master it, you’ll be the one maintaining the rules and even changing them.
Rule #8: Embrace art in your life
Jordan Peterson has gone beyond his famous advice “clean your room” to introduce another piece of advice that is beyond the order and that is to make one room as beautiful as possible.
Art is what connects us to the divine. It’s not just a luxury or something complimentary. We need to think about it as something essential. Because Jordan Peterson always has a practical approach, he advises us to buy one piece of art that we connect with. When connected with beauty, we protect ourselves from the hells of cynicism and the tendency toward destruction.
Rule #9: Face the old memories that you didn’t get over
Whether the memory is something you did and feel guilty about or that you were a victim of a horrible act, you need to clarify it in order to get over it. You can’t overcome an issue you still don’t fully understand in detail. Facing our past with its pains is essential to map our future. To know where we are now, we need to understand our past. In order to map our path toward our desired future selves, we need to let go of the suffering that can push us toward cynicism and resentment.
Jordan Peterson narrates several stories from his clinical practice of people who struggled with different traumas in their lives. One of them is a guy who was taught by his parents that adults are angels. This led him to believe that adults were not capable of violence until he saw it in the eyes of his boyfriend who wanted to hurt him (and probably even kill him based on the client’s story). This incident caused him a trauma that he didn’t overcome and that paralyzed him from living his life. Finally, he overcame this gradually by exposing himself again to the event and by studying our history to understand that humans are capable of horrible things.
It is by letting go of what we faced before that we can move freely toward our desired goals. To let these memories go, we need to expose ourselves to them again and understand them.
Do not let old memories be the barrier to reaching your potential.
Rule #10: Build habits and routines, and communicate to maintain a healthy romantic long-term relationship
Do not be so childish that you avoid discussing your problems
When you face a problem as a couple, you can either solve it or hide it. Hiding it will create a monster that will eventually emerge and bite you in the neck. Enough hidden problems like that will be our descent to hell. The alternative is to discuss the problem at hand with the intention to find the truth.
Do not be so childish that you don’t want to talk about it. It does feel bad to discuss these things. That’s why it’s meaningful to take responsibility and face the dragon, small or huge.
Sometimes, you don’t want to solve the problem fearing that you’d probably upset your partner. You’re probably afraid to hurt them because you care so much. Or probably you’re afraid to lose your loved ones, so you avoid this uncomfortable but necessary confrontation.
Are we going to avoid short-term inconvenience and negative emotions? Or are we going to sacrifice our short-term comfort for a healthy meaningful life-long relationship?
Go on dates, regularly
If you want to maintain romance in your relationship, you need to plan your dates. Jordan suggests at least one date per week. This unbelievably simple yet realistically useful advice can be hard to apply. You need to make this a habit. You can tie it to a certain day. As unromantic as all this may sound, this is actually a foundational habit to main a long-term romantic relationship.
Plan your sex schedule
A good number according to Jordan Peterson is 2-3 times per week. One is the minimum. Zero on the other hand is catastrophic. Zero, unless of course, a serious event has happened, is the start of a downfall. For example, let’s say the wife doesn’t want to have sex with her husband and that drags on for months. The husband on the other hand quits trying and plays the victim role. The husband will probably try to satisfy his needs elsewhere. And that’s a fatal strike. The wife, in this scenario, is the tyrant who’s denying her husband’s needs for whatever reason. The husband, on the other hand, plays the slave role and does two major mistakes. The second is the fatal and obvious one: cheating. He failed to delay gratification and sacrifice short-term pleasure for a more meaningful long-term relationship. The first one, which is of equal importance is that he failed to understand the problem and didn’t negotiate.
Plan your sex schedule that satisfies each individual needs and keeps the relationship from falling apart.
Assign roles in your household (traditional roles are lost)
The traditional roles have faded with no particular replacement. The traditional wife has always had her well-defined role. So did the traditional husband. However, things have changed and these roles have faded.
The absence of an alternative creates a dilemma. Who does what? Who cooks? Who does the laundry? Who provides for the family? Is there a distribution of financial contributions? What does that look like? etc.
All these roles, major and tiny ones, have to be specified.
Jordan Peterson encourages us to define these roles. If a fight has to be done to settle one role, so be it. That’s much better than having a fight over who’s supposed to do a certain task over and over again. Now multiply that by the number of major and micro-tasks that has to be done every day, week, month, trimester, and year.
Sometimes, when issues arise, we tend to get away from it, blame the other person, get angry, and block any way of communicating with the other person to solve the problem. Don’t become the tyrant or the slave. The alternative is to communicate and negotiate with your partner.
Finally, one of the most important lessons that I’ve taken from Jordan here is to not punish your partner for doing what you want. Praise them instead. Feedback shapes your partner’s behavior.
Rule #11: Do not fall into the trap of resentment, deceit, or arrogance
Betrayals, sickness, death, failures, random horrible events, and more can be all forces to push us toward being destructive and adopting the “screw it” mindset. Sure we can do wicked actions. But that doesn’t mean that our existence is evil as we have the potential to do good. Horrible things can occur even out of our control but that doesn’t mean that good things won’t happen too. People can be awful and are capable of harming, just like we’re capable of doing the same. That doesn’t mean that the good in them, just like in us, still exists.
Rule #12: Gratitude even when you’re in pain
Since life is full of suffering, we may tend to become resentful and even refuse to bring new life into existence. Thinking in this way can even get out of hand by not only denying the possibility of bringing new babies but ending the existing lives. Facing suffering with cynicism will only make things worse.
The alternative is to be grateful. This will put you in the best position to face suffering with the strength to alleviate pain for you and for other people. It’s definitely better to focus on what you have and the good that could come your way. Be grateful because you’re benefiting from a vast amount of achievements and sacrifices done by other people over a long time. Be grateful because that will protect you from degenerating into hell and instead make you strong enough to face the dragon in front of you.