12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson – Book Summary and Best Quotes

Reading Time: 6 minutes


This is a profound and deeply philosophical read that makes you think. Peterson draws on history, science, religion, and philosophy to show us why we do what we do and how we can all live better, more fulfilling lives in a chaotic and sometimes cruel world.

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Key Takeaways

Stand up straight with your shoulders back

“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.”

Peterson candidly discusses how challenging life can be, and he proposes that regardless of the severity of the challenges we face, we stand up straight and take responsibility for finding a productive and meaningful reality.

Balancing chaos and order

“Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering. Then you have positioned yourself where the terror of existence is under control and you are secure, but where you are also alert and engaged. That is where there is something new to master and some way that you can be improved. That is where meaning is to be found.”

Life is a constant balance between chaos and order. If you lose yourself to either, it will be hard to find meaning. But learning the art of balancing the two will allow you to create a meaningful path.

Understanding self-consciousness

“But we know exactly how and where we can be hurt, and why. That is as good a definition as any of self-consciousness. We are aware of our own defencelessness, finitude and mortality. We can feel pain, and self-disgust, and shame, and horror, and we know it. We know what makes us suffer. We know how dread and pain can be inflicted on us – and that means we know exactly how to inflict it on others. We know how we are naked, and how that nakedness can be exploited – and that means we know how others are naked, and how they can be exploited.”

Self-consciousness is our knowledge of how we can be hurt and why. It’s our understanding of the realities of our human experience, and it also means that we understand that others face this same reality. As we operate in daily life, it’s important to remember these realities we all face and treat others (and ourselves) with understanding and compassion.

Define a vision and direction

“Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose you destination and articulate your Being. As the great nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, ‘He whose life has a why can bear almost any how’.”

Regardless of where you’re at right now, you can find a way to improve your circumstances. It starts with you, not others. You need to figure out who you are, what you’re about, and what you’re working towards. Defining this will strengthen your being and ability to endure obstacles you face. It will also help set you in motion for succeeding on the path you’re consciously chosen to pursue.

Choose your friends wisely

“Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? You might say: out of loyalty. Well, loyalty is not identical to stupidity. Loyalty must be negotiated, fairly and honestly. Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve.”

As we get older, it can be tempting to stick with friends out of “loyalty,” even if those friends are no longer good for us or don’t share similar values. It’s important to question this temptation and remember that you do not have an obligation to be friends with anyone. Of course, you should treat people well, but if someone becomes a toxic force in your life and takes a direction misaligned with your values, then it’s okay to choose to part ways. Your life will improve significantly if you surround yourself with people who want the best for you.

Perception and values

“We’ll start our analysis with a truism, stark, self-evident and understated: Sometimes things do not go well. That seems to have much to do with the terrible nature of the world, with its plagues and famines and tyrannies and betrayals. But here’s the rub: sometimes, when things are not going well, it’s not the world that’s the cause. The cause is instead that which is currently most valued, subjectively and personally. Why? Because the world is revealed, to an indeterminate degree, through the template of your values…If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.”

Your values influence how your perceive the world. So when something happens to you and you perceive it as something that is bad, it might be the lens or values through which you are viewing this event that could use a reconfiguration. This perspective does not discount the fact that bad things can happen, but there are certainly times where the glasses we are wearing make something out to be worse than it might need to be.


“Conscious human malevolence can break the spirit even tragedy could not shake.”

Malevolence is the intentional harm of another human being. It has the potential to break our spirits in ways that not even the worst of tragedies can. If you’re a good natured person, experiencing or witnessing intentional harm against yourself or others will be one of the realities of life that will be hardest to understand and digest.

Communicate your truth

“Truth will not come in the guise of opinions shared by others, as the truth is neither a collection of slogans nor an ideology. It will instead be personal. Your truth is something only you can tell, based as it is on the unique circumstances of your life. Apprehend your personal truth. Communicate it carefully, in an articulate manner, to yourself and others. This will ensure your security and your life more abundantly now, while you inhabit the structure of your current beliefs. This will ensure the benevolence of the future, diverging as it might from the certainties of the past.”

Learn to communicate your truth – it’s a powerful tool that reflects your unique experience and beliefs in life. When you can communicate it effectively, you will feel whole for being able to do so and you will attract others who hold similar beliefs and relate to your experiences. It’s not easy to ascertain your truth, particularly in a world where many people are trying to convince you of theirs, but it’s worth the effort.

Be precise in difficult conversations

“You have to consciously define the topic of a conversation, particularly when it is difficult – or it becomes about everything, and everything is too much. This is so frequently why couples cease communicating. Every argument degenerates into every problem that ever emerged in the past, every problem that exists now, and every terrible things that is likely to happen in the future. No one can have a discussion about ‘everything’.”

If you’re frustrated or upset, avoid the tendency to lump the specific situation causing your upset into all of the prior situations you have experienced with a particular person. For example, if your partner does something that irritates you, speak to that specific situation, not to all of the related situations in the past.

If you make the irritation about everything in your relationship, you will get nowhere with your communication and fail to solve the problem at hand. With enough of these communication blunders, your relationship may even fail. Being precise may be harder in the short-term, but it’s the only way to succeed in the long-run.

The two causes of resentment

“There are only two major reasons for resentment: being taken advantage of (or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of), or whiny refusal to adopt responsibility and grow up. If you’re resentful, look for the reasons.”

Resentment is a toxic emotion that serves no one. If you feel resentment, do the work to analyze the cause of this feeling so that you can find a way to move past it. Start by asking yourself a simple question: Have I genuinely been taken advantage of, or am I refusing to accept responsibility for the situation at hand?

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