Over the past months, I’ve been reading a great number of motivational and inspiring books on personal growth. I’ve also been listening to podcasts and watching videos on YouTube. This interest has sprung from a combination of factors as I’ve recently reached a few significant milestones in my life; I retired and turned sixty, and I have five grandchildren between the ages of three months and nine years. I am concerned with aging, health, and emotional wellbeing, as well as my children’s and grandchildren’s future challenges. I have more time to reflect and more things to reflect on, so I’ve found these books, podcasts and videos very helpful, especially in these uncertain and volatile times in which we can take nothing for granted. I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you on Mondays.
Today I’m sharing my reflections on The 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology.
He’s a brilliant speaker and writer whose words and thoughts are sometimes controversial and always inspirational. I have to say that The 12 Rules for Life is the most intellectually demanding of all the personal growth books I’ve to read so far, as he includes many references to religion, ideology, anthropology, biology and psychology, and sometimes I felt the information and ideas were going over my head. It was a challenge to read, but I’m glad I did.
I humbly offer you a brief overview of his rules, which does little justice to the enormity and scope of the book.
I’ve added a question for you to think about for each rule and a very brief summary.
Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders straight
Do you value yourself?
Based on ample examples from the evolution of our species, he concludes that our whole universe and all known societies are hierarchal. Our confidence and demeanour will define our place in the hierarchy. If we straighten up, physically, emotionally and intellectually we can claim a higher position and subsequently more successful life.
2 Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
Do you treat yourself well?
You have to figure out how you want to be treated and treat others in the same way, so you’ll get that treatment back from other people. The choice is yours to treat yourself and others well and receive the treatment you deserve in return.
3 Befriend people who want the best for you
Do your friends support you?
Learn to tell the difference between people who support you and bring you down. Move away from those who do not serve you because you are not helping each other in your respective journeys.
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
Are you better today than you were yesterday?
Don’t compare yourself to someone else. Acknowledge that wealth, intelligence, ability or luck never has been and never will be equally distributed. Don’t get bitter or jealous, work on yourself. You are on your own journey, not someone else’s.
He also suggests pushing yourself with gradually higher goals to do and be better than yourself. Divide big goals into smaller, doable pieces, so you’ll move forward each day.
Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Do you want your children to fit into society?
We all have a capacity for evil, parents should help children understand and control their dark side. He suggests two actions for doing so: positive and negative reinforcement.
Praise the positive actions your children do so they will repeat them.
If your children do things which annoy you, they will surely annoy other people, too. So, by curbing their negative actions, the child will play and interact with other people more effortlessly.
Listen to Jordan Peterson describing the rules himself in 14 minutes on YouTube.
6 Set your house in order before you criticise the world
What are you doing to solve your misfortune?
Suffering is inevitable. Life can be cruel and unjust, but you can recover from hurt and trauma, through therapy, forgiveness and gratitude. Do not blame others for your situation or problems. Learn from your misfortunes and do not judge others or be resentful or act out of resentment.
7 Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient
How can I improve my life in the long term?
Short-term satisfaction is fleeting. We need to learn to delay gratification, because meaningful relationships and events take time and patience. We must learn to trade with others, which means both to give or share and receive in exchange.
8 Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie.
Do you lie to yourself?
We sometimes lie to others to avoid pain, appear better, get what we want, etc. But the worst lies are those we tell ourselves when we are in denial. They don’t allow us to grow because we don’t acknowledge our failings.
9 Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t know
Do you want to be right or to learn from others?
This rule is about humility and listening to others. You don’t know everything, so listen to those who know more than you about a specific topic. Listen actively. One strategy is to summarise what the speaker said to see if you understand.
Avoid misunderstandings and arguments which are due to lack of meaningful conversations and listening to each other.
10 Be precise in your speech
Do you know what you want, and why you want it?
First you have to know and understand yourself and your beliefs and desires, and then you should express them clearly. Identify what you want and what your problem is and verbalise it correctly in order to solve it, improve the situation, or move on.
This one is a follow up of the previous rule, which was about active listening, this one is about clear speaking and will also help to avoid or overcoming interpersonal conflicts.
11. Don’t bother children when they’re ice skating
Do you overprotect your children?
Do not restrict children’s natural development in fun and games. You can’t protect your children from everything because the child will eventually have to face the dangers of the real world and find their own way in life. Shelter will not teach children to stand on their own two feet. Encourage honesty, responsibility and participation.
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
Do you take time to appreciate the good things in life?
Suffering is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find moments of joy in your life. Be alert to the unexpected simple joy in life, and remember gratitude, especially when things are bad.
He also gives us an important tip for a long-term or serious difficulty; cut your timeframe until you can cope. Don’t think of next year, next month, or next week even, think of coping until tomorrow, or for the next hour and so on.
I studied and admired the French existentialists in my youth, so I wasn’t distressed by this book’s pessimism, nevertheless I find Peterson’s proposals more optimistic and useful, because although he acknowledges the inevitability of struggle and strife, he implicitly rejects life’s ‘absurd’ nature by offering us twelve ways to make sense of life so it becomes ‘less chaotic’.
I enjoyed reading about his personal struggles and the real cases he describes. It was engagingly written, although I was sometimes overwhelmed with so much information, but overall it was a pleasure to read.
By the way, which is your favourite rule?
Mine is number 4!
Take care and stay safe.
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