Thirty Quotes from 12 Rules for Life

Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology from the University of Toronto, has become very popular, especially among young men. Here are some quotes from the book.

#1: The Power of Habit

The body, with its various parts, needs to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Every system must play its role properly, and at exactly the right time, or noise and chaos ensue. It is for this reason that routine is no necessary. The acts of life we repeat need to be automatized. They must be turned into stable and reliable habits, so they lose complexity and gain predictability and simplicity (18).

#2: How to Stop a Bully

Sometimes people are bullied because they can’t fight back…But just as often, people are bullied because they won’t fight back…Those who are only or merely compassionate and self-sacrificing (and naive and exploitable) cannot call forth the genuinely righteous and appropriately self-protective anger necessary to defend themselves. If you can bite, you generally don’t have to (23).

#3: Walking Tall

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. People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent and able (or at least they will not immediately conclude the reverse). Emboldened by the positive responses you are now receiving, you will begin to be less anxious (27-28).

#4: You Gotta “Flow”

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 tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you need to know. Thus, you need to place on foot in what you have mastered and understand 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 found (44).

#5: The Evil of Over-Protective Parents

Even the most assiduous of parents cannot fully protect their children, even if they lock them in the basement, safely away from drugs, alcohol and internet porn. In that extreme case, the too-cautious, too-caring parent merely substitutes him or herself for the other terrible problems of life (47).

#6: Vision and Direction for You Life

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 your destination and articulate your Being (63).

#7: The Pride of Compassion

It is not easy to distinguish between someone truly wanting and needing help and someone who is merely exploiting a willing helper. The distinction is difficult even for the person who is wanting and needing and possibly exploiting. The person who tries and fails, and is forgiven, and then tries and fails again, and is forgiven, is also too often the person who wants everyone to believe in the authenticity of all that trying. When it’s not just negativity, the attempt to rescue someone is often fueled by vanity and narcissism…How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them – or you – further down?…Assume first that you are doing the easiest thing, and not the most difficult (76, 78-9).

#8: The Mystery of Success

Success: that’s the mystery. Virtue: that’s the inexplicable. To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits. You just have to bide your time (81). 

#9: Growth > Winning

Winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning but you’re not growing, and growing might be the most important form of winning. Should victory in the present always take precedence over trajectory across time? (88).

#10: A Better Tomorrow

Five hundred small decisions, five hundred tiny actions, compose your day, today, and everyday. Could you aim one or two of these at a better result? Better, in your own private opinion, by your own individual standards? Could you compare your specific personal tomorrow with your specific personal yesterday? Could you use your own judgment, and ask yourself what a better tomorrow might be?

#11: Self-Solving Problems

That’s how you deal with overwhelming complexity of the world: you ignore it…All that ignored world presents a truly terrible problem when we’re in crisis, and nothing whatsoever is turning out what we want it to. Then, there can be far too much to deal with. Happily, however, that problem contains within at the seeds of its own solution. Since you’ve ignored so much, there was plenty of possibility left where you have not yet looked (98). 

#12: Discipline Equals Freedom

It may be the case that for [the religious person] to be “good” means nothing but “obedient” – even blindly obedient. Hence the classical liberal Western enlightenment objection to religious belief: obedience is not enough. But at least it’s a start (and we have forgotten this): you cannot aim yourself at anything if you were completely undisciplined and untutored. You will not know what to target, and you won’t fly straight, even if you somehow get your aim right. Then you will conclude, “There’s nothing to aim for.” And then you will be lost (102).

#13: Motivation

People can learn, even if they are very unskilled at the beginning. Ask yourself what you would require to be motivated to undertake the job, honestly, and listen to the answer. Don’t tell yourself, “I shouldn’t need to do that to motivate myself.” What do you know about yourself? You are, on the other hand, the most complex thing in the entire universe, and on the other hand, someone who can’t even set the clock on your microwave. Don’t overestimate your self-knowledge (109).

#14: Mothers Against Gender Equality

That’s the unstated goal [to make a little God-Emperor of the Universe] of many a mother, including many who consider themselves advocate for full gender of quality. Such women will object vociferously to any command uttered by an adult male, but will trot off in seconds to make their progeny a peanut-butter sandwich if he demands it while immersed self-importantly in a video game. The future made such boys have every reason to hate their mother-in-laws. Respect for women? That’s for other boys, other men – not their dear sons (114).

#15: Lack of Attention

Children can be damaged as much or more by a lack of incisive attention as they are by abuse, mental, or physical. This is damage by omission, rather than commission, but it is no less severe and long-lasting. Children are damaged when their “mercifully” inattentive parents fail to make them sharp and observant and awake and leave them, instead, in an unconscious and undifferentiated state. Children are damaged when those charged by their care, afraid of any conflict or upset, no longer dare to correct them, and leave them without guidance (122).

#16: You Got Till Four

If  a child has not been taught to behave properly by the age of four, it will forever be difficult for him or her to make friends (135).

#17: Prepare

A hurricane is an act of God. But failure to prepare, when the necessity for preparation is well known – that’s sin. That’s failure to hit the mark. And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The ancient Jews always blamed themselves when things fell apart. They acted as if God’s goodness – the goodness of reality – was axiomatic, and took responsibility for their own failure. That’s insanely responsible. But the alternative is to judge reality as insufficient, to criticize Being itself, and to sink into resentment and the desire for revenge (157).

#18: Don’t Lie to Yourself

Set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain about what they should be. The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability, rather than status and power. Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity. Knowing this, tie rope to a boulder. Pick up the great stone, heave in front of you, and pull yourself towards it. Watch and observe while you move forward. Articulate your experience as clearly and carefully to yourself and to others as possibly can. In this manner, you will learn to proceed more effectively and efficiently towards your goal. And, while you are doing this, do not lie. Especially to yourself (224).  

#19: Memory

 Memory is not a description of the objective past. Memory is a tool. Memory is the past’s guide to the future. If you remember that something bad happened, and you can figure out why, then you can try to avoid that bad thing happening again. That’s the purpose of memory. It’s not to “remember the past.” It’s to stop the same damn thing from happening over and over (239).

#20: Smart

You can be pretty smart if you can just shut up (244)


#21: Carelessness

When we’ve been careless, and let things slide, what we have refused to attend to gathers itself up, adopts a serpentine form, and strikes – often at the worst possible moment. It is then that we see what focused intent, precision of aim and careful attention protects us from (266).

#22: Sin

Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission (271).

#23: Death

Living things die without attention. Life is indistinguishable from effortful maintenance (273).

#24: Precision

Why refuse to specify, when specifying the problem would enable its solution? Because to specify a problem is to admit that it exists. Because to specify the problem is to allow yourself to know what you want…Why refuse to specify? Because while you are failing to define success (and thereby rendering it impossible) you are also refusing to define failure, to yourself, so that if and when you fail you won’t notice, and it won’t hurt (276).

#25: Responsibility

If you shirk the responsibility of confronting the unexpected, even when it appears in manageable doses, reality itself will become unsustainably disorganized and chaotic (281).

#26: Motives

If you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences – and infer the motives (290).

#27: Prejudiced Against Humanity

Why does it so often seem to be the very people standing so visibly against prejudice who so often appear to feel obligated to denounce humanity itself? (297).

#28: Is is Worth It?

Who decided, anyway, that career is more important than love and family? Is working eighty hours a week at a high-end law firm truly worth the sacrifices required for that kind of success? And if it is worth it, why is it worth it? (300).

#29: Piping in Your Needs

No one has a direct pipeline to your wants and needs – not even you. If you try to determine exactly what you want, you might find that it is more difficult than you think (320).

#30: No Limitation, No Story

If you are already everything, everywhere, always, there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything that could happen already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being.

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