Do You Really Need 12 Rules for Life? Can I Pick Six Instead?

Originally published May 2018

Here’s what I learned about myself after reading (or skimming, really – Mr. Peterson should be proud I’m following the rule about not lying) Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos” — I prefer decidedly pithy work when it comes to the personal growth genre.

I picked up this book for a few reasons: one, I had a friend that mentioned it; two, I needed a nonfiction book for a change; and three, it was a bestseller. Usually, that’s a recipe for a good, if not great, experience.

There is some startling common sense advice in Peterson’s rules, for sure — and some stunning sociological commentary (Lobster brains dissolve! They re-grow subordinate ones! Who knew!) — but for me, at least, the “rules” are smothered in a overly generous dose of academic theology.

If I am going to pick up a book that should really be taught in a classroom setting, I need to be focused and willing to commit to going all in with the author’s explanation. And I just couldn’t stick with it, at that level, for the entire book. It’s really academic. No …. REALLY academic. Good for some people, but not when I’m working on perimenopause brain fog. So, to save any other ADHD=ers out there some time, let me see if I can summarize:

Rule #1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back (aka the “Lobster” chapter). It’s a play on “fake it ’til you make it,” along with some straight up common sense. If you act defeated, if you walk around projecting low self-esteem, you are only perpetuating those labels’ effects.

Rule #2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping. Actually, I found this chapter to be really useful. Peterson is right — I do treat my dog better than I do myself. Not in a super martyr-ish way — more so in a “I’ve had back pain for three weeks, but I’ll see the doctor in six months, it can wait. Oh, what? The dog’s ear is pink? Get in the car, we’re going to the vet NOW!” kind of way.

Rule #3: Make Friends With People Who Want the Best For You. More common sense. Instead of hanging around with people that make the lazy, unmotivated you look good by comparison, try surrounding yourself with people that inspire and are headed in the direction you want to go.

Rule #4: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else is Today. So, everyone has their day when they act or feel like a complete shit. So stop comparing yourself to the mom that works full-time and volunteers for every fundraiser and start by doing one more thing on your to-do list tomorrow than you were able to accomplish today. And just keep trying.

Rule #5: Do Not Let Your Children … skipped it. That ship has long since sailed.

Rule #6: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World. …. And this is where I started skimming more than reading. Although I always appreciate a subhed telling me to “Clean up your life.” Sometimes, short and to the point is a motivator.

Rule #7: Pursue What is Meaningful, Not What is Expedient. A toughie when the instant gratification of a big-ass doughnut can derail healthy eating plans in a matter of seconds. I appreciate the sentiment, but life is short and those doughnuts at work are FREE. (The “Free stuff is the best stuff” rule therefore supercedes this one.)

Rule #8: Tell the Truth, or at least, Don’t Lie. Peterson covers 27 pages here, but I can sum it up with a paraphrased quote from “The West Wing” — Tell the truth because it’s the easiest thing to remember.

Rule #9: Assume That the Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t.Required reading for every teenager and young adult.

Rule #10: Be Precise in Your Speech. I’m a writer. I was either going to completely agree or disagree. So I skipped it.

Rule #11: Do Not Bother Children When They Are ... I have a feeling I should have read this one, but … kids? Been there.

Rule #12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One On The Street. Well, duh! I learned this one from Kentaro!

This book may be for you if you really want to get into the nitty gritty on why we act the way we do. There’s a lot of good stuff. There’s also just a lot of stuff. This is NOT a quick weekend read, and definitely more hygge and than beach. But regardless, good advice. We can all do better.

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