12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos Summary and Review

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

To say that Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos is an interesting read would be an understatement to say the very least. Imagine your favorite self-help book that is backed up with a whole lot of mythology, and oh, a lot of religious beliefs as well. If you are looking for a self-help book that is the opposite of passive and one that combines religion with mythology, you would get the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

Parts of the book left me wondering what it was exactly what I was reading. I don’t want to say that it’s a bad book, because I believe that all books are good books, just from somebody else’s point of view. At the same time though, I will be upfront and say that it wasn’t my favorite. 

There were times where it was difficult to focus on what I was reading. Other times, the book just simply felt long and boring. Nonetheless, there are some valuable lessons that we can all take away from this book and apply to our daily lives. 

For those who don’t have time to read the full book, I want to share a summary of what I think the most important parts are from each chapter. Hopefully you can apply these rules to your life to help tame the chaos that exists. 

1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. 

Standing up straight with your shoulders back is essential for two main reasons. The first in being that it shows dominance and confidence in your abilities. The second in being that it shows you accept responsibility for where you are at in life. 

Research shows that doing something as small as making a minor posture adjustment can drastically impact your mood. For example, if you are upset and wear your emotions on your face, you likely carry that mood with you. But if you smile, even when it’s hard, you trick your brain into thinking you are happy, thus creating light in a dark situation. 

The same can be said for confidence. When you stand up straight with your shoulders back, you are showing that you have confidence in yourself and there isn’t much that is going to be able to stop you. You start taking on more challenges, start acting with confidence, and ultimately, you start accomplishing the things that you desire. 

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Have you ever noticed how we always treat others better than we treat ourselves? Reflect back to when you stood up for somebody else because they were wronged or went out of your way to help others. When was the last time you did that for yourself? When was the last time you stuck up for yourself or went out of your way to do something nice for yourself? 

We are good at helping to take care of others, but we struggle when it comes to taking care of ourselves. 

One example that Peterson uses is giving a dog its medicine. We never miss a day of feeding our dogs or giving them their medicine, but we always forget when it comes to doing so for ourselves. It’s like our pets and those around us take precedence. But what we fail to realize is that if we can’t take care of ourselves, then we won’t be around long enough to take care of others.

3. Make friends with people who want the best for you. 

We are all human beings. It’s just that some of us are at different stages in our lives. That is why we need to learn how to tell the difference. There are going to be people around us who, if we allow ourselves to be friends with, are only going to drag us down and hinder our abilities. 

This doesn’t mean that you should be rude to those around you, but rather to associate with those who reflect the same beliefs as you do. If you are a recovering alcoholic, you probably aren’t going to want to spend your time around other alcoholics. If you are a business owner who can’t seem to get it right, you aren’t going to want to spend your time around those who mope around and complain all day. Why? Because you become the average of those who you surround yourself with, which is why it’s important to make friends with those who want the best for you.

4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Not to who somebody else is today. 

Face it, you are never going to be the exact same as any other being no matter how hard you try. There are always going to be others out there who have what you don’t have, but comparing yourself to who somebody else is will only cause self-destructing behaviors.

Instead, compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Your goal shouldn’t be perfection. It should be progression. If you can better yourself each and every day, you will achieve far more over the course of your life than most. Even if it’s just becoming one percent better, strive to continually improve who you are as a person each and every day.

5. Don’t let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. 

For somebody who isn’t a parent, this rule may seem a little out of the ordinary at first. But when you look closely at it, you will see that it can apply to other walks of life as well. 

Peterson describes two types of parenting: permissive and authoritarian. If you are permissive, you let your child walk all over you. If you are authoritarian, you control your child’s every move. In both cases, your child will grow up to be socially awkward. They will either grow up having no boundaries and will have a difficult time adhering to rules, or they will grow up having too many boundaries to the point where they don’t take any chances. Either way, they are doomed.

Peterson suggests that we all find balance. Find a happy ground where your kids (or anybody around you) don’t walk all over you, but at the same time, don’t control their every move to where it only stunts their growth. And do the same for yourself as well. Don’t let others walk all over you, but don’t also be the aggressor in every situation.

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6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. 

Nobody is perfect, but when it comes to judging others and the world around us, we act as if we are perfect. We all do things that are bad for us, and until we eliminate all of our negative habits, none of us have the right to judge others in the world around us. 

Just for the record, you are never going to be perfect. You are always going to make mistakes, and if you aren’t making mistakes on a daily basis, then you simply aren’t trying hard enough. What this means is that you should just get used to never judging others. Look for the good in everyone despite their negative behaviors because surely you have negative behaviors as well.

7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). 

Nobody ever said that life was fair, and nobody ever said that life was going to be easy. If you choose to do only the things that come easy, you are never going to find a sense of gratification or meaning for your life. 

The purpose of life is to do something meaningful, so do something today that is going to bring meaning to your life. You won’t accomplish it today (and if you do, then it probably wasn’t meaningful enough), but remember the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

8. Tell the truth, or at least, don’t lie.

Trust can be something that is difficult to achieve. Think about all of the hard work that goes into gaining somebody else’s trust. The minute you make one wrong choice, all of that trust is going to be lost. 

How about the trust you have for yourself? This goes back to Rule 2, hold yourself responsible. If you say that you are going to do something, then do it. Otherwise, even to you, your word isn’t going to mean very much. You are going to have a difficult time making meaningful decisions, and the next time that you desire something, odds are that you aren’t going to believe you have what it takes to achieve it. 

Our ability to trust directly impacts our confidence, so start telling the truth so that you trust yourself more, or at least, don’t lie. 

9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

If your truth is really all that powerful, you shouldn’t need to proclaim it to everybody around you. Instead, your actions should do the talking for you. Your definitive truth should be able to withstand scrutiny, judgment, and conflicting opinions of others. 

In the personal development field, this means coming to terms with the fact that you aren’t always right. You should be open to learning as much as you possibly can, have the desire to learn as much as you possibly can, and never stop learning. Every conversation you have, you should assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t. When you do, you are open to more viewpoints aside from just your own, and who knows, these viewpoints may influence your thinking.

10. Be precise in your speech.

Precision matters. If you are not precise with your speech or with the things that you want, there is going to be a lot of vagueness to your words and actions. 

Everybody has different definitions. For example, when I say happiness, my definition of happiness is probably going to look different than yours. The same goes for success. My definition of being successful could be owning my own business while somebody else’s definition might be making a million dollars per year. 

Being able to precisely describe the things that you want out of life or the things that you do not understand is the first step towards accomplishing anything that will improve your circumstances. 

11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.

Peterson shares the philosophy that skateboarding is good because it teaches children their own limits and it uses failure (and the pain that we experience with it) as a way to set boundaries.

Going back to the permissive versus authoritarian parent, when we control our kids every move, we are only preventing them from testing their boundaries. How can we expect our children to grow when we have held them back our entire lives? Kids are going to fall and they are going to make mistakes. We all will. But the only way to grow is to accept failure and mistakes as a way to determine what our boundaries are so that we can continue to overcome them.

To put it bluntly, let children play. Let them make mistakes and learn because unless they do, they will only live a life controlled by their fears.

12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. 

The point of this is to be aware of all that is around you. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in the news, in the negatives in life, the goals that we have for ourselves, and other variables that consume our time that we forget to simply enjoy the present moment. We all need to do a better job of taking the time to slow down and soak in all of the beauty that already exists around us.

Everybody is going to die at some point. Death is inevitable. So while you are here, do what is going to be best for you. Don’t let the stress of everyday life drag you down. Take time to stop and pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. 


Look at that, I just saved you hours upon hours of reading while providing you with the gist of the book. Surely there are things that I didn’t cover, but the main these are the main points of the book, or at least what I found to be the most beneficial. 

As I said earlier, it wasn’t necessarily my favorite book, but it wasn’t bad either. I believe there is some value to reading it, but it can also be difficult to find that value within the mix of context.

Michael Bonnell

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