12 Rules For Life: Summary, Review & Criticism

12 rules for life

In 12 Rules For Life, author Jordan Peterson provides a guide to a fulfilled life with advice based on ethics, religion, philosophy, and psychology.

12 rules for life quote

Bullet Summary

  • Abusive people prey on the weak: muster the capacity for aggression to protect yourself against abusers
  • Don’t let people -or your kids- mistreat you or embarrass you: it will breed resentment
  • Tell the truth and stand up for your values: it will build your character


About The Author:
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
He has risen to fame when he refused to use government-mandated pronouns and then successfully debated many left-leaning personalities. More recently, he became more openly political and leaning towards conservative and alt-right movements and, in part, for red-pill communities.
He is also the author of Maps of Meaning” and the follow-up to this same book “Beyond Order 12 More Rules for Life“.

See more more on Peterson’s personal (d)evolution here:

#1. Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back

The author says naive people have too rosy of an outlook on the world.

They believe people are mostly good, but they invite abuse because abusive people prey on the weak and naive.
I agree with that.

Also, read:

Aggression Can Be Good

Jordan Peterson says People who buy into the idea that any sign of aggression is wrong can end up with psychological issues.

These people try to block within themselves ALL aggressive emotions, and bottling up emotions need to come out some way.

Peterson says there can be good uses for aggression.
Aggression does not necessarily translate into cruelty and destruction. Aggression is also channeled into good causes.

Jordan says when people see themselves as dangerous (at least potentially) they’re shocked at first, but their fear also decreases. And they develop more confidence and self-respect.

They see in themselves the ability to withstand aggression and evil. And tt that point, they might be able to begin resisting oppression.

If you can bite, you often don’t have to

My Note:
I have built The Power Moves partially out of anger, indeed.
See my speech about it:

Also, read “using pain and defeat for motivation” and this other speech on the dark side of motivation.

#2. Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping

Well, the title said it all for me here.

The rest of the chapter was some deep mental lucubration. Interesting, maybe.
But not highly applicable and loosely connected to the title at best.

#3. Make Friends with People Who Want the Best For You

Carlo Rogers says it’s impossible to convince someone to change and improve.

The desire to improve is indeed a precondition for progress, says the author.
Peterson says it’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you, he says.

#4. Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else Is Today

This is one of my favorite rules.

The author talks about the famous invisible gorilla experiment and says that our mental resources are limited to what we pay attention to (also see Incognito).
That means that we really see what we focus on.

And there’s no point in focusing on people who “have it better”.
Compare yourself to yourself instead. Compare yourself to how you’re improving and getting better.

My Note:
Exceptions apply.
If you can find motivation in anger, then it can be OK to compare yourself to others as a tactical device.

#5. Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them

The author says refraining from some parental tough love is only going to harm our children.

The world, he says, will dish out far harsher punishments on the unprepared.
Parents, Peterson says, must act as (caring) proxies for the world.

He also says no adult human could tolerate being dominated by an upstart child.
When you do that, you will harbor resentment which will lead to revenge either directly or indirectly. That’s why you shouldn’t allow your children to behave in a way that will make you dislike them.

If you allow your own kids’ behavior to repel you, imagine what it will do to others

#6. Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World

Setting your house in order means working on yourself before you think about anything else.

It means focusing on what you can change and what you can do, instead of wasting time on everything that’s wrong.
I couldn’t agree more.
As the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People say, start with yourself first.

My Note:
And this is one of the reasons why I don’t recommend Greene’s advice from The 48 Laws of Power of “seeking attention at all costs”.
Seek improvement at all costs instead. Then, maybe, seek attention.

#7. Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient)

Pursuing what’s meaningful is to forego instant gratification to build a better future.

Today’s sacrifice will forge your character and provide tomorrow’s reward.

This is very true indeed.
The key to future success is today’s habits of hard work (also see: “The Compound Effect“).
And as Roy Baumeister explains inEvil“, a good chunk of the world’s evil is the consequence of short-term thinking and shortcut-seeking.

#8. Tell the Truth, or at least Don’t Lie

The easy way out or the truth is not just a different choice, but a wholly different path through life.

And lying is the easy way out.

Lying is a betrayal of yourself and it weakens your character. Especially when you say yes but really wanted to say no.

Learn how to say no:

5 Techniques to Say No (Polite, But Effective)

My note:
I agree with the weakening of character. And that’s important because your identity becomes that of someone who can’t speak his mind. 
Read here how to build a resilient identity.

#9. Assume that the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t

Speak more than you listen.

And listen without premature judgment.

My Note:
I would personally underline “premature”. There is nothing inherently wrong with judging, and high-quality men and women do judge.
Don’t judge too early, but don’t otherwise get lost in a sea of relativity.

If you’re interested in communication skills check the:

#10. Be Precise in Your Speech

LOL, this is funny coming from Peterson.

The guy built his career on being precise with his speech and that’s how he controls and wins most of his debates.

Being precise in your speech is not just about your words. It also means being precise in looking at the world around you.

Like Ray Dalio writes in his seminal book Principle: look at the world as it is, love reality even when it hurts.

#11. Do Not Bother Children when they are Skateboarding

The author says it’s not true that gender is a social construct.

It’s not, and it’s not a debate because data proves it: genders are different.
And trying to culturally change that by removing masculine traits is bad for everyone.

Also, read:

My Note:
I couldn’t agree more here.
It’s popular these days to say that “men and women are the same”, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong to anyone who has taken the time to research, study and analyze the world around him.

The Dark Side Calling

The author says that when softness becomes the only socially acceptable virtue, then dominance and violence start becoming unconsciously appealing.

This is, he says, one of the reasons for the rise of fascist political parties. And part of Trump’s appeal (check Trump’s dirty debating tactics).

People have a great capacity for evil as much as good

#12. Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street

In the last chapter, Peterson deals with the hard moments of life.

But abandoning oneself to nihilism and hatred is not the answer, he says.

There’s nothing in nihilism, he says. It only perpetuates and spreads more evil and pain.

He proposes instead to look for the beauty in life.
Petting a cat stands for enjoying the sparkles of beauty that life has to offer.

12 rules for life

Real-Life Applications

  • Master Your Dark Side

Don’t hide or repress your dark side but use it for good. I like the way Tim Grover put it:

To get what you really want, you first need to be who you really are.

  • Channel Your Aggression

Don’t allow your aggression to dominate you or take ugly forms. Use it to stand up to evil, protect and foster good and for creative endeavors.

  • Educate Your Children

Educate your children in a way that prepares them for the world. Importantly, don’t let them -or anyone else- disrespect you or that will breed resentment in you. And resentment will eventually show.

  • Stand For What You Believe

Stand for what you believe in and don’t hide behind lies. It will build your character.

Peterson in Action

I have done a video on Jordan Peterson’s interview with Newman. Take a look, he was really good there:


  • Big Words

Jordan Peterson own rule says to be precise in your speech.

Obviously, there’s a difference between precise and simple, because he certainly doesn’t have simple prose.

It doesn’t have to be a con, especially if you like poetry. But at times it feels to me like aesthetics get a bit out of hand to become the message instead of supporting the message.

  • Bit Diluted

There are some great insights that really spoke to me.

Some of them changed me for the better and even clarified this website’s mission in a way.
I would have preferred the book to be built around those key insights instead of being just ingredients in the bigger dish.


  • Deep Wisdom

There is a lot of great wisdom in The 12 Rules for Life.

And it’s a type of wisdom that’s rather unique and very rare in the self-help literature -or even in the philosophical literature for that matter-.

That’s a pity because this type of information is highly relevant and highly useful.

12 Rules For Life Criticism

Jordan Peterson is a controversial figure.

And his book was bound to be somewhat controversial.

I read the Financial Times’ review and The Guardian’s summary before reading the book.

And lo and behold, they were both scathingly negative and even derisive.

I didn’t know Peterson well, and I let the reviews influence me negatively: I was indeed expecting 12 Rules for Life to be a terrible book.

Boy was that an awesome experience.

As I started listening to it, I was flabbergasted at how both reviewers spectacularly failed to see the sparkle of greatness.

In my Reading Effectively guide I share that one of my goals is to look for new wisdom even when some of the message isn’t as great.

And that’s where I think those reviewers failed: they let the part they disagreed with contaminate the whole.

Big mistake.

There’s indeed much of this book that can ruffle feathers if you’re not religious -or if you prefer more fact-based, less aesthetic writing-.
But denying the nuggets of wisdom in 12 Rules for Life is a spectacular failure both as a reviewer and as a man looking for truth and self-development.

For me, The 12 Rules for Life is a book with some genius content mixed with too much aesthetic. Read below for more details.


10 seconds review: “12 Rules for Life” has major Christian influences and a bit of a bombastic style. But it also has many sparkles of genius, several practical tips, and lots of great psychology.

There were some key passages that really struck a chord with me -and that are very similar to this website’s credo and values-.

The first chapter of “12 Rules For Life” particularly spells out some of our core values.
Peterson says that some people are too naive and let the world take advantage of them. And that the ability to muster aggression is needed to stand up to evil.
Failing to do so, and failing to acknowledge the existence of evil, opens you up to oppression and abuse.

And this is exactly The Power Moves credo.

And the knowledge of how to master and deploy aggression will also decrease the chances it will ever be needed.
Because if you can bite, you generally don’t have to.
And this is another pillar of this website.

The author then goes one step further when he says:

There is little difference between the capacity for destruction and strength of character.

Check out the best red pill books, or Get 12 Rules for Life on Amazon.

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