Rule 1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
12 Rules For Life Book Summary (Jordan B. Peterson)
So many people, especially in my demographic, are lacking a structure of how to navigate through the world, create their identity, and find their purpose within it. And this isn’t just a problem with the younger demographics. But we’re seeing this with more and more middle aged men and women lost in the chaos as well. So I’ll be summarizing Dr Jordan B Peterson book while adding my own subjective interpretation on to it, like I did with the 48 Laws of Power. And this is for the hope that it can help you through that process of finding your way through that chaos.
I won’t be telling you how to live, or what to do, but just documenting my perspective through these rules. Now I’ve came to realize through my previous book summaries, that you may or may not have seen on this channel, that hearing an alternate perspective can aid tremendously in facilitating a greater depth of understanding of more complex ideas. So it helps bridge the gap between the ambiguous and the misunderstood. And I hope this series can help bridge that gap for both you and I.
Now, why rules?
We’ve got enough rules. Why do we need more rules? We’ve got the 48 Laws of Power. We’ve got the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We’ve got unlimited books with unlimited rules and laws of how to navigate through life. In the foreword, Norman Doidge eloquently puts:
“Without rules, we quickly become slaves to our passions-and there’s nothing freeing about that. The best rules do not ultimately restrict us but instead facilitate our goals and make for fuller, freer lives.”
Rules are not bad.
Rules are not constricting.
But rules, instead, executed correctly, are freeing.
Before I get into rule one, this also needs to be mentioned. Peterson is not trying to develop his own rules by wiping the slate clean, by dismissing thousands of years of wisdom.
Instead, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, Peterson included. And so we are utilizing stories that have survived against all odds over hundreds through thousands of years, and using these stories to illustrate different facets of the human experience and these rules. Peterson makes no claim that human wisdom begins with himself, but rather turns first to his own guides. And that is exactly what I’m doing. I’m not special in doing this, no matter how many people or how few people read this. I’m not claiming to be any type of special person to create this. I’m standing on the shoulders of Jordan B. Peterson. And he’s standing on the shoulders of many others that came before him. I’m just adding my own subjective interpretation.
“Yet this generation, many of whom were raised in small families by hyper active protective parents on soft surface playgrounds, and then taught in universities with safe spaces where they don’t have to hear things they don’t want to. School, to be risk averse, has among it now millions who feel stultified by its underestimation of their potential resilience, who have embraced Jordan’s message that each individual has ultimate responsibility to bear; that if one wants to live a full life, one first sets one’s own house in order; and only then can one sensibly aim to take on bigger responsibilities.”
This is very important because it’s the blatant truth. Many of us grow up, I myself included, in a soft cushy world. If you were born in a western world, and you weren’t born to lower class, you weren’t born into massive disadvantage, then you’re probably soft.
I myself included have been trying to weed this softness out of me for many many years, one day at a time, trying to expose yourself to more things that make you uncomfortable, to more suffering. We don’t suffer enough. That’s that that’s trying to say. We don’t suffer and get uncomfortable enough. And this book will probably aim to bring that more out of people, myself included.
“I hope that these rules and their accompanying essays will help people understand what they already know; that the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life. If we each live properly, we will collectively flourish. Best wishes to you all as you proceed through these pages,”
Conflict and Territory.
Now let’s talk about lobsters. If you know Jordan Peterson, you would have heard him talk about lobsters a few times. So why would we need to talk about this for those unaware? Well lobsters have quite a few similarities to humans that most people don’t realize. One of the most critical things lobsters need for their survival is shelter. And this is mainly because, as lobsters grow, they molt and they shed their shells, which leaves them vulnerable. So they bury themselves under a rock, and they find a home for themselves. Except often, there’s only a small number of shelters available in a specific territory. So if there’s more lobsters than there are shelters, there’s going to be conflict. This is where a dominance hierarchy is demonstrated.
“Often one lobster will actually fight another lobster in order to assert dominance and get their shelter. It actually begins to dance around, like a boxer, raising its claws up in the air, moving forward and back, side to side, mirroring its opponent, waving its claws back and forth. And they also have these jets under their eyes where they direct streams of liquid at their opponent. And the liquid contains chemicals that tell the other lobster about their size, their sex, their health, their mood. Sometimes a lobster will automatically just back down based on that. Now more than half the time lobsters don’t actually fight. They resolve their conflict by just asserting dominance without physically touching each other, with more expressions of dominance.”
“But there’s always gonna be a loser and there’s always gonna be a winner. And the neurochemistry of a lobster actually changes depending on a win or a loss. But if a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves. It grows a new subordinate brain, one more appropriate to its new lowly position. Its original brain just isn’t sophisticated to manage the transformation from King to bottom dog without virtually complete disillusion and regrowth. Anyone who has experienced a painful transformation after a serious defeat in romance or career may feel some sense of kinship with the once successful crustacean.”
This is where a lobster and human being similarities begin. When we win, we have certain endocrine responses in our body —most animals do. Serotonin being one of the hormones is identical. Additionally, lobsters have something called octopamine, which most likely can be translated to a human beings dopamine response.
The Neurochemistry of Defeat and Victory.
A lobster with high levels of serotonin and low levels of octopamine is cocky strutting sort of shellfish, much less likely to back down when challenged. This is because serotonin helps regulate postural flexion. A flexed lobster extends its appendages so that it can look tall and dangerous. What serotonin and dopamine does for us human beings is it extends us — spinal/thoracic extension. If we reverse the neurochemical configuration and we have low of octopamine and low serotonin, then we produce a defeated looking, scrunched up, inhibited drooping, depressed lobster, and Jordan humorously puts, “very likely to hang around street corners and to vanish at the first hint of trouble.” Well obviously, lobsters don’t have street corners. But it is a example of what humans do when they get in that state.
Lobsters have what’s called a tail flick reflex, which serves to propel the lobster rapidly backwards when it needs to escape. Now, we have our sympathetic nervous system that triggers fight, flight, or freeze in a human being.
Now often people flee from certain stressful events to defend themselves. Now, this is very important. “Less provocation is necessary to trigger that reflex in a defeated lobster if their octopamine is high and their serotonin is low. And you can see the echo of that in the heightened style of reflex characteristics of the soldier or the battered child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” For someone who has ingrained childhood trauma, for someone who has phobias, for someone who’s some type of trauma and/or low serotonin, poorly functioning endocronic system that results in them being depressed or anxious, their willingness to react and be triggered by stressful situations and conflict is much higher.
All the Girls.
“Now the female lobsters, who also fight hard for territory during explicitly maternal stages of their existence, identify the top quite quickly and become irresistibly attracted to him.”
Well, how similar is that to the human experience? We can obviously see the similarities between a dominant lobster, a dominant male, a powerful lobster, a powerful male and their potential to attract mates. “Instead of undertaking difficult tasks of identifying the best man, the females outsourced the problem to their machine like calculations of the dominance hierarchy, and this is detecting basically who is the most dominant lobster, whose winning the most battles.”
“It should be pointed out that sheer physical power is an unstable basis on which to found lasting dominance.”
This is clear. We’re not lobsters. We can’t operate as simply as they can. It’s purely about dominance, shelter, survival and mating for them. “A primatologist, Frans de Waal, found that when he was studying chimp troops, male who were more successful in the long term had to buttress their physical prowess with more sophisticated attributes. In consequence, the males who stay on top longer are those who form reciprocal coalitions with their lower status compatriots, and who pay careful attention to the troop’s females and their infants. The political ploy of baby kissing is literally millions of years old and ingrained in our evolution.”
It’s very simple just to deploy dominance. It’s quite lazy to as well. We see ego and dominance drive a lot of men and women, of all ages, throughout our society. And it’s off putting. The intuitive of us can detect it quite quickly. It may be briefly superficially attractive and exciting but it’s a fleeting moment. Over the long term, it’s ugly and useless.
The Nature of Nature.
“The dominant male, with his upright and confident posture, not only gets the prime real estate and easiest access to the best hunting grounds, he also gets all the girls. The part of our brain that keeps track of our position in the dominance hierarchy is exceptionally ancient and fundamental. It is the master control system modulating our perceptions, values, emotions, thoughts and actions. It powerfully affects every aspect of our Being, with a capital B, conscious and unconscious alike. This is why when we are defeated, we act very much like lobsters who have lost a fight.”
This is why this is important, because we are like lobsters in many ways. And when a human is defeated, we often exhibit the similar characteristics to a lobster. When we win, similar thing. And if things do not improve, we become chronically depressed.
“Under such conditions, we can’t easily put up the kind of fight that life demands. And we become easy targets for harder shelled bullies. And it is not only the behavioral and experimental similarities that are striking. Much of the basic neurochemistry is the same. Lower ranking lobsters produce comparatively lower levels of serotonin. This is also true of lower ranking human beings. Low serotonin means decreased confidence, means closed in body language, means you’re not gonna stand up straight with your shoulders back. Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain, more anxiety, more illness, shorter life span. High spots in the dominance hierarchy, and high serotonin levels, are characterized by the opposite.”
The importance of this hierarchy cannot be overstated. It is an example of life.
Top and Bottom.
“The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. On that evidence, it renders a determination of your value and assigns you a status. If you’re judged by your peers as of little worth, the counter restricts serotonin availability. That makes you much more physically and psychologically reactive to any circumstance or event that might produce emotion, particularly if it is negative. But you need that reactivity. Emergencies are common at the bottom and you must be ready to survive.”
This is when I believe the brain can override the judgement made by peers. It really depends on what state you’re in. If you’re already in that low dominance low serotonin state, well, you’re much more easily susceptible to being affected by others judgements. But on the other hand, a high serotonin, high dominance individual is much less likely to be susceptible to other people’s judgements.
“When operating at the bottom, which many are and trying to get out of, our ancient brain assumes that even the smallest unexpected impediment might produce an uncontrollable chain of negative events.” It’s like a positive feedback loop. “On the other hand, if you’re high status, high dominance, high serotonin, our pre reptilian mechanics assume that your niche is secure, productive, safe and you will be well buttressed with your social support. It thinks the chance that something will damage you is low and could be safely discounted. Change might be opportunity instead of disaster. The serotonin flows plentifully. This renders you confident and calm, standing tall and straight, and much less on constant alert because your position is secure, and the future is likely to be good for you. It’s worthwhile to think in the long term and plan for a better tomorrow. There’s countless benefits to being high dominance, high status, high serotonin. But sometimes, there’s malfunction.“
This will point out the simple act of standing up straight with your shoulders back can be made a lot harder when the following situation is created. “The body needs to function like a well rehearsed orchestra. Every body system must play its role properly and at the exact right time, or noise and chaos ensues. It’s for this reason that routine is so necessary. The acts of life we repeat every day need to be automized. They must be turned into stable reliable habits so they lose their complexity and gain predictability and simplicity. This can be perceived most clearly in the case of small children, who are delightful and comical and playful when they’re sleeping and eating schedules are stable, and horrible and whiny when they are not.”
I just believe so wholeheartedly that you need habits to create order. Habits are a sign of intelligence in a man or woman. But the easier thing to do would just be create no habits, and just brazenly do whatever you want, whenever you want, at any time, and not worry about the consequences of a lack of structure. You don’t have to be extreme and be overboard with structure, which some people who are very high in conscientiousness, like myself, can do, but instead, creating rituals for yourself to create order and mitigate the chaos. That’s all it is — it’s mitigating the chaos so you can just navigate through life, just a little better, just a little easier, just a little less pain, with a little less unnecessary suffering. The following are some very practical simple things you can do to change your habits, that will fix so much of the unnecessary pain, suffering, that many people go through.
Now for those that don’t know Peterson is a clinical psychologist. He’s had his own practice for many years. He would always ask first his clinical clients about their sleep.
Malfunction #1: Sleep
Do you wake up in the morning at approximately the time the typical person wakes up?
Do you wake at the same time every day?
If the answer is no, fixing that is the first thing. Having a efficiently running circadian rhythm is critically important for hormonal regulation, mood and all our body systems. If we put the sleep out of whack, we put our body out of whack, we put our mind out of whack. “It doesn’t matter so much what time they go to bed, it’s having the consistency of waking up at the same time.”
“Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer has unpredictable daily routines.
And if you don’t think you have anxiety, and if you don’t think you have depression, think again, because it’s not about that — it’s about suffering. Suffering cannot be easily treated if you have unpredictable daily routines. The systems that mediate negative emotion are tightly tied up to a properly cyclical circadian rhythm.
Malfunction #2: Nutrition
What is your first meal of the day?
Peterson counsels his clients to eat a high fat, high protein heavy breakfast as soon as possible after they wake. This is something that has been echoed by many scientists and health professionals like Dr. Rhonda Patrick to authors and entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss. This is also something I practice myself. The purpose is to mitigate carbohydrates and sugars because they spike your insulin levels and radially raise your blood sugar.
Anxious and depressed people are already stressed enough. They already put enough stress on their body. Now if you add another stressor such as causing the pancreas to secrete all this insulin, uptake a flood of glucose, and cause all this inflammation as a result of consistent refined carbohydrates, you make your job so much harder to heal yourself by causing or worsening insulin resistance. You make your body much less efficient at shuttling glucose to the requisite muscle and liver, and instead because you’re filled up your muscle and liver with as much glucose it can take, it’s more likely to get converted to adipose tissue (fat).
Peterson said he’s had many clients whose anxiety was reduced to sub clinical levels, merely because they started to sleep on a predictable schedule and ate a high fat, high protein breakfast.
Malfunction #3: Positive Feedback Loops
And a third malfunction that can inhibit such a simple position as standing up straight with your shoulders back, is by creating positive feedback loops of self destructive habits such as addiction, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.
“We know a positive feedback loop requires an input, an amplifier, and some form of output. So imagine a signal is picked up by the input, amplified, and then admitted in an amplified form. This trouble starts when the input detector detects that output, and it runs it through the system again, and again, amplifying and admitting it. A few rounds and it intensifies and intensifies, and things get dangerously out of control. This is an example of what happens with self destructive habits.”
If you’ve ever put a mic too close to a speaker it usually makes this very loud ringing sound. It gets louder and louder. That’s a metaphor Peterson uses to demonstrate what so many people are feeling. We judge so easily to these people who have addictions and suffer from various illnesses. But many don’t understand what it’s like to actually be in their body. I certainly don’t. It seem’s that example is the closest thing that we will get to understanding what it feels like — a constant ringing and amplifying that doesn’t end. And that sounds terrible.
An example would be someone who has an anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia can become so overwhelmed with fear that they don’t even leave their home. Agoraphobia is a consequence of this feedback loop that associates certain locations or events with anxiety.
A pre-agoraphobic woman leaves her house, goes to the shopping mall. It’s busy. It’s difficult to park. She’s feeling a little anxious and stressed. Thoughts of vulnerability occupy her mind from a previous bad trauma. Unpleasant experiences start to rise in her. They trigger her anxiety. Her heart rate rises. She begins to breath quickly. She feels like she’s gonna panic and actually having a panic attack, this triggers more anxiety. The cycle keeps repeating and she has to leave = positive feedback loop. As soon as the anxiety transforms into panic, which is designed for actual real threats, (which she’s not physically being threatened by), she feels fear. Overwhelmed, she goes to the doctor, nothing clinically wrong he/she sais. But she’s not reassured. She goes to the mall again. Same thing happens, now the mall is not safe.
“Our anxiety systems are practical. They assume that anything you run away from is dangerous. The proof of that is of course the fact you ran away. So now that place is not safe. And this cycle repeats and repeats. And soon enough, nowhere is safe except her home. And not even then, eventually her home isn’t safe. And she feels anxiety in her home.”
“Now people can find themselves in these trapped situations, often because maybe they were bullied and they couldn’t fight back, or they weren’t willing to fight back, or they didn’t know how to fight back. This often happens, Peterson points out, to people by the temperament of quite compassionate, self sacrificing, particularly if they’re also high on negative emotion. It also happens to people who have decided for one reason or another that all forms of aggression, including even feelings of anger, are morally wrong.”
“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. When skilfully integrated, the ability to respond with aggression and violence decreases rather than increases the probability that actual aggression will become necessary.”
But you have to have the capacity to do it. You have to have the courage to express this as a defence mechanism against the world. Otherwise, you’ll get trampled on. People will walk all over you. You’ll become a mere shell of who you could be.
“Naive and harmless people usually guide their perceptions and actions with a few simple axioms: people are basically good; no one really wants to hurt anyone else; the threat, and certain the use, of force, physical or otherwise is wrong. These axioms collapse, or worse, in the presence of individuals who are genuinely malevolent. Because those who aim to harm have become specialized to prey on people who think precisely such things. Under such conditions, the axioms of harmlessness must be retooled.”
“In my clinical practice, I often drew the attention of my clients who think that good people never become angry to the stark realities of their own resentments.”
So now, it’s like a mirror reflecting back on them. They realize,
“Wait, I have resentments. This is a form of anger. This is a form of negative emotion that I so despise and didn’t wanna be a part of. I’m capable of this same emotion that I so despised, then what am I?”
This is the confronting truth.
“No one likes to be pushed around, but people often put up with it far too long. So I get them to see their resentment first as anger. And then as an indication that something needs to be said if not done, not least, because honesty demands it.”
“When naïve people discover the capacity for anger within themselves, they are shocked, sometimes severely. A profound example of that can be found in the susceptibility of new soldiers to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which often occurs because of something they watched themselves doing, rather than because of something that has happened to them. They react like the monsters they can truly be in extreme battlefield conditions. And that revelation of that capacity undoes their world. And no wonder, perhaps they assumed that all of history’s terrible perpetrators were people totally unlike themselves. Perhaps they were never able to see within themselves the capacity for oppression and bullying.”
This is one of the biggest lessons Jordan B. Peterson has taught me. He’s shown me that we all have the capacity for that evil, to be the most terrible perpetrators of history. People look back on the holocaust, and this is an example Peterson uses, this is not my example. We think about the holocaust, and what a terrible atrocity it was to persecute so many people. But what if we were born in that time? And what if you were on the other side — you weren’t the one being persecuted but you were the one performing the persecution? You would likely say something like,
“No. I could never do something like that.”
You don’t think people just like us had those same feelings nearly a century ago? You don’t think these people have thought, “I could never do something like that.” the same way you just thought now?
Yet they were confronted with a choice. They were confronted with a choice towards evil and malevolence, and they chose it. One day at a time they made decisions to destabilise the fabric of peace and order in exchange for chaos. You don’t go from not wanting to murder someone to wanting to murder a whole population of people in one day, or one week. You lay the bricks of darkness and evil one brick at a time and before you know it, you have created a monster. If you don’t understand the process of dementing your character towards destruction, how are you suppose to stop it from occurring WHEN it starts happening within yourself and others?
We all have the capacity to perform the worst atrocities imaginable. And you need to imagine that and visualize what it would actually be like to perform the worst atrocities imaginable. You need to think about that, because only then can you actually be ‘good’. Once you dip your toe into evil. Only then can you live in honour of the light of peace and order.
“When the wakening occurs, when the once naive people recognise in themselves the seeds of evil and monstrosity and see themselves as dangerous or at least potentially, their fear decreases. They see that they have the ability to withstand because they are terrible too. They see they can and must stand up because they begin to understand how genuinely monstrous they will become, otherwise, feeding on their resentment, transforming it into the most destructive of wishes. To say it again: There is very little difference between the capacity for mayhem and destruction, integrated, and the strength of character.”
This is one of the most difficult lessons of life. It is.
“Maybe you’re a loser and maybe you’re not. But if you are, you don’t have to continue in that mode. Maybe you just have a bad habit. Maybe you’re even just a collection of bad habits. Nonetheless, even if you came by your poor posture honestly, even if you were unpopular, or bullied at home or in grade school, it’s not necessarily appropriate now. You have to face it. Circumstances change. If you slump around with the same bearing that characterizes a defeated lobster, people will assign you a lower status. And the old counter that you share with crustaceans sitting at the very base of your brain will assign you a low dominance number. And your brain will not produce as much serotonin.”
“This will make you less happy, and more anxious and sad, and more likely to back down when you should stand up for yourself. It will also decrease the probability that you will get to live in a good neighborhood, you will access the highest quality resources and obtain a healthy desirable mate. It will render you more likely to abuse cocaine and alcohol as you live for the present in a world full of uncertain futures. It will increase your susceptibility to heart disease, cancer, dementia. All in all, it’s just not good.”
Rule one, stand up straight with your shoulders back, it’s a lot more than just standing up straight with your shoulders back. It’s literally the way you interface with the world. It’s literally how you do everything. People look at the title chapter of this and like, “What? That’s it?” Hopefully, that’s not your response anymore because it’s clearly much more than that.
“Emotion is partly bodily expression, and can be amplified or dampened by that expression.”
Amy Cuddy discusses in her TED talk the science of how your body language shapes who you are, influences the hormones that you secrete and how it influences your ability to assert influence over other people.
“If your posture is poor, for example, if you slump your shoulders forward around the chest, tucked in, head down, looking small, defeated, then you will feel small, defeated, ineffectual.
But if you start to straighten up, people will look at you and treat you differently. But you might object. The bottom is real. Being at the bottom is equally real. A mere transformation of posture is insufficient to change anything that is fixed. If you’re in a number 10 position, then standing up straight and appearing dominant might only attract the attention of those who want, once again, to put you down. And fair enough.
But standing up straight with your shoulders back is not something that is only physical, because you’re not only your body. You’re a spirit, so to speak, a psyche as well. Standing up physically also implies and evokes and demands standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of a Being.
“Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily. You respond to a challenge instead of bracing for a catastrophe. You see the gold the dragon hoards instead of shrinking in terror from the all too real fact of the dragon. You step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy and occupy your territory, manifesting your willingness to defend, expand, and transform it.”
“That can all occur practically or symbolically as a physical or as a conceptual restructuring. To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open. It will mean deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self conscious vulnerability and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality. To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protects the ward from the flood, guiding your people through the desert after they’ve escaped tyranny, making your way away from the comfortable home and country, and speaking the prophetic word to those who ignore the widows and children.”
“It means shouldering the cross that marks the X, a place where you and Being intersect so terribly. It means casting dead, rigid, and too tyrannical order back into the chaos in which it was generated. It means withstanding the ensuing uncertainty and establishing, in consequence, a better more meaningful and more productive order. So attend carefully to your posture. Quit dropping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward as if you have had right to them, at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neuro-pathways desperate for it’s calming influence”
“People, including yourself, will start to assume 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’ll begin to be less anxious. You will then find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social cues that people exchange when they are communicating. Your conversations will flow better with fewer awkward pauses. This will make you more likely to meet people, interact with them, and impress them. Doing so will not only generally increase the probability that good things will happen to you, it will also make those good things feel better when they do happen. Thus strengthened and emboldened, you may choose to embrace Being and work for it’s furtherance and improvement. Thus strengthened, you may be able to stand even during the illness of loved ones, even during the death of a parent, and allow others to find strength alongside you when they would otherwise be overwhelmed with despair.”
“Thus emboldened, you will embark on the voyage of your life. Let your light shine, so to speak, on the heavenly hill. And pursue your rightful destiny. Then the meaning of your life may be sufficient to keep the corrupting influence of mortal despair at bay. Then you may be able to accept the terrible burden of the world and find joy. Look for your inspiration to the victorious lobster with it’s 350 million years of practical wisdom. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”