Rule 4: Compare Yourself To Who You Were Yesterday, Not To Who Someone Else Is Today.
12 Rules For Life Book Summary (Jordan B. Peterson)
“No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is someone out there who makes you look incompetent. You’re a good cook, but there are many good chefs. Some Mafia don has a tackier yacht than you. Some obsessive CEO has a more complicated self-winding watch.”
This is something I realised early in my basketball career. After 5+ years I realised sometimes no matter how hard you try, how much you practice, how much you love something and are passionate about it, there is always going to be someone better than you, smarter than you, quicker than you, faster than you, stronger than you — for 99% of people, in a single domain. To humble yourself even more, even if you’re you’re in the top percentile in one domain of life, there’s a 1000 other domains you’re in the bottom percentile.
It’s the idea of, “Who cares if you’re Prime Minister of Canada when someone else is the President of the United States? Inside us dwells a critical internal voice and spirit that knows all this. It’s predisposed to make its noisy case. It condemns our mediocre efforts. It can be very difficult to quell. There is no shortage of tasteless artists, tuneless musicians, poisonous cooks, ideology-ridden professors. Awful music torments listeners everywhere. Poorly designed buildings crumble.” The idea is that failure, mediocrity and substandard is the price we pay for ‘standards’, “and because mediocrity has consequences both real and harsh, standards are necessary,” and are a natural byproduct of creation.
“We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce very much of everything.” There’s also the common assumption that a very small percentage of a given population produce and own most of the wealth. This is commonly known and statistically proven.
“The winners don’t take all, but they take most, and the bottom is not a good place to be,” but when you are at the bottom, you can’t help but compare yourself to those at the top and those above you, and even when you’re at the top, you’re observing these extreme polarities. When you’re at extreme ends of the curve, you can’t help but compare yourself to others: the rich envy the poor in many way’s alike to the poor comparing themselves to the rich.
Peterson proposes an alternative approach, and the one that requires no illusions.
“If the cards are always stacked against you. Perhaps the game you’re playing is somehow rigged, perhaps by you, unbeknownst to yourself.”
I’m not exactly sure what he means by this. If anyone has thoughts comment below.
“If the internal voice makes you doubt the value of your endeavours, or your life, or life itself, perhaps you should stop listening.” That’s what made me note this point. The idea that perhaps we should just stop listening to this internal voice at times, because, “There will always be people better than you. That’s a cliché of nihilism, like the phrase, ‘In a million years, who’s going to know the difference?’”
I beg to differ. I believe in a million years, people will know the difference. You drop a pebble in the water, you’ve left a ripple — it’s a metaphor. No matter what you do, you are changing the course of history. It’s like the butterfly effect. Everything matters.
“The proper response to that statement is not, ‘Well, then, everything is meaningless,’” because that is nihilism in one sentence, right there. “It’s, any idiot can choose a frame of time within which nothing matters. Talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound critique of Being. It’s a cheap trick of the rational mind.” It’s very easy, in the midst of depression, anxiety, or simply an undisciplined mind to fall victim to that mentality without a proper structure and framework of ideas and philosophies that bolster you against the tyranny of the world. You don’t have that, very easy to fall victim to that.
Before we compare the nuances of comparing oneself to other people, Peterson illustrates there’s many platforms in which to succeed at. The world allows for many ways of being. One doesn’t work, you try another. You can pick something better matched to your unique mix of strengths, weaknesses and situation. Some people may think, “‘I should be winning be at everything!’ But 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.” It’s this idea that if you are constantly being successful, that may not be productive or optimal to your growth. Instead, you may be falling victim to your own inflated of grandiosity.
Let’s give you some clear cut examples. “Say your colleague outperforms you at work, but his wife is having affair, while your marriage is stable and happy. Who has it better? One has a succeeding profession, and one has a failing home life. “The celebrity you admire is a chronic drunk driver and a bigot. Is his life truly preferable to yours,” just because he’s a celebrity?
“When the internal critic puts you down using such comparisons, here’s how it operates: First, it selects a single, arbitrary domain of comparison.” This could be fame, money, power, appearance. Pick anything. “Then it acts as if this domain is the only one that is relevant.” (We tunnel vision ourselves). “Then it contrasts you unfavourably with someone truly stellar, within that domain.” Thereby setting yourself up for failure, because you’re automatically, subconsciously, comparing yourself to the unfavourable domain.
“It can take that final step even further, using the unbridgeable gap between you and its target of comparison as evidence for the fundamental injustice of life,” AKA the idea of nihilism. “That way your motivation to do anything at all can be most effectively undermined,” and justified as well. Your poor performance and lack of discipline can be justified by this delusion. This is a very thought-provoking thought. We must learn how we mentally trap ourselves by comparing ourselves unfavourably to a domain someone is excessively successful at.
Now, let’s discuss the utility of comparison, because sometimes, its productive. For example, “When we are very young, we are neither individual nor informed. We have not had the time nor gained the wisdom to develop our own standards. In consequence, we must compare ourselves to others, because standards are not necessary. Without them, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. As we mature we become, by contrast, increasingly individual and unique. The conditions of our lives become more and more personal and less and less comparable with those of others,” but you can see, from infancy, we must compare. We need points of reference, and we look for them subconsciously and consciously.
“Symbolically speaking, this means we must leave the house ruled by our father, and confront the chaos of our individual Being, once we enter the world. We must then rediscover the value of our culture, veiled from us by ignorance, hidden in the dusty treasure-trove of the past, rescue them, and integrate them into our own lives. This is what gives existence its full and necessary meaning.” One of the goals here would be to create our own standards instead of standards created by the comparison of others when we are in adulthood.
Before we can articulate your own standards of value, you must see yourself as a stranger. You then must get to know yourself and ask a series of self-reflective, vulnerable, honest questions. “What do you find valuable or pleasurable? How much leisure, enjoyment, and reward do you require, so that you feel like more than a beast of burden? You could force yourself through the daily grind. You could watch the precious days tick by. Or you could learn how to entice yourself into sustainable, productive activity. Do you ask yourself what you want? Do you negotiate fairly with yourself? Or are you a tyrant, with yourself as slave?”
It’s understanding, are you a slave to your own goals, to your own dreams? Are these dreams and goals derived from comparisons of other people? Furthermore, is the foundation of how you want your life to be, as a result of something that’s authentic and genuine that you’ve critically analysed, or is it instead built from something that’s heavily influenced, poisoned, and tarnished through the dirty fleeting emotions of greed. For example, as a kid, I would look in magazines marvelling at the fast cars, expensive mansions and the accompanying lifestyles — I would absorb this information and say to myself, “I want that life. I want all that money. I want to be able to buy all those ‘things’, all these things.”
My young, impressionable mind was being moulded by a very rocky foundation of superficiality and greed. You have to understand your version of that just like I did throughout the adolescence how deluded my perspective was. However, unless you break the fractured foundation of delusion you will continue to play the role as a slave to yourself. “You have to dare instead to be dangerous, to be truthful, dare to articulate yourself and express or at least become aware of what would really justify your life.” By summarising and interpreting this ‘Rules’, I assist myself through this process, which is one big reason why I relish it so much. It’s a very cathartic, self-reflective, fulfilling process to discuss and flesh out complex ideas and philosophies, hopefully you can find similar meaning through this.
You need to continue the question,
“What are the standards you want to live by?”
“How do you need to be spoken to?”
“What are you putting up with, or pretending to like, from duty or obligation?”
“Consult your resentment.”
It’s a revelatory emotion, for all its pathology. “Resentment always means one of two things. Either the resentful person is immature, in which case he or she should shut up, quit whining, and get on with it, or there is tyranny afoot, in which case the person subjugated has a moral obligation to speak up. Why? Because the consequence of remaining silent is worse.” Silent resentment is poison. “Of course, it’s easier in the moment to stay silent and avoid conflict. But in the long term, that’s deadly. When you have something to say, silence is a lie, and tyranny feeds on lies.” Possibly one of the most profound things in this chapter. But is the act of silence, always a lie…not unless you speak truth at the end of it?
The Point of Our Eyes (Or, Take Stock)
“We can imagine new ways that things could be set right, and improved, even if we have everything we thought we needed. Even when satisfied, temporarily, we remain curious,” This appears to be one of the plights of the modern human experience — so many of us always want more, we thirst for more. “We live within a framework that defines the present as eternally lacking and the future as eternally better. If we did not see things this way, we would not act at all.”
This is reflected in the feeling’s of ‘anticipation’. Anticipation is often one of the greatest feelings associated with travelling new. For a few, the anticipation and pre-excitement feeling can be more lively than the actual experience. “But how can we benefit from our imaginativeness, our ability to improve the future without continually denigrating our current insufficiently successful and worthless lives? The first step, perhaps, is to take stock. Who are you?” This is reflected by the 3 questions Peterson previously brought up.
Who actually are you? “You need to know because you can’t fix something if you don’t know how it’s broken, and you’re broken.” We all are a little broken, if not a lot. “You need an inspector. The internal critic, it could play that role, if you could get it on track; if you and it could cooperate.” When we discuss comparison, we must discuss components of ‘the future’ and ‘the past’. The future is like the past, but there’s a crucial difference. “The past is fixed, but the future, it could be better. It’s somewhat malleable. Some people think it’s fixed as well. Some people think this idea of fate. Everything’s, what’s about to happen’s already happened.” Maybe that’s true, but it could be better, surely? “The present is eternally flawed. But where you start might not be as important as the direction you are heading. Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill,” in the process, in the grind, in work, blood, sweat and tears, “and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.” This is reflected by what I previously wrote about anticipation. The uphill is the anticipation.
“Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived.” Here Peterson provides a very practical example of how you can negotiate with yourself.
“Okay, I know we haven’t gotten along very well in the past, I’m sorry about that. I’m trying to improve. I’ll probably make some more mistakes along the way, but I’ll try and listen if you object. I will try to learn. I noticed just now, today, that you weren’t really jumping at the opportunity to help when I asked.
Is there something I could offer in return for your cooperation? Maybe if you did the dishes, we could go out for coffee. How about an espresso, maybe a double shot?”
Maybe this voice will reply,
“Really? You really want to do something nice for me? You’ll really do it? It’s not a trick?
This is where you must be careful. That little voice, that’s the voice of someone once burnt and twice shy. So, you could say, very carefully,
‘Really. I might not do it very well, and I might not be great company, but I will do something nice for you. I promise.’
“A little careful kindness goes a long way, and a judicious reward is a powerful motivator.” While this is an internal conversation with yourself, there’s no reason you can’t apply the same principles of kindness and compassion towards another person you care about in your life. This type of conversation can help you manoeuvre around that delicate porcelain doll that some people are, yourself included.
Peterson then encourages us to consider others now. “‘What could I say to someone else,’” what could you say to someone else, your friend, your brother, your boss, or your assistant, “‘that would set things a bit more right between us. What bit of chaos might I eradicate at home, on my desk, in my kitchen, so that the stage could be better set to play? What snakes might I banish from my closet, and my mind?’ Five hundred small decisions, five hundred tiny actions, compose your day, today, and every day. Could you aim one or two of them at a better result?” Could you do that? Because then you set up a cascade of events to happen that leave not only yourself a little better, but the person you interacted with, just a little bit better, maybe 1% better. Do that every day, and that adds up to monumental progress over years…monumental.
Every breath of action matters, but, “Aim small. You don’t want to shoulder too much to begin with, given your limited talents, tendency to deceive, burden of resentment, and ability to shirk responsibility.” (No, that may not ‘actually’ be you, or it ‘actually’ may be you, or it may be you a little bit sometimes.
So, let’s say you set yourself a goal. “By the end of the day, I want things in my life to be a tiny bit better than they were this morning, and you ask yourself, ‘What could I do, that I would do, that would accomplish that, and what small things would I like as a reward?’ Then you do what you have decided to do, even if you do it badly. Then you give yourself that damn coffee,” (the reward), “in triumph. Maybe you feel a bit stupid about it, but you do it anyway. And you do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day. And, with each day, your baseline of comparison,” that standard that we were talking about earlier, “gets a little higher, and that’s magic,” because you’ve done it through yourself, not through the comparison of others.
“That’s compound interest. Do that for three years, and your life will be entirely different. Now that you’re aiming for something higher. Now you’re wishing on a star. Now the beam is disappearing from your eye, and you’re learning to see.” Now you’re slowly progressing up the hierarchy of competence. “What you aim at determines what you see. That’s worth repeating. What you aim at determines what you see.” This point perfectly exemplified by this video. If you’ve already seen it, skip it. If you haven’t, watch it.
Notice, “Because the gorilla did not interfere with the ongoing, narrowly defined task, it was indistinguishable from everything else the participants didn’t see.” Why is this important? Well, this is a symbol for how some people decide to see their world. “That’s how some deal with the overwhelming complexity of the world. You ignore it.” (The gorilla representing the overwhelming complexity of the world). You ignore that gorilla, and “while you concentrate minutely on your private concerns,” (the ball flying around). “You see things that facilitate your movement forward, towards your desired goals. You detect obstacles, when they pop up in your path and you’re blind to everything else, and there’s a lot of everything else, so you’re very blind. And it has to be that way, because there is so much more of the world than there is of you. You must shepherd your limited resources carefully. Seeing is very difficult, so you must choose what you see, and let the rest go,” because some people are aiming at that gorilla. They’re aiming at the complexity of the world. They’re aiming at their problems. They’re aiming at the nihilism.
What happens when we’re in a crisis, and we’re ignoring a lot of the world around us? That’s a terrible problem, but the problem contains the seeds of its own solution. Since you have this crisis, you have this problem, and you are blind to so much, you’ve ignored so much, so there’s plenty of possibility left where you have not yet looked for the solution. For example, imagine you’re unhappy. Maybe you are, and, “You’re not getting what you need. Perversely, this may be because of what you want. You are blind, because of what you desire.” That’s all you see. “Perhaps what you really need is right in front of your eyes, but you cannot see it.” If you’re not happy, “perhaps it is your current knowledge that is insufficient, not life itself. Perhaps your value structure needs some serious retooling. Perhaps what you want is blinding you to what else could be. Perhaps you are holding on to your desires, in the present, so tightly that you cannot see anything else, even what you truly need.”
Imagine thinking, enviously, of wanting your boss’s job. “You think, ‘I’m unhappy. However, I could be cured of this unhappiness if I could fulfil my ambition of this job.’ But then you might think further. ‘Wait. Maybe I’m not unhappy because I don’t have my boss’s job. Maybe I’m unhappy because I can’t stop wanting the job. I can’t stop lusting after this one thing.’ That doesn’t mean you can just simply and magically tell yourself to stop wanting that job.” Of course not. You’re not just going to magically “listen and transform. You won’t, can’t, in fact, just change yourself that easily. You have to dig deeper. You must change what you are after more profoundly.”
“So, you might think, ‘I don’t know what to do about this stupid suffering. I can’t just abandon my ambitions.’” Fair enough. “‘That would leave me nowhere to go.’” “You might decide to take a different tack. Instead, you might ask for the revelation of a different plan: one that would fulfil your desires and gratify your ambitions in a real sense, and that would remove your life of the bitterness and resentment with which you are currently affected,” so you make a different plan. “I will try to want whatever it is that would make my life better, whatever that might be, and I will start working on it now.” Thus, you have to distinguish whether what you want is actually going to make your life better, or you’re justifying your ambition and lying to yourself out of an ungrounded, lust and greed for the superficial.
“What would your life look like, if it were better? What would Life Itself look like? What does ‘better’ even mean?” You must attempt to define this for yourself. “You don’t know.” Most don’t. “And it doesn’t matter what you don’t know, exactly, right away, because you will start to slowly see what is ‘better,’ once you have truly decided to want it,” remember, what you aim at is what you see.
“This will only work, however, if you genuinely want your life to improve. You can’t fool your implicit perceptual structures,” and you can’t want it for somebody else.” I’ve tried wanting it for someone else, likely you have to. You feel like you’re doing the right thing by attempting to inspire others close to you that you care for and want to see prosper to simply want a better life for themselves. You soon realise you can’t want it for someone. They almost always must ignite their fire.
Knowing this, you must empower yourself and the individual “to retool, to take stock, to aim somewhere better, you have to think it through, bottom to top. You have to scour your psyche.” That is why the act of writing is such a useful tool for self reflection and self awareness. It teaches you how to scour and manoeuvre through the neglected repressed corners of your mind. I encourage every single person reading this to try some form of writing.
“You have to clean the damned thing up,” (the mind), it gets dirty and clogged.
However, just because you want or aim at something, that doesn’t mean the world will actually reveal itself. It’s not ‘The Secret’. It “doesn’t mean that you can have what you merely want by wishing for it, or that everything is interpretation, or that there’s no reality. The world is still there, with structures and limits. As you move along it, it cooperates or objects,” to your action or inaction. Simply crossing your fingers and wishing upon a star won’t create what you want, this isn’t a movie, this is real life.
It’s “not theology. It’s not mysticism. It’s empirical knowledge. There’s nothing magical here. If we start aiming at something, at something different, something like ‘I want my life to be better, our minds will start presenting us with new information, derived from the previously hidden world, to aid us in that pursuit. Then we can put that information to use and move, and act, and observe, and improve.”
Act — Observe — Improve.
“Act” is the operative word. You must take purposeful direct action.
Discipline is a key component to this that is cultivated through consistent action whether you feel like doing it or not.
Now, let’s return to the situation where your aim is being determined by something petty and superficial.
1. “Imagine that you come to notice, and contemplate, and reconsider your unhappiness.”
“You accept responsibility for it, and you “dare to posit that it might be something at least partly under your control.”
2. “You crack open one eye, for a moment, and look.
“You ask for something better. You sacrifice your pettiness, repent of your envy, and open your heart.”
3. “Instead of cursing the darkness, you let in a little light.”
“You decide to aim for a better life, instead of a better office.”
4. “Realise that it’s a mistake to aim for a better life, if it comes at the cost of worsening someone else’s.”
“So, you get creative. You decide to play a difficult game, decide that you want a better life, in a manner that will also make the life of your family and peers better.”
5. “Your life indeed improves. You start to think, further, Better?”
Perhaps that means better for me, and my family, and my friends, even for my enemies. But that’s not all it means. It means better today, in a manner that makes everything better tomorrow, next week, next year, a decade from now, and a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now. Forever.’”
This is making a decision to live a better life today for yourself which consequently has a cascading effect that lasts forever. People are much more powerful than they think, if only they realised it. Every single article you read, video you watch and person who speak to has the capacity to inspire change tweak your philosophy and the way you interact with the world. ONE SINGLE PERSON can have that effect. Now consider the compounding effect of a lifetime of experiences over thousands of interactions. It’s a beautiful, magnificent thing.
“If you find the answer is ‘no,’ to any or all of the questions, then look elsewhere. Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it. That might be enough for the day.”
This is very simple small task that can add up to sizeable progress over time. We’re not trying to change the entire world here, we’re trying to mitigate a small amount of controllable unnecessary chaos. “Maybe there’s a stack of papers in your desk, and you’ve been avoiding it.” You say, “I’ll get to it later, get to it next week.” But it’s bothering you. In the back of your head, you think about it every week thinking ‘that would be better cleaned up.’ ‘My environment would be better if I cleaned that up.’ “You walk into your room. There are terrible things lurking there: tax forms, bills, letters, people wanting things from you. Notice your fear, and you have some sympathy for it. Maybe there are snakes in that pile of paper,” metaphorical snakes. “Maybe you’ll get bitten. Maybe there are even hydras lurking in there. You’ll cut one head off, and seven more will grow. How could you possibly cope with that?” This is a metaphor for people avoiding the little mundane problems that build up over their lives.
“You could ask yourself,
‘Is there anything at all I might be willing to do about this pile of paper?’
‘Would I look, maybe, at one part of it? For twenty minutes?’
Maybe the answer will be, ‘No. Not doing it.’
‘What about 10 minutes?’
‘What about five minutes?’
‘What about one?’
How about one minute? How about you put a 60-second timer on, and you start looking at a problem that you’ve been postponing, and you work on it for 60 seconds? You start there. You start small, because that’s something, and, “You’ll soon find the entire pile shrinks in significance, merely because you have looked at a part of it. Well, what if you allowed yourself a glass of wine with dinner, or curled up on the sofa and read, or watched a stupid movie, as a reward? What if you instructed your wife, or your husband, to say ‘good job’ after you fixed whatever you fixed? Would that motivate you?” Maybe. Maybe not. It’s up to you to find what motivates you, these are simply ideas.
“Ask yourself, ‘What do you require to be motivated to undertake the job,’ honestly, 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’ve got all these unsolved problems, and your saying you shouldn’t need to motivate yourself at all? You might as well try it.
“Maybe you can do this in the morning, as you sit on the edge of your bed. Maybe you can try, the night before, when you’re preparing to sleep. Ask yourself for a voluntary contribution,” to understand more about yourself and what motivates you. “If you ask nicely, listen carefully, and don’t try any treachery, you might be offered an answer. Do this every day, for a while,” just for a minute, 30 seconds, “Then do it for the rest of your life. Soon you will find yourself in different situations.” You’ll find that your aim changes, and your life just gets better. It’s like magic, but it’s not. It’s a purposeful action.
What do you do by doing all this? What happens? “You are telling the truth, instead of manipulating the world. You are negotiating, instead of playing the martyr or the tyrant. You no longer have to be envious, because you no longer know that someone else truly has it better. You no longer have to be frustrated, because you have learned to aim low, and to be patient. You are discovering who you are, and what you want, and what you are willing to do. You are finding that the solutions to your particular problems have to be tailored to you, personally and precisely. You are less concerned with the actions of other people, because you have plenty to do yourself,” now.