Thoughts on Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life

09 May 2018

Recently I’ve had a chance to read 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. I’ve been gifted this book on my birthday by my brother, and he’s a die hard fan.

My thoughts on the book? I think that it could have been so much more. It could have been a total classic, but it fell short. As in it needed 2 or 3 more revisions.

Here are the reasons why:

  1. It lacked coherence. I feel that it could have been so much better if it focused on one thing either trying to help people with real life concrete examples, or be an actual philosophical treatise on his philosophy on life. Based on the title, it should have been trying to focus on the rules themselves, and helping people through experiences that Peterson draws as a psychologist rather than this thoughts on philosophy. I think he should have focused on ONE thing.

  2. From the rules, the book spawned off topic after topic every page until the topic I was reading was exteremly different from the rule, or the title of the chapter. This book had some parts where it was a total mess. I would be reading a page, and thinking, “What the hell does this Russian writer have anything to do with the title of the chapter?”

The way I like to think about his writing style is that it’s a tree that is way too deep. From the first topic of the chapter, you spawn off a branch, and that branch spawns off a new branch, and so on. First, the branches themselves were loosely related. Second, the branching became excessively too deep. When you get to the end of the branch, you have trouble following the logic all the way up to the original topic.

I think the danger of writing this way is that:

  1. The deeper you go in, if one of the connections is fragile, then your whole argument starts to crumble.
  2. Readers get lost very easily.

If I have to summarize the good points, it’s that:

  • “Circumstances have changed. You can too.” This left a remarkable effect on me. I think if I have to pick a few words out of this book that I found most valuable, this has to be it. The circumstances of what you faced in the past doesn’t matter. Things have changed. There is no reason for you to not to change as well. Don’t get stuck in the past. Move on.
  • Compare yourself to who you are yesterday. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. I think this is sound advice as well. You have to be actively trying to become a better person everyday. Your frame of reference should you ONLY You. This I agree with.
  • Little changes build up to make huge effects. This is what I’ve been thinking of lately. In the natural world, there is probably no such thing is a discontinuity. Everything, in microscopic detail, is smooth. That is to say, a sudden change doesn’t happen instantaneously. For example, a car doesn’t suddenly flip in the other direction. It makes a smooth turn step by step. Another way to think about this is that people don’t gain weight overnight. You can a pound a week, gradually, until you’re thinking: how the hell did I become so fat? In a similar manner, if you’re changing to become better, it takes time. Start with the little steps. Peterson emphasized this a lot, so I wholeheartedly agree with his advice.
  • Religious stories are engraved in human psyche, and these stories tell us important lessons that are a fundamental part of being human. Stories in the bible depict some of the core aspects of being human, and concepts and morals that have appeared throughout human experience. We should not take them lightly, and really think about what these stories mean, and reflect on them.

Overall, I wouldn’t consider this book a waste of time. But would I read it again, and enjoy it? Probably not. I would go back to some of the key-points that he mentioned, and mull over it. And skip all the philosophizing and think about the core concepts he emphasizes, and reflect on how they can be incorporated into my life.