Below are my highlights from the fourth rule in the book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ by Jordan B. Peterson. I have made several small adjustments to a couple of the passages for them to make sense without the context of the full chapter. Within each passage, I have placed two or so sentences in italics. These are my own shortened takeaways from each section, perhaps the phrases that can be quoted and remembered.
In order of appearance:
You have a career and friends and family members and personal projects and artistic endeavours and athletic pursuits. You might consider judging your success across all the games you play. Imagine that you are very good at some, middling at others, and terrible at the remainder. Perhaps that’s how it should be. You might object: I should be winning 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. Should victory in the present always take precedence over trajectory across time?
Be cautious when you’re comparing yourself to others. You’re a singular being, once you’re an adult. You have your own particular, specific problems — financial, intimate, psychological, and otherwise. Those are embedded in the unique broader context of your existence. Your career or job works for you in a personal manner, or it does not, and it does so in a union interplay with the other specifics of your life. You must decide how much of your time to spend on this, and how much on that. You must decide what to let go, and what to pursue.
The future is like the past. But there’s a crucial difference. The past is fixed, but the future — it could be better. It could be better, some precise amount — the amount that can be achieved, perhaps, in a day, with some minimal engagement. The person 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, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting the at the next peak.
Could you compare your specific personal tomorrow with your specific personal yesterday? Could you use your own judgment, and ask yourself what that better tomorrow might be? 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. Thus, you set the following goal: by the end of the day, I want things in my life to be a tiny bit better than they were this morning. Then you ask yourself, “What could I do, that I would do, that would accomplish that, and what small thing 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 reward, in triumph. Maybe you feel a bit stupid about it, but do it anyway. And you do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And, with each day, your baseline of comparison gets a little higher, and that’s magic. That’s compound interest. Do that for three years, and your life will be entirely different. Now 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. And what you aim at determines what you see. That’s worth repeating. What you aim at determines what you see.
On how you deal with the overwhelming complexity of the world: You ignore it, while you concentrate minutely on your private concerns. You see things that facilitate your movement forward, toward your desired goals. You detect obstacles, when they pop up in your path. 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 much more of the world than there is of you. You must shepherd your limited resources carefully. Seeing is very difficult, so you much choose what you see, and let the rest go.
People can learn, even if they are very unskilled at the beginning. Ask yourself what you would require to be motivated to undertake the job, honestly, and 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 are, on the one hand, the most complex thing in the entire universe, and on the other, someone who can’t even set the clock on your microwave. Don’t over-estimate your self-knowledge.
Realisation is dawning. Instead of playing the tyrant, therefore, you are paying attention. 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.