Reading 12 Rules for Life – Chapter 1 Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back

After a harrowing time I decided to purchase and read Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to ChaosI intend to point out key concepts, relate them to other readings, and to my own experiences. What stood out for me in Chapter 1, Stand up Straight with your Shoulders Back, were status & position, feedback loops, and the importance of routine.

Status & Position

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The first chapter is a springboard into Jordan Peterson’s fascination with lobsters. He points out the hierarchy that male lobsters live within and how, after winning battles with other lobsters, rises in their serotonin positively affect their posture and willingness to fight again. These fights allocate the best resources — food, shelter, and mates — to the victor. On the other hand, defeated lobsters are scrunched up, skulking things with easily startled reflexes.

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Comparatively, I have a friend who exhibits these physical cues: he’s hunched over, jumpy, and looks defeated. These attributes reflect his status as an individual: he doesn’t have a steady job, he’s never lived on his own, he’s never dated, and doesn’t have much direction. In comparison with an alpha male he’s the archetypal wimp who couldn’t compete in the realm of sexual selection. In regards to relationships and courting, females “identify the top guy quickly, and become irresistibly attracted to him” (Peterson 9). A guy who has his shit together is much more desirable than one that does not. Things like self-confidence, a steady career, and materialistic goods are markers for a suitable mate. Therefore one should attain stability in one’s life before attempting a relationship; it will improve the probability of its success.

Peterson explains that lower hierarchical status is correlated with high stress impulsivity, anxiety, and the propensity to be physically and mentally broken. Compare this with the high status individual who needn’t worry about whether they can pay the bills, eat well, or find child care.

Also like lobsters:

after a defeat in a relationship, education, or career, we dissolve; we lose confidence, our brain crumbles, and we have to adjust to our new, lowly position. We question our competence, or our strategy, in the ring in which we have been defeated; we begin to doubt if we aren’t careful to learn from our mistakes (Peterson 7).

For me, this meant a defeat in my 2 year relationship where I fell into the categories of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.

At first, I experienced the feelings of denial and bargaining. After being told by my girlfriend that she wanted to move out I didn’t take her seriously, and I went into reaction mode thinking that getting some extra income would fix the situation. However, when I received the big paycheck that would solve our financial crisis that Friday, she told me she had found a place and would be moving out soon. She had made up her mind. She had left within that weekend. It didn’t matter that I was able to procure additional income; the reasons for her departure were deeper than that. She had told me that we we’re breaking up for financial reason but also because she started to resent me. What for? She didn’t say, but I have gathered that it was because of my behavior.  Although months had passed, I thought that if I change my behavior she might come back.

Depression began to set in. I lamented the fact that my girlfriend had decided to leave me. I had thought that I had nothing worth living for, that I was unattractive, and a failure. I wallowed in self-pity. If there is any advice I could give it would be not to hate yourself, but to change the things you don’t like about yourself.

I began to ask myself, “What have I been doing wrong? What can I change about myself?” This was a wake-up call to self discovery. I began to think of all my faults: I was a lazy, pessimistic, low-income, out of shape, video gaming procrastinator. I would take naps throughout the day or just relax in bed. Anytime something bad had happened, I would blame the world instead of myself. We had been living in a little studio apartment in a rundown part of town, her car would breakdown, I couldn’t pay the bills, or go out as much as I would have liked; in essence, I wasn’t the provider I wanted to be. I had stopped going to the gym; wasting money eating out, ordering pizza, and getting ice cream from the corner store. Finally, instead of studying or doing my homework like I should have been, I would distract myself by playing video games.

Realizing this, my depression shifted to anger. I was angry at myself for falling into this mode of being. I was angry that my ex girlfriend would give up on me, that I had been thought of as not worthy. I knew I had potential and could be better if given a chance. My anger turned into motivation to prove her wrong, to do better for myself.

Peter-pan-disneyscreencaps.com-1796I realized that I was like Peterson’s analysis of Peter Pan; a pathetic grown man living in a fantasy world who was not willing to grow up. I had shirked responsibility. I had been dependent upon financial aid. I was complacent and satisfied with mediocrity. I would fold at any stressor that would manifest itself.  I had thought that ultimate happiness came from having an intimate relationship. If I can’t take care of myself how would I be able to take care of another? I was entirely dependent upon others…

Ultimately, this whole experience has been a gift since it’s forcing me to become more Self Reliant, as Ralph Waldo Emerson would put it, and to set higher goals and conditions of living for myself. I’ve embraced Nietzsche’s concept of Self Overcoming, the idea that facing failures and obstacles in one’s life makes one a better person.

Feedback Loops

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Secondly, Peterson points to the power of feedback loops to affect our lives. Like a microphone amplifying the output from a speaker indefinitely, a feedback loop runs itself like a row of dominoes being knocked over. Feedback loops can be quite powerful if positively reinforced and detrimental if they are out of control; leading to such things as anxiety, alcoholism, and depression.

This has never been more true than in my experience of attending university. After I received a dismal grade in a physics class, I hadn’t worked as hard as I could have, I began not going to that class at all. I missed lecture, didn’t do the homework, forfeited exam/essay grades, picked up drinking, was arrested for an alcohol related offense, my grades fell further, the university academically disqualified me, and I became depressed. This short anecdote is telling of how easy it is for life to go spiraling downward. The same could be said about my depression; the more I sat about and pitied myself, the worst it became. It wasn’t until I busied myself so much that I didn’t have time to worry that I started to feel better. In order to be readmitted to the four year university I attended a community college where I found a job tutoring Math and English as well as receiving recognition for obtaining a 4.0 grade point average.

At this point, Peterson introduces the Pareto Distribution, or Price’s Law (Peterson 8), which describes the world we live in as a winner takes all world.

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He relates how the most popular music is produced by a handful of musicians, that most academic papers are written by just a few groups, how only a few authors write bestselling books, and that the richest 1% have more money than the bottom 50%. To quote the Bible “to those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken” (Matthew 25:29).

Routine! Habits!

Peterson also points out the importance of routine and habits:

In response to the videos above, I looked into the effects of sleep and diet upon our mood; I will end up making a shorter post just on these findings since I have more reading to do…

Conclusion

To end I’d like to include the last paragraphs of the chapter:

     To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means 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 willing undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).

To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protects the world from the flood, guiding your people through the desert after they have escaped tyranny, making your way away from 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, The 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 drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a 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 neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.

People, including yourself, will start to assume that 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 will begin to be less anxious. You will then find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social clues 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 genuinely 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 its furtherance and improvement. Thus strengthened, you may be able to stand, even during the illness of a loved one, 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 its 350 million years of practical wisdom. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back.

                             (Peterson 27-28)

 

References:

Peterson, Jordan B. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Random House, 2018.

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What’s Bothering Me?

The other day I was emotionally struck by the possibility of not being accepted to a four year university after receiving three letters of denial. I asked myself, “what’s bothering me?” The following is a look into my train of thought and what I wrote down:

What’s Bothering Me?

  • My girlfriend left me.
  • I’m on the cusp of homelessness.
  • I don’t have a job.
  • I’m too dependent upon financial aid (learned helplessness).
  • I can’t control my eating, sleeping, and study habits (subpersonalities).
  • It’s not looking like I’ll be accepted into a four-year college.
    • I feel like cain, betrayed by God in favor of Abel (there are tons of losers).
  • I don’t have any other aim other than going to a four year for engineering (all my eggs in one basket).
    • If I can’t attain that, then what else is there?
      • I have great anxiety about abandoning my educational goals, but they seem not to be working out.
      • Admittedly, I’ve put myself into my current situation, but it feels like there is no getting out…There’s no second chances…I’ve had my chance/opportunity and have forfeited it.
        • What are my options?
          • Reapply?
          • Apply out of state?

The following exercise helped calm me down and begun a train of thought on how I might fix some of these things.

As one might have noticed I have a pessimistic or neurotic outlook on life. I looked into my personality on the Big 5 aspects. It gauged me in the 85th percentile of neuroticism; neuroticism being defined as:

People with high levels of neuroticism are more likely to think that things have gone wrong in the past, are going wrong now, and will continue to go wrong into the future. They are also more likely to be unhappy, anxious and irritable when just thinking or remembering, and when they encounter a genuine problem. They have substantially lower than average levels of self-esteem, particularly when they are also low in extraversion. Neuroticism is a risk factor for anxiety disorders and depression.

 

High levels of neuroticism may interfere with both success and satisfaction in relationships and career, with the strongest effect on relationships. High levels of neuroticism are associated with much more concern about mental and physical health, as well as more frequent physician and emergency room visits, and much more absenteeism at work and at school (particularly if accompanied by low levels of conscientiousness).

People with high levels of neuroticism appear to be much more risk-averse than average, which means they tend to avoid recreational, career, financial and social situations where the possibility of loss is high. Such people appear to be much more concerned with maintaining their current status, rather than enhancing it. Perhaps this is a good strategy in genuinely dangerous or uncertain times.

It felt like this really describes my personality; as can be seen from my journal entry. It really seems that all the bad things that seem to happen are explained by this aspect. Perhaps I am like this because I was raised by a single-mother with a disability and low income, who could tell?

What I essentially did was an impromptu jest of the Self-Authoring Program. The following video explains the benefits of sitting down and actually thinking about your faults and how you could fix them.

Subpersonalities: The Demons Inside

Don’t practice what you don’t want to become.

Something clicked recently when watching another one of Jordan B. Peterson’s videos [18:52-20:07].

Peterson says we’re a collection of subpersonalities, or subroutines. Think of a friend or family member, the way that they act when they are angry is completely different from their normal selves; it’s as if they are another person.

Now these subpersonalities are always in competition , circumstances being considered. For example, I thought of the productive me who like the gym, who enjoys learning and reading, and also the procrastinator me who would rather eat junk food, play video games, and mope about. This line of thinking might make one infer that our personality is divided or fragmented like the psychological cases of multi-personality disorder, but I think this is an extreme leap of conclusions. From my understanding of Peterson, these subpersonalities are strategies to navigate life; however, some are detrimental to our goals.

Perhaps a person has been willfully blind to their eating habits. They’ve grown obese to the point that it affects their health, happiness, and relationships. It isn’t until a friend, family member, or health professional speaks up that the person will challenge their strategies of living; their overeating and lazy subpersonalities.

As Peterson points out, “are you going to be the thing that changes, or the thing that stays the same?” The world is in constant flux, especially now with our technological advances. Unless one is willing to “let the flood wipe out the wicked”, or “the wild fire to burn all the dead wood,” they will be navigating the world like an old, blind, and clumsy automaton unwilling to change.

When I examine myself I ask, “what subpersonalities are stopping me from becoming who I want to be?” Well first of all, who do I want to be? What do I want? What have I been doing to create a Hell for myself? Those are questions for another post, but right now I can say that the detrimental subroutines running my life are:

  • Procrastinating
  • Overeating
  • Laziness
  • Pessimistic/Neurotic Self

These are the aspects of my personality that I am disappointed with and want to change; they had been the reason for my current situation of personal and mental suffering and the need for change.

In Need of Monumental Change…

I haven’t been posting as much as I would like.

Over the past four years my life has been slowly spiraling downwards. It begun with a poor work ethic in university, to an alcohol problem that resulted in my arrest, and a depression that was dragged into a 2 year relationship that regrettably ended back in September.

Throughout those years I ignored my conscious, which was telling me what was right and wrong in my behaviors and habits, and pursued impulsive, short-term comforts. I didn’t want to accept my failures and grew blind to the hole I was digging myself into.

I continually sabotage myself. For instance, I have recently committed to living a healthy lifestyle of going to the gym and having a well balanced diet since I am unhappy with my body image. However, upon receiving my paycheck I ordered and ate two pizzas over the weekend that has negated any work I have put forth. Again, when it comes to school I want to succeed and transfer to a four year university for engineering, but I’ve procrastinated and set myself behind in my coursework. These impulsive moments can be thought of as subpersonalities battling each other for pleasure or avoidance of pain.

A key message that has been repeated by University of Toronto professor of Psychology and author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson, is to “get your act together!” In the following video Peterson challenges viewers who are suffering to examine their situation, ascertain how much is their own fault, and to stop blaming others, society, the world, and God. There are still things that are out of our control: the illness or death of a loved one, or a natural disaster; however, there are thing we are in control of and they have more impact than we know or are willing to accept. More on that later…for now, here is a segment of a longer video that I would recommend watching in its entirety.

The Emperor Jones by Eugene O’Neill – College Literature Series #001

 

During my stay at community college I had to submit journal responses and essays for my literature classes; some stories I quite enjoyed, and I thought I should share some of my responses. So this is not only my first blog post, but it’s the first of the College Literature Series on Eugene 0’Neill’s drama, “The Emperor Jones”.

 

Dramatist and screenwriter Eugene O’Neill writes a magnificent play about a tyrannical king not only running from his angered citizens, but from the sins which plague his past in his most famous work The Emperor Jones. With the loud, continuous drumming of the rebels’ tom-tom sounding behind him, the Black emperor. Brutus Jones runs headlong into the dark forest. In this forest of wonder and fright, Jones repeatedly sees apparitions that haunt him; there’s Jeff, a dice throwing man who Jones murdered; a ghostly chain gang, slave auction, and a chanting witch doctor. By next morning the hunting party catch up to the lost and circling emperor, ending the chase.

After reading the play, one can appreciate O’Neill’s inspiration from the Greek tragedies, Freudian psychology, and the German impressionism he implemented “to reveal the hidden lives of characters, especially their intense desires, fears, and memories”(770). One particular symbol of such psychological distress is the presence, or lack thereof, Jones’s dress. Throughout the night in the forest, Jones continuously loses article after article of clothing until he’s reduced to wearing what resembles a loincloth. As the escaping emperor journeys further into the forest he descends into savagery and loses his sanity. The frantic Jones loses his mind after each confrontation of the ghastly hauntings; the images these hauntings portray though, are of slavery and death.

With that slavish imagery, O’Neil illustrates the haunting trials of African-Americans, center stage. O’Neill’s literary accomplishment and success therefore lie in his ability to spread messages echoed by other American poets and authors such as Langston Hughes and Olaudah Equiano.

 

 

Works Cited

Belasco, Susan, et al. “The Emperor Jones.” The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: 1865 to the Present, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Bedford/St. Martins, Boston, 2014, pp. 784–809.