12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Rule 1

Like most avid readers, I speed through my books without giving what I’ve read any time to become a part of my everyday life. I finish the book, display it proudly on my shelf, then start another. If I implemented all the wisdom of every book I read, most of my problems would be fixed. I know I’ll never be able to completely and fully live every lesson put forth in a book. But I’m trying to digest significantly more. Part of this is influenced by Raptitude’s article on the idea of a “Depth Year”.

So with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, I’m going to do something different—I will be reading one chapter a week. This is difficult because I find the book interesting.

To get as much as I can out of the book, I’m going to write about each chapter. Keep in mind this isn’t a review or summary. I am doing this in order to get a deeper understanding of each chapter, not to reword every idea. Reading this won’t give you the lessons fully. I recommend reading it for yourself.

Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

This chapter seems to be about the physiology of human mood, attitude, and self-view. Among other things, Peterson notes posture as one of the more important physical choices that affect our being. The primary illustration he uses to communicate the importance of this is the lobster. He also references birds, chickens, and chimps to help clarify this rule.

There are many reasons as to why Peterson chose lobsters, but there was one fact that was more interesting to me:

“If a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves. Then it grows a new, subordinate’s brain — one more appropriate to its new, lowly position”

Now, a human brain doesn’t get replaced with a more subordinate brain after a huge failure. But does our attitude change? Do our beliefs, outlook, and wait for it … posture change? I bet you can think of more than one example. We begin to behave physically different after a loss (the mental difference is a whole other article). It looks like the motherly advice not to slouch has a lot more benefits that I had thought.

Positive Feedback Loops

Peterson also references the reality of a positive feedback loop. In a positive feedback loop, each phase of the loop is fueled by the phase that came before it. In an example from the book, someone might begin drinking alcohol, wake with a hangover, find that the hangover can be cured with more drinking, drink more, then get a hangover, then cure it with more drinking. And so the cycle has been created.

In a more likely example for the everyday person (well, at least more likely for me), Peterson tells about a woman who has an anxiety attack while at the mall. The next time she goes to the mall, she begins to have the anxiety again while looking for parking. She decides not to go inside in hopes of avoiding another attack. And this works. Her action was rewarded with the absence of anxiety.

“Our anxiety systems are very powerful. They assume that anything you run away from is dangerous. The proof of that is, of course, the fact you ran away.”

This makes the whole stand up straight idea a little more urgent and imperative, because if you begin to slouch you’ll feel low. Then you’ll exhibit this low feeling with your posture (and maybe a facial expression as well), then your mood will take the cue from your physical pose.

I don’t have anxiety, but when I avoid things I’m afraid of, the fear is validated.

I was at the gym yesterday and I was going to grab a bar that was very near a guy working out. I don’t know why I was scared to grab it. I think I was afraid of disrupting him, but I told myself he was probably using it even though he obviously wasn’t. I realized there was fear there. If I validated that fear by not getting the bar, a loop could begin to form. So I grabbed the bar that was near him. Nothing happened, and that fear got smaller, rather than larger. Plus, I get little better at being okay with bothering people — something that is more important than one might think.

Facial expression and other variables

In addition to exhibiting strength of character and good headspace with posture, Peterson also notes how expression can affect mood. He doesn’t suggest to not furrow your eyebrows or put your head in your hand. But I believe these physical expressions can cause the same issues as slouching. So I incorporated having calm or positive facial expressions into the rule.

“Emotion is partly bodily expression, and can be amplified (or dampened) by that expression”

So, is posture and other physical expression the only things that can cause this feeling of helpless, hopelessness, and generally lower status? Are there other things?

Music. Music affects humans.

William James discussed this idea in his book The Principles of Psychology.

“Even the habit of excessive indulgence in music, for those who are neither performers themselves nor musically gifted enough to take it in a purely intellectual way, has probably a relaxing effect upon the character. One becomes filled with emotions which habitually pass without prompting to any deed, and so the inertly sentimental condition is kept up. The remedy would be, never to suffer one’s self to have an emotion at a concert, without expressing it afterward in some active way.”

In other words, don’t listen to AC/DC unless you’re going to use the energy boost it will provide. Don’t listen to The Smiths unless you plan on sulking in your bedroom. Sulking in your bedroom is okay at the end of the day, after you did everything you needed to do. Everyone needs a good sulk, but just make sure you don’t start your day off with it.

For many pieces of music, there is an appropriate setting. But do you need a reason for every time you listen to music? Hell no. A lot of music doesn’t explicitly imply an emotion. Listen to that when you just want to listen to music. But there are certain types that will make you feel low when you had no reason to feel low prior to listening to it. That’s when we have a problem. Other than that, hit play and enjoy.

I think Rule 1 can be translated to “Physically Communicate Success” — musculoskeletal, facial, and otherwise.

So stand up straight. Keep a expressionless and calm face when at odds. Do not put your head in your hands. Do not put your chin on your fist. Do not furrow your eyebrows. Do not contort your mouth. You can feel everything you want to feel, it’s okay to feel down. Just don’t amplify negative feelings with a physical pose or facial expression.

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