Revisiting 12 Rules for Life: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday

Note: This is a repost of a blog series that I started in January 2018. Because this was prior to the blog being syndicated on PeakD, and it was some of my most-viewed content on the old blog. I’m going to be editing these slightly, but I’m also going to be adding my own thoughts as I re-read what I wrote. You can find the original post here.

For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link).

Rule 4 of Jordan Peterson’s book involves comparing yourself against yourself rather than against other pressures. This is not something that is uncommon; it’s been found in a lot of self-help advice, but Peterson’s approach either came across clearer or otherwise had a different approach than the other ways I’ve heard it said. I’ve also been listening to Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People on Audible (Amazon affiliate links), and it said something very similar in one of its chapters, so that’s an indication that it could be on me; then again, Covey claims to be more “old-school” than most (in that he rejects some of the trends of the 20th century, a trend Peterson shares).

One of my favorite points in this chapter is the simple point that Peterson makes to “pay attention”; to be looking for things that you can and will change in your environment. I haven’t quite used that to incredible effect, but it did get my car cleaned out over the weekend.

Another point he makes is that it pays to reward oneself for what has been accomplished. He talks about Pavlovian conditioning in the next chapter and denigrates it, but that is not what he says this is about:

• By forming a cycle where you reward yourself for your actions, you erase some of the negative feedback loops in your life.
• Having constant and recognized achievement reduces the temptation to compare to others, either favorably or unfavorably.
• One thing that Peterson often talks about is the importance of better. The end that you are going for is to keep moving forward, not to be somewhere you’re happy with. Keep with that long enough, and you’re going to see improvement.

A final point that sticks with me is that one of the things that Peterson points out is that our minds are more complex than we necessarily can appreciate, and that we need to develop a relationship with ourselves.

Moving on beyond this a little bit, the point seems to be to make our own motives and minds knowable to the mind, so that we can act in accordance with what our principles are (sorry, Seven Habits bleeding over) rather than impulses and subconscious instinct.

Reflections from 2021

I don’t think 2018 me did a good job here, so there’s not much to reflect on. He doesn’t build to a point, rather he just gives a simple summary of the chapter.

I like the idea of paying attention to things to fix. I’m still not good about having some of that, in the sense that I often put off doing things that I need to do and my room is something of a mess. It’s more that I don’t put books and documents away and put them all on my desk in perpetuity, though I’ve gotten much better about that without ever remedying the build-up that already occurred.

It seems like it would be good for me to start putting some of the stuff that I have in dedicated places to de-clutter, though I’ve got all my high-use stuff in easily accessed places.

Rewarding myself is something I’ve become fairly good at, with just making sure that I let myself have little indulgences after I’m done with my work. I’ve still got a decent work ethic, but I’ve learned to take an Epicurean approach to things with a recognition that good things exist to be valued and prized.

That’s definitely been key to me having a lot more in the way of positive habits. I’ve undertaken a quest to write a million words this year, for instance, and it seems likely that I will actually follow through on that.

I’ve also really come up with a clear vision of who I want to be as a person in the future and the legacy that I want to leave behind when I am no longer living. That takes a lot of the threat of comparisons–both of inadequacy and over-confidence–out of the equation.

I like the idea of always growing better. One thing that I’d tell my past self is that it’s not always going to be quantifiable. You get happier as you learn who you should be and orient yourself toward that goal, and one goal in life is to make that so central that you achieve something like a detachment from suffering.

Thinking of oneself as another person seems to be a trend in Peterson’s work, and as a thought exercise it’s beneficial. I think I’ve become such a different person just in the last year or two that it’s been necessary to look at myself from the outside and get my bearings. A lot of that has been cultivating virtue, some of it has been figuring out where I fit in the order of things.

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