12 Rules for Life

I’m trying to get back into psychology books after my excessively long venture with the American Presidents. This blog aims to document my journey of reading Philosophy, History, Psychology, and the Classics. This week I am posting about an excellent book –  which in a way covers all those categories. The book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it is written in a balanced manner – both conservatives and liberals find it hard to argue against these tips. Peterson writes almost like a philosopher and these 12 rules are backed up with plenty of metaphysical pondering – a big reason you should read it for yourself. Below are the 12 rules to life.

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1. Stand up straight with your shoulders straight

Try to carry yourself in a confident manner that doesn’t allow people to take advantage of you. Life is hard as it is – feeling mentally and physically slouched makes things worse – so fake it until you make it.

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

Why do we take care of our loved ones but fail to take care of ourselves? Self care is not selfish.

3. Befriend people who want the best for you 

Iron sharpens iron. We need people in our lives that make us better. Stray from being a hero and don’t try to fix everyone – dysfunction many times wins over in a relationship.

4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not the useless person you are today

Don’t compare yourself to others because there will always be someone better. Instead compare your current self to your former self. Are you improving or stagnant?

5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Children need discipline and are born with inherent aggression. Adults need to guide children and teach them how to function in society. Don’t let your kids control you because you lack discipline – they will grow up to be terrible adults.

6. Set your house in order before you criticise the world

Before questioning the problems of the world get your own problems in order. We aren’t perfect so stop expecting life to always go your way.

7. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient

Life is all about delayed gratification. The things that take the most sacrifice are the most meaningful.

8. Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie

Lies lead to problems in the psyche and the soul. Don’t lie because it just causes more issues in the future. Similar to the idea of rule number 7.

9. Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t

Seek first to understand and remember the wisdom of Socrates – “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

10. Be precise in your speech

Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be vague when a problem arises. Confront issues head on and be truthful to yourself.

11. Do not bother children while they are skateboarding

Let men be men and girls be girls. There are biological differences between the sexes which should be fostered and not suppressed. Overprotecting children is not a form of love.

12. Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street

Life is tough, and we can’t explain away our suffering. If you see a cat in the street pet it and – experience for a second – the mystery of life.

Which is your favorite rule? I particularly like rule number 6. If we practiced just half of these rules daily, I’m sure we would be happier and healthier. 

The American Dream…Nightmare

What is the American Dream? Is it a dream of opportunity and wealth? Is it a dream that is still attainable? Is it even a dream and not a nightmare in disguise? I always saw the American Dream as the ability to reach any goal in life. America was and still is the land of entrepreneurship, innovation, and Cinderella stories. Great men and women came to this country for a better life – many times from places where dreams were never mentioned. My wife and I are blessed to be on the right side of the American Dream (read on to know what that entails), but many people do not have the same position. For a majority of Americans, the dream is no more realistic than an episode of Leave it to Beaver. 

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Everyday people struggle to meet their bills, pay for food, find employment, save for retirement and notice optimism in the nightly news. It is even worse for minorities who not only struggle to find well-paying jobs but also worry about harassment and unfair treatment on an institutional level. To better understand the nightmarish side of America, I read Death of a Salesman by Arthur MillerDeath of a Salesman won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949 and is one of the greatest American plays of all time. It follows the downfall of Willy Loman – an exhausted salesman who is losing his mind in the rat race of business. It is a gut-wrenching ride that requires you to question the very foundations of success.

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On the surface, Willy Loman looks like a prime candidate for the American Dream: He has a beautiful wife, two sons, a suburban house, a successful traveling sales job, and friends who admire him. These surface level attributes quickly fade away with reality: He regularly cheats on his wife, his one son is a womanizer while his other son is a wandering thief, his house constantly requires repairs, his job no longer pays the bills, and his supposed friends are nowhere to be found. By the end of the play, Willy is completely lost in the past reminisces of “better” times and his dreams of being a respected businessman. Arthur Miller paints a sad picture of what the American Dream can look like – a lifetime of sacrifice only to be fired and thrown to the curb of American capitilism.

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In the end, Willy kills himself so his family can collect the life insurance – his funeral is only attended by a few people. So what should we take away from this anecdote of the American Dream? I think Arthur Miller was pretty spot on. The American Dream is not for everyone and success is as elusive as a fleeting mistress. We should reframe the American Dream from one of material/prideful success to one of relational/altruistic success. Let’s not dream of being loved by everyone and impressing others with our possessions. Let’s dream of lives filled with close relationships that are synergistic – fostering self-actualization. A life well-lived is in our grasp, but we have to reframe our dreams – less external pridefulness and more internal peacefulness.

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
-Arthur Miller

Destroy Your Life Timeline

Have you ever been depressed or saddened by your life course? Have you ever wanted to go back in time and change previous decisions? I play that game a little too often; “If only I would have stuck with pre-med…I could be a doctor right now,” “If only I would have enjoyed that stage in my life and not have rushed through it,” “If only I would have been more patient I wouldn’t be in this current predicament.” This game can be both good and bad depending on whether you learn from your mistakes or just continue sulking in a theatre of regrets.

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Another dangerous game to play is making a timeline for your “life.” By 22 I will have my college degree. By 25 I will be married. By 30 I will have my first baby. By 35 I will be a manager at work. This all too familiar timeline can be an excellent guide for our life goals, but many times it becomes a barbed-wire measuring stick. If your life goes off the tracks, you can feel lost and frozen with fear of the unknown. “What am I going to do now…I’m already (fill in the age)!” Age controls us more than we like to think and I am by no means immune to the pressure; just the other day I was thinking about going back to school but thought myself too old for the endeavor. So what is one to do if they find themselves flying off the tracks of their ideal timeline?

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The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
-Albert Einstein 

One of my most favorite things to do is to read about what other people have experienced in past lives. For example, what if you were really stressed out about not getting pregnant? Did you know Marie Antoinette took SEVEN years to consummate her marriage and the whole time she was freaking out about not having a baby? What if you stressed about not having the career you dreamed of? Did you know the first time Winston Churchill ran for office, he lost and subsequently became a war prisoner in South Africa? Or what if you think love will never come knocking on your door? Did you know Queen Victoria, thinking life was over after the death of her husband, fell in love with a Scottish servant?

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The point is that whatever you are worried about, someone has already lived it and come out of the situation better than ever. We are not on an isolated island; the past is there to help us as if it were an experiment – all different problems and scenarios tested over and over. We need to put this historical knowledge into practice by fostering patience and hope. What if Winston Churchhill had just given up hope? What would the world look like today? Your timeline might look like crap but do you really think it will never get better? Do you really think anyone has a perfect timeline as if life were a conveyor belt at Disney World?

We will not have failure – only success and new learning.
-Queen Victoria

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To Hope and Wait is to be human. We are most human in groups, and we must always look to others for wisdom. To be human is also to be present. What does the “future” have to do with the current moment? Your age is just a number but more than that, the future is just an imaginary pretext. The future is something in our heads, and there is truly nothing besides this moment in which these words are being read. That is a hard concept for people to grasp but when it is correctly understood life becomes disentangled from a timeline.

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An example of this is whenever old people get married. I think this is one of the best ways to tangibly understand the “present.” A 90-year-old bride doesn’t care about her timeline. She gets married so she can enjoy the here and now. Of course, this is all easy to write about, but it ‘s hard to put into practice. Again I remind everyone to Hope and Wait. Enjoy today and believe that tomorrow will be even better. Appreciate your timeline and be grateful for what you have instead of what you do not have. You will get through this stage in your life and one day smile at how far you have come; maybe your shaky timeline will provide wisdom and motivation for someone else.

 

Waiting to Die

My whole life feels like one big waiting game. I could not wait to get done with High School. I could not wait to get married. I could not wait to buy a house. I could not wait to eat my dessert. I am always waiting for something in life and it is not good. We all tend to do this to some degree because we are uniquely gifted with the understanding of the “future” tense. No other animal is consciously waiting for some future event – they are always responding to stimulus in a programmed manner. The ultimate example of the waiting game is that guaranteed end point – death. I am scared that I will eventually run out of exciting things to wait for and ultimately begin to wait for my last breath. It sounds macabre but isn’t that what a lot of elderly people are doing at this very moment. There are nursing homes around the world full of people that have one last future plan. I don’t want to rush through life anymore and try to speed up what is already a fast-tracked existence.

On any given day, I am waiting for a myriad of future events. In the middle of the night I wake up waiting for my alarm. In the morning I wait for lunch time. In the afternoon I wait for the end of the work day to get done. In the evening I wait to eat dinner. While lying in bed I wait for my favorite TV show. While I close my eyes to sleep I wait for my dreams. When I’m waiting for the aforementioned events, I am waiting for even more things in the distant future: blog posts to write, books to read, plans to be made, sex to be had, money to be saved, and chores to be completed. During my waking hours, I probably spend 75% of the time thinking about things in the future or things that are unrelated to the present. Even when I am doing something fun, I catch myself waiting for it to be over so I can move onto the next activity.

When I was in college, I was in a huge rush to get done and start my life. I could not wait to never have to write a stupid paper or turn in an assignment again (ironic now that I blog). I did everything I could to graduate early and now I look back with deep regrets. I missed out on seeing my friends whom I rarely ever see now. There was nothing for me at the end of the process – all I had was that habit of waiting for the next step. Are we all destined to wait out our lives until we’re dead in the ground? I am realistic and know waiting will always play a role in my life. How could I ever plan for the future without daydreams? How could I ever better myself without future goals? I will never stop looking forward but I need to find a way to balance my gaze more towards the present. What is the best way to be mindful? The number one way to get out of the waiting game is to notice the details. Your brain is almost always on autopilot and can function pretty well with minimal concentration. Whenever you take your brain out of its autopilot you begin to concentrate and focus on the here and now. My top two ways of doing this is by focusing on my breath and focusing on specific details. For example, my mind was wandering while writing this blog so I focused on my breath for a couple of inhales. Almost immediately, I began concentrating on the task at hand and was completely present. If you find yourself in the waiting game focus on something extremely particular. I love looking at the sunrise or the stars when I let Max out to take a crap. Focus on one thing and just analyze it for a couple of seconds. You will be present and your thoughts will stay in that state for quite some time thereafter.

I know this is all stuff that people have heard before but I personally always need reminding. Practice being present and stop waiting for the next step. Life is a river that you float down; every bend is unique, some bends are bad, some bends are good, but you can only stay at each for a certain time – once you pass one it is gone forever.

News-The Junk Food of Information

When I was a kid I never worried about scary things on the news. One reason was that I didn’t watch the news and the other is that I knew my parents would protect me from danger. I was more worried about the killer clown in my bathroom or the witch at my bedroom window. Thankfully, these fears could easily be ameliorated by a nightlight or going to Mom and Dad’s room. Today I get scared from watching the news. It seems like every week there is a terrorist attack or world disaster that makes me feel sick about the future. The news is like a real world scary movie. After I watched The Ring I had to cover my TV with a blanket because of fear that it would turn on in the middle of the night. Similarly, after watching the news over the past few days, I second guessed some of my plans because ISIS was on my mind. Both of these examples include irrational fears, but unlike in the past, I can’t run to my Mom and Dad’s room anymore.

So should I give up watching the news? Being someone who loves to read and write, I thoroughly enjoy being up-to-date on the world around me. I don’t like to be the odd man out in conversations and usually I like to know the details so I can better inform my friends and family. There is a price to pay though when using the news to be informed-a negative attitude about the world’s future. Sure, some people will say, “I watch the news and it doesn’t bother me,” but I would argue that it does affect a person subconsciously. I wrote a post on Blink by Malcolm Gladwell that states our brains respond to things in mere seconds based on preconditioning. Among non-racist individuals, studies show that regardless of personal race (black or white), we react more negatively to black faces than to white faces. This phenomenon is obviously apparent between white police and young black men but it is also present in everyday life-what makes you more uncomfortable, a plane full of Arabs or a plane full of Caucasians? This is an ingrained survival method that has helped us make life saving decisions in the past-see snake, run like hell. In today’s world it isn’t the snake but instead images of terrorists, shooters, crazy drivers, scary diseases, and masked men that precondition us. It is estimated that 10% of teens and 40% of adults suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder (Source). I would argue that the news, and its effects on one’s future outlook, is a major source of anxiety. I think we should all look at news like we look at junk food. It tastes so good right at the moment, giving us a slight rush, but afterwards it makes us feel empty and slightly upset.

So what is one to do, be depressed/informed or happy/ignorant? How do we get to the level of happy/informed with the added benefit that planes of Arabs don’t make us subconsciously queasy? First, stop watching or reading online news. If you need to be informed daily, pick up a newspaper. Newspapers give you the information without all the anxiety ridden imagery or hateful comment sections. Second, subscribe to a high quality magazine like the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Time, etc. These are great sources of current material that usually look at multiple sides of an issue. Thirdly, read books about current topics that are affecting the world. Instead of watching the news on shootings read a book like Blink to understand what leads people to shoot in the first place; this will give you added tools when conversing about current events. I fully admit that the news scares me, but I do not admit that by abstaining from it I am less informed. By taking the time to read the aforementioned material, I am able to see the big picture of an event instead of a myopic-instantaneous viewpoint. Discard that junk food news and take in some healthy information-you’ll know what you’re talking about and your stomach won’t get so upset when thinking about the future.

Worry Wart-Remover

Have you ever been called a “Worry Wart?” I have on several occasions and throughout my life my worries have grown. As an adult there are a million things to contend with which can induce worries: paying the bills, keeping up with health, climbing the social ladder, maintenance of relationships, etc. Then there are the irrational worries that are usually propagated from movies or news: flesh eating diseases, serial rapists hiding in the bushes, razor blades in candy, movie theater shootings, sex-slave kidnappings etc. And to my luck, I live in Flint, so now I get to worry about consuming toxic water whenever I turn the tap on. So suffice to say, we must grapple with our worrisome thoughts everyday. How can we let go of our worries? To be truthful I don’t completely know but there are a few key things that help me get through storms of mental despair.

  1. Prayer: Release your worries to God because He has your back. Talking to the big man upstairs is not only therapeutic but strengthens your spiritual relationship. I know this the Sunday School answer but it really will lift a weight off your chest. You don’t have to formally pray or say anything at all-just clear your head and notice God’s presence. You’re not alone. We didn’t worry nearly as much when we were children; be a child in God’s presence and know He understands the big picture.
  2. Yoga: I’m a huge fan of Yoga because it forces you to be mindful of the present. Yoga is not meant to be some ab-shaping-calorie-scorching workout, it’s meant to bring you more in tune with your inner self. My favorite instructor is Tommy Rosen and he focuses on breathing throughout all the movements. When you learn how to breath you learn how to listen to yourself. Your true self is constantly being bombarded by outside influences that many times create negativity and anxiety. That may sound like a bunch of hippy crap but I promise if you practice mindful meditation/yoga you will make it priority in your daily life.
  3. Watch a TV series: I love well made TV shows: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, The Wire, Mr. Robot, etc. There are so many great series on TV right now that you can find the perfect show that fits your personality. Why would a TV series reduce worries? One word-Flow. When you get into a show you forget your worries and enter into the emotions of the characters. For a short moment you aren’t focused on your worries but rather the story unfolding in front of you. Of course, any flow experience is good but I like series for reducing worries because my problems are nominal compared to my beloved fictional characters. Walter White’s worries of selling meth to pay for his cancer treatment trumps my worries of not having pooped in the last two days.

These are three tangible things that you can practice in your life that will help reduce your worries. I love this quote…

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Let us let go of our worries by seeking God, being more mindful of the present, and realizing that our worries really aren’t that big of a deal in respects to the big picture. Your thoughts can make your life like heaven or hell. It’s all up to you, your thoughts are your own-what will you choose?

Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.

Psalm 50:15 NLT

Guaranteed Happiness

Do you want to be happy for the rest of your life? Do you want to live each day as if you were a overly-positive camp counselor? Do you want to wake up Monday morning feeling like you could wrestle a bear or win an argument against a jerkhead? I do! Who wouldn’t want to best a pachyderm or better yet crap glorious poops on a regular basis? To get closer to my goals of blissful happiness, I read Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Most of you know who Daniel Gilbert is because he is the slightly older gentleman on all those Prudential retirement commercials; “How much is in your pocket, go put it on that board so you can see how big it will get in 5000 years when you can finally stop working.” Gilbert is a frick after my own heart and I really like his style of writing. This book was not an easy read and honestly it could be a semester long course with how many research studies it cites. However, because of Gilbert’s explanations of how we think, I now understand happiness much better than before.

To truly understand what makes us happy we must first understand how we perceive the world around us. We have flawed thinking about the past, present, and future.

  1. We look into the past and only remember high points and low points which doesn’t give us an accurate history of events. For example, we remember the highlights of the vacation but forget the mundane parts like sitting in the car or eating ham sandwiches.
  2.  In the present, we naturally compare our emotional state with others seeing only the things that reaffirm our beliefs. For example, we want a new car so we note to ourselves every time we see someone who appears happy with a new car-while disregarding all the unhappy people.
  3. We imagine the future without exact detail, which fools us into thinking that our emotions will be stronger then they actually will be. For example, we imagine that our sadness would be extremely high the day after our team loses the big game but in reality we are not that sad because we didn’t include in our imagination all the other things we would do in that day like have sex or eat a big cheeseburger.

In addition to our lack of accurate past, present, and future perceptions, we have an excellent knack to defend against negativity. We have an emotional immune system which helps us rationalize negative stimuli. For example, you find your best friend in bed with your woman. You will be mad but eventually your emotional immune system will rationalize the event in your head: “She was a whore, I’m so glad I figured this out sooner then later…she wasn’t good enough for me anyways…she did always have a weird cat smell.” We also surround ourselves with people who reaffirm our beliefs and this further helps the emotional immune system do its job of keeping us positive.

So what the frick does all this crazy psychology have to do with happiness? To put simply, our perception of the world is influenced by our own world view and we will seek to reaffirm this view at all costs. Since our views of past and future are fuzzy at best we really can only reference the present for accurate indicators of happiness levels. How the heck do you reference the present if you are trying to figure out your future happiness? The best way is to look at people who are experiencing your imagined future in the present. For example, you are wondering whether having children will make you happy, or whether having a new car will make you happy, or whether getting that weird hipster haircut will make you happy. You need to find someone who currently is in that state and glean information from them regarding their state of happiness. Daniel Gilbert calls this “Reporting Live from Tomorrow.” I told you this book was a difficult read and hence a difficult subject to sum up. In addition to these tips on happiness, I want to add my own small opinion on the subject. Guaranteed happiness can only come when you appreciate your blessings that have already come to be while having the mentality that no blessing in the future is guaranteed-making every new experience an awesome surprise gift. Life-long happiness is not expecting much from life but relishing whenever you do crap glorious poops on a Monday morning.