12 Rules for Life

Rule 1 in Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” is to stand up straight with your shoulders back in life, both literally and figuratively. He first explains how birds and lobsters establish a dominance hierarchy among themselves over shared resources:

“The wiliest, strongest, healthiest and most fortunate birds occupy prime territory, and defend it. Because of this, they are more likely to attract high-quality mates, and to hatch chicks who survive and thrive. Protection from wind, rain and predators, as well as easy access to superior food, makes for a much less stressed existence. The poor and stressed always die first, and in greater numbers.”

He also talks about how defeat and victory affect their neurochemistry:

“ A vanquished competitor loses confidence, sometimes for days. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. When we are defeated, we act very much like lobsters who have lost a fight. Our posture droops. We face the ground. We feel threatened, hurt, anxious and weak. If things do not improve, we become chronically depressed. ”

“Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency … Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan—among humans, just as among crustaceans”

“Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income—or number of decaying food scraps—are held constant.”

He suggests that you stand up straight, because of the positive feedback loops instantiated by your body language:

“If your posture is poor, for example—if you slump, shoulders forward and rounded, chest tucked in, head down, looking small, defeated and ineffectual—then you will feel small, defeated and ineffectual.  The reactions of others will amplify that. People, like lobsters, size each other up, partly in consequence of stance. If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at and treat you differently.”

This really resonated with me, because I observed a similar phenomenon in the meritocratic workplace without fancy titles. I noticed that people try to establish their dominance through trying to appear smart or dressing up very stylish, or through writing notes to share their wisdom, continuously trying to assert that they’re better than you.

The dominance hierarchy also holds true in the workplace. People who are good at what they do and have skills in demand will work at better companies, that have better management, and more resources. These companies will pay employees better, offer better perks, and the work environment will be more fun. Others, they will have to work at boring companies where overtime is the norm, bureaucracy prevails and pay is low.

There’s also a dominance hiearchy within the team. The more successful you are, the better your manager treats you, the better projects you’re given, the more flexibility they will offer you – working from home or taking long vacations, more bonuses you’ll be paid. If you’re not performing well, your manager will be cold and harsh, will criticize you, give you projects no one wants, and eventually increase your stress.

Striving for excellence, being good at your job and having skills in demand will make your life easier. If you slack off, the rest of your life will be harder. Easy choices, hard life; hard choices, easy life …

December 4, 2018

sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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