I know talking about Jordan Peterson these days puts you in one of two camps: those who love him and those who abhor him. I have often found that when somebody is really polarizing, I want to try and understand the person even more. One cannot really pick a side in any debate without fully understanding both sides of the argument. If you were to search online for "Jordan Peterson" you will find countless pages and posts directed at him positively and negatively. Around our house, Peterson is often the subject of great debate and discussion. In order to participate in the "Peterson debates", I wanted to be more educated. I was becoming concerned that people seemed too quick to quote sound bytes either for or against his views but there seemed to be an unwillingness to examine both sides.
A few months ago we downloaded his book, "12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos." We decided to listen to this book on a road trip into the Robson Valley. Some of his rules are straightforward and very sensible. Unfortunately, some parts of his book sound like he was pontificating and proselytizing and there were far too many references to the Old Testament for my liking. As a psychologist, Peterson does have some credibility in actually working with clients and advising them on how to make improvements in their lives; in other words, he is not just another academic whose philosophy and theories have not been tested.
Rule #4 is a rule I actually find myself applying each day. I have always been interested in self-improvement but sometimes I can get caught-up in comparing myself to others. Rule # 4 states, "COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY, NOT TO WHO SOMEONE ELSE IS TODAY." Not only does this simple rule keep the comparison just to yourself but inferred in the rule is that you are just trying to be a better version of yourself today compared with yesterday. I have also been guilty of trying to compare myself to a version of myself from years ago - even decades ago. While in some aspects I am a better version of my former self, in other ways, the realities of aging have taken their natural course. I am physically not the man I was in my twenties! The fact is that we cannot compare ourselves to a version of ourselves from years ago because life changes and the context is different. New careers, new relationships, personal crises, having children, etc. all make comparisons to the past unrealistic and pointless.
In comparing myself to yesterday, I can get a pretty quick assessment of how I am doing. I have some habits I am trying to change and now when I get up in the morning, I say to myself, "Brett, just try to be better than yesterday." Unfortunately for my wife, she has to hear this every morning because I say it out loud; yes, this is one of the habits I am trying to change too! I am a bit too much like an annoying alarm clock that my wife didn't set and most certainly would not have chosen this ringtone! In reminding myself to, "just try and be better than yesterday" I am also setting the bar pretty low. While one might say, "Aim a little higher buddy!" but by setting the bar low, I am actually trying to increase my chances for success. If I were to say each morning, "Brett, today judge nothing and nobody and try to exercise for two hours and meditate for at least an hour" there is almost a zero percent chance of success. Do you know what happens when I feel like everyday I wake up knowing that I have a zero percent chance of attaining my goal? I stop trying.
So while I can't say I am a fan of Peterson - his views are regressive and often sexist, I can say that some of his rules provide some good reminders that we can all help ourselves by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting the fact that life is hard and having some goals and a plan to achieve them is a reasonable "antidote to chaos."