Have you asked yourself lately why you are here? I mean, what is your purpose? That may be an easy question for me to ask, but a challenging one for you to answer.
During these times of questioning your purpose, it’s common to replay events in your life where you felt out of control or like everything was going wrong. That reaction comes from a lack of responsibility for yourself. You’re lacking the goals you need to feel complete.
Instead, start making a road map for your life: the things you want to achieve, the family you want to have, and how you want to feel every day. It doesn’t have to be a perfect map — no one has that — but some direction is better than no direction. Without a start and an aim, you are going to stand there watching the world pass you by.
In this episode, I sat down with clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson. We discuss the relationship between meaning and responsibility, the significance of spontaneous admiration, and how any aim (even a bad one) is crucial for you to feel fulfilled. Let’s get started!
Dr. Jordan Peterson is a Canadian professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist, and the author of the million-plus selling, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos which has been a number one bestseller across the world and is translated into 40 languages.
This year, Dr. Peterson published his third book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. The lectures and debates he shares on YouTube have also become popular, garnering millions of views. His popularity began to really take off in the late 2010s for his view on cultural and political issues.
One of the things Dr. Peterson often talks to his audience about is the relationship between responsibility and meaning. He also tries to make theoretical and abstract constructs more concrete so that they are implementable for those in his audience. He believes these philosophical frameworks can actually help structure your aim in life. And “aim” is a big theme we discuss in this episode.
“If you start with the presumption that there’s a baseline of suffering in life and that can be exaggerated by as a consequence of human failing as a consequence of malevolence and betrayal and self-betrayal and deceit and all those things that we do to each other and ourselves that we know that aren’t good, that amplifies the suffering. That’s sort of the baseline against which you have to work. And its contemplation of that is often what makes people hopeless and depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and all of that.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
I like what Dr. Peterson has to say because of his message of hope. The hope we have in all our suffering is that we can be stronger than we think we are, and that our meaning is linked to the overcoming of that suffering. It’s really very encouraging to think of it that way. It’s why I do this show — to help people find the greatness in their purpose.
“And what you put up against that [suffering] is meaning. Meaning is actually the instinct that helps you guide yourself through that catastrophe. And most of that meaning is to be found in the adoption of responsibility.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Dr. Peterson goes on to say that if we take personal responsibility for ourselves — the way we would think of taking care of a loved one — that we will find a key to happiness and meaning. How ironic that we often care for others more than we really care for ourselves.
He also mentions that if you look at the people that you spontaneously admire, that the act of admiring someone is the manifestation of the instinct for meaning. This is partly why people are so enamored with sports figures because the sports figures are playing out the drama of attaining psychological and physical perfection in pursuit of the goal. We use these figures as models, and then their process of overcoming hardships can be transcribed into something that’s applicable in life.
“In an athletic performance, you really like to see someone who’s extremely disciplined and in shape do something physically remarkable and to stretch themselves even beyond their previous exploits because you really like to see a brilliant move in an athletic match.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
I definitely can relate to this. As a former professional football player, I was constantly pushing my body beyond the limits of what I thought it could do because I was inspired by the legends I admired. I had a picture in my mind of doing the things they were able to do.
“You also like to see that person [whom you admire] ensconced in a broader moral framework so that not only are they trying to win and disciplining themselves in pursuit of that victory, but they are also stretching themselves. So they’re continually getting better, but they’re doing it in a way that helps develop their whole team and that’s good for the sport in general. And that reflects well on the broader culture.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Dr. Peterson says that sports are a great analogy for life because life is like a game. Similar to sports, you are setting forth an aim and then arranging your perceptions and actions in pursuit of that.
In life, Dr. Peterson says it’s more beneficial to have an aim than to not have any aim, even if that aim is wrong or you fail. It’s better to fail than to not try at all.
“… you can’t suffer pointlessly without becoming bitter, and you can’t become bitter without becoming cruel. So you need an aim. The question then is, what should your aim be?” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Before we know where we are going, we need to understand where we have been. That’s where our story comes into play.
One of the tools that Dr. Peterson has in his toolbox is a program called Self Authoring. It’s an online storytelling platform that helps people tell their story in six epochs.
The program also helps people analyze their virtues and their faults. You can answer questions about how to capitalize on your strengths, fix your weaknesses and establish aims, which is where you can derive your meaning.
“It’s not easy to ask people to say, ‘What do you want in your life?’ It’s a very hard question to answer because it’s too vague and grandiose. So we help people break that down.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Part of the program includes mapping out your future in stages and visualizing what you want your life to be like. Not only are there steps to get there, but also considerations on how you are going to take care of yourself while you’re getting through those steps. Dr. Peterson explains how memory is a key component in moving forward.
“If these memories are still causing you emotional pain years later when you think about them or dwell on them, or they spontaneously come to mind, it means that there’s part of your life that you haven’t mapped out properly. You’re still holding onto that story, or it’s still holding onto you.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
He explains that your brain will continually tell you that what happened to you wasn’t good and it will be rehearsed in your mind until you change it. You first have to figure out why that thing happened to you and how that situation pulled you down.
“And that’s not simple. … That’s why we have the writing program because it’s complicated to think it through. But if you face it and you meditate on it, there’s a pretty high probability that you’ll be able to decrease the probability that will be repeated in the future.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Dr. Peterson identifies three things to ask yourself in this process:
Part of crafting your story is also deciding what you definitely don’t want in your life.
If you don’t have a vision, you’re not going to aim at it, and if you don’t aim at it, then you won’t even see the opportunities when they arise. This is where it’s important to watch the words you say over yourself and your life, because words have meaning, and words create your environment.
We talk about this all the time at The School of Greatness. Our words have power. So the question is, what world do you want to create? According to Dr. Peterson, it takes a lot of trial and error. There are skills you develop along the way and also wisdom that you can apply to the new path. So there doesn’t need to be fear of failure. It’s failing forward, right?
Wandering in “no man’s land,” though, is actually worse than going down a bad path. Dr. Peterson’s advice is to not be too perfectionistic about it. You have to try a bunch of paths in life before you find out what you exactly want.
“If you really want to be motivated, you want to be going somewhere, and that means you want to not be going somewhere else — which is typically pain or anxiety or some domain of suffering.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Here are some of the common weaknesses that create obstacles between people and their aims in life:
I’m sure you could pick out at least one thing on this list that you’ve struggled with. Are you still struggling with it? Why is that weakness still an obstacle? What would it take for you to make a change for the better?
“If you don’t experience the pain now or the difficulty now, you’re going to have a deeper pain later.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
It’s about sacrificing stability in the present for the gain in the future. It may hurt, but it will be worth it in the end. Like that saying, “no pain, no gain,” right?
Another way to avoid “no man’s land” is to take care of your health. Did you know your cognitive ability is directly related to how in shape you are? Physical activity can restore your cognitive functions which can help you make better choices in life.
“When you’re not in good physical shape, then one of the things that suffer greatly is your cognitive function. It’s quite an interesting thing to see how tight that linkage is.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
So to avoid “no man’s land” you need to take risks and pick a path, be okay with failing, overcome your weaknesses, and take care of your physical health.
Now that you know what to avoid, the most important question remains — why am I even here?
Dr. Peterson says asking the question of “why am I even here” is a self-defeating set of propositions in some sense.
“The reason you’re stuck with this question, to begin with, is that you’re not very happy about the fact that life is intrinsically tied up with suffering.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
But the good news is that if we have a sufficiently noble purpose, then the suffering will justify itself. We are way tougher than we think if we turn around and confront the suffering.
“We’re stronger when things are terrible, and things are pretty terrible, so that means we’re pretty strong. It’s a very good thing to know. You are so tough, you can’t believe it.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson.
I am so encouraged by this message that we are stronger than we believe. We have the responsibility to find our meaning in this life — and the secret is, it can be so much more amazing than we ever thought possible.
If you found value in what Dr. Peterson and I talked about today, please tag Dr. Peterson, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram with your key takeaways. Please also go to Apple Podcasts, give us a five-star rating, and don’t forget to subscribe!
Dr. Peterson finds that his definition of greatness is best captured in one word — responsibility. Even Winston Churchill said that the price of greatness is responsibility. There is work to do in pursuit of greatness. Like Dr. Peterson, I believe that by asking ourselves the important questions about our purpose and meaning and creating an aim towards those goals, that we can find true happiness in our lives.
Lewis Howes: This is episode number 664, with bestselling author, Jordan Peterson.
Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.
Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
We have Jordan Peterson in the house, and for those that don’t know, Dr Jordan Peterson is a professor at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist, and author of the hit book, ‘Twelve Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos’, which has now sold over 1,5 million copies in about six months since it came out.
This is taking over the world. There’s so much media news and attention around Dr Peterson and I’m so excited that we had an opportunity to connect and really dive in deep on some things that I haven’t heard him talk about from all of the other interviews that he’s done.
He got extremely vulnerable a couple of times and we’re doing a two-part series on this. So, make sure to listen all the way to the end, and make sure to listen to the second part as well, as this may inspire you and openn you up in a whole new way.
His YouTube channel features his university and public lectures. He’s got hundreds of videos, over 1.2 million subscribers and over 60 millions views over there. His popular podcast is always in the top on iTunes, in the higher education category, and he’s considered the main thought leader in belief systems and human psychology.
And today we talk about why taking responsibility for your life is so important. Also, why sports figures are so admirable and what we can learn from them. Why having a vision or some type of aim, even a bad aim, lessens our suffering in life.
The risk of wandering in no man’s land, with zero purpose and a mindset tool to motivate you to do hard things. This, I’m telling you guys, is a powerful episode. Make sure you listen all the way to the end, make sure to share with a friend, lewishowes.com/664 and tag myself and Dr Jordan Peterson, over on Instagram, to let us know that you’re listening and what you’re getting out of this podcast.
Before we dive in, give a quick shout out to the Fan of the Week! This is from Joshua Grimm, who said, “Lewis, thank you so much for what you do. I’ve always daydreamed of what it would be like to have a few moments to pick the brains of the most influential people, and you provide that gateway. Your interviews and questions with all the people you meet are so motivating. As a music lover, I have had to change my driving habits for the better, and now I have made a habit of listening to you and your interviews on my morning commute. Thank you!”
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Alright, guys, this is it, this is one that so many people have been waiting for and I’m excited to let you guys dive in! So, let’s go ahead and do this, with the one and only Dr Jordan Peterson.
Welcome, everyone, back to The School of Greatness Podcast, we’ve got the legendary Jordan Peterson in the house! Good to see you sir!
Dr Jordan Peterson: Good to see you!
Lewis Howes: Very excited about this! You’ve got a book out called, ‘Twelve Rules For Life’, make sure you guys check this out. You’ve probably already got it, but if you don’t, I’m telling you, go pick it up, right now, ‘An Antidote To Chaos’.
You’ve had so much attention over this last couple of years, and I’ve been digging into the research and just been fascinated by everything that you’ve been up to and I just love your stance on the vision you have for humanity, in terms of how we can all live better lives.
And I think you simplify a lot of things in this book, which, some things, people don’t like to simplify, they like to complicate. And I think that’s what has gotten you a lot of attention, is that you try to really simplify a lot of these things.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, I try to make everything concrete, so that it’s actually implementable. I mean, there’s a lot of high level abstractions in the book, because it ranges up into the theological and the philosophical, but it’s always grounded in what you can actually do in your life, practically.
You want to bridge that gap, from the highest abstraction down to the lowest level of behaviour, so that it becomes implementable. That’s how philosophical concepts take on their meaning, because they have to have some impact on the way you see the world and the way you act in the world, or they’re not fully realised, they’re not understood.
That’s partly what we mean, I would say, when we say that we understand something. It’s kind of a strange phrase, ‘to understand something’, but it means to be able to embody it in a shift of view and a shift of action. And then you’ve got it, it’s graspable, it’s in your hand.
Lewis Howes: Embody something in a shift of view?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well they’re the same thing, because your perceptions are very tightly linked to your actions, because, of course, when you’re acting, you’re aiming at something. You have to be devoted towards some aim, some target.
We play that out in sports all the time. That’s why sports are so entertaining for people. It’s because they dramatise the idea of ‘aim’. And not only of aim, but of the pursuit of excellence, in pursuit of that aim. That’s the game. And the reason it’s a spectacle and the reason that people participate in it, is that it dramatises something absolutely essential about life.
And so, you want to take philosophical abstractions, and you want to use them to structure your aim, and then your perceptions organise around that aim, and then you act it out and then you’ve got it. Then it’s become part of your life. It’s not just a philosophical abstraction that floats free in space.
Lewis Howes: Why is there so much conflict in the world? Is it because there’s so many different perceptions that people have on what they think should be right, or what they think should be equal?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, sure, part of it is. Part of it, of course, there’s conflict because we have real problems, and so life is actually difficult, independent of psychological foolishness, let’s say. Independent of the obstacles that we put in our own path, life is already fatally challenging. Life is the ultimate challenge.
Lewis Howes: We will die, so there is a challenge. Uncertainty, fear, pain, all those things.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, yes. All those things, everything that goes along with suffering, is a challenge, and it’s the full challenge, because it takes everything you have and so, part of the reason we disagree is because there are complex problems to solve. And then we also disagree because we’re wilfully blind and we’re also more ignorant than we should be, and we’re not everything we should be.
And we tilt towards malevolence from time to time and we betray each other and ourselves. And so, we take a bad lot, in many ways, and we make it worse. Now, obviously, not always, and we don’t have to, but that’s sort of the baseline that we’re working against.
I think people are most disappointed in life when they’re disappointed in themselves, you know? They see that they’ve made things worse than they had to be, even though the baseline can be pretty brutal.
And so, the book, and all my lectures, I suppose, are put forward in an attempt to take the high level philosophical abstractions and to make them into something that’s actionable.
Lewis Howes: And to take the next best action in your life to improve your life. So you don’t have to suffer as much.
Dr Jordan Peterson: And, hopefully, also, so that people around you don’t have to either. So, one of the things I’ve been talking to my audiences about is the relationship between responsibility and meaning, which is, what would you say, it’s a constant refrain in the book. It’s one of it’s underlying messages, let’s say, or themes, is a better way of thinking about it.
If you start with the presumption that there’s a baseline of suffering in life and that that can be exaggerated as a consequence of human failing, as a consequence of malevolence and betrayal and self-betrayal and deceit and all those things that we do to each other and ourselves, that we know that aren’t good, that amplifies the suffering.
That’s sort of the baseline against which you have to work. And it’s contemplation of that, often, that makes people hopeless and depressed and anxious and overwhelmed and all of that. And they have the reasons, but you need something to put up against that.
And what you put up against that is meaning. Meaning is actually the instinct that helps to guide you through that catastrophe, and most of that meaning is to be found in the adoption of responsibility. So, if you think, for example, if you think about the people that you admire, or you think about when you have a clear conscience, first.
Because that’s a good thing to aim at, which is something different than happiness, right?
Lewis Howes: A clear conscience is different than happiness?
Dr Jordan Peterson: It’s better! It’s better!
Lewis Howes: Yeah. Because you’re not guilting yourself, you’re not feeling bad about yourself. You’re clean.
Dr Jordan Peterson: That’s right! You feel like you’ve justified yourself, you’ve justified your existence, and so you’re not waking up at three in the morning in a cold sweat, thinking about all the terrible things that you’ve involved yourself in.
Lewis Howes: What you said to someone that you shouldn’t have said, how you acted or lied.
Dr Jordan Peterson: What opportunity you lost, or the things that you’ve let go that you should have capitalised on, all of that. And so, if you think about the times when you’re at peace with yourself, with regards to how you’re conducting yourself in the world, it’s almost always conditions under which you’ve adopted responsibility, at least the most guilt, I think, that you can experience, perhaps, is the sure knowledge that you’re not even taking care of yourself, so that you’re leaving that responsibility to other people.
Because that’s pretty pathetic, unless you’re psychopathic, and you’re living a parasitical life, and that characterises a very small minority of people, and an even smaller minority think that’s justifiable. But most of the time, you’re in guilt and shame, because not only are you not taking care of yourself, let’s say, so that someone else has to, but you’re not living up to your full potential.
And so, there’s an existential weight that goes along with that.
Lewis Howes: So you suffer even more, when you don’t take care of yourself, or take the best actions, or do the work that you know you can do, and you rely on someone else to support you financially, emotionally, physically, whatever, you know, at home, or wherever it may be.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, because you’re not only not being what you could be, you’re interfering with someone else being what they could be, right? So you’re not only a void, you’re a drain. That’s a catastrophe!
Lewis Howes: And we usually don’t even know it when we’re in that situation, because we’re in a depressed state.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Or we don’t want to see it. You know, you wake up at three in the morning and you know, and so, you admire yourself, or perhaps you can at least live with yourself, when you’re taking responsibility, at least for yourself, and so that settles your conscience.
But then, if you look at the people that you spontaneously admire. So, the act of spontaneously admiring someone is the manifestation of the instinct for meaning, right? So, this is partly why people are so enamoured of sports figures, because the sports figures are playing out the drama of attaining the goal, of attaining a certain kind of, let’s say, psychological and physical perfection in pursuit of the goal, that’s the drama.
And, to spontaneously admire that is to have that instinct for meaning latch onto something that can be used as a model, and then that model should be transcribed into something that’s applicable in life. And you really like to see, in an athletic performance, you really like to see someone who’s extremely disciplined and in shape, do something physically remarkable.
And to stretch themselves even beyond their previous excellence, because you really like to see a brilliant move in an athletic match, but you also like to see that person ensconced in a broader moral framework. So that, not only are they trying to win, and disciplining themselves in pursuit of that victory, and then stretching themselves so that they’re continually getting better, but they’re doing it in a way that helps develop their whole team and that’s good for the sport in general, and that reflects well on the broader culture.
Lewis Howes: Right. They’re a great leader on a team, they’re positive, they’re a good sportsman against the competitors, they’re not negative towards the other team, they’re lifting them up, too. They’re like, the ultimate human.
Dr Jordan Peterson: That’s right, so they can work for their own improvement in a way that simultaneously works for the improvement of their team and for the sport and then to the degree that that spills over to the greater culture, then so much the better.
So, that’s all being dramatised in an athletic event, and it’s really, it’s not philosophical, it’s concrete. It’s dramatised in the world, and that’s what the games represent. And so, well, it’s partly because, in a sense, life is a game.
Lewis Howes: It is!
Dr Jordan Peterson: It is, the analogy is that in life, like in sports, you’re setting forth an aim, and then arranging your perceptions and your actions in pursuit of that aim. And then you also generally do it while cooperating and competing with other people. So that’s also the game-like element as well. Now, all of that’s dramatised in athletics.
That’s like philosophy for people who aren’t philosophical. And I’m not being smart about that. It really is philosophy for people who aren’t being philosophical, because it’s played out, and you can see it, too. You can see the spontaneous appreciation for the human spirit manifest itself, when you see people rise to their feet spontaneously in a sports arena when they see someone do something particularly remarkable.
To see someone who’s extremely trained, stretch themselves beyond what you would think is a normative human limit. And everyone celebrates that spontaneously. So it’s quite something to behold.
Lewis Howes: That’s right. So, taking it back to responsibility and meaning, when we’re watching sports or someone do this act, what does this do for us, in terms of responsibility and meaning?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, it helps us figure out what we can imitate.
Lewis Howes: It gives us a model.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, it’s a model.
Lewis Howes: It gives us a model of something that I respect.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Mm-hmm. Well, even, what philosophy is, or even theology, for that matter, is an abstract model, like, it’s laid out in words. Now, the problem often is, it becomes so abstract that people don’t know how to bring it back down to embodiment, whereas something like the drama of a sports event is sort of midway between philosophy and action.
So, it’s not entirely abstract, because it’s not only coded in words, it’s acted out.
Lewis Howes: Visually. You can see an example of what just happened, and you can try to reverse engineer how they did that.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, exactly! Well, at least, the fact that you admire the person means that you might start to try to act like them. And maybe that would mean that you start to discipline yourself with regards to a particular sport, but it might also be that you start to mimic, or are at least affected in some way by their sportsman-like behaviour, which is the ground of a certain kind of ethic.
Because, if you can play well with others, which is sort of the hallmark of a good sport, then that actually means that you’re a reasonably sophisticated and civilised person. It’s really important to learn to play well with others. That’s the ground of ethics.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, and if you can do it there, in that setting, then, hopefully, you can translate it into life settings.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, right, that’s exactly right, that’s what you hope for. So if the goal of the game is to put the ball into the net, then the goal of having games is to produce people who can take proper aim no matter where they are. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do with athletics.
So, I’ve been talking to my audiences a lot about that. And there’s more to it, too, because if the background of life is, there’s an ineradicable component of suffering and that’s complicated by, let’s say, malevolence and the proclivity of people to betray themselves and others, which complicates it and makes it worse, then, if you don’t have a noble aim, and if that isn’t imbuing your life with sustainable meaning, then you fall prey to all the catastrophe, the pain and the anxiety and the anger that that suffering generates, and that makes you bitter.
Lewis Howes: What I’m hearing you say is that, and correct me if I’m wrong, we must have an aim in our life, no matter what stage of life we’re in. And if we don’t have some type of aim, even for a few months of an aim of going somewhere, a direction, the suffering is going to be even more suffering.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, pointless.
Lewis Howes: Because we’re already going to face the greatest challenges in life.
Dr Jordan Peterson: That’s right, we’re stuck with it.
Lewis Howes: We’re already struggling.
Dr Jordan Peterson: That’s right, there’s no way out of it.
Lewis Howes: Adversity is coming, no matter what, but if we have big goals, or a small little goal, or whatever it may be, but it’s going to be less suffering if we have an aim.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, it’s worse than that, even. Because the suffering is pain.
Lewis Howes: There’s zero meaning.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, the suffering is pain, and the suffering is anxiety and uncertainty and the suffering is hopelessness. But the consequence of all that is that you get bitter. And when you get bitter, you get mean and you get cruel and you start to hurt yourself and other people.
So, it’s not only that if you don’t have a goal, you suffer, it’s that if you don’t have a goal, you suffer and then you get cruel and bitter and resentful and then you start to actively try to make the world a worse place.
Because you can’t suffer pointlessly, without becoming bitter, and you can’t become bitter without becoming cruel. So, you need an aim.
Then the question, of course, is what you should aim [for].
Lewis Howes: A better aim.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah! Yeah, a better aim! That’s for sure! So, then the question is, what should your aim be? And we have a program, it’s one of the things I want to talk to you about today. I have this website called selfauthoring.com, and that program helps people write about their life.
And so there’s a past authoring program, to establish your aim, you have to know where you are. It’s like you’re trying to orient yourself on a map. You can’t orient yourself on a map unless you know where you are. You also have to know where you’re going, right? So those are the two relevant things.
The past authoring program helps people to write about their lives, so it’s a guided autobiography. We ask people to break their life up into six epochs, six sections, and then to write about the emotionally important events in those epochs and to detail out why the positive things happened and why more of that could conceivably happen in the future.
And to detail out why the negative things happened and to try to understand why, with an aim to not replicating them in the future. Because the purpose of memory isn’t to remember the past, the purpose of memory is so that you figure out what went wrong when something went wrong, so you don’t duplicate it in the future.
So, that’s the purpose of memory, and the past authoring program can help people catch up. And you know you have to catch up if you have memories that are older than about a year and a half, that still cause you emotional pain when you think about them, or if you dwell on them, they come spontaneously back to mind, means you haven’t, it means that there’s part of your life that you haven’t mapped out properly, and it still has emotional valence that’s gripping you.
Lewis Howes: You’re still holding on to that story.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Or it’s still holding onto you.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, you haven’t let it go.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well you haven’t been able to navigate your way through it. There’s a pitfall there, that you fell in and you don’t know how to avoid similar pitfalls in the future, and that’s why your brain won’t let it go.
Because that’s what the anxiety systems do, it’s like, “This happened to you, it wasn’t good. This happened to you, it wasn’t good. This happened to you, it wasn’t good. Fix it! Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!” That will never go away unless you fix it.
Lewis Howes: How do you fix it?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, you have to figure out why it happened. That’s the first thing. How was it that that situation arose to pull you down? And that’s not simple, that’s why we have the writing program, because it’s complicated to think it through. But if you face it and you meditate on it, let’s say, and you do this voluntarily, there’s a pretty high probability that you’ll be able to decrease the probability that it will be repeated in the future.
The second part of the program helps people do an analysis of their virtues and their faults, same sort of idea. What’s good about you that you can capitalise on? What’s weak about you that you need to fix so that it doesn’t bring you down? So that’s the present authoring program.
The future authoring program is probably most relevant to you and your listeners, because you’re more interested in helping people establish aims. And so, we already talked about the fact that you need an aim in life and that’s where you derive your meaning, and without that things go to hell. As literally as that can be taken.
But, it’s not easy to ask people, “What do you want for your life?” Well, it’s easy to ask them, but it’s a very hard question to answer, because it’s too vague and grande, so in the future authoring program we help people break that down.
So, here’s the situation. You put yourself in the right frame of mind, so what’s the right frame of mind? It’s like rule two in this book, ‘Treat yourself like you’re someone responsible for helping.’ You’re someone that you are responsible for helping. So, what that means is that you have to start from the presupposition that despite all your flaws and insufficiencies, that it’s worth having you around and that it would be okay if things were better for you.
So, you have to take care of yourself, like you’re taking care of someone you care for. So there’s a bit of a detachment in that. And then the next thing is, look three to five years down the road. You get to have what you need and want, so you’re being reasonable, and that you actually want it, which means you’re willing to make the sacrifices that would make it possible.
Lewis Howes: What do you mean by ‘reasonable’?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, within your grasp, that would be something.
Lewis Howes: What if something was out of your grasp, but you still push hard enough to potentially get it.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Then you need, in the incremental plan, you need to break that goal down into steps that you’re…
Lewis Howes: Not some crazy goal of, within a year, but you haven’t even done the work to master a skill yet.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well that’s it. And you can have a high end goal, and more power to you if you do, but you need a pathway to it. If it’s ten storeys up above you, you need a staircase to get there and so you have to build the staircase, too. And so, in the future authoring program you’re asked, first of all, you get to have what you want and need, that’s the proposition.
But you have to aim at it. You have to define it and aim at it. So, then the first thing is, if you could put your family together the way you wanted it to be, what would that look like? And so, that might be your siblings and your parents, but that also might be your wife or your husband and your kids, assuming you’re at that point in your life. If you could have the family that you wanted, what would that look like?
Career. Same thing, you get to have the career or the job that is within your grasp, necessary and suitable for you, if you are taking care of yourself. How are you going to educate yourself, because you’re not as smart as you should be. There are a lot more thing you need to know, so you got to keep learning and moving forward. So you need to plan for that.
How are you going to take care of yourself mentally and physically? So, how are you going to avoid the catastrophic temptations, for example, of drugs and alcohol? Because that pulls a lot of people down. You’re going to be a social drinker? How much are you going to drink? How much is too much? What about your drug use? You got to regulate that so it isn’t a pitfall.
How are you going to use your time meaningfully and productively outside of work? You need a plan for that. So that’s, and there’s one other, that’s slipping my mind at the moment. I think there’s seven initial questions. Oh, intimate relationship, of course.
So, do you want a long term, stable, intimate relationship? And if you do, then how would you like that to lay itself out. You’ve got to have a vision for that, because if you don’t have a vision, you’re not going to aim at it, and if you don’t aim at it, then you won’t even see the opportunities when they arise.
That’s the thing that’s so cool. I wrote about this in Chapter 10 which is, ‘Be Precise In Your Speech.’ It’s a chapter about the fact that, aims structure your perception, so, for example, once you aim at something, your brain, literally, the perceptual structures in your brain, in your visual cortex, reorganise themselves to calculate a pathway to the aim.
And then, what they show you in the world, is obstacles to that path and open pathways to that path. That’s actually how the world reveals itself, just like when you’re driving in a car, and you have a map, and you aim at a particular place, then all the things that are related to that place show up in the world.
It’s exactly the same thing, because you are travelling through time and space, and you need a map. So, after you answer these seven questions and you’re encouraged to do it badly, because you don’t have to be perfectionistic. Just complete it, because a bad plan is better than no plan. It gives you something to improve.
So, even if your aim is vague, and even if it’s off target, if you start aiming and you see you’re off target, then you can shift and you can make it more precise.
Lewis Howes: You can start to recognise what you don’t want in that plan.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes! Exactly.
Lewis Howes: It’s like, “Oh, I thought I wanted this, but I don’t. So, let me re-navigate towards what I do want.” And you might have to try a bunch of things.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, you will have to. That’s why you shouldn’t get perfectionistic about it. You will absolutely be wrong, but you won’t be as wrong as you would have been if you were aimless. So there’s a bit of humility in it.
Lewis Howes: No man’s land…
Dr Jordan Peterson: No man’s land is not good.
Lewis Howes: It’s worse than…
Dr Jordan Peterson: No man’s land is worse than a bad path. That’s exactly right.
Lewis Howes: Ooh, I like that one. That’s good.
Dr Jordan Peterson: That’s a good one, and it’s right, it’s right. You don’t want to be in no man’s land. Why did you use that phrase? Because that’s right! That’s exactly right.
Lewis Howes: I think, for me, the idea of walking around aimlessly is the worst idea in the world. It’s like zero purpose, zero mission, zero certainty, at all. It’s like walking around in no man’s land, aimlessly.
Dr Jordan Peterson: But it’s funny, too, because in no man’s land, everybody’s shooting at you. Because that’s a military term. No man’s land is the space between two enemy positions. So if you’re aimless, you’re also in the place where everything is shooting at you. So, it’s a very good metaphor that came to mind. So that’s why I remarked on it. That’s very, very cool!
So, then we say to people, “Okay, now you’ve thought about this for a while.” It’s nice to do this over a couple of days, too, because then you get to sleep on it and that helps reorient yourself. Now, “Write for 20 minutes, don’t worry about grammar or spelling, this isn’t a composition exercise. You get to have what you want three to five years down the road. What does your life look like, hypothetically. Write it out, write it out.”
So then, that’s the first part. The second part of the exercise is, “Okay, you’ve got your thing to aim at.” It’s like, “Well, now I’m motivated because I’ve got my thing to aim at. But you’re not as motivated as you could be because you don’t have your thing to run away from. Because, if you really want to be motivated, you’ve got to be going somewhere, and you’ve got to be not going somewhere else.
Lewis Howes: Which, typically, is a pain, or a suffering.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, a pain or an anxiety, some domain of suffering and guilt, let’s say.
Lewis Howes: Like, “I don’t want to feel this any more.”
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes exactly, exactly. So, the other thing we ask people is, “Take stock of your weaknesses and imagine that you let them multiply, you got hopeless and you augured in and things are as bad for you as they could be in three to five years.”
Lewis Howes: What are some examples of weaknesses that people might have?
Dr Jordan Peterson: They lie, they procrastinate, they avoid, they’re grandiose, they’re narcissistic, they’re undisciplined, they’re nihilistic, they’re aimless, all of those things. Victim mentality, they take the quick way out, they pursue impulsive pleasures, they sacrifice meaning for expediency.
They don’t take care of their basic responsibilities, they fight stupidly with their parents, they don’t negotiate properly with their spouse, they are bitter at work because they haven’t said what they have to say, they haven’t thought through what they’re doing tomorrow, they drink too much, they smoke too much, they take too many drugs, they don’t regulate their…
Lewis Howes: Workout, yeah. Got it.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, and everyone knows, man! Everyone knows and everyone’s got a set of weaknesses that they know about.
Lewis Howes: What are some of your weaknesses, like, three weaknesses that you know, right now, you could still work on, and then three things you think are really common.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, a lot of things. A lot of things are things that I’ve taken care of. Like, I used to smoke, when I was a kid, I smoked a pack a day. I used to drink a lot, I didn’t work out, I wasn’t nearly as disciplined as I should have been, I wasn’t as careful with what I was saying.
Lewis Howes: Your words were loose.
Dr Jordan Peterson: And I suppose my most likely negative outcome, probably, would have been – I really like to drink, alcohol is a good drug for me, I enjoyed it a lot.
Lewis Howes: Is that why you did your thesis on that?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, partly, it was mostly because the opportunity came up for me, to investigate drug and alcohol use, but I came from a little town in Northern Alberta, it was a heavy drinking town, and that could have been a real trap for me.
So, anyway, so we have these people and we say, “Okay, you know your weaknesses and you know what particular hell you would descend to if you allowed yourself to descend into it, because you’ve probably had a taste of it. It’s like, you really let that go and you’re in a terrible place in three to five years, because you haven’t done what you should do. What does that look like?”
Everybody writes that down. Write it down so you know, because one of the things you want to have behind you, let’s say you have to do something difficult, like go and confront your boss. It’s like, “Well, maybe hope isn’t enough to encourage you to do that.
You think, “If I don’t go and confront my boss,” carefully, and intelligently, “Then I’m going to hate my job, and then I’m going to drink more, and then I’m going to end up in that little hell place that I designed for myself.”
Then it’s like, “Oh, I’m not going there,” if I don’t want to talk to my boss or don’t want to confront my wife or my husband or whatever it is, or my father, or my children, for that matter. But, if I don’t…
Lewis Howes: Then I’ll resent myself or I’ll resent the situation.
Dr Jordan Peterson: And I’m going to end up going down this terrible pathway. Because sometimes, when you’re moving forward, you have to do something difficult, and you might think, “Well, why bother?” And the answer is, “So that I don’t end up in hell. How about that?” and it’s like, “Oh yeah! Oh yeah, there’s that!”
Lewis Howes: If you don’t experience the pain now, or the difficulty now, you’re going to have a deeper pain later.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, that’s life, man!
Lewis Howes: A much deeper pain later. And I think that’s why you mentioned that one point. It’s like, putting ourselves in a structured pain, like, in a structured sense of feeling pain throughout the day, whether it be a tough conversation. I don’t want to do that, it’s painful. But I’m going to, because I know afterwards that it’s going to probably feel better.
Dr Jordan Peterson: It’s a bit of a sacrifice, yeah. Sacrifice stability in the present for a gain in the future, that’s the big discovery of human beings. Sacrifice works.
Lewis Howes: Exactly. Were you a big athlete growing up?
Dr Jordan Peterson: No. Well, I was a small kid and I skipped a grade. Although, I skied and I went cross-county skiing and it was individual sports things, mostly with my dad.
Lewis Howes: You understand that, in order to improve as an athlete in any sport, you have to put yourself through daily pain. If you want to achieve that model of excellence that you watched someone playing basketball as a child and you see someone living this model. It’s going to be fifteen years of deliberate pain.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, that’s a discipline, yeah. Well, I worked out for a long time, with weights.
Lewis Howes: So, you know. You felt it every day. You didn’t want to push through the pain, but you knew it would get you a greater result.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, and it’s easier not to do it, than to do it, but not in the long run.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, exactly.
Dr Jordan Peterson: You know, I’ve really seen the benefits, for example, from weight lifting, because you see some people – because I’m 58, how old am I? Fifty six?
Lewis Howes: You look great!
Dr Jordan Peterson: No, I’m serious, I’m getting older and I’m telling you, I’ve really noticed the difference when they age, between people who laid down a good physiological platform when they were young, and those who didn’t. Because, if you haven’t worked out, weights particularly, I would say, you start to get pretty soft in your thirties, and your cardiovascular system starts to go, and really early.
The other thing, too, is the best thing you can do to maintain cognitive ability, it’s exercise.
Lewis Howes: Physical?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Both cardiovascular and weight lifting. If you’re fifty, you can restore your cognitive function to the level of a thirty-year-old, through exercise.
Lewis Howes: Your mental function through physical activity?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well your brain is a very demanding organ, and if your cardiovascular system is compromised, then you get stupid.
Lewis Howes: So, the less you move, and the bigger you get, the more stupid you become. The smaller your brain gets?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, you compromise it’s function, because the brain is the organ that uses more, it’s very metabolically demanding. And so, if you’re not in good physical shape, then one of the things that suffers most greatly is your cognitive function. That’s quite an interesting thing to see how tight that linkage is.
So, in the next part of the program, we have people, “Now it’s okay, now you’ve got your vision.”
Lewis Howes: Even if its a bad one, it’s that’s okay.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, it’s better than no vision at all, it’s something that you can improve.
Lewis Howes: It’s better than no man’s land.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, think, here’s a territory you don’t understand. Here’s your option: No map, a map that’s not so good, but has some things about it, or a great map. Well obviously the great map is the thing you want, but the map that’s something is way better than the map that’s nothing.
Plus, as you explore, because of your map, you can start to fill in the details.
Lewis Howes: When you start to learn, you start to overcome stuff, and you start to master skills on your journey, right?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, that’s the other thing too. Like, let’s say you aim at something and you develop some skills along the way and then you get a third of the way there and then you think, “Well, that’s not for me,” it’s like, “Well, yeah, fair enough, but now you’ve still got the skills you developed, you know exactly why it’s not for you, now, instead of vaguely.”
Lewis Howes: So you’re not going to keep going after that.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Exactly, and then you have a rationale, and then you can bring that wisdom back, even though it’s not perfect, you can bring it back to your next plan.
Lewis Howes: And take responsibility for the next steps.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, yes. And so, as you plan, you get better at planning, which is the crucial thing. So, then we say to people, “Take your positive vision, and make it into eight state-able goals. And rank them in a hierarchy, because you need to know what…”
Lewis Howes: Like, a top goal, and incremental goals?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well that’s the other thing, is, break the goal into incremental goals so that you have a reasonable probability of succeeding. This is also what you want to do with a kid. You don’t tell your kid, “Here is an impossible thing. Why don’t you go out and fail?”
You say, “Here’s something worth going after, here’s a step you could take that would push you beyond where you are, but that you also have a reasonably high probability of succeeding at.
Lewis Howes: Within a time frame, yeah.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Within some time frame, that’s the other thing. You have to parameterise it with regards to time frame. That’s right, and that puts you in the frame of proximal development and that’s a concept that was generated by a guy named Vygotsky. He was a Russian developmental psychologist, and a smart one.
That’s where the idea of the zone come from, to be in the zone. And when you’re in the zone, you’re expanding your skills in a manner that’s intrinsically rewarding, because you’re succeeding. And so you want to set, if you’re good to yourself, you think, “Okay, I need to set a goal, but I need to set a goal that someone as stupid and useless as me could probably attain if they put some effort into it.”
Then you’ve got it perfectly, because it’s not so high that it’s grandiose or impossible, that you fail necessarily and then justify your bitterness. It’s like, “Well I could do well,” because that happens to people.
Lewis Howes: It happens all the time! I see this all the time.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, exactly. “Well, I set a goal and I didn’t attain it, so I’m not going to set any more goals.” It’s like, “No, you set a goal that was inappropriate.”
Lewis Howes: For the time frame, yeah.
Dr Jordan Peterson: That’s right, you didn’t calibrate it properly, and you’re playing a trick on yourself because you wanted to fail so that you could justify not having to try.
Lewis Howes: And be a victim, yeah.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Which isn’t even helpful, you’re still going to be a victim. It’s like, “There’s no way out of that, man!” Because life is a challenge that, in some sense, can’t be surmounted, so there’s no way out of your problem, but there’s certainly proper ways of dealing with it.
Lewis Howes: Like those eight steps.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, lay them out, and the next thing is, you need a rationale for them. Because you’re going to have doubts and other people are going to put up obstacles.
Lewis Howes: Is that a meaning? A rationale means a meaning?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, a justification. It’s like, “Okay, so what sort of justification is a good justification for your goals?” It’s easy, why would it be good for you? Why would it be good for your family if you attained that goal? Why would it be good for the broader community? Because, if it’s a good goal, it should be good for you, that’s fine. But if it’s a really good goal, it should be good for you in a way that’s good for other people.
Lewis Howes: Win-win-win.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes, exactly. If you’re going to decide what your goals are, why not set up the ones that benefit the largest number of people simultaneously? Because if you can do that, you should start with your own concerns, because you have to take care of yourself.
Lewis Howes: Yeah. Basic needs first.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes. Put your own oxygen mask on, then put your child’s oxygen mask on.
Lewis Howes: Community.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yeah, as you build up the basis of competence, locally, you might develop enough skill so that you can expand that outward. And it also gives your goal a certain amount of nobility and so, if someone challenges you and says, “Why are you doing that? That seems stupid,” you can say, “I’m doing that because it helps me take care of myself, but it benefits my family and here’s the reasons why, and this is the repercussions out into the broader community.”
People who are putting up objections and doubts aren’t armed to deal with that kind of response. And then, when you have those doubts in your mind that plague you, which they will…
Lewis Howes: Go back to your reason, your ‘why’.
Dr Jordan Peterson: Got back to your reason, that’s right. Say, “Why am I doing this? Oh, yeah, it’s because I have to take care of myself, because otherwise I’m pathetic and useless and bitter and cruel, and and I’m going somewhere terrible, so that’s a bad idea. And here’s how it would help my family, and here’s how it would help the community,” and that’s a good enough set of reasons, unless I can think of better ones. Without better ones, that’s good enough.
Lewis Howes: Because I think the question comes back to, someone could go down the rabbit hole and say, “Why? Why am I doing this? And why is this meaningful for me?” And I think a lot of people go back to, “Why am I here in the first place?”
Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? And is this real, or is this just some dream world?
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, people do go back to that.
Lewis Howes: And then they get stuck on that. Like, “None of this even matters, because why am I even here?”
Dr Jordan Peterson: Well, the thing is, that’s a self defeating set of propositions in some sense, because the consequence of being stuck there, the reason you’re stuck there, to begin with, is because you’re not very happy about the fact that life is intrinsically tied up with suffering. Because you wouldn’t be asking that question to begin with.
So, if you let that pull you in and take you down, all it does is make the suffering worse. Not helpful. And then the cascade, that we talked about, happens. You suffer stupidly and pointlessly. You get bitter, you get cruel, you make everything worse. It’s like, “That’s your answer, is it? Now you’re going to make everything worse? It’s bad enough, and you’re going to make everything worse!”
Mostly people won’t do that consciously. So then you think, “Well, what’s the alternative?” Well, here’s one, if you have a sufficiently noble purpose, the suffering will justify itself. I think that’s empirically testable, and I do believe it’s the case, because I’ve watched people do very difficult things.
Like people who work in palliative care wards. All they’re ever dealing with is pain and death, and they can do it. They get up in the morning and they go to work, and they take care of those people, they lose people on a weekly basis, and yet, they can do it.
And what that shows is that if you turn around and you confront the suffering voluntarily, you find out that you are way tougher than you think. It’s not that life is better that you think. Life is as harsh as you think. It might even be worse. But you are way tougher than you think if you turn around and confront it.
And so, then, what you discover is that there is a spirit within you that can pursue something meaningful, that has the resilience and the strength to contend properly with the catastrophe of existence, without becoming bitter. That’s actually the central, I would say, that’s one of the central themes of ‘Twelve Rules For Life’, is that, make no mistake about it.
Like the first noble truth of Buddhism, “Life is suffering.” This is true, and it’s worse than that, because it’s suffering contaminated by malevolence. That’s the baseline. And so, that’s very pessimistic, but the optimistic part is that you are so damn tough, you can actually not only deal with that, you can improve it.
It’s like, “Hmm! Oh! Well that’s a horrible situation, but it turns out that I’m armed for the task.” Well, that’s a great thing for people to know. And I do believe, I think the fact that we’re armed for the task is even more true than the fact that life is catastrophe contaminated by malevolence. We’re stronger than things are terrible, and things are pretty terrible. So that means we’re pretty damn strong!
Lewis Howes: Wow!
Dr Jordan Peterson: Yes! It’s a very good thing to know, and it’s not naive optimism. It’s a very different thing. It’s like, know, things are terrible, they are brutal, and you are so damn tough you can’t believe it.
There you have it, my friends, I hope you enjoyed this first part of a two-part series with Dr Jordan Peterson. The next part will be coming up very soon. Make sure to share this with your friends, lewishowes.com/664, all about responsibility and meaning. Again, when we do these things we are able to live a greater life when we take responsibility and find meaning for our life.
The next part is all about pain and suffering and how to handle the pain and the suffering that we face in our life. Some incredible research and studies that he’s gone through and that he’s going to share with us in that specific episode.
So, make sure to share this with your friends, lewishowes.com/664, connect on all the show notes there, the full video interview is there as well, and all the information to his book and his online course as well, about self-authoring. You going to want to make sure to check both of these out.
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And remember, as Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
You have an opportunity to live a greater life, when you find meaning and take responsibility for everything in your life. I’m excited about this, make sure to share with your friends, lewishowes.com/664. Part two of this interview is coming out soon, stay tuned!
And, as always, you know what time it is: It’s time to go out there and do something great!