12 Rules for Creative Living

The Hierophant represents authority, tradition, and rules.


Ordinarily, I wouldn’t call Jordan Peterson “inspiring.” He’s not someone to whom I’d typically give credit for influencing my work. And yet, here we are.

If you haven’t heard of him (I hadn’t until recently, so no shame), he’s a Canadian psychology professor who shot into the public consciousness via a few controversial stances he’s taken—like refusing to comply with a Canadian law that mandates the use of gender-neutral pronouns, and advocating on behalf of James Demore, the Google Memo guy. While I don’t support these views, that is the importance of reading widely. Authors you trust will force you to wrestle with good ideas from people you’d ordinarily write off or dismiss based on their ideology. That’s why Tyler Cowan did for me.

On his blog, Marginal Revolution, Tyler referenced Peterson’s new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. It’s a self-help book, of sorts, with inspiring advice like:

“‘Happiness’ is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically.”

In full, Peterson’s 12 rules are:

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today

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

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding [sic]

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Tyler then shared his own 12 rules for life, which inspired several of his readers to consider and share their own rules.


As I read these Tweets, I started to wonder about my own rules—did I have any (especially where creativity is concerned)?

It turns out, I do:

1) Read widely (unsurprising, given the context of this article).

Steve Jobs famously said that creativity is just connecting things. The more you have to connect, the better your ideas will be.

2) Write it down

Ideas go from your head, to the page, and then out into the world. You can’t skip that second step. It’s when you’ll realize your idea is harder than it seemed, but also much bigger than you originally anticipated.

3) Do the verb

The noun is the title. The verb is hard work that earns you the right to use the title. Focus on the latter; the former will come.

4) Make the time

If you don’t make time for creative work, you won’t have time for creative work. Put it on your schedule; live or die by it. Don’t just “wait for inspiration,” because it will never come.

5) Go to bed early. Wake up early.

Most people are most productive within the first few hours of waking. Go to bed early so you can harness the time when everyone else is sleeping—before the onslaught of emails, deadlines, and ASAP requests—to create.

6 Eat better, drink less

Since becoming a vegetarian last fall, I have more energy, feel better, and never suffer from the post-meal slump. I also only have one or two drinks a month, which means I sleep better, wake up fresher, and never have hangovers.

7) Find support

Whether a creative partner, a “mastermind” group, or a spouse, find someone who will be honest and push you to be more.

8) Take the f**king note

Ignore the haters and the trolls, but listen—really listen—when someone you respect shares their thoughts. You don’t have to act on the feedback, but you do need to politely listen rather than debate, argue, or get defensive.

9) Read the acknowledgements

More than a list of people who contributed to a book, the acknowledgements provide a window into the author’s process. They’re also an important reminder that no creative ever truly works alone.

10) Share

Share your experience, your wisdom, your sources, your network, your time, your process, your secret sauce. Share everything. The best part of writing this blog is the people I’ve met along the way by virtue of simply sharing.

11) Be Embarrassed

The best thing you can make today should come back to haunt you next year; it’s a sign that you’re getting better.

12) Quit

Some people look at the stars to feel small. I just think about this stat—the average person reads five books a year. Pretend you’re an average reader and pretend you have 50 more years; that’s just 250 books. I bet that many books come out in a single month!

Life is short. Don’t waste it doing things that aren’t worth doing.


Your One Task

What are your 12 rules? Or 5? Or 3? Take 15 minutes to think, then Tweet them at to me at @makingallthisup


Each week, I write a new article helping busy people find meaning and fulfillment through sustainable creative habits. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.

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