"To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order." (27)
Dr. Peterson's first Rule of Life is simple - Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back. This phrase is something we may have all heard growing up as a kid. Our parents tell us to keep our back straight at the dinner table or to stop slouching while walking the aisles of a grocery store. In my mind back that, I thought that had to deal with posture only. It still does have an impact on your posture - you obviously don't want a slouched back the rest of your life - but it also helps reinforce key points from Dr. Peterson's first rule.
How Lobsters Tell a Good Story
Lobsters have been around for years. Okay well years is an understatement - millennia is a better descriptor. Lobsters have been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth, and, helpful to scientists, have fairly simple nervous systems. This makes lobsters (I know, oddly enough) ripe for scientific studies. In studying lobsters, scientists have found a very clear dominance hierarchy. Dominance hierarchies exists in many aspects of our life, but in lobsters we can clearly see how it pans out within animals. Lobsters engage in a battle for areas on the sea floor for them to live and in doing so, establish a pecking order based off of the winner and losers. This is where Price's Law comes into place - the more a lobster wins, the higher likelihood he will keep on winning while if a lobster loses, the chances that he will keep on losing is higher.
You may see where this is going already, but what Dr. Peterson is getting at in this chapter is that this same idea applies to humans. Lobsters have been around for quite a long time and have this hierarchy engrained in their central nervous system. Humans also have this dominance hierarchy within our society and within our central nervous system.
Creating Negative Loops
As with lobsters, humans also fall in the tendency of creating loops within our brain that "predict" ahead of time what our outcomes will be. These loops are what can be the downfall, or rise, of our "status" in the dominance hierarchy. You know those days where everything seems to go wrong? One thing goes wrong, and then another, and then you start telling yourself throughout the day "everything is going wrong" or "I can't do this" or "of course this is happening to me." That is you creating a negative feedback loop within your brain that then is predicting negative events to happen. People with depression experience this first hand - they feel like they are a burden or are useless, so they draw back from being with friends and family, but in drawing back, they are reinforcing the idea that no body wants to be with them, so they draw back more. From there you can see how depression can be a deep spiral into seclusion.
Creating Positive Loops
Dr. Peterson's first rule is then simple - Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back. Standing up means you are facing life as it is - you are accepting the responsibilities and burden of life. When you do that, your central nervous system and brain can then respond differently to events. Instead of getting hit with a problem and accepting defeat, you see it as a challenge. When you face a challenge instead of backing down, you then start creating positive loops that reinforce what you are doing. Instead of slouching over, head down, looking small which indicates defeat and a low "status", you are "deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order" (27). Standing up straight releases serotonin into your neural pathways which help face the challenges and the obstacles, and then helps you overcome them. The positive loop continues on. People start noticing you and assume that you are "competent and able", adding onto the positive feedback look. From there, "you will find it easier to pay attention to subtle social clues," "your conversations will flow better," and "you'll be more likely to meet with people" (28). Dr. Peterson even states that standing up straight will "genuinely increase the probably that good things will happen to you" (28).
As you continue your day going forward, start making mental notes of when you feel slouched over, head down. Recognize what may have led to that scenario, grab it by the horns, and stand up straight. Go for a walk around your office standing straight with your shoulders back. That step forward will help push you towards the right positive feedback loop.
Post inspired by 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.