Impact Index: Joe Rogan Experience, Ep. 1208—Jordan Peterson
Below are a series of impactful ideas from the Joe Rogan Experience, Ep. 1208—Jordan Peterson*. This nearly three-hour-long conversation provides powerful insights such as:
How facing adversity literally builds parts of you that didn't exist before;
The critical role that our struggles play in giving our lives meaning;
How to leverage "non-linear returns" to rise above the pack with minimal extra effort;
The importance of ditching short-term thinking and playing the long game instead;
Why skill and reciprocity, not raw power, are the real keys to lasting success;
How to put ourselves in the zone of maximum personal growth;
How to connect more often with a sense of meaning in our lives;
Building a "new you" through facing your fears ( ~23:00)
If you pursue a goal, it will stretch you. It will require you to face things that you are afraid of. Break the thing you fear down into smaller and smaller pieces until you find one small enough to tackle. Tackle it again and again. Build up from there. You won't get less afraid, exactly; you'll get braver. Your nervous system responds to the strain in much the same way the muscles respond to lifting weights. New genes code for new proteins. New neural structures are developed. "There's a lot of potentials 'you' locked in your genetic code." In this way, the situational stress of these new situations actually builds brand new parts of you that never existed before. Assume this fact scales as you take on heavier and heavier loads. Who knows how much potential is locked inside of you? But in order to unlock it, suffering and discomfort are prerequisites.
A call to adventure; Our need for adversity (~32:00)
Humans are built to overcome. Dostoyevsky discusses this in his famous 1864 book, Notes from Underground, discussing how even if we (humans) were given a socialist utopia where we "had nothing to do but eat cake and busy ourselves with the continuation of the species," the first thing we would do is smash it all to bits just so something troublesome would happen. Competition is part of evolutionary makeup. In order to find meaning in life, we need a load to carry. What we want is an adventure. This requires "something to push against". The greater the challenge, the greater the meaning we can derive from it.
Non-linear returns (~1:07:00)
If you want to make more money, look for fields that are scalable, such as careers in the STEM fields. Software development, for example, is infinitely scalable. This creates a larger income pool. (Sidebar: Naval Ravikant talks a lot about this, stating that writing code and generating media are two of the best ways to create wealth that builds while you sleep).
Also, consider the fact that, according to Peterson, if you work 10% longer hours you make 40% more money. Think about that. It's a non-linear return. It's not that you have to work 60-70 hours a week or more to achieve these better results. Just 10% longer. If your teammates work 40, put in 44. If they work 50, put in 55. That extra 10% is highly leveraged. Rising above the pack financially means you have to find and exploit these points of maximum return.
Balance: The value of the left and the right (~1:21:30)
In a healthy two-party system, both the left and the right play a valuable role. The left's role is to speak on behalf of and champion for the unjustly dispossessed. The right's role is to stabilize and maintain functional hierarchies and encourage competition that's of benefit to both the whole and the individuals within the whole. The political dialogue between the left and the right is a continual discussion/negotiation designed to keep our social hierarchies from getting too steep or too rigid. This is the fundamental reason why free speech is so important. Given the nature of today's political discourse, it's easy to forget that healthy competition and a good social environment are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, a polarized body politic constrains the type of productive dialogue we need to achieve this healthy balance.
Play the long game (~1:38:36)
You tell your kids, "It doesn't matter if you win. It matters how you play the game." It sounds good on the surface. But take a closer look and it's confusing. We also want to teach our kids about the value of competition, about playing to win. What gives? How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory notions? Does it have to be one or the other?
Here's the deal. You're not trying to win one game, you're trying to win the championship. And to win the championship, you have to win a whole bunch of games. And the rules to win a whole bunch of games are not the same as the rules to win one game.
Winning one game is a relatively simple affair. You can bend the rules. You can be a prima donna and exhaust everyone around you. You can hog the ball to the detriment of your teammates' development. But these are foolish medium-to-long-term strategies.
Winning the long game requires observation of a different set of rules. Exercise fairness and decency so that you get invited to play in the first place. Learn how to handle failure, how to grow from defeat. Be gracious in victory. Understand that this is bigger than whatever game or sport you happen to be playing at the time. This is the game of life. Play to win. But play the right way. Play the long game.
Skill and reciprocity vs raw power (~1:44:00)
Your best strategy for success in life is not the exercise of raw power. It's a counterproductive strategy that doesn't even work well for advanced animals. Look at the brute chimpanzees, the ones that rule by raw force alone. They don't last long. As soon as they show the slightest sign of weakness, two subordinates chimpanzees who are reciprocally engaged will tear him to pieces.
Your best strategy is skill and reciprocity. The idea that all our societal hierarchies are predicated on power, that it's all a battleground, winner-take-all, is "completely inappropriate, psychologically." It's grossly simplistic. We (humans) are evolved for reciprocity. If sustained success is what you're after, you want to be in an interactive network of reciprocal relationships. And you want to be highly competent. That's the killer combination—hyper-competence and the capacity for genuine reciprocity. That, not raw power, is what will make you unstoppable.
Every ideal is a judge (~1:59:10)
When you look at an ultra-successful person, what do you feel? Jealousy? Contempt? Shame? Or deep admiration? Inspiration? Motivation? Perhaps you feel a mix of both. Pushing ourselves, striving, competing. These are necessary parts of life but calls forth complicated emotional struggles. Every ideal is a judge. The trick is voluntary acceptance of this challenge. To call out the best in ourselves, we need something to push against. To begin to unlock our potential, we must set our eyes on a high level-levels vision. A purpose. And this will require that we enter a competition. With ourselves. With others. With ideals.
There is no shortage of problems to solve. Your personal struggles. Challenges with family or co-works. Issues in your community. The list is infinite. Which one calls out to you? This is your call to adventure. Set your sights on it. Then push, strive, compete. Seek inspiration, not jealousy, in those who have succeeded before you.
The optimum load. The neurophysiology of meaning (~2:02:00)
We all want to experience a sense of meaning in our lives. But how do we find it? Imagine that there's an optimal load, much like in weightlifting. Exceed this optimal load by too much, and you might injure yourself. But never exceed it at all, and you'll stop growing. Just like in weightlifting, the key to experiencing a feeling of meaning in our lives is to continually find that edge—where you're competent at what you're doing but also pushing yourself.
That's where the feeling of meaning can be found; when your competent and out of undue danger, but pushing yourself enough so that you're continually developing. This experience puts you in a balance between positive and negative emotions. Your positive emotions are telling you, "this is worth doing," while your negative emotions are keeping you alert and focused. Find the border between chaos and order. Too much order means you're stultifying, you're only doing what you already know. Too much chaos is not good either. The key lies in pushing yourself right up to the thin line on the outside edge of your circle of competence.
Want to find meaning? Pay attention. (~2:15:20)
Want to connect with the sense of meaning more often? Or perhaps find it in the first place? The answer is simple—pay attention. The sense of meaning is not something you create. It is not a direct result of thought. It is an instinct, a feeling that emerges from the deepest parts of our being. You've probably experienced it way more often than you might think. It's the sensation you get when you're completely absorbed in your work. It's when all sense of time fades away. You're producing great work and you can feel it. You're focused. Engaged. Fully present. That is meaning.
For two weeks, keep a notepad handy. Every time you experience that sensation, jot it down. What physical environment am I in? What type of work am I doing? What specific behaviors am I engaged in? Am I writing? Reviewing data? Meeting with a customer? Giving a presentation? What is it exactly about this combination of conditions that I enjoy? Does it appeal to my love for communication? For organizing chaos? For solving complex problems? Soon, you'll have a list of exactly what sort of work or activities give you meaning. Then, ask yourself the ultimate question—what steps can I take today which will help me create a life where I can engage in these activities more often?
The hard, and private work of personal development (~2:20:15)
Putting yourself together is hard work. And it must be done in ways you can't boast about. Our personal problems are often second-rate. Embarrassing. They are things we aren't proud of, ashamed of even. Our anger, impatience, and fear. Our alcoholism, addictions, and unhealthy eating habits.
The odds that you're going to find a quick fix are incredibly low. It's far more likely that you'll have to slog it out. Progress will be measured not in days and weeks but in months and years. It's painstaking, private work. It will humble you. It will require that you approach the precipice. That you look over the edge, all the way down to the shadowy places you fear the most. It requires tremendous effort and tenacity. And all along, you will rarely get the praise you so deserve. You likely won't even get a pat on the back. And that's ok. Because that's not wh you do it. You do it because it's you're calling. Because it gives your life a sense of meaning.
*Please note: My attempt to distill lengthy source material down into a series of compact, memorable ideas occasionally requires that I summarize and/or provide my own interpretation. I make every effort to ensure that I do not alter the spirit of the original material. However, except in instances where a source is directly quoted, the impact index should always be read as such (i.e. an interpretation) and not as direct source material. If you plan to cite any of the ideas contained in this post, please do so with respect to the original source material.