Be forewarned: This is a lot less of a “book review” and more of a “in the middle of the reading process; what on earth kind of book did I pick up?” post.
As of late, I find myself reading about lobsters.
Of course, when I brought the book home, I assumed it had nothing whatsoever to do with lobsters because why would it, and yet, the entire (and quite lengthy) first chapter is all about lobsters. The weirdest part is that it is incredibly interesting. On one hand, I’m thinking: “What am I doing reading about lobsters?” and on the other, I’m all: “Tell me more about these fascinating lobsters.”
The key thing about these lobsters is how their brains are wired, and you should pay attention to this seemingly pointless report on crustaceans because it turns out that part of our lizard brains are actually wired a lot more like lobsters than lizards. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure.
Jordan Peterson is some kind of weird genius who takes neurobiology, psychology, anthropology, mythology and religion puts it all into some paper sack, shakes it really hard and then spills out this explanation of why we are the way we are that is both astonishing and extremely logical. I picked up Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos” without really knowing what it was. I didn’t look at the jacket at all. I picked it up because I find Peterson an interesting character and wanted to know more.
The foreword by Norman Doidge describes Peterson as a person and as an educator as well as a lover of learning. I think every one of Peterson’s detractors should read the lengthy foreword of this book before assigning motive to any of the things he has said or done that they disagree with, but motive is a different topic for a different post under a different heading.
Curiosity about Peterson caused me to pick up this book. The foreword describes Peterson and his attempt to apply order to chaos on the human life – so I quickly grasped that this will be some kind of self help mantra – and then just as swiftly, I’m reading about dang lobsters…..and enjoying it.
Here are my not nearly so genius, cliff notes from chapter 1: Humans and lobsters both live in communities where both cooperation and competition are always as play. How do we balance these two things? Male lobsters basically have four stages of social interplay to try to mediate cooperation with the final stage being an all out winner take all battle. Sometimes one or both of the competitors die in this stage, but if neither do not, the after effects are quite different for each.
It turns out that there is a neurochemistry involved in both winning and in defeat.
The winner gets a huge influx of serotonin – the chemical that gives us the feelings of happiness and wellbeing – and according to Peterson, it also regulates something called “postural flexion”. Basically, it makes the winner stand up straighter. This chemical also makes the lobster unlikely to back down in future challenges; he becomes more confident of victory. This isn’t without reason. A lobster who has won a battle is more likely to continue winning in future battles. Statistics be damned.
The loser lobster loses not only the battle, but his confidence as well. If a formerly dominant (winning) lobster suddenly faces a bad defeat the consequences are much direr. As Peterson describes: “If a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves. Then it grows a new, subordinate’s brain – one more appropriate to its new, lowly position. Its original brain just isn’t sophisticated to manage the transformation from king to bottom dog without virtually complete dissolution and regrowth.”
The loser lobster adopts a hunched posture and is usually quick to back down to future challenges. Even if he finds the gumption to fight again, he will now find himself in a cycle of losing far more than statistic possibility would lead us to believe. As for serotonin, his supply is very low.
In the lobster world, winners stay winners; losers usually stay losers.
Now, we are both similar and more advanced than lobsters – obviously. The key factors that are the same are:
Serotonin – winning at life produces more serotonin which makes us happier, more content and generally more confident that we’ll just keep on winning so we usually do. Losing, however, has the opposite effect. Losing causes us to lack confidence. We respond to emergencies with more energy than perhaps necessary which depletes our energy stores and lowers our immune systems. The more we lose at life, the lower and lower our serotonin levels go. So, like the mighty lobster, winners tend to stay winners, and losers tend to stay losers.
However! (Thank God for “however”.) We have the benefit of independent thought and determination. We can find ways to boost our serotonin and therefore happiness, contentment and confidence. Peterson’s first rule to life is this: stand up straight with your shoulders back. Remember that little song and dance about “postural flexion”? This is where it comes into play. Standing up straight makes you feel differently. It also makes others regard you differently. You look, quite simply, like a winner so everyone begins to assume that you are. You can even trick yourself into believing it….your serotonin levels can begin to rise.
Peterson writes about this transformation beautifully, but I’ll just stick to my own familiar mantra: “Fake it until you make it.”
Honestly, the last several pages of this chapter give the most beautiful, uplifting pep talk ever. After reading all about lobsters, I was wildly encouraged. Talk about a surprise.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like Larry the Loser Lobster. I took a hit, I got back up, and I got hit again….and again….and again. One of my friends describes it like being knocked down by a wave in the ocean. Just as you start to get your feet under you and start to stand, BLAMMO! Another wave. That’s been my last two years – just wave after wave after wave.
Do I have lower serotonin levels? Undoubtedly. Am I getting way too used to losing? For sure. Am I starting to back away from challenges because it is just easier to hide out in my under-water cave and ignore life? Not quite yet, but if things don’t turn around, that’s surely where I’m headed.
Will standing up straight really help me? I don’t know, but it certainly costs nothing to try. I do know that my yoga practice is all about posture – long spine, long neck, taking up space – and my yoga practice is the one thing that makes me feel better (mind, body and spirit) every time it is tried. So yes, I do believe I’ll be practicing a little mindful postural flexion, and I also believe I’ll keep reading this beautifully written, completely fascinating book.
Chapter two is all about embracing chaos while clinging to “habitable order”. Yes, Mr. Peterson, you’ve totally got my number.
I’ll offer a final review upon completion, but I just couldn’t wait to share about the lobsters.
And buy Peterson’s book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0345816021?tag=duckduckgo-d-20&linkCode=osi&th=1&psc=1