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Clean Your Room, Change Your World

In a now-famous appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, psychologist Jordan B. Peterson pointed out how strange it is that many politically-engaged young people are preoccupied with reorganizing society and the economic system when they can’t even organize their own bedrooms. He said:

Indeed, as economic philosophers Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Leonard Read demonstrated, a market economy is so bafflingly complex that even an omniscient and perfectly virtuous central planner (presumably with an immaculate office) couldn’t hope to centrally plan it. So what kind of guidance can be expected from someone who can’t even centrally plan their own closet?

And yet, so many are ardent about “changing the world” while being profoundly neglectful of their own little corner of the world. This approach to life is a recipe for angst and depression. Dwelling on things you cannot change leads to feelings of frustration and impotence. And neglecting the things you can change leads to stagnation and crisis.

Dr. Peterson’s prescription for this life disorder is as follows:

This echoes the wisdom of Confucius, who said:

Peterson continues:

Peterson interrupted his own line of thought at this point, but he continued it in another speech:

Peterson’s injunction for people to “clean their rooms” has struck a nerve with young people and gone viral. Countless of Peterson’s listeners have reported how they have turned their lives around and how it all started with cleaning their rooms.

This is great for the “economy” and “the world” too, because the improvement of those aggregates consists in the improvement of the individual lives and careers that make them up. And such individual improvement can only truly occur through individual responsibility and action.

Peterson’s advice is to start small: start with your own life and your own domain of competence. He also counsels starting small in the sense of starting with relatively easy tasks. Cleaning one corner of your room may be one of the easier items on your to-do list. But the fact that it is easy makes it a great place to start, because you can actually accomplish it even if your willpower isn’t particularly high.

Once you do it, the little feeling of accomplishment feeds into your sense of self-efficacy, giving you enough willpower to do something a little tougher: maybe paying a bill. Accomplishing that strengthens your self-efficacy further, empowering you to do a still greater feat, and so on. If you keep at it, eventually you can ramp up to “adulting” on all cylinders and accomplishing truly impressive things in your life and career. This is what I call “spiritual mechanical advantage.” A great way to utilize this psychological phenomenon is through the “Mini-Habits” approach devised by Stephen Guise, which I wrote about in my last post.

Here is a great, viral Goalcast video that sets the above remarks by Jordan Peterson to stirring music. Enjoy.



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