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There is something truly unique about don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. While it reads like a cross between a religious text and a science fiction novel, its message is simple, clear and powerful.
The Four Agreements is about simplifying and taking ownership of your life. It’s a practical “how to” guide for casting off the social expectations and standards that you’ve collected and made “fact” over the course of your life. Ruiz coins this web of overlapping societal truths as the dream of the world, suggesting that – just like we have created our own belief system as to what we’re capable of as individuals – so to have we, as a global entity, created a mass belief that people should act in a certain way and (with rare exception) are only capable of certain things. Ruiz shares that while this belief system is strong (and widely accepted, making it easier to submit to than to challenge) it is invalid and extremely limiting to us as individuals.
Ruiz teaches that the way in which we see and interact with the world is entirely created through thousands and thousands of tiny “agreements” – situations we experience, form an opinion on and then solidify in our minds as actual fact. An opinion is not a fact. It is simply an opinion, one way of viewing the world.
So, to clarify an important new term here:
Ruiz defines an “agreement” as an effective “thought habit”; something you’ve been told so many times, or repeated to yourself so many times that you believe it to be irrefutable fact.
Ruiz hypothesizes that we make and reinforce thousands of these agreements every day and, unfortunately, a lot of them are negative. We have preconceptions and criticisms of individuals, organizations, events or ideas that we allow to colour our experiences. (As an aside, the film Traffic does a great job of exploring this topic.) Ruiz suggests that while we have been “programmed” by thousands of little agreements we’ve made with ourselves and society, the active pursuit of the mastery of four key agreements can counterbalance the lot of them. The purpose of doing so is in creating an “authentically you” lifestyle. Think of the timeless bliss of five year olds at play. Those kids are authentically themselves. They don’t know how to be any other way. And they’re happy. This is what we’re working towards.
The Big Idea
The Four Agreements
"[The goal] is to be like a child – to be wild and free, but with a difference. The difference is that we have freedom with wisdom instead of innocence."
Over the course of his smart, quick little book, Ruiz identifies the four key agreements we can make with ourselves that will have the most dramatic impact on the happiness in our lives. Those agreements are as follows:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- The fourth agreement is about the action of the first three: Always do your best.
While the agreements themselves are extremely simple in nature, they are also brutally challenging to master. Society teaches us to gossip. To criticize. To cut corners. To exaggerate or outright lie. Mastering these four agreements take time, patience and an incredibly strong will. Ruiz’s belief, however, is that the effort is worth it. With these four agreements in place, we can learn to “roll back the fog” of our existence and live the life we were truly meant to lead, rather than plod along on the path dictated to us by social programming and peer expectation. While we don’t have time to go into all four agreements in detail, here are a couple key thoughts for mastering these agreements.
"Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation."
There’s nothing to be gained (for you or anyone else) in pretending you know what’s going on. There’s actually potential harm in assuming you know what’s going on. You should question everything. Gain clarity through questions. People will appreciate your interest in the subject and your desire to learn more. So often we’re concerned more with what other people might think of us asking a question than with the project outcome if we don’t understand the directions in the first place. To do a job well, to be a strong partner in a relationship, to be a good mentor, we need to ask good questions. Get to the heart of the matter as soon as you can, with an open mind and a strong desire to learn. You’ll be amazed at the results – and respect – you gain from others and yourself.
Just For Today
"I am going to keep The Four Agreements just for today. Today I will be impeccable with my word, I will not take anything personally, I will not make any assumptions, and I am going to do my best."
Whatever you decide to tackle, be it gossiping less, keeping an open mind, following through on your commitments, etc., remember that you’re human. Meaning, no one expects you to be perfect at everything, every time, the first time. (So don’t expect that much from yourself, either.) Give it your best shot. Today. Don’t worry about tomorrow, or yesterday. Focus on making small improvements each day. And when you slip, register the slip, make a note of it and how it happened, then commit to not making the same slip tomorrow. So long as you’re constantly looking forward and making small gains, you’re doing great. Don’t get hung up on not being perfect. Turns out, you’re human. Get over it.
The Four Agreements is different. While I don’t believe this book (and Ruiz’s writing style or language) is one that everyone will be comfortable with, I do strongly feel the message is universal and can be lived by everyone. We do submit to societal pressures and expectations. Unconsciously, we conform to what the world tells us we should be and do. We’re typically not happy about it, but we end up blaming everyone else for that – our bosses, our parents, our partner – it’s always someone else’s fault. The message of this book is clear – you need to take ownership for your own life and destiny. You choose the path, and the way you want to live your life. My personal opinion is that the four agreements are collectively a powerful set of tools for setting you down the right path, your path. As I said, not for everyone, but powerful stuff for the spiritually inclined.