The Four Agreements, Revisited (#763)

“You don’t need internal dialogue; you can know without thinking.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

A quick note from Michael:

I have never met or studied with Don Miguel Ruiz, so please understand that all opinions and interpretations expressed in today’s tip are my own except where otherwise stated. I highly recommend you read his books for yourself and see what you see. (My favorite of his books is called The Voice of Knowledge; though you might also enjoy The Four Agreements, The Mastery of Love, or his most recent work co-authored with his son Don Jose, The Fifth Agreement.)

About 17 years ago, a book called The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom was first released. It spent over 8 years on the New York Times bestseller list and over 4 million copies have been sold around the world.


This morning, I was discussing the agreements with a friend who’s going through a bit of a hard time at the moment, and realized how much the way I see them today has changed from when I first came across them in the mid-1990’s.

What follows is each of the agreements as “officially” described by Don Miguel Ruiz, followed by my highly personal (but hopefully insight provoking) understanding…

1. BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD:

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

When I first started studying the four agreements and “trying” to live by them, I really struggled. Then one day I spoke to one of Don Miguel’s apprentices who told me that “the agreements are really about what drains our energy and prevents the accumulation of personal power. And one of the biggest drains on our energy comes when we create imbalance with our speaking.”

Simply put, language does not just describe, it creates. And when you realize you are creating what you are speaking, it is far easier to speak more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

(Click here to read a short story I wrote about this called “The Power of Your Word” which speaks to the impact our words have not only on ourselves but on the world around us.)

 

2. DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY:

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Greg Baer shares the following analogy in his books and seminars:

“Imagine that you and I are having a pleasant lunch together by the side of a large pool. It’s a lovely day, and we’re having a great time, but then someone in the pool begins to splash you—first on your shoes, then higher up on your pants or legs. You can’t see who’s splashing you, though, because there’s a deck chair between you and the person in the pool.

At first you ignore it, but as you become increasingly wet you finally become irritated and get up from your chair to say something to this idiot who’s being so thoughtless. As you stand up and look over the chair that was in your way, you see that the man splashing you is drowning. He’s splashing you only because he’s thrashing and kicking in the water in an effort to keep his head from going under.”

Clearly, when we can see that someone’s behavior is just a symptom of their own lack of well-being in the moment, it’s easier not to take it personally.

But over the years, I’ve noticed something else interesting about this agreement:

It’s easy not to take things personally when I’m not obsessed with being a person.

This may be a bit esoteric for some, but in my experience the “person” that I am is just a persona – and completely different from our essential nature. We are the (w)hole in the center of the donut, and when we lose sight of that fact, life gets much more personal and much less fun.

3. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS:

Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

When we come to the world with less assumptions, we sacrifice the appearance of cleverness but gain greater access to common sense and wisdom. In short, we honor the fact that we know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. The more comfortable we are with not knowing what we don’t yet know, the less we need to “fill in the blanks” with beliefs and assumptions.

This is exacerbated in our communications with others, as we second guess their motives and attempt to “read between the lines”.

But common sense tells us something different:

If you’re not quite sure what someone means, ask; if you’re not quite sure whether or not they know what you mean, check.

Or as the supercoach Steve Hardison once said to me, “Don’t stop communicating when you think you’ve got a clear agreement; stop when the agreement is so clear that they think you’re an idiot for continuing to check.”

4. ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST:

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.

I once interviewed to be one of the coaches on a popular reality TV show about weight loss. As part of the audition process, they showed me a clip of a drill sergeant yelling at the overweight contestants that they would need to “do better than their best” if they were going to succeed.  When they asked me for my reaction, I told them that watching those people be yelled at in that way made me want to eat a box of Twinkies.

While I can’t imagine why I didn’t get the job :-), the real point is that as far as I can tell, we can’t not do our best. We act based on our current thinking and level of understanding. When we understand more and think differently, we’ll act differently. Our best will become better.

In the meantime, we’re still doing our best. And since we’re doing our best, there’s no need for self-judgement, self-abuse and regret. Or as I put it in one of my favorite affirmations:

I cut myself infinite slack.

Have fun, learn heaps, and enjoy your personal freedom!

All my love,

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This is not a “fantasy”, in the sense that it defies the laws of time, space, and matter, but rather something you really do want in your life that really does seem beyond unlikely for you to have it.

A Simpler Way of Being in the World

Here’s a quick thought experiment to get us started:

You are a prisoner in a room with 2 identical doors and 2 identical looking guards.
You know two things going in:
One of the doors leads to freedom; the other door leads to death.
One of the guards always tells the truth; the other guard always lies.
You’re allowed one question to safely navigate your way out of the prison – what question do you ask?