THE FOUR AGREEMENTS
Book Author: Don Miguel Ruiz
BOOK BLOG & DISCUSSION
By: Angela Peeters
Since I was a little girl just learning to read, I had my nose stuck in a book. Believe me when I say that I remember all the books that left an impression on me. To say that The Four Agreements was impactful is an understatement of epic proportions. This book is a game changer in how to view the world.
One day I was at an Indigo book store (my favourite place besides my bedroom). Like always I had no reason to be in there but to smell the aroma of new paper and peruse the book stacks looking for a possible gem gone unnoticed. I was wandering alone in one section and a box set jumped out at me. It just spoke to me. No joke – it said pick me up. It was a set of three books called The Four Agreements – Toltec Wisdom Collection. I’m only going to speak about the first book in this review because I already have so much to say.
I took the books home and it was quite a while they sat on my bookshelf in my bedroom. Why? Because I have a tendency to buy more books than I can keep up with. It’s a beautifully healthy addiction, so don’t judge me. Then one night it happened. Will and I were getting ready for bed when the book spoke to me again. I turned and glanced towards the shelf and saw the boxset and just pulled it out. I popped the first book out and flopped on the bed and began to read it aloud to my partner. I don’t know why. But what spilled forward was a kind of revelation about how to live our lives. Each night I would open it back up and read aloud. It isn’t a thick book – 140 pages to be exact. But I read an agreement each night.
The tagline at the top of the book says ‘A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom’. And that it is.
A quick synopsis of this book – it’s based on ancient Toltec wisdom and is written to allow readers to view the world and our own thoughts in a different light. So to understand what I mean, I’m simply going to discuss the Four Agreements. I’m going to give my simplistic version of what I read, but I know I won’t do it justice.
Here is a Youtube introduction to the book. Watch it; absorb it, and then read it. You won’t regret it.
BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD
What does that mean? Tell the truth? It’s more than that. It’s meaning what you say because words are powerful beyond measure. Your words can plant an idea in someone’s mind that can lead them down a path unknown to you. Words can incite fear in a person. A modern day example is this: Remember the last time you Googled a bump on your body and started reading all about Cancer symptoms and then went frantically into the doctor’s office thinking you needed to be checked out for Cancer, only to find out it was really a mosquito bite that got infected? We all have some kind of version of this story we can remember. We all too often believe something because it has been said. In the same way, we tell ourselves stories every day in our minds – we are too fat, too ugly, not smart enough. When you believe what you say, you form a new agreement with yourself. In the same way if you get up every day and embrace the world with love and gratitude and look in the mirror and say, “I love myself, and I’m beautiful.” That would be the agreement. So know the power of your words.
My daughter Madelyn came home from school one day and told me about this boy who called her ugly. She was so upset about it. Before I had read this book, I probably would have responded with “Who Cares what he thinks?”But because I had the knowledge now to address it differently, I said this, “Do you think you are ugly?”
My daughter is beautiful. She knows it, I know it, and so does that boy in school. But I asked her again, “Do you think you are ugly?”
She finally said no. And my response was, “Perfect! So you believe yourself to be beautiful, and yet somehow this boy has you upset with his words. Why?”
“Because it’s mean what he said.”
“Oh yes, people can be mean, but if what he says isn’t the truth, why does it hurt you? If you don’t believe what he says, why do you let it bother you so much?”
The conversation was a beautiful one that ended up with her really thinking about the power she gives other people to hurt her, even when she knows it isn’t the truth.
This same daughter of mine walked straight up to a female bartender in a restaurant one time and announced to the woman that she was beautiful.
And Madelyn meant it.
And I reminded her of the power of her words to make a complete stranger smile and probably light up the rest of the day.
Be impeccable with your words. Make the agreement with yourself knowing that if you do, you can no longer use words against yourself either. We have learned to lie as a habit of our communication. The power of words is shown in early childhood. Parents, coaches, teachers, and peers all weigh in on the agreement a child makes to themselves about who they are. Subconscious teachings through words take place and until we learn to shake them and make the agreement to always be impeccable with our words, we will live in a dream state.
Gossip is the worst form of black magic we can spew into this world. I remember how the vicious words of high school students beat me down day after day, never mind the Grade 9 Math teacher who told me I wasn’t smart enough to be in his class. The woman I am today would have paid no attention, but my agreement was different at that age. Now I’m full of self-love and I have made the agreement to always be impeccable with my word. Speak with kindness and truth, and you are one step closer to freedom. You will no longer be under anyone’s spell. Hateful words will mean nothing.
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY
Nothing others do is because of you. It’s a bold statement but think about it. When we stop blaming ourselves for the actions of others, it dramatically changes our world. Every situation is personal to that individual. We already discussed we are taught from an early age our agreements about life and the rules we must live by. And these agreements we tell ourselves affect all of our thoughts and opinions.
For example: If we grow up with a Mother who is a supermodel and is constantly told to work out and be skinny, and we see food as evil, all we see is that image of beauty, and we begin to make the agreement with ourselves that others who don’t look like that are not beautiful. How does that affect others? Do we make fat jokes, and or snub anyone who doesn’t fit into our ‘dating box’ of good looks? Our perspective, opinions, and actions towards others are deeply reflected by the agreements we made from such a young age without realizing it. So now flip the coin - if the person on the other end of cruel fat jokes doesn’t take anything personally, the words that come out of someone’s mouth means nothing. It is their own projection of their reality. But when we swallow other people’s emotional garbage, we make it our own.
There is something strange within ourselves that assumes that what someone says or does we must take personally and then we are offended, which leads us to defend our beliefs and create drama where no drama needs to be. What if we actually realized it had nothing to do with us?
We could listen to random comments all day long and it has zero impact on us.
Ask yourself, do you have the need to be accepted?
Do you know who you are?
How do the opinions of others tend to affect you?
I asked my best friend Christine, on a scale of 1-10, how she is affected by what others say. She responded, “It depends on the person.” So to her, if the person is closer to her she feels their opinion matters more. I suppose we are somewhat more prone to indulge the thoughts of the people closest to us; the people we want to accept us and love us. I see this everywhere I go. But I will tell you, it fazes on me very little since reading this book. I have an understanding now that I didn’t before. And I’m trying to pass it on.
My son Carter had a rough year in Grade 4. He wasn’t with his friends and a new kid came into the school that noticeably had his own struggles in his life. He gravitated to Carter and I knew that it was going to be trouble. Carter is a sensitive kid who is social and wants to have everyone accept him. This isn’t something I taught him. It comes naturally as a child. They want to please and be praised. It creates a safe place for them. And so in walks this boy who realizes he can toy with Carter’s people-pleasing personality.
One day he hangs out with Carter and acts his friend, and then the next day he tells Carter he’s a loser and they get into a fight. It goes on like this most of the school year. How do I deal with it? I tell my son that this boy isn’t a bad kid. He just is acting out based on the things happening in his own world. He can’t take any of it personally. But does my son have to tolerate his bad behaviour? Absolutely not. He can simply choose not to be around this boy. It took a while for Carter to finally get what I was saying, and it was difficult to watch him forgive this boy for his hurtful ways, and then find himself being hurt all over again. But by the end of the school year, I could see it was affecting him less. He was choosing to walk away and ignore the boy and stopped coming home distraught and sad. It was a learning year for Carter about not taking anything personally and staying true to himself. It’s tough when it is your child and they want to be accepted by their peers so much.
“No I don’t take it personally. Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know this is your problem and not my problem. It is the way you see the world.” Don Miguel Ruiz
By taking things personally, you set yourself up to suffer needlessly. Break this habit and you will find you don’t need to place your trust in what others say. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.
DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
How often do we assume things and then find out the opposite is true? A LOT! Why don’t we just ask questions directly? We’ve been taught too many social rules that tell us that inquiring through questions is rude and or intrusive. This leads us to believe things in our own minds that just aren’t true. Making assumptions leads to misunderstandings, which leads to hurt feelings and drama that is completely unnecessary.
When we make assumptions it is based on what we want to see and hear. We don’t perceive things the way they actually are. On a daily basis, I listen to my kids say things based out of a complete fabrication of thoughts. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Out of the mouth of babes.” When kids are little they say exactly what they want to. They don’t have inhibitions about asking questions and or making statements. We think it’s cute until they hit a certain age. Then we tell them it’s inappropriate to be so truthful. As they get older they learn to put a filter on everything that comes out of their mouths. We don’t even realize that we are teaching our children inadvertently to make assumptions.
Think about any scenario in which you can remember someone’s action that triggered an assumption in you.
Maybe the man who smiled at you as you walked by and the story you told yourself about him wanting to ask you out. Based on your assumption you might not realize he was just being kind in passing. Suddenly we make up this string of possibilities in our head that just doesn’t exist. You may create an entire relationship in your mind purely on a smile or maybe one statement. This is a huge problem in general throughout our entire lives. As we assume that the people who love us should know what we want or think. Not everyone views the world in the same light. Stop making assumptions and just ask questions.
I pride myself on my intuitive nature. I can feel the emotions in the room. I understand what people are saying between the lines of their words. I can do this silently and know that it’s simply part of who I am. But if I’m ever attempting to help them work through something, I ask them questions in order to get them to work it out in their own head. I have a very emotional job. I run a surrogacy and fertility consulting agency and with it comes sensitive situations that I can NEVER make assumptions about. I have to be very careful even when my intuitive nature tells me what’s happening. I have to choose my words carefully and always listen more than I speak. But when I speak, I understand the impact of my words and how I am able to give them hope and or crush their dreams in one conversation.
The power of my words is immense and if I’m needing clarity in any way about their situation, I ask. I don’t fret about how they will feel revealing personal information. They have to be able to open up and talk and be real with me. No assumptions are allowed in my line of work. And now I’ve carried that over into my personal life.
ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST
This agreement is the last one and seemingly is the easiest to digest. People say all the time that they do their best. Doing your best means leaving nothing left on the table. Every task or endeavor leaves you with an outcome and regardless if it turned out the way you had wanted, you cannot ever look back and say you didn’t try. It doesn’t always mean winning. It doesn’t always mean perfecting. It simply means you went out and tried your best and that allows you to have no regrets.
Your best effort is always changing. We cannot output the same every day of our lives. I do my best thinking and work in the morning. I love getting up and having my coffee and meeting the day with new vigour. Some people hate mornings. They do their best work in the evenings. Whatever your best is will depend on your moods. It is okay to recognize that some days your best is not what it was the day before. But only give what you can. When you try and overachieve you exert more energy than you have, burnout will happen and you won’t reach your goal any faster. When you don’t put enough in, you’ll feel dissatisfied and disappointed with yourself. Just do YOUR best.
I remember being sick one time a few years ago. I honestly felt like a truck had run me over. I was on the couch and fevering and couldn’t keep my eyes open.
I knew I just had some kind of virus that was running me down, but I have four kids and am a single mom and the option to slow down wasn’t in my repertoire. I can’t be sick. But my body refused to cooperate and I had no choice but to stop.
My best was going to be very little that day.
And guess what happened?
My kids bucked up and took care of me. They made me soup, wrapped me in blankets, and tucked their stuffed animals in beside me. When it was bedtime they all did their routines and got to bed with no issues. The world didn’t implode because my best was minimized that day. 24 hours later I was back to my normal “best” and soaring. But I struggled with letting go that day and just understanding that our best isn’t always the same each day. So stop judging yourself.
Keep in mind, doing your best means you take action because you love it.
When you expect a reward from doing something, most people don’t do their best. Think about your job for a moment. Do you love what you do every day? If your job isn’t your passion, chances are you are more passionate about your children, your marriage, that book you can’t wait to get home to. Our best comes from intent – the reason why we are doing that action. When your work is just to provide a paycheque at the end of the week, you can hardly wait for the work week to be over. Your job becomes the necessity to pay the rent, feed the family and or do something enjoyable when you aren’t working. It becomes a cycle and you begin to resent your work so you’ll never truly do your best.
Now take away the reward away and just do your best for the sake of doing it. Rewards will come, but you are not attached to the reward. If we like what we do, we always do our best. Then we can no longer judge ourselves for successes or failures. We can simply say we did our best and learn from our actions. Learn how to say no when you don’t want to do something. Learn how to say yes when you really want to do it. Learn how to enjoy life in its entirety and you will find you do your best at everything.
I am willing to bet so many people wouldn’t even notice this book on the shelf.
I have barely even touched on the beauty of the words within. If anything I’ve said has resonated with you, read the book. Then read it again. The Four Agreements have changed my life in every way. Everything I touch now feels different. Every thought I have goes through a new filter in which I ask myself what agreement that thought is based.
My partner said to me once, “I can see a change in you and in how you parent the kids. It’s amazing to watch and see how they respond to you.”
That was the best compliment ever.