The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom is a self-help book by Don Miguel Ruiz. Ruiz is a well-known spiritual teacher and the bestselling writer of various books, including the Toltec Wisdom series, The Mastery of Love, and The Voice of Knowledge, among others. Published in 1997, The Four Agreements promotes a modern culture of pursuing freedom, true happiness, and love. The book also reveals the basis of self-limiting principles that both rob us of joy and create misery. According to Ruiz, we make agreements with others and ourselves, ultimately limiting ourselves, halting spiritual growth, and preventing others from reaching their full, limitless potential. Such a situation not only holds us back but also makes us unhappy. Based on Toltec wisdom, the book presents the four agreements: being impeccable with your words, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.
The book begins by introducing “the dream of the planet” concept, which refers to the collective vision involving humanity, community, and family. In this case, we learn to dream in the same way the society we live in dreams. We focus our attention on authority figures including teachers, parents and religious leaders. After children are born, for example, they are guided to focus on an outside dream and its restrictions. It is the responsibility of the schools, parents, and faith-based organizations to train them on how to interact with others and morality. According to Ruiz, this domestication creates our belief system, where we can effectively distinguish things, including a reward from punishment. To ensure that we do not go on the wrong side of the rules, we strive to live per society’s expectations and tend to punish ourselves whenever we fail. If caught in the cycle of shame and punishment, we abuse ourselves, which leaves us vulnerable to abuse from others. Since we believe that we deserve the abuse, we take it.
Another point illustrated by Ruiz is that we have made numerous agreements with ourselves. We occasionally decide who we are, how we feel, how we should behave, and what we believe. The book shows us that these agreements are the main source of suffering. In this case, the key to joy is breaking them and embracing individual power. We should focus on examining society’s dream, refuting it, and later creating new agreements, which is a key to change. After examining the old agreements’ adverse impacts, Ruiz recommends the new agreements we should make with ourselves. The four agreements are;
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t take anything personally
- Always do your best and
- Don’t make assumptions
The Four Agreements
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
What does impeccable mean? It refers to “without sin,” and sin, in this case, refers to anything that goes against you. Ruiz, self-rejection remains the biggest sin that people commit. While rejection leads to mortal sin, impeccability leads to life. Similar to a two-edged sword, words create the most magnificent dream. However, they can also destroy everything around you. The book teaches us to nurture a habit of only saying what we mean and when in doubt, remaining quiet. What can you create with the impeccability of the word? Ruiz answers–by arguing that impeccability of the word leads to personal freedom, abundance, and success, and it can also take away fear and replace it with love and joy.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Ruiz proposes that we should always remember that other people’s actions and words result from their illusory realities. If someone calls you the most stupid person in the world, getting angry only means that you agree with them. Know that when people abuse others, most likely, they are dealing with their own opinions, beliefs, and feelings. and which have nothing to do with you. Confronting them only means that you are eating their emotional baggage, which later becomes yours.
Armed with knowledge, avoid taking other people’s comments personally, which will neutralize the power they have over you. The book also introduces the personal importance term that refers to the false trap that leads you to believe in whatever the world says about you. Taking other people’s words personally indicates that they know our world better than we do, which is not the case. We also become easy prey to other people’s poison when we validate their opinions of us. Apart from words from others, we should also avoid giving much consideration to negative thoughts entering our minds. These voices can result in chaos and lead us to doubt the earlier agreements. Ruiz argues that taking things personally leaves us vulnerable to suffering.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Assumptions are baseless and remain a recipe for relationship or friendship failure. Ruiz argues that the violation of one-sided expectations remains a significant source of suffering and misunderstandings. Dreams and visions based on assumptions tend to be easily destroyed.
4. Always Do the Best
The fourth agreement is “Always do the best,” which ensures that the other three agreements are effectively implemented. If we fail to do our best, a gap is created between what we performed and what we could have done. We mostly fill this gap with two main elements: regrets and guilt. If we strive for success in everything we do, we will never have room for regrets.
- From childhood, our environment domesticates us and leads us to live an unreflected life. As per Ruiz, there are a couple of individual factors that we never choose or have control over, known as “domestication.” Domestication is a process that starts in childhood. For instance, we never choose our first language, first kindergarten, and values that are instilled when young. When we adhere to the set rules/values, we are rewarded. When we step out of the line, we get punished. Apart from the punishment, breaking society’s line also exposes us to personal judgment and blame. But how can we break this cycle? As per Ruiz, we have to set new agreements.
- Nothing others say or do to you is personal. However, you need self-awareness to understand this. Ruiz argues that one of the internal rules we should nurture is never to take anything personally–nothing other people or the world says is about you. For example, if someone calls you ugly, it talks much about them and their unresolved issues.
- To avoid other people’s comments affecting you, you require self-awareness. Knowing who you are, knowing the truth, and the fact that you do not require validation or acceptance from others is golden
- Break old agreements, free yourself and create new ones. There are three main ways to break the old agreements and create new ones including;
- Start noticing personal beliefs that are based on fear and make you unhappy–then deal with them
- Forgive those who hurt you, including yourself–forgiveness encourages three actions, including preventing new and unwanted agreements from taking root. It also assists in eliminating old and damaging agreements. Lastly, it programs us for new agreements that eliminate suffering.
- Remember that every day could be your last– the only way to live your life is to accept the concept of death.
- Avoid making assumptions–in life, all the sadness and drama we have faced are rooted in making assumptions and taking issues personally. When we believe something, we tend to assume that we are right, and, in this case, we are likely to destroy our relationships trying to defend the position.
- Language is the code in which we understand communication between us. In this case, every letter and word in each language is an agreement.
- No one abuses us more than we do ourselves.
- We measure the impeccability of our words through the level of self-love we showcase. In this case, the love we feel about ourselves is directly proportionate to the quality and integrity of our words.
- We will never be responsible for other people’s actions. We are only responsible for ourselves.
- Real love is accepting others, including friends and family, as they are and not trying to change them. Relate with people you don’t have to change.
- Adopting the four listed agreements requires us to put our values into action. Repetition helps toward mastery.