This year I’ve taken more time to get back to something I love to do — reading! Right now I’m re-reading the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I don’t remember when I first read it, but it made a huge impact on my life at that time. It’s an easy read, short and to the point, and I feel like it should be on the required reading list for 8th graders around the world.
Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, this book details four codes of conduct, or agreements, that absolutely impact the way we interact with others, as well as ourselves.
The Four Agreements are: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. Seems straight-forward enough, right? Pretty easy? In my experience, yes and no.
Let’s explore these agreements individually to see just how impactful they are.
Be impeccable with your word. According to the book, this means, “Speak with integrity, say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” Right now, when the U.S. is in a time of mass political and pandemic intensity, speaking with integrity is crucial. While I have strong opinions, I’m working on framing them in a way that has less roar behind them. It’s a huge challenge sometimes! And it should be noted that this by no means indicates that you need to let folks walk all over you. The way we respond to others, in as loving and articulate ways as possible, is a key takeaway from this agreement.
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.” This one was huge for me when I first read it. Growing up in my family, everything was taken personally. But how freeing is it to just let that shit roll off of your back? Seriously. The next time someone launches at you, try to remember that it’s all about where they are in that moment.
Don’t make assumptions. The book says, “Find the courage to ask questions and to 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.” Can you see how, when you tie these three agreements together, life is so much easier? If you’re not talking trash to someone (including yourself), you’re not taking it personally when someone acts a certain way or says something that irks you, and then you’re not assuming anything and instead asking for clarifications — wow! Game changer for sure.
Always do your best. The final of the agreements, “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-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” This one really hit home as well. As an overachiever with health issues, my best varies from day to day. And prior to taking this agreement to heart, I held myself to ridiculous standards, even on the days when I just didn’t have anything more to give. Now, I cut myself slack and give myself permission to have downtime. And it doesn’t mean I’m a slacker or unmotivated. It means I’m human and am practicing self-care.
So why do I think these are important precepts to observe right now? Let’s think about them in terms of the recent elections.
- If you’re impeccable with your word, you’re less likely to get into an argument with someone who has a different political viewpoint than you have. You can speak your truth, but it doesn’t have to be harsh or demeaning.
- If you don’t take anything personally, then when someone attacks your beliefs you can remember that their comments are a reflection of who they are. This means the arrows that they’re sending your way can simply bounce off and not take hold in your psyche.
- By not making assumptions, you can effectively communicate with others in a calm way, asking clarifying questions, and not jumping to conclusions.
- When you always do your best, you can be kind with yourself when you’re not as productive as you might like to be due to, say, election fatigue or anxiety.
As we’re winding down the year, I’d encourage you to grab this book and a comfy blanket, then settle in for a new way of thinking. 2021 just might be the year you change your mind.