06 February 2013

The Four Agreements


I have read many self help books when I was in Japan, questioning everything 10.000km away from my home, friends and comfort zone. To be honest, many of them are gibberish, but a few have been eye-opening. Among these, Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements. This book gives four simple life principles that can change your vision on your life and the world.

Forming "Agreements"

The basic theory of this book is that we are shaped by what we are told by other people about ourselves. Why? Because we believe what they say, we agree with it.

Think about it, when we are children, we agree with what adults say, don't we? May it be parents or other family members, teachers, older siblings, we agree with what we are told and we form our vision of who we are according to that. It can be positive (I'm intelligent, smart, good at sports...) or negative (I'm a nuisance, stupid, I sing wrong...)

These beliefs, these agreements, shape us because the choices we make depend on what we think we are, and what we think we are capable of. And sometimes, these agreements limit us, make us insecure about ourselves. For example, I always agreed with the fact that I'm not good at sports, said by my junior school's sport teacher, so for years I didn't even try practising any.

The Four Agreements

Now, to the interesting part of the book. What Don Miguel Ruiz explains, is that we need to stop agreeing with all this stuff we were told when we were children. Most of them were taken in a context, are not necessarily true, and even if they were at the time, people change and it might not be true anymore today.

He states that, in order to change your vision of yourself and your life, not only should you be set free of these agreements, but also that you should replace them with 4 universal agreements that should guide our behaviour and choices.

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
2. Don't take Anything Personally
3. Don't Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best

These can be considered life principles, that, if really followed as much as possible, can free us from many personal or interpersonal issues: low self esteem, insecurities, misunderstandings, grudges...

This may sound very abstract to you at the moment, first because it is difficult to sum up the point of a whole book in one post, and second because I may not be the best "summarizer" ever. Also, because you may understand these agreements differently depending on where you are in your life right now.

I have read this book twice: one first time when I started questioning my identity, life and self esteem, and a second time a few months ago when I was in a much better place. And I understood the book very differently. Maybe because the first time I read it, it triggered questionings and doubts, and opened a path of self development that lead me where I am now.

How I understand them

I can only suggest you to read this book if you are interested in the theory Don Miguel Ruiz ventures into. However, I thought maybe I can share how I understand these four agreements right now, if it can make things more clear.

Be impeccable with your words: To me, it means you shouldn't say anything that you don't believe in, that is not within your own ethics and values. When I recall bad situations and repeat them over in my head, it is usually because i'm unsatisfied with my own reaction rather than the other person's.

Don't take anything personally: It's easy to feel offended when someone is being rude, but usually it is because they are having a bad day, or they are having a problem with your actions for some reason. That reason belongs to the rude person, not to you. If you are impeccable with your word, ie. you don't have a problem with how you behaved, you have no reason to take someone else's actions personally.

Don't make assumptions: This one is tricky, because I realized we make assumptions all the time. When someone behaves a certain way, we assume it's because of this or that, instead of asking, which can lead to many misunderstandings and unneccessary conflict. It's reassuring to try to explain everything in our heads I imagine, but actually asking for the actual facts instead of assuming can change interpersonal relations.

Always do your best: The 3 agreements above seem to be hard and demanding to follow at all times. That's where this one comes in play. I understand it as being induglent with yourself and understand we can't always do it all perfectly. What matters is to try, to the best that is possible today. During a rough patch your best won't be much, but as long as you know that you are doing your best, you shouldn't feel bad about yourself.

I'll probably write dedicated posts on some themes related to these four ideas, as reading this book really helped me heal my self esteem and feel better in my life. If there is anything unclear, please let me know in the comments section!


  1. I have heard about these agreements before, and I actually try to keep them in the back of my head, but I never knew where they came from! They do make a lot of sense. Maybe I should pick up that book one day :)

    1. You definitely should! Each agreement has a full dedicated chapter, which makes it much easier to understand, and interpret to your own vision of life.
      I know it has been translated in various languages, I read the book in French, so maybe you can find it in your own native language if it's easier...