The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
Reading Time: 8 minutes
The Four Agreements Summary
Leveraging the teachings of ancient Toltec wisdom, Don Miguel Ruiz takes you on a spiritual and philosophical path of understanding and changing the agreements you have with yourself. He first shows how you are indoctrinated with beliefs that harm your well-being and then teaches you how to reshape those beliefs. The result is that you leave the book with four new agreements that will help you create a life of connection, joy, and fulfillment.
What are the four agreements?
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Domestication And The Dream Of The Planet
Importance of attention
“By using our attention we learned a whole reality, a whole dream. We learned how to behave in society: what to believe and what not to believe; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what is good and what is bad; what is beautiful and what is ugly; what is right and what is wrong.”
Attention is our capacity to focus on what we want to perceive. Of the millions of stimuli in our everyday environment, attention is the force that helps us figure out what to pay attention to and how to understand what we perceive. Attention is developed at a young age, and how we use it begins to form our belief system.
The inner judge
“There is something in our minds that judges everybody and everything, including the dog, the cat — everything.” That judge uses our personal Book of Law to make its assessments. And even if that book is wrong, it makes us feel safe, which is why it’s so hard to change your beliefs.
If you pay attention to your inner judge, you can begin to understand the most important agreements and guiding principles that shape your personal reality. You will often find that you use these judgments as a form of protection that makes you feel safe. And if you want to break these old agreements and start living by the four agreements, you will need a lot of courage to challenge and reshape the beliefs that make you feel safe.
Suffering many times
“How many times do we pay for one mistake. The answer is a thousand times.”
When we make a mistake, we do not simply accept our blunder and move forward. We often ruminate on that mistake dozens of times, filling our souls with poisonous regret that can torture our inner world for many years. We accept these negative thoughts and self-abuse as if they are an inescapable reality of life. But we can choose to live differently and learn to forgive ourselves for mistakes and to start embracing self-love via the four agreements.
“Our image of perfection is the reason we reject ourselves; it is why we don’t accept ourselves the way we are, and why we don’t accept others the way they are.”
We constantly punish ourselves for not being what we “should be.” This self-rejection is built upon a collective dream that we and others should somehow be different than we truly our. But when we expect people, including ourselves, to be perfect in every moment, we forget the timeless knowledge that reminds us that there is no real perfection.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word
The first agreement is the most important one. To be impeccable with your word means that you do not go against yourself. It is the process of learning how to take responsibility for everything in your life without judging or blaming yourself for any perceived missteps.
Your word determines how you think, form beliefs, express yourself, and communicate. It is the foundation for how you perceive and create the events in your inner and outer world.
“Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system.”
When we are children, the people in our lives tell us things. They may say that we’re good at math or that we’re bad at dancing. If we believe the things that people tell us, we form agreements about who we are that affect our understanding of ourselves and how we operate in the world.
For example, if we believe that we are bad at dancing, we may develop a limiting belief that stops us from expressing ourselves through physical movement throughout our lives. If, on the other hand, we believe that we are intelligent and capable of anything, we may feel empowered to pursue our dreams and have the courage to overcome big challenges.
As we wake up in adulthood, we often realize that many of our assumptions and opinions were formed from the influence of our parents on us when we were little children. If these influences created fear-based agreements and negative emotions that impede our ability to enjoy life, we can start to form our own agreements that allow us to improve our lives.
As we start to form our beliefs, we begin to judge ourselves and others based on these beliefs. We may see a mother scolding. her child in a grocery store or meet a person who does not share our values, and based on our beliefs, we may think these are bad people.
But the truth is that these people are just like us. They grew up and formed beliefs that shape their understanding and behavior in the world based on experiences they had at a young age. They may not be bad people at all, but if our belief systems tell us that they are, we use that to form harsh judgments that make us feel right and just about our own behavior.
“You can measure the impeccability of your word by your level of self-love.”
When you have unconditional love for yourself, a love that crushes any self-judgment or blame for who you are or any mistakes you make, then you are on the path to living in line with the first agreement.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
Many of us act as if everything is about “me.” When someone does something that we do not like or the world hands us a card we did not want, we get upset that the outside world is not what we want it to be.
When we take things personally, we’re being selfish. We’re living in an illusion that somehow the world is against us and that everything that happens is related to us somehow. But this is where the second of the four agreements — don’t take anything personally — can help.
“Even the opinions you have about yourself are not necessarily true; therefore, you don’t need to take whatever you hear in your own mind personally.”
For example, imagine that people are gossiping about you. When you take things personally, this gossip may drive you crazy. You may wonder why people are so mean or why no one understands you. But if you learn to stop making everything about you, small things like people talking about you don’t matter. You become immune from the harm that the opinions of others used to inflict on you.
Make an inventory of your agreements
“Only by making an inventory of our agreements will we uncover all of the conflicts in the mind and eventually make order out of the chaos of the mitote.”
Once you become fully aware of the agreements that drive your life, you can begin to understand why your mind is such a mess. You can then begin to untangle that mess, slowly removing self-limiting beliefs and old agreements that do not serve you.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
Dangers of assumptions
Making assumptions leads to many avoidable misunderstandings. When we assume things about ourselves or others, we end up creating dramatic stories in our heads that may not even be true. These stories can lead us to suffer and act in ways that we regret. All of this drama is avoidable if we make the agreement to never make assumptions.
Assumptions in relationships
“Making assumptions in relationships leads to a lot of fights, a lot of difficulties, a lot of misunderstandings with people we supposedly love.”
When we learn to stop making assumptions, the level of conflict in our relationships goes down. We start to listen and love more freely, without all of the difficulty.
You can’t change people
“Your love will not change anybody. If others change, it’s because they want to change, not because you can change them.”
People do change, but not because you force that change on them.
Love and acceptance
“We don’t need to justify love; it is there or not there. Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them. If we try to change them, this means we don’t really like them.”
Real love involves accepting everything about a person without trying to change them.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
“Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less.”
When you simply show up and do your best, you can often get more than you think without any of the pain of expecting a reward for your efforts. And if you like what you do, you start enjoying your life, having more fun and avoiding the pangs of boredom or frustration.
Learn from your mistakes
“When you do your best you learn to accept yourself. But you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at the results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.”
Learn to examine your results and mistakes without judgment. Try to get a little bit better each time, always doing your best. Little by little, you’ll become more self-aware and continue to grow in the direction of your choosing.
“Letting go of the past means you can enjoy the dream that is happening right now.”
You will enjoy life and get more done if you focus on the present moment. Do not worry about the past. You cannot change the past. You can only focus on what’s in front of your right now.
When in doubt, default to action
“Everything you have ever learned, you learned through repetition. You learned to write, to drive, and even to walk by repetition. You are a master of speaking your language because you practiced. Action is what makes the difference.”
You learn by doing. If you want to do something, practice. Learn from your mistakes. Keep practicing and learning. Your efforts will eventually lead to improvements.
The Toltec Path To Freedom: Breaking Old Agreements
The four agreements will help you on your path to true freedom, the freedom to be who you really are. If you truly live by the four agreements, you will learn to be more like a child who lives in the moment and is not afraid of the future or ashamed of the past.
You are still a child
“The real you is still a little child who never grew up. Sometimes that little child comes out when you are having fun or playing, when you feel happy, when you are painting, or writing poetry, or playing the piano, or expressing yourself in some way. These are the happiest moments of your life – when the real you comes out, when you don’t care about the past and you don’t worry about the future. You are childlike.”
Pay attention to when your child-like nature shines. Do more of those activities. Learn to embrace that unencumbered spirit who is simply having fun.
Begin with awareness
“Awareness is always the first step because if you are not aware, there is nothing that you can change.”
What will you choose?
“When we discover that the mind is controlled by the Judge and the Victim and the real ‘us’ is in the corner, we have just two choices. One choice is to keep living the way we are, to surrender to the Judge and the Victim, to keep living in the dream of the planet.” The second choice is to do what we do as children when parents try to domesticate us. We can rebel and say ‘No!’ We can declare a war against the parasite, a war against the Judge and the Victim, a war for our independence, a war for the right to use our own mind and our own brain.”
It’s up to you to choose what to believe. Both happiness and suffering are a choice. You can choose to embrace childlike happiness, living by agreements that allow you to be fully free, or you can choose to hold onto resentment and destructive patterns that make you miserable.
If you want to discover more great books...
- Explore the best books for expanding your mind, the best self-help books, the best philosophy books for beginners, books for people who don't enjoy reading, and more great books.
- Check out Foundations. Foundations is a searchable digital notebook built for curious, lifelong learners. It will help you accelerate your learning, solve hard problems, and save time by giving you access to a growing digital collection of insights from timeless books.
You might also enjoy these books...
- The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin: Summary & Notes
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie Book Summary
- Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life by Luke Burgis
- Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday
- How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie
- Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Taleb
- Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke
- Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant