I was pretty skeptical of this book at first. One cause of my skepticism was the section I found it in at the book store: New Age and Spirituality. While I had discovered a few gems in that section before (“The Power of Now” being my favorite), most of the books left a lot to be desired in terms of credibility.
Then there was the book itself. Its subtitle read, “A Toltec Wisdom Book.” What the hell was Toltec Wisdom and how could it apply to my very non-Toltec life? Still, I heard a lot of great things about the book online, so I decided to give it shot. Losing ten dollars was the worst that could happen.
It ended up being ten dollars well spent.
If I had to describe this book in one word, I would choose simple. The Four Agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t take anything personally
- Don’t make assumptions
- Always do your best
They really are as basic as that. Looking past some of the more esoteric spiritual parts, this might be the most straightforward self-improvement book I’ve ever read. I suppose that’s what has made it so popular.
To be honest, this is a difficult book to write about in detail because the lessons are pretty much stated in the agreements themselves. So what I’m going to do is talk about the two agreements that have helped me the most.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
Thinking back on pretty much all of my problems when dealing with other people, the main cause of my unhappiness was taking things personally. This agreement is a counterbalance to that destructive habit.
When I first read this book I was working at a women’s clothing store. Anyone who has ever worked in customer service knows just how rude customers can be. Patience is something I’ve never had much of, and it took every ounce of self-control for me not to snap back at every rude or dismissive customer I encountered. But even when I didn’t react externally, my days would consistently be ruined by the continuous onslaught of negativity.
Reading this simple agreement made a huge difference in how I felt about rude customers and my personal relationships in general. Instead of treating every bit of attitude as a personal attack, I continuously reminded myself that the rudeness was a reflection of the customer’s own internal state.
Negative people are negative because they’re unhappy.
Heck, I see it all the time in myself. When I’m in a shitty mood, being polite to others isn’t my highest priority. I might snap at friends or forget to say thank you to a barista. But when I’m in a great mood I wouldn’t dream of being rude to anyone.
I’m not saying that a bad mood justifies being rude to others, just that rudeness is almost always a result of some kind of internal turmoil.
Always Do Your Best
“Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”
This is the agreement I come back to the most. It’s so cliché, yet so true.
Maybe it’s just the way Ruiz describes it, but his words made me realize that I usually aim for perfection instead doing my best in each moment. But the crazy thing about perfection is that, well, it’s impossible to reach. So chasing it only ever leaves me feeling discouraged, sometimes before I even start taking action.
Reminding myself that all I can do in each moment is my best – whatever that may be – helped get rid of a lot of stress and anxiety in my life. There are ups. There are downs. There are days when I feel like I could conquer the world, and others when I feel like I can barely get out of bed. But by asking myself what my “best” is in each moment, and then DOING that, progress seems to happen naturally.
I hope these lessons can be as valuable to you as they’ve been to me. I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book. It may be elementary compared to other self-help books, but I’ve found it to be a great reminder to just relax and enjoy the journey that is life.