Why “The Four Agreements” work
“Faces” Temple, Siam Reap, Cambodia — Raj Hayer, 2013
There are schools of thought, that believe our happiness can be increased if we simply stop caring what other people think of us. Landmark Forum has made millions on this, their entire philosophy is based around the simple concept of removing the desire to “look good”, i.e. our pride. Gary Vaynerchuk espouses this rule of thumb constantly on social media — stop caring what other people think of you, stop worrying about what they are doing, and concentrate on what you are doing.
But it’s easier said than done right?
We all care to some degree what others think of us, and I personally do value the opinion of my closest friends and advisors. However it is not always easy to accept the opinion or judgement of friends, colleagues, acquaintances… random strangers on social media. (I tease, but there is truth there!) Even the guys I know who say they don’t care what anyone thinks — well — it turns out they do. How can we not. We are human beings, we want to be accepted by our community, and it keeps us honest!
However when it becomes a barrier to taking chances, or moving forward, that’s when it becomes a problem. So how do we control our reactions when faced with others opinions? Well I am sure this doesn’t come as a surprise but it starts with us.
A few simple rules to live by
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a book that was gifted to me over twenty years ago by a close friend and I have come back to it time and time again.
In fact these Agreements are so embedded in my mind that I actively draw on them when I am feeling particularly upset or reactionary. It is almost always the first tool that every person I mentor or coach needs, in fact I actively send it to friends, because I want everyone to benefit from it!
Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the premise is that we are the source of our self-limiting beliefs and not only does that create suffering, but also limits us from being happy. You are the only one that can change your life, because only you can control how you react to things.
It is a tool that enables us to genuinely stop allowing what others think to be a barrier to our own growth and happiness.
Creating and sharing a comprehensive toolkit
Over the past few weeks I have shared a few tools that can help overcome our feelings of anxiety, anger and vulnerability. I don’t have all the answers and I am not the expert on all these topics, however I have tried and tested a lot of tools and sharing the tools that have helped me grow and achieve balance in my life, to enable others to grow and achieve happiness, that is my passion.
The first tool I shared was Circle of Concern vs. Circle Influence. Understanding this can shift your entire perspective, and energy to where you can actually make a difference, i.e. your own reactions.
The second tool I shared was Meditation, to combat the anger we felt at this whole situation and how it started. This is a huge topic, so we start with why it can have a profound impact on your whole life and how to start with it.
The third tool was Worst Case Scenario, to combat this feeling of helplessness, waiting to see what will happen. This tool was influenced by The Fourth Agreement: Always do your best.
How The Four Agreements apply to life right now
The Four Agreements are captured inside the flap of the physical book and I am sharing them here. Reading the whole book will give you deeper understand of the four agreements and I strongly encourage you to buy the book. This is why they matter to me and how I adopted them during this quarantine:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
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.
This is as easy as it sounds, don’t talk smack about others, don’t talk smack about ourselves, and try to be honest. My short form for this is “say what you mean, and mean what you say”.
It’s easy to berate ourselves as we sit in our homes, “don’t be lazy, do something useful”, or to criticise others for not keeping their social distance. In fact if there is nothing else to talk about, we tend to talk about each other. Let’s not. Or if we must, let’s make the talk positive and do as John Krasinski does, share only good news. This prevents hurt and drama exponentially.
2. 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 a victim of needless suffering.
Even in quarantine it is easy to find people willing to judge others or to judge others ourselves. If we remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion and they are doing what they think is best based on their knowledge and experience, we stop taking their perspective or their actions personally.
The only thing we have control over, is ourselves, so we can only control our own actions. We must do what we think is best. They must do what they think is best. Which is right? Who knows. We know so little about social distancing and this virus that we won’t know for sure for some time still. So let’s not take it as a personally. We are in it together.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
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.
Never has this been more relevant than during quarantine. It is easy to misunderstand intent, to create drama, to close ourselves off. I am not a “phone person”, but in quarantine even I have reached out and caught up with friends. It’s so easy to take things the wrong way virtually or in written word, so we must be more diligent in clarifying what others mean and how they feel.
It’s also easy to assume everyone else has it easier than you, or has a better country, city or home to quarantine in! Don’t assume that. Everyone is feeling the impact of this, or dealing with the same mental or emotional pressure that surrounds this. Don’t assume people are fine, check in.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self- judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
I find it really easy to be hard on myself. I am an entrepreneur and freelancer, so with projects and events delayed or canceled, I feel I should be actively working to pivot my business, to build a course, to update my site, etc. etc. etc. Then I remember The Four Agreements and realise some days it’s okay to take a day off. To meditate. To read. To write. And not feel regret I didn’t work on my business. I’m doing my best, that’s good enough for now.
Please remember The Four Agreements as we go into the second month of quarantine — or in my case completing my fifth week. Speak honestly and don’t gossip, don’t take what others do as personal affront to us, don’t make assumptions, and always do our best…and trust that will change day to day.
Practice this philosophy and I promise it will reduce guilt, regret, hurt and increase happiness exponentially.
We got this.