I’ve read a lot of self-development books. Most are fluff. This one is not. It’s about finding and eliminating the actions we take to limit ourselves. It teaches us to be authentic with ourselves and others. And it’s not all prose – each of the four agreements are immediately actionable advice. It’s one of the few books I’ve read that’ve had a lasting personal impact.
The book was written by a neurosurgeon after a near-fatal car crash caused him to leave medicine and examine the essential truth about life and humanity. It was published in 1997, sold 7.2 million copies, and has been translated into 40 languages. The U.S. Air Force even created a challenge coin engraved with the agreements.
I do want to warn people that 1 the book is lightly spiritual, and 2 the language, while not overly complex, can be a little airy at times. Neither of these bothered me in the slightest. You don’t need to be a spiritual person to read this book.
Most people are not living their own life, but rather living going through the motions until they die. They’re living their lives like society expects.
The four agreements help us destroy the beliefs that limit us to living like this. They help us follow our own ideals to create a life we’d be proud of.
Another key point to understand is that everyone is at the center of their own world – that is, we only experience references to others. See Agreement 2.
At first glance, the four agreements are incredibly simple, but I find that we often ignore them. I suggest reading through each of them slowly and taking time to fully digest the practical application of each.
Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t ever lie to yourself.1 Say only what you mean. Nothing more. And don’t gossip or talk badly about others.
Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally.
Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. When other people are angry at you, it is because of themselves. When other people tell you how wonderful you are, it is because of themselves. What other people say and do is based on their reality, not yours. So it doesn’t need to cause you any pain.
Agreement 3: Don’t make assumptions.
We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others – because we think everyone else will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves.
Express what you want as clearly as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Gain clarity in every interpersonal situation.
Agreement 4: Always do your best.
Always do your best, and you’ll avoid regret, self-judgement, and self-abuse.
Breaking Old Agreements
We’ve subconsciously made agreements with ourselves over time. Often, these agreements were shaped while we were growing up, so they are outdated or ill-informed. Since we’re now adults, we can now choose what to believe. There are three ways to break old agreements.
The first is to take inventory and replace them with our new beliefs. List the internal thoughts that cause you pain, suffering, or stress. Then, make a new agreement with yourself that pulls you out of that. (Here are some of mine, which are super personal. And I’m fine sharing them with you – after all, I’m just a reference to you!)
Old: You should always listen to your parents.
New: Consider your parents’ advice, but make the final decision yourself.
Old: You aren’t in control of what happens to you.
New: You’re never the victim unless you choose to be. Everything that happens to you is your fault, whether it’s good or bad. And so you can be in control.
Old: Wanting to make a lot of money is greedy.
New: Making money is honorable if you gain it by helping others. In addition, you can use that money to benefit others.
Another way to break old agreements is to forgive those who have harmed you. As the author says:
We need to forgive our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, and God. Once we forgive God, we can forgive ourselves. And once that happens, we no longer reject ourselves. That’s when self-acceptance begins.
The final way is to prepare ourselves for death: to live every day as if it’s our last. This is how we truly start to live. It is to be like a child again, but this time with wisdom instead of innocence.
Making Our Own Dream
We get to create our own lives. Our perception of reality is something that we can change at any time. We have the power to create hell and the power to create heaven. Why not dream a different dream?
Imagine that you have the ability to see the world with different eyes, whenever you choose. Each time you open your eyes, you see the world around you in a different way. Use your imagination to see yourself living a new life, a new dream, a new life where you don’t need to justify your existence and you are free to be who you really are. Imagine living your life without fear of expressing your dreams. You know what you want, and what you don’t want. You are not afraid to ask for what you need, to say yes or no to anything or anyone. Imagine living your life without the fear of being judged by others.
All in all, The Four Agreements was an incredible book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in self-development.
I’d been fast-tracked in the interview process of a great company in Silicon Valley. However, I didn’t want to move across the country, and I told others that I wouldn’t move. The decision was weighing on me: maybe I should still take the interview. Maybe it would change my life. I decided to be impeccable with my word and cancel the interview. I had to stay true to myself. Immediately, a sense of power flowed into me and I felt the weight lifted off my chest. Don’t lie to yourself, and you’ll gain so much power over your life. ↩︎