"The Four Agreements" Was My Post-Divorce Compass

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Who among us should heed the words of Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom? The answer is: Everyone! I read this book nearly twenty years ago while navigating my post-divorce feelings, and still use it as a compass to inspire my daily interactions. Its principles represent lofty aspirations, and I never cease to fail in my attempts to achieve them. Yes, I said fail.

So then, are the four agreements worth striving for if they’re so unattainable? The thing is, there isn’t really a finish line per se, but if you remind yourself every morning to go as far into your day as you can by using these utopian objectives, you’ll make quantifiable strides toward becoming your best self.

What are the four agreements?

. Be Impeccable with Your Word. This is certainly the most challenging agreement. Words definitely matter—whether it’s our dialogue with others or with ourselves. They have tremendous power, and yet so often pass through our lips without any real reflection. Once I began focusing on my statements, I realized just how often I was doling out my own brand of judgment—no matter how innocuous my words seemed at the time.

I admit it. I have self-righteous thoughts. Whether I’m having an internal dialogue about Bob’s poor eating habits, theorizing about how I would never raise a child the way Miranda is, or berating myself for forgetting Mom’s birthday, we all do it—and sometimes we do it aloud.

Our words have a profound impact on those around us, most especially our children. Let’s face it, I’m not alone in having some level of this imperfection. And the degree to which we have it represents how far we must go to become as impeccable with our words as possible. Think of it! To never say another unflattering thing about anyone, ever! Now that’s worth the challenge!

. Don’t Take Anything Personally. If someone says something negative to or about you, it’s not about you or the people they’re talking about, it’s about them. This agreement has been a revelation to me. I used to be a chronic pleaser before practicing this principle. Now, I don’t care what others think, well, most of the time. Vanity still rears its ugly head somewhat regularly.

Not taking anything personally has helped me move past scenarios that would have previously devastated me. And when I falter, I remind myself of the second agreement and it releases some of the bad juju I was letting in.

. Don’t Make Assumptions. This one is huge! We all do this. Try to go through just one day without making the slightest assumption. Most of us are unconscious as to how often we are assuming. It can be anything from thinking that a road crazy driver cut you off because he’s simply an asshole when, really, he’s frantically rushing his injured child to the emergency room, to chastising your spouse for losing your car keys when, really, you mindlessly chucked them into your lint-covered cough drop-filled purse.

But mostly, we make assumptions about other people’s feelings and intentions, and then react in a way that is often based on our own false conclusion—which in turn becomes the foundation for a bogus narrative about how or why someone else is doing or feeling the way they are. Talk about an ASSumption rabbit hole!

I challenge you to observe your previously unstudied assumption making habits. Once you realize how often it happens, you’ll begin to free yourself of a lot of emotional chaos.

. Always Do Your Best. We preach this agreement to our kids all the time. “As long as you do your best, that’s all we can ask.” Well then, why don’t we hold ourselves up to the same day-in day-out standard? Oh, I know, you think you do, but do you really? I know I don’t!

It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, you should always do your best—whether you’re working out at the gym, consoling a friend, or trying to live up to these four agreements, always do your best. Of course, your best will change from moment to moment. Your workout one day may be less intense than it was the day before, but as long as it’s the best you can do in that time and place, you’ve mastered the fourth agreement. One day you may be a better listener than the next but as long as you’re striving for excellence during that moment in time, you’ve succeeded. Just keep asking yourself, “Am I doing the best I can right here, right now?

How do you turn thinking about these goals into a daily habit? It used to be widely thought that it took 21 days to form a habit, but the latest studies show that it takes an average of 66 days. Here’s what I do to remind myself every morning about how I wanted to do better on that day.

The paperback version of The Four Agreements has an inside front flap that lists the agreements with a short synopsis of each one. I cut the flap off the book and taped it to my bathroom mirror. For the next several months, once my crack-of-dawn eyes were in focus, I was reminded to set my intentions for that day. After a while, I moved the list to the bulletin board behind my desktop. Yes, I need constant reminders to do better because, well, shit happens that throws me off course.

Don’t get discouraged—be encouraged! Let the four agreements become part of your lifestyle improvement plan—like eating flaxseed, hitting your 10,000 steps, or howling at the moon. Remember, your achievement is on a sliding scale, and it slides both ways, but if you are making every effort to conquer these exquisite truths, you’ll be proud of the life you’re living. The bottom line is: Never stop trying to be the best you!

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