Don Miguel Ruiz published his book The Four Agreements in 1997, yet the wisdom embedded within them is ancient. The philosophy of the Four Agreements is informed by Toltec wisdom. The Toltecs, who predated the Aztecs, were spiritual practitioners in Mexico who believed that life is a dream that we have the ability to create into a personal heaven or a personal hell. This visionary belief is a guiding principal in integrating the Four Agreements into your own life and creating a personal inner paradise. By adopting the Four Agreements, you can begin to harmonize your life and connection with others, ultimately creating what Ruiz refers to as “a dream of heaven.”
An Introduction to The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements are agreements that you make with yourself in an effort to dismantle the belief systems we are socialized into adopting without choice. Practicing the Four Agreements eliminates the need to expend your own personal power and energy on upholding these formally made agreements. By eliminating this unnecessary expenditure, we are able to reserve our precious energy and direct it toward our own growth and expansion.
It is important to recognize the ways in which we uphold agreements unconsciously. When you are a child exploring the world anew, you look to those who are older and in positions of authority for guidance on how to navigate life. In return, you are presented with values and ethics that you likely agreed to without much inquiry. As we grow, age, and explore life independently, we have the opportunity to re-evaluate these values and ethics and choose what truly resonates for us. The Four Agreements are a template of new agreements you can make with yourself that support this developmental process.
The Four Agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word. This first of the Four Agreements asks us to speak with integrity. By speaking with integrity, we honor our personal truth as well as eradicate the temptation to speak poorly of others.
- Don’t take anything personally. The Second Agreement challenges us to adopt the belief that the actions and choices of others have little to do with us. Adopting this belief has the power to free us from the constraints of suffering we often experience through internalizing other’s opinions.
- Don’t make assumptions. Next, the Third Agreement in the 4 Agreements Book empowers us to get curious about other’s reality before inaccurately and presumptuously acting through our own personal lens in ways that can be harmful. This agreement also reminds us of the importance of speaking in ways that are both clear and direct to avoid miscommunication which often leads to misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict.
- Always do your best. The Fourth Agreement reminds us that our best can and should change moment to moment depending on our circumstances and emotional state. The agreement asks us to radically accept ourselves as we are able to show up in any given moment without shame or judgment
While the Four Agreements are simple in nature, they are not always easy to implement as they require us to confront the ways in which we keep ourselves in a personal hell of fear, self-criticism, and perfectionism. Fortunately, by simply adopting these agreements as your own personal philosophy you can begin to relieve yourself of the attachments you have to thoughts and patterns that prevent you from transforming your reality into a kind of personal paradise.
Now let me take a deeper look into the first agreement -
Be Impeccable with Your Word - The Four Agreements #1
This first of the Four Agreements is not only the most important of the agreements, but it is also the most difficult to honor. Practicing the first agreement precedes the other three agreements as it asks us to first develop our skills as self-reflective and conscious beings. To practice and honor the first agreement, we must have an intimate connection to our own inner truth and develop the courage to share it honestly and compassionately.
In order to be impeccable with our word, we need to understand the ways in which we are defining the word impeccable. The etymology of impeccability comes from the Latin roots “in” meaning “not” and “peccare” meaning “to sin.” We typically understand the term sin in a religious context, but rather than associating impeccable with the religious, we want to instead reframe our understanding in favor of utilizing impeccability as a milestone toward personal growth. One way we can do this is by eliminating the judgment and criticism that often accompanies the determination of whether or not an act or action is sinful. Part of being impeccable is the commitment to not judge or blame ourselves in ways that are self-deprecating or shame inducing. It is, of course, imperative that we remain conscious of our behavior and actions in the world, but to shame and guilt ourselves anytime we make a mistake neglects a crucial step in self-growth. The reflective moment of recognizing we have caused harm is only the first step, we must then also be willing to take responsibility for our actions and be accountable to those we interact with. This blend of self-awareness and self-compassion is what it means to truly behave impeccably.
Being impeccable with your word also requires that we understand what we are defining as our word. Don Ruiz discussed “your word” as your personal power and the tool by which you manifest reality. Our word can be thought of as a tool of magic that can be used for love or harm. Like all spiritual practices, this agreement can be a force of harmony or it can be weaponized for personal gain and power. The way in which our word is a tool of magic, stems from the understanding that what we speak into existence has the power to manifest in our material worlds.
Our word is more than just the string of language we utilize, but the intent and impact behind that message as well. The relational, non-verbal expression behind the verbal message also holds power. Rather, it is not only important to observe and reflect upon what we say, but how we say it as well. The messages you speak come from a combination of your inner beliefs, values, opinions and emotions. These inner constructs come from both our inherited and our chosen beliefs. It is imperative that we continually examine these inner workings and evaluate if they are truly serving the most good in the world. It is possible that our beliefs may instead be something we inherited early on in life that we have yet to question. When this is the case, we must act with curiosity and interrogate.
Exercises to Help Re-Examine Your Beliefs
There are a few personal exercises that you can engage in order to reflect upon your own value and belief system and determine which parts are yours and which were inherited in childhood. Sometimes we continue to align with the values and beliefs we inherited in childhood and it is not always necessary to shift. In fact, it is likely that you still hold some beliefs from childhood that have not changed, but there are other times upon re-examining our beliefs that we might see the need to adjust.
For example, perhaps you learned in childhood that all individuals are deserving of falling in love despite their gender and preference. You may receive this belief when you are too young to challenge it intellectually, yet you continue on in your life holding that value. Once you are capable of evaluating your beliefs as a teenager or adult you may find that you consistently align with this belief and it never waivers.
Conversely, perhaps you inherited a belief in childhood that it is wrong to love someone of the same gender as you. Since at the time you were too young to challenge the belief intellectually, you may have moved through life with this inherited belief until you received new information that contradicted the belief your inherited. At this point, you may have decided to change your inherited belief based on the new information you now have. This is an example of how our word may change throughout time.
An exercise you can do on your own to ensure your word is pure and free from unexamined inherited beliefs is to make a list of all of your core values. Once you have completed your list take a look at each value individually and put a check or dot next to each value that you were taught in childhood. Reflect upon your upbringing and what your caregivers believed as well as what kind of education you received and what you learned there. Once you have placed your checks or dots evaluate if that belief is one you have interrogated on your own.
Is this simply an inherited belief you have never questioned?
Have you considered a converse belief or value?
If not, perhaps you could research the contradicting belief, speak to others with that belief, or find personal testimonials online. This process will help to better inform the beliefs and values we hold that are integral and authentic to us. You can repeat this exercise by writing a series of statements that begin with “I believe…”
Once we have examined our own inner world of values and beliefs, we can move toward a more authentic and integral personal word. A word that is devoid of unexamined inherited beliefs and is pure in its development and expression. When we are impeccable with our word, we are consciously using our energy for truth and love. We are mindful of the impact our messages have on others and how best to ensure we are speaking from our hearts and examined minds. This is a task that takes conscious commitment and repeated daily effort.
While there are many ways to be proactive about ensuring we are impeccable with our word, this agreement takes constant effort to maintain and there are ways in which we can unfortunately misuse our word. When we misuse our word, the result can be keeping ourselves and others in cycles of fear and doubt. It is important to be mindful that we use our word as a way to generate more loving energy and not weaponize our word to cause harm and negativity.
Gossip Vs. Whistleblowing
One way that we commonly misuse our word is through the act of gossip. Before discussing how gossiping is an example of misusing our word, is essential for us to distinguish gossip from whistleblowing and holding others accountable.
Gossip is a series of messages that are unconfirmed to be true and gain power through circulation. Gossip is typically indicative of inflated or exaggerated messages that are infused with harsh judgment and criticism. Since gossip requires that judgment be a component, it usually involves a negative evaluation of someone’s behavior or actions that are based more in the individual gossiping’s perception than it is in reality. The second agreement “don’t take anything personally” will explore this component more deeply.
Gossip is importantly distinct from whistleblowing. Whistleblowing is a vulnerable act in which a person exposes another that they work closely with for unsafe or abusive activity. What is important about whistleblowing is that the message is founded in truth. These processers may at first appear similar but are in fact exceptionally different. Gossip is not based in truth and is the product of undue judgment and criticism. Whistleblowing is founded in truth and the product of harmful, unjust action and activity.
When we engage in the harmful practice of gossip, which is not founded in truth, we transmit negative energy into our environment devoid of integrity and authenticity. Gossip is an activation of our egoic and insecure selves and is in direct violation of the impeccability of our word. When you suspect someone of gossiping, one way to be impeccable with your word is to offer some of the following responses:
“I don’t like the way this conversation makes me feel and I would prefer if we changed the subject.”
“Where did you learn this information? What evidence do you have to substantiate it?”
“I don’t like to participate in speaking poorly of others and would like to give this person the benefit of the doubt until we know more.”
These responses diffuse and deescalate the conversation so that gossip does not continue to circulate and gain power—a cycle which ultimately harms not only the person being gossiped about, but also the energy of everyone involved.
At the root and heart of the first agreement “be impeccable with your word” is a commitment to ourselves. It is the agreement to speak from the most true and authentic versions of ourselves, to unpack our inherited beliefs, and to speak with integrity. The quality of our word is directly proportionate to our own self-respect and self-compassion. It is okay to always be becoming a completer and more authentic version of yourself and being impeccable with your word is a simple first step.
Positive Self-Talk and Affirmations
A few ways that you can practice being impeccable with your word is by engaging the above exercise to examine your beliefs as well as through positive self-talk and affirmations. Try creating a few positive affirmations for yourself. They may be things you are already confident with that remind you of your empowerment, or they may be qualities you are working to develop.
A few examples of positive affirmations are below.
“I am enough.”
“I am growing.”
“I am exactly as I am intended to be in this moment.”
“I will act from my authenticity.”
“I will love myself and others.”
By practicing positive affirmations, we develop our skill of being impeccable with our word in ways that are loving and self-caring. The clearer and compassionate you become in clarifying your word, the more equipped you are to share your word genuinely and lovingly with others, and that's what the Four Agreements are all about.