The Four Agreements: A Review

Pros and Cons of the Bestselling Book

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The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz, is a wonderful book for stress management and personal growth. It's written in simple language but deals with complex themes that can help you bring sweeping changes to your life.

One drawback to the book is that some of the agreements are too extreme and, if you take them literally, they may cause additional problems in your life if taken without a proverbial grain of salt.

However, with a bit of balance and a sense of openness, these agreements can each be transformative and stress-relieving. Here's an explanation of each of the four agreements.

Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word

What it entails: This agreement discusses avoiding gossip, lies, empty promises, and other ways in which we cause problems with our words. Say only what you mean, and realize that you can cause damage if you're not careful with what you say.

Points to be aware of: Many people don't realize the power of their words and don't see the harm that can be caused by speaking carelessly, thoughtlessly, or aggressively. Most of us are aware that screaming at someone may be upsetting to them, but subtle little digs at them, or gossip behind their backs, can hurt others more than we realize, and in hurting them, we hurt ourselves. While it's great to be conscientious about how we use our words, this agreement may be hard to follow completely.

It's a great goal to aspire to, though, and a good direction to work toward, in any case.

Agreement 2: Don’t Take Anything Personally

What it entails: This concept deals with understanding how other people's behaviors are a reflection of them only. When someone gives us feedback about our behavior or about us as people, it's important to remember that no opinions are truly objective; we all have our biases, our filters through which we view the world.

Because of this, we shouldn't take anyone else's view of us or our actions as entirely accurate. When someone says something about us, they're really saying something about themselves and how they view the world.

Points to be aware of: This is good advice for helping you become less reactive, defensive, and retaliatory, but keep it in balance. While everyone has their biases and there is no such thing as true objectivity, by never taking anything personally, you can really limit your ability to see your own negative patterns and biased thinking and work on developing more healthy patterns and clear-sighted thinking. As M. Scott Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, "The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence." While it's important to let go of much of our concern over other people's opinions, some feedback should be considered, and the needs of others should also be respected. Don’t give up on the work of distinguishing responsibility, or you end up creating more stress in the long run.

Agreement 3: Don’t Make Assumptions

What it entails: A lot of stress can be created when you assume you know what other people are thinking without checking with them.

Understanding that other people might have different motivations for their actions, even drastically varying worldviews from yours, and remembering to really try to understand others and discuss these motivations before jumping to conclusions about their behavior, can go a long way toward preventing interpersonal conflict.

Points to be aware of: Taking this advice to an extreme may cause you to ignore your intuition about people or common sense about someone's behavior that's personally damaging to you. It can also open you up to manipulation if you train yourself to believe someone's explanation of negative behavior rather than judging the behavior on its own.

For example, not believing you're being cheated on if your partner is exhibiting erratic behavior and the classic signs of infidelity, but he or she vehemently denies wrongdoing. This agreement is a good suggestion but it should be tempered by inner wisdom and common sense.

Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best

What it entails: By this, Ruiz means to do the best you can at any given moment and you'll have no regrets. Some days, your best isn't as good as other days, and that's okay. As long as you put an honest effort into life, you will have nothing to be ashamed of, and won't beat yourself up over a less-than-stellar performance in retrospect.

Points to be aware of: This is good advice for anyone and can help you achieve more progress toward your goals, as well as prevent unnecessary feelings of regret.

Summary

While sometimes the agreements are oversimplified, this is still a great little book with some heavy ideas. Focusing on any one of these agreements can greatly improve your life and decrease stress; focusing on all four can really be life-changing for many people. If followed generally and not fanatically, these suggestions can help you reduce a great amount of stress by helping you avoid thought and behavior patterns that create frustration, blame, hurt feelings, and other negative emotions.

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