Learning Self-Mastery from the Four Agreements

Learning Self-Mastery from the Four Agreements

Change is hard. Attaining true freedom is harder.

When I was gifted “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, I didn’t know what to expect. Examining inside the back cover, I found out that Ruiz is a Mexican author who emphasizes Toltec spiritualism, an ancient belief system founded over a thousand years ago in Mexico. According to Ruiz, the Toltec were “scientists and artists who formed a society to explore and conserve the spiritual knowledge and practices of the ancient ones.” The Toltec were masters of the self, full of wisdom, and excelled at uncovering the keys to a balanced life.

The four agreements hit hard at your greatest faults and insecurities. Often, you might not even know that it’s your mindset that’s holding you back in life. That is why understanding and adopting the agreements is so crucial.

Here are the Agreements:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word

  2. Don’t Take Anything Personal

  3. Don’t Make Assumptions

  4. Always Do Your Best

THE FIRST AGREEMENT: 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.

Words are powerful, and the way we use them is crucial. Most people use their words to cast doubt on us, or to complain about their own lives. Most people care little about our difficulties in life, and instead choose to give us their opinion on things time and again. However, it’s important we use words the right way – to build ourselves up and to make a positive impact. Lots of people do one of two things with words; use them to self-loathe or use them to degrade other people through gossiping. Both of these actions are poison.

You should always be focused on self-improvement, and this begins with powerful, positive beliefs. When we focus on other people, we suffer from envy, anger, even hatred. We let jealousy ruin our relationships and let opinions dominate our thoughts. It’s human nature to have doubts. It’s natural to gossip about others. But you must limit these weak moments. It’s self-destructive to always doubt yourself, but it’s even worse if you let the opinions of others get to you.

Gossip has dominated human conversation since the dawn of the spoken word, but all too often, people let gossip rule their world. If you are confident in yourself, you will have little need to engage in abundant gossip. As Ruiz says, “Change first in the way you deal with yourself, and later in the way you deal with other people, especially those you love the most.”

THE SECOND AGREEMENT: 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 the victim of needless suffering.

How often do you try to get even with someone who wronged you? We’ve all been there before. But as Ruiz writes, “Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me’.” What you fail to realize is that most people are dealing with their own issues when they lash out at you. The key is to not take things personally. Once you master this ability, life becomes much more relaxing. You are at ease with people because nothing they can say or do will bother you.

If you are someone who is always offended, then you are doomed to a life of misery. You need thick skin in order to thrive in today’s world. As political correctness invades our college campuses and schools, it’s never been more important to be able to shrug off someone’s comments. Too many people melt in the face of self-perceived insults, and it wrecks their mindset.

We each have our own unique point of view on things, so naturally there will be times in which we disagree with others. But it’s your choice to be offended by such disagreements. According to Ruiz, “When you take things personally, then you feel offended, and your reaction is to defend your beliefs and create conflict.” Instead, remind yourself of your core beliefs and strong sense of self. If you don’t have the need to always be right and accepted, then you will gradually care less and less what people say about you. There is a huge amount of freedom to be gained by not taking things personal, but you first have to change your mindset.

THE THIRD AGREEMENT: 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. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Assumptions can be deadly. How often do you act without all the facts? How many times have you inferred or come to a conclusion without all the facts? Certainly, there are times where we need to make a quick judgement call. But we have allowed our minds to become lazy – to simply fill in the blanks based on our experiences and inherent biases.

This is especially prevalent in relationships. You argue because you are assuming the other person knows what you want. “We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking,” says Ruiz, “we take it personally, then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word.” You misinterpret the facts by making assumptions. It’s the classic case of jumping to conclusions based on faulty logic. When you do this, you see and hear whatever makes your viewpoint the right one.

It’s impossible to guess what’s going on with someone else. But instead of making assumptions, ask questions. Try to understand them. Open lines of communication, whether personal or business in nature, is key to success dialogue and relationship building. You bring a ton of unnecessary drama and stress into your life by making assumptions. Remember: People change because they want to change, not because you want them to. It’s important to not impose your will on others, and instead let them seek out change and improvement on their own. By having realistic expectations, you are ensuring you don’t fight over nonsense.


Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

It’s understandable to get upset when you fail or come up short at something. But it happens. The only thing within your control is ensuring you gave it your absolute best effort. If you did so, you have nothing to hang your head about. But as Ruiz remind us, your “best” isn’t always going to be the same: “Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”

It’s important to stay positive even when times are tough. It’s easy to discouraged when it feels like everything is going against you. You will be successful if you give your best effort every single time. It might not happen overnight, but you are creating rock solid habits that will eventually shape the way you think. You will cultivate an intense drive and sense of purpose.

Learn from your mistakes and do your best to improve and grow, not for the potential reward if you are successful. People who are interested in the reward and nothing else struggle to sustain their best efforts because they don;t enjoy the process. The struggle to motivate themselves to action, and thus their work suffers. If you love the process and work hard, the reward will come.

Final Thoughts

The Four Agreements are simple, yet effective. They hit hard at the core of our most vulnerable behaviors and actions. The agreements have one thing in common – taking actions. To change your behavior you must work hard to change your mindset. You must be willing to see your behaviors for what they are and come to understand yourself. Action is all that matters. You could spend a whole life planning in your head, but without action, those thoughts are worthless. As Ruiz says:

Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing what you are is taking action. You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward.”

Repetition makes the master. Start today and live tomorrow.

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