What We Are Reading

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

By Michele McArdle, Executive Dean of the Winter Park Campus

Many books for leaders provide a list of strategies that one can use to set high standards for excellence with their team. Some of these techniques can be useful, depending on a host of factors: the leader and team member’s intentions, the length of time they have been working together, the culture of the organization, etc.

“The Four Agreements,” a book by Don Miguel Ruiz, is one of those books that goes beyond the strategy level and as described on the front cover, is a book of wisdom – “a practical guide to personal freedom.” The book opens with a chapter discussing the collective belief that we all need to be perfect to be accepted by others. This mistaken belief propels us to reject ourselves, to hide behind a social mask, and to live in fear that others will notice our inauthentic actions.

Furthermore, this belief encourages us to judge others on the standard of perfection and to be disheartened because they cannot live up to the established standard. As a society, we have made many agreements to support the notion of perfection. At the end of the chapter, Ruiz advises that we need to break these former agreements and make room for the four agreements that are based on authenticity. If we are able make the necessary changes, our lives will be enhanced and we will be able to express our personal power and feel joy.

The Four Agreements

The first agreement, Be Impeccable With Your Word, is described as the most powerful one, for it is the most difficult one to keep. Ruiz used the adjective “impeccable” because it means that we are responsible for our actions. “If you make an agreement with yourself to be impeccable with your word, just with that intention, the truth will manifest through you and clean all the emotional poison that exists within you” (pages 32-33). This agreement is the most difficult because we have learned to do the opposite. We find ourselves using our words to blame, to judge, to gossip, and to plan revenge. Even though the misuse of words has become the norm, Ruiz believes that if each of us can learn to live this first agreement, our lives will change in a positive direction.

Don’t Take Anything Personally, the second agreement, emanates from the first. Ruiz advises us to remember that people behave according to their own beliefs and dreams. “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are in their own minds” (page 49). Conflicts are created when we take things personally and we attempt to defend our beliefs. A small conflict becomes a big conflict because we have the need to be right and to make someone else wrong. When you take things personally you open the door to needless suffering. If you are able to stop taking things personally, you will learn to trust yourself and your opinions. You will experience freedom. You will speak your ideas without fear of ridicule and you can ask for what you need without guilt or self-judgment (page 60).

The third agreement, Don’t Make Assumptions, beckons us to ask questions, so we can break the assumption that everyone sees life as we see life. Questioning is the method used to ensure that communication is clear. A second strategy that helps to break the habit of making assumptions is to ask for what you want. The work in this agreement involves awareness and action. Being aware of making assumptions is the first step. The second step is to change your behavior by beginning to ask questions so communication is clear (page 72).

The fourth and last agreement, Always Do Your Best, sets the stage for the three other agreements to serve as your new pattern of behavior. Ruiz suggests that we understand our best can change from one day to the next and from one moment to the next. Doing your best is a flexible action dependent on your mood, energy, and more. By doing your best, no matter the circumstance, you learn to stop judging yourself and let go of self-inflicted guilt and shame. We must practice this behavior by learning from our mistakes and accepting ourselves for who we are. “We don’t need to know or prove anything. Just to be, to take a risk and enjoy your life, is all that matters. Say no when you want to say no, and yes when you want to say yes. You have the right to be you” (pages 84-85).

Ruiz concludes with a chapter entitled: Heaven on Earth, where he invites you to imagine your new life of freedom when you practice the four agreements. I believe this book is a powerful tool for reflection on our professional and personal lives. I have read it many times over the years, and continually feel restored with each reading. I have shared the book with others who have found it to be powerful as well. Hopefully, you will enjoy the experience of reading and living the four agreements, and feel the positive impact they have on your life.

A copy of this book is available in the Valencia EDGE Leadership Library. If you would like to check it out, please visit the Employee’s Tab in Atlas and click on “Leadership Library” in the My Development channel.

2 Comments

  • Linda Neal said:

    I love that book, and just started re-reading it myself.

    PMThu, 14 Feb 2013 22:33:53 +0000Thu, 14 Feb 2013 22:33:53 +0000pm13,10:33 pm

  • Damion Hammock said:

    This has been a great book so far. Thank you for the suggestion.

    AMWed, 20 Feb 2013 11:08:35 +0000Wed, 20 Feb 2013 11:08:35 +0000am13,11:08 am

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