A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
By coincidence, I came across a little book by Don Miguel Ruiz, titled The Four Agreements (A Toltec Wisdom Book). According to the cover, the book is “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.”
It is a great book that you must read. I guarantee that the book has the potential to change your life for the better (also when you don’t think that’s possible!).
I couldn’t help comparing the book with some of the other self-improvement books that I have read.
Compared to The Seven Habits of Highly Succesful People this book is far better. It’s much shorter – 160 pages versus 432 pages. You only need to remember four rules :-). And it doesn’t suffer from the scientific flaws that The Seven Habits do (the lack of a control group). The Seven Habits claim that if you do as successful people do, then you will also become successful. How many of the readers of The Seven Habits have become as successful as the highly successful people?
Being content and happy is more important than being successful
Being content and happy is an individual state of mind. You decide if you are satisfied and happy; it doesn’t depend on the opinion of others. Being successful is a comparative state of mind. You cannot define yourself as successful, that’s for others to judge.
There’s nothing wrong with being successful, but leaving the assessment of your happiness in the hands of others is not a very good idea.
The four agreements provide simple tools to make you a happy and contented person, whatever that means to you.
The 1st agreement: Be impeccable with your word
Think before you put words to your thoughts. Irrespective of whether you communicate with yourself of with others. The words you choose have an enormous impact on how you perceive yourself and how others react towards you. The book also provides guidance on what type of language to choose and avoid.
The 2nd agreement: Don’t take anything personally
Unfortunately, very few people have read the book and are therefore not particularly impeccable with their words. It, therefore, makes good sense to take what other people say to you with a grain of salt. More than often the language you hear says more about the sender than it does about you.
I can’t help referring to social media comments and discussions, which is often filled with hateful and harmful language. We don’t have to respond to all messages, and mostly it makes sense to stay out of such discussions completely. They don’t have any significant impact anyway other than potentially ruining your day. It is not worth it. Kiss your wife or read a story to your kids. We can only use time once so don’t waste it.
The 3rd agreement: Don’t make assumptions
That is very difficult. We make assumptions all the time, and we are mostly wrong. It makes absolute sense to stop making assumptions and be patient until we know what drives other people to say what they say and do what they do.
I recall reading a spy-thriller with a quote like, “Making assumptions can be deadly.” When a lot is at stake, we don’t make assumptions. Instead, we install a rigorous system of controls and checks. How many assumptions do you believe an airline makes in their operations? Not many. That’s why the failure rate is meager.
When communicating casually with other people, we are prepared to make assumptions and jump to conclusions without any hesitation. That’s a bad habit and something we should stop doing.
The 4th agreement: Always do your best
Things you decide to do are worth doing well. Otherwise, why should you do them? It is much better to decide what to do carefully, give it your best shot and then leave other stuff undone.
Doing you best is closely related to your ability to prioritize and say no. How many people do you know that have committed to do something and then failed to deliver? It seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Don’t assign yourself to this tribe. Say no up front, reserving your energy for the important things.
A final piece of advice
Understanding and living by the four agreements will make you a happier person. I am convinced about that. Invest the few hours it takes to read the book and make a few notes for yourself. Check the Internet for one-page abbreviations that can help you memorize and internalize the wisdom. Reading the book and forgetting the wisdom will not do you any good.