My summer reading project begins. This week, we’ll look at my lessons learned from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you haven't picked up this book, please do. It's a must-read, and on Amazon, I think it’s $5 for the Kindle version and just a few dollars more for the “real” book you can hold in your hand. There is so much to this book.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
The beginning of a book does a wonderful job of setting the tone for how these agreements work in our lives. We learn everything through repetition. You learned how to tie your shoes by doing it over and over again. You learned how to drive a car through repetition, lots and lots of repetition. Your personality and beliefs develop through repetition by the words repeated to you...and by you...over and over. As you're working through the Four Agreements or anytime you're working to change your mindset, be gentle with yourself.
Know that it's going to take repetition...just like it took repetition to become the person you are right now.
That repetition we use, not only in our talk with other people but also to ourselves. Earlier today I was out driving, thinking of a million things and made a wrong turn. The first words out of my mouth were “Well that was stupid.” Yep, broke the first agreement. Be impeccable with your word. As Ruiz says in the book,
“When you are impeccable you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself.”
Words are powerful tools, and they can hurt just as easily as they can heal. For me, it's easier to be impeccable with my words towards other people. But it can be difficult to change that inner dialogue in my head that I've been practicing for years and years.
This week, take special note of the dialogue in your head. Are you using loving, gentle words or are you using words against yourself?
Ruiz said living by these agreements would be difficult. The second agreement, don't take anything personally, is a big challenge for me. When you take words personally, you agree with them. You’re wandering around the grocery store and accidentally bump into a person having a really bad day. He whips around and yells, “Watch where you’re going, you idiot.” By taking it personally, you tell yourself that you are, in fact, an idiot. Repeat that often enough and your behavior reflects someone who believes she is an idiot. (Guess what? Not true!) In fact, that person snapped at you because he made a big mistake at work and he feels like the idiot. Think about it. He could have said a clutz or jerk or any number of names.
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of them.”
Similarly, the book, The Shadow Effect, talks about how we relate to other people as a mirror reflecting our thoughts and feelings. We see the world through our distorted and selfish view.
If you know who you are, whatever anyone else says to you doesn’t matter.
You don't need to be accepted by anyone when you know who you are. Whether it's a compliment or criticism, you don't need the judgment of other people when you know who you are. And isn't that the problem for most of us. We focus so much on other people’s wants that we have forgotten who we are that the words from others take on more meaning.
Knowing who you are means knowing your imperfections along with your strengths, without judgment and guilt. Accept who you are at this exact moment.
If I lived the third agreement, I could prevent almost every argument. Don't make assumptions. Yep...guilty of this. It starts with an assumption, which we believe is true. We misunderstand the situation like every episode of Three’s Company (you young-ins’ will have to Google that reference). We take it personally (oops...broke the 2nd agreement), and that leads to feeling bad, hurt feelings and probably a fight where neither person knows what is wrong. It’s a vicious circle.
We assume people can read our minds. And I'm sure you've had this fight with your significant other more than once. Why didn't he know that you had planned on grocery shopping tomorrow (even though you didn’t say it) yet he invited friends over for dinner tonight? How were you supposed to know that he had a long day at work and is not in the mood to go out and look at a new couch? (Let’s be honest, even after a good day of work he probably doesn’t want to go.) We also assume that people think as we do. When we’re embarrassed about a mistake at work, we assume that everyone is judging us the way we are judging ourselves. Guess what? They’re probably thinking about their mistakes...remember we see the world through our mirror lenses.
The last agreement I think my mom wrote. Always do your best. Can you hear her saying those words? We’re our harshest critics. Even when we try our best, we're so mean to ourselves. We tend to believe that our “best” is a straight line on a chart. But that’s not true. Each moment is a different level of best. When you're sick, your level of best is not as high. That's ok. It's more than ok...it's perfect! Your level of best is whatever it needs to be on that day and in that moment. Ruiz says it so well,
“It doesn't matter if you are sick or tired if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don't judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt blame and self-punishment.”
How wonderful it would be if we were free from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. And we can be! The easiest way to keep this agreement is to focus one moment at a time. Obsessing about the past does you no good. It's already happened, let's move on. And thinking of the future is no good because your level of best will be different. If you focus on right now, you know exactly your level of best and, without judgment, that's what you strive to do. If you don't do your best...guess what? You just start over tomorrow. Clean slate. Don't look back. Don't look forward. Focus on right now.
So this week, you are going to notice the words you use with yourself. You are going to remember not to take it personally. It’s not you; it’s them. Don’t assume. (Now I want to see if I can find some old Three’s Company reruns…) And lastly, do your best…whatever your best is for that day.
If you know you are, then you don’t have any reason to judge yourself.