The Four Agreements Summary: 10 Best Lessons in 20 Minutes
- Don Miguel Ruiz
In this summary
- 1. You must become an inner warrior to reclaim your happiness and sanity.
- 2. You are living in a dream created by the rules your parents, teachers and society taught you in order to domesticate you.
- 3. The words you use to talk to yourself create your dream of hell or heaven.
- 4. Stop judging, blaming and going against yourself and you will live in love and peace.
- 5. Everything others do is about them, not you because everyone is living a personal dream.
- 6. You will begin to trust your heart more than other’s opinions when you stop taking things personally.
- 7. Assuming other people see the world like you do leads to suffering.
- 8. Real love is complete acceptance of other people.
- 9. Taking action while always doing your best is how you affirm life.
- 10. Forgiving other people is how you set yourself free.
1. You must become an inner warrior to reclaim your happiness and sanity.
Don Miguel Ruiz studied the wisdom of the Toltecs and he wants to share their wisdom in this book. The Toltecs were an ancient culture of great warriors and artists. They lived around 1000 years ago near Mexico.
Ruiz says we must all become warriors like the Toltecs. Not with a spear and arrows, but with your mind.
The Toltecs knew that every human must fight a battle against something that is inside of each of us. That is your old conditioning. All the unproductive beliefs you were brainwashed into believing when you were too young to argue.
Ruiz calls this your “domestication” and it’s what you’ll need to overcome to finally feel free and at peace.
Your domestication has left you with emotional wounds full of poison. These wounds stop you from loving yourself. They leave you a vulnerable victim of the poisonous emotions of others. Worst of all, these wounds hold you back from compassion… from accepting, understanding and forgiving the people around you.
Imagine if every person’s skin was covered in painful infected wounds. And every time two people tried to get close to each other, their emotional wounds rubbed against each other, making them suffer tremendous pain. That’s exactly what’s happening in the world today.
The Four Agreements show you how to heal these emotional wounds and clean out the poison:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Never take things personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
2. You are living in a dream created by the rules your parents, teachers and society taught you in order to domesticate you.
The Toltecs called themselves Dream Masters. They understood that every human being lives in a dream. And you have the power to change your dream.
The first step to freedom is awareness. You need to notice when you are following those old rules and agreements which create the fog of your dream. You need to see how your past domestication has created all these emotional wounds and the whole drama of your life. When you can see the truth of this, then the fog of your dream is possible to disappear.
Kids always look happy and have a smile on their face. Most of the time they’re having fun. But something happens as we are growing up.
Through our parents, schools and religions we learn rules about what life is like. These are the rules of their dream. And they pass these rules onto us.
Kids believe everything adults say. That’s why most kids believe in Santa Claus. So you picked up most of your deepest beliefs while you couldn’t really think for yourself. Beliefs about how you are, how the world is and how you must act.
These rules are what Don Miguel Ruiz calls “agreements.” you had to agree with the rules other people gave you for them to become part of your dream. But of course, kids always agree. They don’t know how to disagree.
This is what is called the process of domestication. Have you ever had a puppy or a kitten? Then you know that you must train them. You must teach them rules for where they can sit, where they can poo and what time they can eat.
Well, just like other home animals humans are also domesticated. This happens so you can live among other people. And you are domesticated using punishment and rewards. Do what mommy and daddy say and they show you love. Break their rules and they withdraw love, making you feel alone and lost like you are on your own in a dark forest.
You were afraid of being not good enough and being rejected. So you became someone you are not. You copied your mother, your father, your teachers, your religion, your society. You copied their beliefs and put on their mask.
This is how all humans start living in a fog. You start living in a dream according to all these rules about what you are, what the world is and how you need to act. And the dream is not real.
3. The words you use to talk to yourself create your dream of hell or heaven.
As the New Testament of the Bible says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Don Miguel Ruiz says that your word is God because that is how you create your world. The way that you talk to yourself creates your dream of heaven or hell. That’s why his first Agreement is: Be impeccable with your word.
Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself.
Heaven and hell are not above and below you. They are in you.
That’s why you need to be careful about your word. Your inner dialogue. When you use your word carelessly like most people do, then you are living in hell. Because the words you use inside are like seeds. They will take root and grow and manifest themselves in your outer life.
For example, Mr. Ruiz says that:
In your whole life nobody has ever abused you more than you have abused yourself. And the limit of your self–abuse is exactly the limit that you will tolerate from someone else. If someone else abuses you a little more than you abuse yourself, you will probably walk away from that person. But if someone abuses you a little less than you abuse yourself, you will probably stay in the relationship and tolerate it endlessly.
But when you don’t abuse yourself and are careful with your word, then you live in heaven. What does that mean? It means you are free to live with inner peace and to be who you really are.
4. Stop judging, blaming and going against yourself and you will live in love and peace.
We’ve talked about how you were domesticated and trained as a child. As all children were.
You were trained and taught rules. About what to do and not do. What to say and not say. How to dress and not dress. Even what to believe and not believe… which is really training in what to think and not think.
All these rules and training become like a rulebook inside you. Don Miguel Ruiz calls this you Book of Law. You must follow the rules inside your Book of Law. Because even if they make you feel unhappy, they also make you feel safe. Breaking any of the rules makes you feel unsafe.
How do you keep yourself following your Book of Law? Using an inner Judge. There’s a part of you that judges everybody and everything, all the time. This judge is especially harsh on you. When it finds you guilty of breaking any rules, then you must be punished with shame and self-abuse.
How can you escape this tyrannical inner Judge and throw away the Book of Law that keeps you unhappy?
You never again judge, blame or go against yourself. Whenever you go against yourself you are using your energy in the wrong direction, a direction that leads to unhappiness and hell. When you stop judging yourself then you can still take responsibility for your actions, but with self-love. The less you blame or go against yourself, the better you will feel about yourself and you will open the door to heaven. The heaven that can exist inside you, that is.
5. Everything others do is about them, not you because everyone is living a personal dream.
When someone insults or attacks you, you feel bad. Why? Because you think their words are about you.
But we already know that people are living in a dream. And everyone is living in their own personal dream. A dream of rules, judgments, opinions and beliefs they never had any control over.
This means anything someone says about you is really a reflection of their programming. The world other people live in is completely different than the world you live in. That’s why Don Miguel Ruiz’s second Agreement is: Never take things personally.
For example, someone calls you ugly. Why? Probably because they are not getting what they selfishly want from you. And their programming taught them that insulting someone can give them control over that person, at least emotionally. So clearly, what they are saying is a reflection of their inner world and not you.
If you take things personally, then you are completely vulnerable. Everybody’s emotional poison can infect you and make you sick. Not taking things personally is a vaccine, it makes you immune from other people’s emotional poison so you can move through the world with ease.
You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.
6. You will begin to trust your heart more than other’s opinions when you stop taking things personally.
Not taking things personally has a great side effect: you stop caring so much about other’s opinions about what you are doing. You start trusting your heart more to guide your life.
Several years ago I was miserable in university. I had started a marketing degree because I wanted to create online businesses and my parents said a degree would be “a safe backup plan” while also teaching me useful things.
Well, after a few months I was miserable. I had always been a top student in school but my classes were boring and felt useless. So I was losing interest and my grades were falling. Worse, this was making me depressed and isolated.
So I told my parents I was thinking of dropping out. They were upset and angry and judgmental. How I felt about the classes didn’t matter. They saw it as me throwing away my future.
But I tried my best to see their point of view. I knew they came to Canada with little and worked very hard. 20 years ago a university degree was a guaranteed ticket to a high paying job. 20 years ago only a small minority of people were going to university so a degree was very rare and valuable. And my parents were still living in that world 20 years ago.
They didn’t live in the world where over 60 percent of people now go to university. When everybody has a degree, they are worth much less than they used to be. And while you definitely need to go to university for some careers–doctor, engineer, lawyer–this was not true for entrepreneurship.
Understanding the world my parents were living in actually helped me to leave university. I saw they were living in a different world than me. Their judgments were about their beliefs and not about me. Understanding this allowed me to trust my heart more.
I dropped out. Grew a small online business. Travelled Asia for 6 months like I had dreamed of. Went to art school. Grew my business more. Travelled many more countries and had a great adventure.
Much better than spending years bored in a classroom of 100 people and later being stuck in a cubicle.
7. Assuming other people see the world like you do leads to suffering.
One of the deepest human needs is to feel safe. One way we make ourselves feel safe is by making assumptions. We can’t know everything about how the world or other people work, so we make assumptions about them.
The biggest assumption we make is that other people are the same as you inside. You assume they pay attention to the same things you do, think what you think, feel what you feel and believe what you believe. This is completely wrong, by the way.
Imagine a man and woman enter a relationship. They both have different expectations about how to show love and respect. And when one partner doesn’t fit the expectations of the other, they feel hurt. One day the woman comes home from work and the man is mad and she has no idea why, but the man feels she should already know why he is mad. I’m sure this situation sounds familiar to you.
Relationships often degenerate into misunderstandings and fights when people make assumptions. That’s why Don Miguel Ruiz’s third Agreement is: Don’t make assumptions.
It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions set us up for suffering.
8. Real love is complete acceptance of other people.
This is my favorite quote from The Four Agreements book:
Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them.
Everybody can remember a time when someone tried to change you. It probably felt like they were rejecting you. Or maybe you can remember a time you tried to change something about someone else and it backfired.
For example, if you feel your boyfriend or girlfriend is eating too much unhealthy food and it it’s negatively affecting their energy, mood and appearance, then what can you do? Criticizing or pressuring someone to change usually doesn’t work. It will only make your partner feel unloved, rejected and controlled. To make a lasting healthy change in their lifestyle, they will need to feel it is their idea to do so.
Real change cannot be forced from outside. It must come from inside. The best you can do is be a good model for the people around you. For example, you could offer to cook a healthy dinner together so your partner can know that healthy food can taste delicious and make them feel energized too. And they might start to change their habits or they might not. They might need a scary wake-up call like heart issues to make a change. You really can’t control other people. You can only love them or not.
Don Miguel Ruiz says one of the biggest assumptions people make about relationships is believing your love will change someone. And like we said, assumptions usually set you up for suffering.
9. Taking action while always doing your best is how you affirm life.
People who sit in front of the television or computer for years are denying life. If you spend your life consuming rather than creating, it’s because you are afraid to express who you are.
The way to live fully is to take action. Action lets you express who you are. Action is how everything becomes real and manifests itself in the world. An idea for a book in your head doesn’t have any power. A book other people can read has the power to change the world.
When you take action, Don Miguel Ruiz says to always do your best, that’s his fourth Agreement. You can never do better than your best. And when you do your best, you are taking action because you enjoy the process of taking action. Most people don’t enjoy taking action, they only do things when they expect a reward, and that’s why they don’t do their best.
God is life. God is life in action. The best way to say, “I love you, God,” is to live your life doing your best.
A typical example of not doing your best is an office worker only working for the paycheck. They do the bare minimum to avoid getting fired. And because they don’t do their best, they don’t love their work and they waste years of their life. For what? A bigger number in their bank account and some temporary security.
Arnold Schwarzenneger is a great example of someone who always does his best. He even said, “My definition of living is to have excitement always; that’s the difference between living and existing.”
A lot of people told Arnold that he couldn’t be an actor because his German accent was too strong. Imagine if he had listened to them! His movies were some of my favorites when I was a child. My world would have been very different if he had not chosen to do his best despite his accent.
10. Forgiving other people is how you set yourself free.
Remember how we said all humans are domesticated? The process of domestication creates hundreds of emotional wounds inside people.
Don Miguel Ruiz says it’s as if every human has a skin disease. It’s like everyone is walking around with hundreds of infected wounds filled with emotional poison. When someone treats you with injustice or unfairness, they open your emotional wounds again and you are filled with anger, hate and resentment.
These wounds stop people from getting close to each other. Get too close to someone and your emotional wounds will rub against each other. So how can you heal your emotional wounds?
The only way is forgiveness. The reason you forgive those who have wronged you in the past is not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you deserve to live with peace and love. As long as you are still holding anger and resentment, that cannot happen.
Thousands of years ago Buddha said that holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal. In the end, you are who gets burned.
First, you need to forgive the people who wronged you. Your parents, sibling, friend, ex-partner, boss, and so on. You know you have truly forgiven someone when you no longer feel a strong negative emotional reaction when you see them or think about what they did to wrong you. This means the wound has healed because you can touch it without more pain.
Second, you can finally forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself is where self-acceptance begins and it’s the beginning of being a truly free human being.
I know we’ve learned a lot from Donald Miguel Ruiz about how to live with more love. His Four Agreements are brilliant because they are so simple, yet so powerful. Follow them and you will free yourself of old emotional wounds.
If you enjoyed this summary, then I also recommend my summary of the book “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas M Sterner. That book teaches the lost art of practice. It’s almost like the Zen way to success. And it will show you how to love the process of taking action and reaching your goals while always doing your best. It’s a great complement to this book.