The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz Book Summary & Commentary
— Don Miguel Ruiz
Who is Don Miguel Ruiz and why listen to him?
Don Miguel Ruiz is now an incredibly popular author of personal growth books. This book The Four Agreements has sold millions of copies and inspired countless people. But Don Miguel was not always a spiritual dude.
He was born in Mexico, went to medical school, and worked as a surgeon for many years. Then suddenly the course of his life was changed by a car accident that almost killed him.
So Don Miguel became an apprentice under a shaman, which is a traditional spiritual guide and healer. He began studying the wisdom of the ancient Toltecs. The Toltecs were an indigenous Mexican culture of great warriors and artists that lived around 1000 years ago.
Don Miguel says those ancient people knew some things that modern people don’t! Sure, they couldn’t take a flattering selfie to save their lives, but they DID collect a lot of unique wisdom over the generations. Wisdom that has now been forgotten. Well, Don Miguel wants to share some of that wisdom with the world through his writing.
And even better news: on this page you’ll read some of the best lessons I learned from The Four Agreements, in a fast fun summary! Let’s begin with the first lesson…
1. Become an inner warrior to reclaim your happiness and sanity
Don Miguel says we must all become warriors like the Toltecs. Not with spears and arrows, but with our minds. The Toltecs already knew that every human being must fight a battle inside ourselves. This is a battle against our old conditioning. All of the unhelpful beliefs we were brainwashed into believing when we were far too young to argue.
For example, can you remember the last time you made a mistake? Maybe you were impatient with your significant other or maybe you cheated on a diet by eating whole chocolate cake by yourself. And what happened next? Well, if you’re like most people, then you began judging, criticizing and condemning yourself. You beat yourself up inside and were abusive to yourself, making yourself feel like a bad person.
Now, most of us do that and we all think it’s “normal.” But Don Miguel says this is just our old conditioning. He says every human being becomes “domesticated” while growing up, which leaves us all with emotional wounds full of poison.
Imagine if everybody’s skin was covered in painful infected wounds. So every time two people try to get close to each other, their emotional wounds rub and make them both suffer tremendous pain. This is exactly what’s happening in the world today. But Don Miguel says there is a better and healthier way to live. A way that gives us peace, freedom to be who we are and lets us love others without reservation.
This way starts with The Four Agreements. These are really new ways of living which you can AGREE to follow voluntarily. These agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Never take things personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Peace, love and happiness will not enter your life accidentally. You must become an inner warrior to fight your old conditioning and clean your emotional wounds. The wounds that prevent you from loving yourself and others.
2. Wake up to how we are all ‘domesticated’ into false beliefs and rules
Ever noticed how happy young kids often look? When they’re smiling and having fun, they are totally filled with joy. But then something happens as we’re growing up.
Have you ever adopted a puppy? Well then you know that you must train them or there will be giant messes everywhere and probably poo on the walls. And just like pets, human children are also domesticated, often using punishment and reward. Do what mommy or daddy say and they show you love. Break their rules and they withdraw love, making us feel alone like we’re lost in a dark forest.
This is what Don Miguel calls the process of domestication. Our parents, schools, culture and religions teach us “the rules” that we must follow to become a good and valuable person.
Kids are naturally vulnerable and defenceless, so they follow the rules because they’re so afraid of being abandoned. They copy their mother, their father and the other people around them.
Kids also automatically believe everything adults say. I means, that’s why most kids believe in Santa Claus. They’re not stupid, they’re just very trusting. So we picked up most of our deepest beliefs when we couldn’t really think for ourselves. Beliefs about who we are, what the world is like and what is the right way to live.
Your inner “Book of Law” makes you feel safe
All this training becomes like a rulebook inside you. Don Miguel Ruiz calls this your “Book of Law.” Why do you follow all the rules in your Book of Law? Because they make you feel safe. Even if some of the rules do make you feel unhappy, you don’t break them because then you would feel unsafe.
This is how all humans put on a mask and begin living in a dream. We believe all these things and live according to all these rules that we were never able to stop to think about. Don Miguel calls all these beliefs and rules “agreements” because we had to AGREE for these beliefs and rules became part of our dream. (But of course kids always agree, so it’s not your fault.)
The ancient Toltecs called themselves Dream Masters because understood that we all are living in a dream more than an “objective reality.” And the good news is that we all have the power to change our dream. First we must become aware of our domestication, then we adopt new agreements.
Parents and society domesticate children just like pets. We are trained to follow beliefs and rules to be seen as a good person worthy of love. But we often become unhappy and inauthentic instead. Don Miguel says becoming aware of this process of “domestication” is the first step to freedom.
3. Never judge, blame or go against yourself to live in love and peace
The New Testament of the Bible starts by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Don Miguel says that the Word is God in a different way because words are how we give birth to our world. The way we talk to ourselves creates our inner experience of the world. An experience that can be a heaven or a hell.
That’s why the first agreement of this book is to “Be impeccable with your word.” But what does this mean exactly? Well, the word “impeccable” means perfect. So you should be perfect or flawless with the words you use to talk to yourself.
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.
The biggest sin we make with our Word is to judge. Most of us have been trained to carry around an Inner Judge who is always harshly judging everything and everyone. And the most common target of this judgement is… ourselves!
We are constantly judging and blaming ourselves, which means we are “going against ourselves” psychologically. Whenever we judge ourselves for anything, we are heading further down the path towards unhappiness and hell. Don Miguel says this is the #1 habit we need to stop if we want to be impeccable with our Word.
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.
So be careful about your Word, that is your inner dialogue. When you talk to yourself carelessly like most people do, then you slowly descend into hell. Your inner words may be invisible, but they are seeds. These seeds will take root and grow into your life.
This reminds me of a Buddhist idea. A Vietnamese Buddhist teacher named Thich Nhat Hanh says we all have a store consciousness, a place from where seeds arise into our daily thoughts. These seeds can be wholesome or unwholesome. So we must nurture the wholesome seeds so they stay in our minds longer. We must also let the unwholesome seeds (like anger, ignorance and greed) sink back down to our store consciousness. If you want to learn more about these great Buddhist ideas, go read our summary of The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh.
When you stop judging yourself then you can still be responsible for your actions, but from a place of self-love. When you stop condemning and blaming yourself, then you open the door to heaven. The heaven that can exist inside of you, that is.
The First Agreement is to “Be impeccable with your word.” This means watch out how you talk to yourself. Remember that your Word is like God in that it creates your experience of life, whether you live in suffering or joy.
4. Understand that everything people do is about them and not you, because everyone’s living in their own dream
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.
When someone insults or attacks us, we feel bad. Why? Because we feel their words said something about US.
The truth is, anything people say about you is really a reflection of their own dream, their programming. That’s why the Second Agreement in this book is: “Never take things personally.“
You already know that everyone is living in a unique dream. It’s a dream created by the rules, judgments, opinions, and beliefs they were domesticated into. They never had a choice how they were trained. But the main point here is, the world someone else lives in is completely different than the world you live in.
If you are taking things personally, then you are vulnerable. Everybody is infected with some kind of emotional poison from their childhood. Their poison can infect you and make you sick. That’s what happens when you become angry, obsessed or insulted. Not taking things personally is like a vaccine that makes you immune to other people’s emotional poison so you can move through the world with ease.
Not taking things personally allows you to start trusting your heart more to guide your life. You will stop being controlled so much about the opinions of other people when you understand they are living in their own personal dreams that have very little to do with you.
By the way, if you want to learn how to communicate more effectively and compassionately, then go read our summary of Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B Rosenberg. That book is written by a renowned psychologist and it teaches a framework to help you communicate your own feelings and needs without making the other person feel attacked. My favorite quote from Nonviolent Communication is:
Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.– Marshall B. Rosenberg
The Second Agreement is “Never take things personally.” Other people’s actions are not caused by you, but by the dream of their conditioning. When you see that other people’s words and actions have so little to do with you, then you’ll be able to worry less what they think and trust your heart more.
5. Don’t assume people see the world how you do, otherwise you’ll suffer
To live in the world, we must often make assumptions. For example, we assume that cars will always stop at red lights, that’s why we begin walking across the street even without looking sometimes. But while assumptions can serve us well for simple tasks like this, they can also be destructive in our relationships
Relationships can quickly degenerate into misunderstanding and fighting when people make assumptions. That’s why the Third Agreement is: “Don’t make assumptions.”
The biggest assumption we all make is that other people are the same as us inside. We assume they think how we think, feel how we feel and believe how we believe. These assumptions set up invisible expectations in our minds. When other people inevitably don’t meet the expectations, we suffer terribly.
Gary Chapman wrote a great book called The Five Love Languages. He explains that different people have different languages in which they give and receive love. For example, some people give and receive love through physical touch, others through gifts, and so on. So when one person expects to feel love in one way, but their partner naturally shows love in a different way, there can be a lot of misunderstanding and hurt. That’s why it’s always best to ask than to assume anything.
Inside of relationships, Don Miguel says our biggest assumption is believing that our love will change someone. The truth is, you really cannot predict or control other people, you can only choose to love them or not. Here’s a great quote, maybe the best one in the whole book:
Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them.
Real change cannot come from the outside anyway. The best you could do is be a good role model for people around you. For example, if you want your partner to eat healthier, don’t criticize them when they eat poorly. Instead, you could cook a healthy dinner so they experience firsthand that healthy food can taste delicious. We naturally start to become more like the people we spend the most time around, anyway.
The Third Agreement is “Don’t make assumptions.” Most of us make the big assumption that others think how we think and see the world how we do. This sets up expectations inside of us that are inevitably broken. So it’s much better to ask a question than assume anything.
6. Take action while always doing your best to say yes to life
Action is how we express who we are in the world. Action is how we manifest our intentions.
When we take action, we are really saying yes to life. That’s why the Fourth Agreement is “Always do your best.”
And you can never do more than your best. Recognize this, and you’ll enjoy taking action more. Focus on doing your personal best, rather than judging yourself to others.
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.
Action is powerful. An idea for a book in your head doesn’t have any power, but combine that idea with action and you have a physical book. Then it’s a book that has the power to change other people’s minds and the world in some way.
In the 1930s, Napoleon Hill studied 500 millionaires including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He was hired to find out the secrets to material prosperity. And after studying all those rich people, here’s one of the most important ideas he wrote down:
Wishing will not bring riches. But desiring riches with a state of mind that becomes an obsession, then planning definite ways and means to acquire riches, and backing those plans with persistence which does not recognize failure, will bring riches.– Napoleon Hill
Although Napoleon Hill ended up calling his book Think and Grow Rich, even he recognized the power of committed action. By the way, this book became one of the first truly popular self help books, and it is still popular today because the ideas are still invaluable. So if you’re curious about how you too can Think and Grow Rich, then go check out our summary of Napoleon Hill’s book.
In my opinion, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a great example of someone always doing their best. When he was an unknown teenager in a small Austrian town, he did his best lifting weights in a small concrete gym. Then he did his best every day to win bodybuilding competitions. He did his best to grow a real estate business in America as an immigrant who could barely speak english. He did his best becoming the top action movie star in Hollywood, despite his heavy accent. He did his best running for Governor of California and won.
Although he wasn’t perfect, he inspired millions of people to become stronger and healthier. Personally, his movies were a big part of my childhood too. If you want more insight into Arnold’s mindset, take a look at our summary of his autobiography called Total Recall. Very inspirational guy. In that book he says “My definition of living is to have excitement always; that’s the difference between living and existing.” I think in our work many of us can fall into the exact opposite attitude, doing the bare minimum to avoid being fired.
The Fourth Agreement is “Always do your best.” So don’t worry how other people compare to you, focus on doing your own personal best and you’ll find life opening up to you. Also remember Arnold’s words that excitement is the difference between living and existing.
7. Forgive others to set yourself free
Two thousand years ago, Buddha said that holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal with your hand. In the end, you’re the one who gets burned.
Today, Don Miguel says it is like everyone is walking around with a skin disease. Imagine everyone is covered with hundreds of infected wounds, wounds that are filled with emotional poison. And when we get too close, these emotional wounds rub against each other and fill us with anger, resentment and indignation. So we don’t get close.
The only way to heal our wounds is forgiveness. Don Miguel says to forgive whoever wronged you in the past, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because YOU deserve to live with peace and love. As long as you hold onto anger and resentment, that won’t happen.
You’ll know you have truly forgiven someone when you no longer feel a strong negative emotional reaction when you remember what they did to you. This means the wound has healed, just like you know a wound on your skin has healed when you can touch it without feeling more pain.
The next step is forgiving yourself. That’s where self-acceptance begins and how you become a fully free human being.
You deserve to be free of anger, resentment and suffering. That’s the greatest reason you need to forgive other people. You’ll know you’ve truly forgiven them when you can remember what they did without feeling a strong inner reaction anymore.
That’s all for this book! Don Miguel’s words are so simple, yet so powerful. I hope you’ve learned a lot about where your old beliefs and rules came from, and how you can adopt some new agreements to live better in the future.
Remember to be impeccable with your word, never take things personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best. Follow these simple rules and see how life changes. If you liked this summary, then you’ll love the book which explains these ideas in a more poetic way and in deeper detail.