The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: Summary, PDF & 10 Best Lessons
10-Second Book Summary: The Four Agreements isn't new age nonsense. It explains how language creates our "dream" of reality (an idea from modern linguistics.) It also shows how you can live a better dream by not taking anything personally, not judging yourself and always doing your best.
Author: Don Miguel Ruiz
Originally published: 1967
Can you remember the last time you made a mistake?
Maybe you said something rude to your partner or cheated on your diet. And what happened next?
If you’re like most people, then you began judging, criticizing and condemning yourself. Instead of being compassionate, you were abusive to yourself. You beat yourself up inside. You thought to yourself “Why did I say that?” or “How could I have done that?” You made yourself feel like a bad and useless person.
No worries, most people do this and we all think it’s normal. But in The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz says there is a better way to live.
You want to live in peace. We all do. You want to love yourself, unconditionally. You want the freedom to be who you are, fully. And you want to love other people without reservation.
This book can show us how. It shines a light on how we block ourselves from living a life of inner peace, self-love and fulfillment.
The first big lesson from this book is:
1. You must become an inner warrior to reclaim your happiness and sanity.
Don Miguel Ruiz studied the wisdom of the Toltecs and he shares 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 spears and arrows, but with your mind. The Toltecs knew that every human must fight a battle against something inside each of us.
You must fight a battle against your old conditioning. All the unhelpful beliefs you were brainwashed into believing when you were too young to argue.
Ruiz says every modern human being is “domesticated.” And it is your “domestication” that you must overcome to finally feel free and at peace. (We will talk more about how domestication happens in a minute.)
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. How? You must adopt four new agreements. These are new ways of living in the world:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Never take things personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
2.Your parents, teachers and society gave you rules and beliefs that now create the dream you’re living in.
The Toltecs called themselves Dream Masters. They understood that every human being lives not in “objective reality,” but in a dream. And we all have the power to change our dream.
The first step is becoming aware of our domestication.
Have you ever noticed that kids usually look happy? They usually have a smile on their face and they’re having fun. But something happens as we’re growing up.
Our parents, schools and religions teach us “the rules of life.” These are the rules of their dream. And they do their best passing their rules onto us.
Kids believe everything adults say. That’s why most kids believe in Santa Claus. You picked up most of your deepest beliefs when you couldn’t really think for yourself. Beliefs about who you are, what the world is like and how you must act in the world.
These deep beliefs and learned rules are what Don Miguel Ruiz calls “agreements.” Why? Because 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.)
This is what is Ruiz calls the process of domestication. Have you ever adopted a puppy or kitten? Then you know you must train them. You must teach them rules for where they can sit, where they can poo and what time they will eat.
Well, just like pets, young humans are also domesticated. This happens so we can live among other people. And just like pets, we 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 in a dark forest.
You were afraid of being not good enough and 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. We start living in a dream according to all these rules that we never even stopped to think about. And the dream is not real.
3. The words you use to talk to yourself create your dream of hell or heaven.
The New Testament of the Bible starts like this: “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 inner experience of the world, your dream of heaven or hell.
That’s why his first Agreement is: Be impeccable with your word.
But what does that mean? Well, “impeccable” means perfect. So you should be perfect or flawless with your word. And “your word” means 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.
Heaven and hell are not above and below us. They are inside us.
That’s why you need to be careful about your word. Your inner dialogue. When you talk to yourself carelessly like most people do, then you slowly begin to live in hell. Because your inner words are seeds. Your word will take root and grow and manifest itself in your outer life.
Here’s a great example of how this happens:
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 begin living in a world filled with peace and love. This is the real heaven. You are free to be who you really are.
4. Stop judging, blaming and going against yourself and you will live in love and peace.
So what do we know so far? As a child, you were domesticated. You were taught rules. You were trained about what to do and not do, what to say and not say, how to dress and not dress, even what to think and not think or believe.
All this training became 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 make you feel unhappy, you don’t break them because then you would feel unsafe.
We all also have an Inner Judge. There’s a part of you that judges everybody and everything, all the time. This Inner Judge is especially harsh on you. When it sees you breaking any of the rules in your Book of Law, then it finds you guilty and punishes you with shame and self-abuse.
How can you escape this tyrannical inner Judge and throw away the joyless Book of Law?
By never again judging, blaming or going against yourself. Whenever you go against yourself you are using your energy in the wrong direction. It’s a direction that leads to unhappiness and hell.
When you stop judging yourself then you can still be responsible for your actions, but with 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.
5. Everything people 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 feel their words say something about you.
But think about this…
We already know that everyone is living in a unique dream. It’s a dream created by the rules, judgments, opinions, and beliefs they never had a choice in adopting. The world someone else lives in is completely different than the world you live in.
Let’s say someone calls you ugly. Why would they do that? Probably because they are not getting what they selfishly want from you. That might be attention, respect or recognition. (For example, I’ve seen some people become nasty when they are rejected romantically. The person who was the target of their desire a moment ago now becomes the target of their hate.) And their programming says that an insult will let them claim control over someone, at least emotionally. So what they are saying is a reflection of their inner world and not you.
In fact, 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.
If you take 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 a vaccine that makes you immune to 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 trust your heart over other people’s opinions when you stop taking things personally.
Here’s what happened to me several years ago…
I had finished high school and I really wanted to start an online business, but my parents said I needed a safe “backup plan” because my dream was risky. So I decided to study marketing because that sounded like it might be useful for online business.
Well after a few months, I was absolutely miserable. My classes felt boring and useless. I had always been a top student, but now I was losing all interest in studying and my grades were falling fast. Worst of all, I was becoming very depressed and isolated.
So on a Skype call, I opened up to my parents. I told them I was thinking of dropping out. They immediately became upset and angry. There was yelling and arguing. They didn’t seem to care how I felt about my classes. They saw it as me throwing away my future.
At first, I was devastated. I felt like a failure and disappointment to my parents, who I’d spent my whole life trying to please. But then something interesting happened. I tried to see the situation from their point of view.
They were immigrants who came to Canada with nothing. They worked harder than anyone I’d ever met, often 7 days a week, morning until night. They didn’t want their kids to toil like them. They wanted their kids to have a stable job so they could enjoy their own retirement.
They also grew up in a world where university degrees were rare and valuable. 30 years ago, a minority of people earned a degree, so you were almost guaranteed a well-paying job.
And when I took a step back from my personal hurt and tried to see their point of view, I suddenly felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I saw they were living in a different world than me. Understanding this allowed me to trust my heart more and leave university.
I dropped out. Grew an online business. Went to art school for fun. Grew my business more. Travelled Asia, South America, India and had great adventures. It was so much better than wasting precious years of my life studying something I didn’t want to and graduating into a small cubicle.
There’s a lesson here that you can use in your own life.
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.
(To clarify my opinion about University… you definitely need to get a degree for many careers like a doctor, engineer or lawyer. But you don’t need a degree for creative things like starting your own business. Self-education made me successful, not formal education. One great book taught me more about how to grow a business than months of classes. I’m so passionate about this website because I truly believe learning from these books will make you succeed.)
7. You suffer when you assume other people see the world like you do.
One of the deepest human needs we have is to feel safe. That’s how many people choose which car they will drive and which neighborhood they will live in. They want to be safe.
Another way we make ourselves feel safe is by making assumptions about other people. 4 can’t know everything about how other people work, so you make assumptions.The biggest assumption you make is thinking other people are the same as you inside.
You assume they think what you think, feel what you feel and believe what you believe.
Imagine a man and woman enter a relationship. They both have different expectations about how a great relationship looks like. They both have different ideas of how to show love and respect inside a relationship. And when one partner doesn’t fit the expectations of the other, they feel hurt. Have you ever been in a relationship and your partner is mad at you and you don’t know why, but you’re sure that you did something wrong? Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.
Relationships can degenerate into misunderstanding and fighting when people make assumptions. That’s why the Third Agreement is: Don’t make assumptions.
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.
Have you ever tried to change something about someone you were in a relationship with? Maybe they had a bad habit like playing too many video games, eating unhealthy or picking their nose. Trying to change someone usually backfires and they often feel you are rejecting them.
Real love is complete acceptance. It comes from the understanding that real change cannot be forced from outside but must come from inside. The best you can 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 offer to cook a healthy dinner together so they find out healthy food can taste delicious and make them feel energized too. But you really can’t predict or control other people. You can only love them or not.
Don Miguel Ruiz says one of our biggest assumptions about relationships is believing your love will change someone. And as we said, assumptions usually set you up for suffering.
9. Taking action while always doing your best is how you say yes to life.
Action is how you express who you are. Action is how what is inside you becomes real. Action is how you manifest your intention in the world.
Action is power. An idea for a book in your head doesn’t have any power, but a book other people can sit down and read has the power to change the world in some small way.
Action is how you say yes to life. People who spend their life consuming rather than creating deny life because they are afraid to express who they are.
The way to live fully is to take action. And when you take action, always do your best. That’s the Fourth Agreement, by the way. Always do your best. You can never do more than your best.
And when you are focused on doing your personal best, instead of being better than others, then you can really enjoy taking action. You will start to enjoy the process of taking action, which will make it easier to do your best. Most people don’t enjoy taking action and they only do it when they expect a reward. And that’s why they find it hard to 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.
Let’s imagine a typical office worker. They do the bare minimum to avoid being fired. And because they don’t do their best, they don’t love their work and they feel like they’re wasting years of their life for a measly paycheck.
On the other hand, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of someone who always does his best. Arnold says, “My definition of living is to have excitement always; that’s the difference between living and existing.” Wise words. Arnold always did his best effort, from the time he was a teenager pumping weights in a small concrete gym in the Austrian countryside, to the time he campaigned tirelessly to be the Governator of California. And look at the good it did. He’s inspired millions of people to become healthier and stronger. His movies were some of my childhood favorites, and they entertained hundreds of millions of other people too.
10. Forgiving other people is how you set yourself free.
Thousands of years ago, Buddha said that holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal. In the end, you’re the one who gets burned.
Don Miguel Ruiz says it’s like everyone has a skin disease. It’s like everyone is walking around with hundreds of infected wounds filled with emotional poison. Get too close to someone and your emotional wounds will rub against theirs. You will at some point feel treated unfairly and become filled with anger, resentment and hate. So these wounds stop people from getting close to each other.
The only way to heal your wounds is forgiveness. You must forgive those who wronged you in the past, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you deserve to live a life full of peace and love. As long as you hold onto anger and resentment, that can’t happen.
You will 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 inner wound has healed. It’s just like a wound on your skin, you know it’s healed when you can touch it without feeling more pain.
The next step is forgiving yourself. This is where self-acceptance begins and it’s how you become a truly free human being.
Those were ten of the best lessons from The Four Agreements. I learned a lot about how to live with more self-acceptance and love, and I hope you did too. The words from Don Miguel Ruiz 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, then I also recommend my summary of the book “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas M Sterner. That book will show you how to reach your goals easier by practicing a Zen mindset. It’s a great complement to this book.