The Four Agreements is best for those who like a heavy dose of spirituality and don’t mind lots of figurative speech. Also, those looking for general guidelines and ideas more than exercises and action steps. It’s also best for those looking for a short read.
Difficulty To Digest:
Four Agreements is a bit strange in that the core ideas are fairly easy to digest, while the language itself is often highly figurative and confusing.
Key Insights of The Four Agreements:
The Four Agreements is a relatively short book with a few simple messages. Mixed within the book is a heavy dose of figurative language that can be hard to parse. Luckily, the core messages shine through fairly easily.
The book starts with most of the tricky concepts – but centers around the idea that we accept or reject certain ideas as we age. Children become domesticated with outside ideas that shape their behavior. In a similar fashion, much of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, are governed by the agreements we choose to internalize.
The book then moves in the Four Agreements, which covers much of the rest of the book. There are a lot of great summaries you can find scattered around the internet that sum them up fairly well. Here’s another quick take on them:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
The first agreement involves being impeccable with our word. In essence, this means the way we communicate and how we follow through on our commitments matters. Being loose with your word can make you lose trust in yourself and hurt those around you. Ruiz recommends using your words only to promote love and peace.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
The next agreement involves realizing the relationship between our actions and the world around us. We cannot control the actions of anyone else. Beyond that, each person is looking through the world from their own lens, which is unlikely to align perfectly with our own. When we can separate our personal value from others’ actions, we reduce suffering.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Assumptions, especially with a negative framing, can undermine our relationships and ruin our communications. To navigate the world effectively, we must be willing to ask questions if we want to avoid making assumptions and associated mistakes.
Always Do Your Best
This one is fairly straightforward. If we always do our best in all situations, then we can avoid regret and self-judgement. What our best is depends on the context, but we can search within ourselves to know if we actually did our best or not. Following this agreement gives us the confidence we’re living life to the best of our abilities.
Final Opinion on The Four Agreements:
The Four Agreements has a few, clear useful ideas, but they are shrouded in obscured language. While there’s information to be gleaned here, for most this won’t be the easiest or most straightforward path to obtain it.
A few other considerations. The Four Agreements speaks quite a bit about not feeling good enough as a default human condition. While this is certainly a condition that afflicts quite a few individuals, the idea that it’s a baseline for humanity is fairly unfounded and hard to defend.
One problematic point in the book is the framing “Happiness is a choice and so is suffering”. Saying these are choices implies that one can simply choose in one instant to be happy or suffer at all points in their life. This is simply not true. Happiness is a series of choices. We must work to develop habits and traits that optimize happiness, but even then, suffering will find ways to peek through the cracks. It’s not about perfection, it’s about improving the process.
This book is also titled as a practical guide, which it really isn’t. For example, it mentioned ideas like “Just be love”. What does that mean? How is one supposed to become love? Practical guides are expected to include concrete implementation steps. There are definitely useful concepts in the book, but practical steps are few and far between.
- How well do you stick to your words and commitments?
- How often do you take others’ actions personally?
- What is one assumption you’ve made recently? What question(s) might have you asked instead?
- Think about a recent event or project. Did you genuinely do your best? How can you push yourself to do your best next time?