The Four Agreements: A Book Review

Life CoachingLaurie Jacobsen2 Comments
The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements

This is the first of five posts that I’m writing based on the book, The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. Ruiz was raised in Mexico into a family of healers and is committed to sharing ancient Toltec wisdom with the world. I highly encourage you to read (or listen to) the book – it’s an incredible work that changed my life for the better. Whether you do or don’t, I hope you’ll follow along as I take you through it.

The concepts within are designed to help you to live in personal freedom. That means that you’ll be unburdened by the painful stories that are holding you back and are keeping you living a life that is fettered by pain.

I decided to do this series right before the holidays as a way to help people to be able to enjoy the season without the usual drama that comes from being with family and in social situations that many of us find difficult.

Once you’ve heard and learned these concepts, you can’t unlearn them and you’ll begin to see your relationships in a whole new light! A brighter and better light.

In brief, the Four Agreements are:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best

The book begins with a section on “domestication” and that is going to be the topic of this first post.


From early in our childhood we all begin to make AGREEMENTS, which are our WORD. They are a pact that we make with ourselves and with others. We make them, without even realizing it, with our parents, who tell us what pleases them and what doesn’t. We make them with our friends when we alter our behavior in order to fit in.

These agreements become the foundation of our socialization. If you think about training a dog, it’s exactly the same. We let our dogs know by giving treats or punishments if they’ve met our expectations or not. Our dogs decide to agree with our wishes because they like treats and they like being in our good favor. It’s the same with us when we were young. We liked being rewarded and getting snuggles and kisses and kind words, so we continued the behaviors that allowed us to receive all of that. Conversely, we also learned right quick what things put us out of favor with our parents and friends and made agreements to discontinue those behaviors.

As children we believe what adults say – we agree with them. Our belief system becomes very strong based on these agreements. We didn’t really choose these beliefs, however, and at some point we may have rebelled against them. Some things, though, we don’t even consciously realize we’ve made agreements about.

There are other ways in which we make agreements. We make them based on assumptions we make and by taking things personally. This concept will come clearer when I talk about those sections of the book more in depth. Suffice it to say for now that when we take things personally and make assumptions we are using the power of our word against ourselves. In order to live in integrity, we need to be clear about the agreements we are making, especially with ourselves.

There is a reason that Ruiz begins the book with the topic of domestication. It’s because it is the basis of every agreement that we’ve made in our lives thus far. Now that you are aware that you’ve spent your entire life making agreements about EVERYTHING, you’ll be more conscious about the ones you make in the future.

Look Deeper

I encourage you to take some time and think about the agreements that you’ve made, both with yourself and with others. Think back to your childhood and try to remember the earliest agreement you can and then think about whether or not you want to keep making it.

For instance, I remember my brother telling me as a kid that I couldn’t be a model because my neck wasn’t long enough. I made an agreement that day with myself that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, “right” enough to become a model. We do this kind of thing ALL THE TIME with ourselves and with others, without even realizing it.

The Judge and the Victim

Another aspect of domestication is the part of us that is the Judge and the Victim. The judgey part of our brain judges everything and everybody. Constantly. We judge the weather, the relative dirtiness of our cars, the worthiness of ourselves as human beings. Everything. Including our feelings. We use our agreements as a basis for these judgments.

The part of us that receives the judgments is the Victim. The Victim is the part that holds the shame and blame and guilt. So the Victim says, “Woe is me, I’m not good enough or pretty enough” and the Judge says, “Right-e-o friend. You’re not.”

All based on a belief system that we never consciously chose to believe in.

Because it’s so ingrained though, like the grooves in a record, it’s very difficult to begin disbelieving our agreements. It causes fear in us to think that we’ve been thinking wrong all this time. It causes fear in us to think a different way – it doesn’t feel safe or known. It might even make you queasy to begin to disbelieve your beliefs. It takes an enormous amount of courage and bravery.

But here is the truth: Every mean thing that you’ve ever said about yourself is a lie. Everything negative that you believe about yourself is a lie. That's because we've learned it all from other people. And we've made un unconscious agreement to believe it.

Hear me now. Start disbelieving those beliefs! They are wrong and not true!

Agree to be Imperfect!

During domestication we get an idea in our heads of what PERFECT is – how we should look and act in order to get the love and approval of our parents and family and friends, teachers and priests. We especially want the love and approval of those we love. But guess what? NO ONE IS PERFECT so WE ARE ALWAYS WRONG! And because we are wrong, we begin to reject parts of ourselves. We punish ourselves endlessly and some of us become very self-abusive. Some of us overeat, some people drink too much or take drugs. Some people are sexually active.

I believe that it’s the degree to which we are living agreements that are out of integrity with who we want to be or know that we are, that is the exact degree of discontent with or depression in our lives. A direct correlation. I have no data to back that up except the experience with my own life and what I’ve observed in others, especially people that I’ve coached.

I Am

Of all of the thousands of agreements that you make with yourself, the most important are the ones that you make with yourself. These are the ones in which you tell yourself who you are and what you feel. These are the ones where you tell yourself what you can and can’t do.

Can you feel how important that is? Here is where you say, “I’m not creative.” “I’m not a good person.” “My problems are small compared with everyone else’s.” “I don’t fit in.”

If you have ever measured your Body Mass Index and then said, “I AM obese,” you’ve made an agreement to believe that you’re obese. (Raises hand!)

Agreements like these make us SUFFER! They make us fail. They are made out of FEAR and they require a lot of energy. Agreements made in LOVE help to conserve or even give us energy!!!

New Agreements

If you find that you don’t like some of the agreements you’ve made, it might be time to trade them in for new ones. I said before that it can take a lot of bravery to change them and some people might not like it that you’re changing the rules, but in order to live a life of integrity and personal freedom, it’s imperative.

For instance, my dad once said to me, “You never finish anything.” And I took that into myself as a part of who I was. I made that agreement. Every time something came up I thought about whether or not I wanted to begin because I was invariably going to quit it (according to my dad and now, to me as well). I also leaned heavily onto my daughter never to quit anything. That seemed like the correct and righteous way to behave. It was when I saw that she was literally becoming ill from not quitting something that I had to re-think that agreement. When I actually thought about all of the things that I had quit in my life, I realized that they were all things that HE had caused me to quit either directly or indirectly. Once I had that epiphany I was able to create a new agreement – one that said that when I’m allowed to complete things, I do. That was a new ‘I Am’ statement that felt a lot more true. And let me tell you how life changing. I could now accept projects and commitments knowing that I would see them through!  I also created one that said, “If it’s making you sick to complete something – quit it. It’s okay.” That has also felt really good to put into practice. It feels like I'm living with integrity with myself and those with whom I make committments.

The Four Agreements will help to begin to break the negative agreements that you’ve made. I hope you’ll come back to read my next installment on The First Agreement – Be Impeccable With Your Word.

P.S. I’m going to be hosting a free webinar/jam session specifically relating these Agreements and Thriving Through the Holidays. Stay tuned for more info about that! If you’re not on my email list, sign up for that over there in the right hand column and you’ll get all the details as they become available. You’ll also get a very useful coaching tool about finding Grace in your life in exchange for signing up!!!

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