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The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
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The Domestication of Humans

The world is full of misery and suffering. We are hard on each other, but even harder on ourselves. Too many of us are unfulfilled, unhappy, joyless.

Why?

The framework of our world has been handed down to us. We were trained just like dogs. We learned how to behave, what is acceptable and not, what to believe, what’s right and wrong. None of this was taught to us by our choice. We learned a language that was not our choice. We didn’t even choose our own names. This process is called “the domestication of humans.”

We then use this belief system (that we never chose) to criticize ourselves and others. No wonder we feel powerlessly unhappy at times!

Old Agreements

Everything we accept as “the way it is” is an agreement. But too many of these agreements hurt ourselves and others. For example, think of the teenager who starves herself to fit in. Think of someone who stays in an unhappy relationship because it’s all they know.

If we want a life of joy, we must break these harmful agreements that promote suffering and failure. But how? We feel powerless because creating and keeping all these negative agreements has sucked our personal power.

The answer is that we must change the agreements.

The Four Agreements

There are four powerful agreements that will bring back our personal power and help us break the dangerous cycle we’re in. It won’t be easy, and we’ll need a strong will to make these new agreements, but when we succeed we will transform our lives.

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word

Words have the power to create and the power to destroy. When you are “impeccable with your word,” you:

  • Say only what you mean
  • Speak with integrity
  • Stop your internal negative self-talk (“I am stupid.”)
  • Refrain from gossiping

Following this agreement helps you become happy and at peace. As you become impeccable with your word, love replaces fear. You diminish the number of conflicts in your life.

The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

When someone gives you negative input, it speaks more about the other person, not about you. In...

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The Four Agreements Summary Introduction: The Smoky Mirror

The Four Agreements is based on beliefs in Mexican indigenous (Toltec) culture.

Toltec lore has it that 3,000 years ago, a human studying to be a medicine man awoke to the soul-altering realization that he was made of light and stars, and he existed in between those stars. He called the stars the tonal and the light between the stars the nagual. He realized that life is what creates the harmony between the two. Life is the force of the Creator.

The medicine man came to some profound conclusions:

  • Everything in existence is a manifestation of God.
  • Humans in their true form are love and light,...

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 1: Domestication of Humans

So how did humans get in such a predicament? Toltec wisdom explains how we got stuck conforming to society’s rules and stunting our true selves.

We all have individual, personal dreams. But those who came before us created a bigger dream – the “dream of the planet.” This dream created everything we see as normal in our existence: family, community, city, and the world. It encompasses laws, religion, cultures, and all of society’s rules.

Our parents are the first to teach us about this outside dream. As we grow, school, the media, churches, and other aspects of our environment hook our attention and tell us what proper behavior is.

  • We’re told what is right and wrong.
  • We’re told how to behave, what is acceptable, and what to believe.
  • We learn a specific language that wasn’t our choice.
  • We didn’t choose our own names, yet our name becomes a core part of our identity.

All these rules and understandings of how the world works, everything we accept as true, is an agreement. We agree what’s good and what’s bad. We agree to a religion or a set of beliefs. We agree what constitutes proper behavior.

When we accept an agreement, we believe it...

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 2: The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word

Words are incredibly powerful. They can be used for good or to hurt others or ourselves. In this way, we can think of them as Black Magic or White Magic.

Words are like seeds in a fertile human mind: We can plant goodness or fear.

This first agreement asks us to be “impeccable” with our words. This is the agreement on which all the other agreements rest. Abiding by this agreement alone can change your life.

So what does it mean to be impeccable with your word?

  • It’s about saying exactly what you mean.
  • It means speaking with integrity.
  • The literal meaning of “impeccable” is being without sin. So you can think of “being impeccable with your word” as not sinning against yourself or others when you speak.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But being impeccable with your word is also the hardest agreement to honor. We’ve learned to do exactly the opposite.

What We’ve Been Doing Wrong

We are careless with our words far too often. We usually don’t set out to hurt someone, but we forget the power words hold. The truth is, something cruel said once in an offhand manner can have a lasting impact on someone’s life. (Similarly, something said with truth and beauty and...

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Shortform Exercise: The Power of Your Words

Use these questions to reflect on how your own words can have a powerful effect on yourself and others.


What negative words do you say to yourself most? (Are you critical of your body? Your intelligence? Your success?)

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Shortform Exercise: Don’t Gossip

Being impeccable with your words means speaking with integrity. Let’s think about how gossip fits into this.


When is a recent time you’ve gossiped about someone, or said something negative about someone behind their back? What did you say, and what motivated you to share that gossip?

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 3: The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

The second agreement sounds deceptively simple: “Don’t take anything personally.” But so many of us are sensitive and defensive, primed to ward off the negativity the world throws at us.

But as we begin to adopt the first agreement, “Be Impeccable With Your Word,” we become happier and more at peace, more in control. When we have more internal strength, taking on this second agreement becomes easier.

These first two agreements free you from many of the bad agreements that have been disrupting your life. After all, careless words combined with highly offended people will inevitably bring drama.

Bad Things Happen When We Take Things Personally

No good comes from taking things personally. In fact, it’s a chain reaction of bad:

Someone says something about you => You take it personally => You’re offended => You defend yourself and your position => You fire back something about the other person => The other person takes THAT personally, gets offended, and says something meaner =>...

It goes on and on. Does this remind you of any arguments you’ve had in the past?

When you take things personally, you can resent it and simmer for much more time than is appropriate....

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Shortform Exercise: Taking Things Personally Can Damage You

Use these questions to reflect on the damage that taking things personally can inflict on your self-esteem.


Think about a recent time when someone’s words hurt you. What was said? Why did it hurt you?

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 4: The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions

The third agreement is “Don’t make assumptions.”Remember the old saying about the word “assume” – it makes an “ass” out of “u” and me? This agreement is the same idea with a more spiritual bent.

Making assumptions is dangerous because we often have no idea what is really going on in a situation. We fill in the blanks in our minds without enough information, and then we’re pretty convinced we know what’s going on. Spoiler alert: We don’t. We’re prone to mistaken beliefs, and acting on these mistakes will cause more trouble.

This is a hard agreement to follow because we make assumptions so often, and making assumptions comes so naturally. We’re usually pretty impressed with our own insight. We think our assumptions are true.

Bad Stuff Happens When We Make Assumptions

Making assumptions can lead to a cycle of conflict:

Assumptions => Misunderstanding => We’re offended and take it personally => We lash back => Big drama ensues

Making assumptions and taking things personally (agreements two and three) go hand in hand, leading to gossip, conflict and suffering.

What’s the biggest assumption of all? We think everyone sees life exactly as we do. In fact, everyone sees...

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Shortform Exercise: Examining the Fallout From Assumptions

Use this exercise to reflect on how assumptions can hurt you and others.


Think about a time you made a way-off-base assumption that turned out to be wrong. What was the assumption you made?

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 5: The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best

This agreement is also a simple concept, but it will allow the other three agreements to become more deeply ingrained and effective. After all, the first three agreements can truly work only if you do your best.

Doing your best frees you from guilt and shame. You feel great about yourself when you’ve given your best effort.

What Is “Your Best”?

First, it’s important to understand that your best isn’t a constant; it will vary. Sometimes you’re fresh and vital; other times you’re tired. Sometimes you’re healthy and sometimes you're sick. Your best is the best you can do under your current circumstances.

In fact, your best can change even from moment to moment. And that’s OK.

Your best doesn’t mean trying to do more than you’re capable of in the moment (the old “giving 110 percent”). Doing more than your best depletes your personal energy. But doing less than your best leaves you with guilt and regret.

When you’re giving your best, you’re...

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Shortform Exercise: Reflect on the Idea of Doing Your Best

Use this exercise to examine why you sometimes don’t give your best effort.


Think of the last time you know you didn’t do your best. What were you trying to do, and where did you fall short?

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 6: Breaking Old Agreements

Now we have a blueprint for how to live our lives in a better way. We know the new Four Agreements that will save us from living empty lives. We know how to transform our lives into a new experience of joy, happiness and love.

Except we still have all those old agreements lingering around. We have to fight through and discard them. How can we dismantle these old agreements that have created needless suffering in our lives? How do we free ourselves from the old agreements?

There are three ways to break with our old, bad agreements:

  1. Face your fears one by one.
  2. Forgive those who have hurt us. (“Starve the parasite.”)
  3. Live every day as if it were your last. (“Initiation of the dead.”)

1. Facing Your Fears Takes Awareness

First, you have to be aware of the agreements you must fix.

  • Develop an awareness of all the self-limiting, fear-based beliefs that are holding you back. Examples:
    • What things do you tell yourself that make you feel down?
    • What do you assume about yourself that might be wrong and that you should test?
    • What are assumptions you have about other people that you should clarify?

Once we have this awareness,...

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Shortform Exercise: Start Dismantling Your Old Agreements

Use this exercise to identify specific steps you can take to wipe out some old agreements holding you back.


Think of a specific self-limiting, fear-based belief you think is holding your back. (You aren’t good at painting. You’re too clumsy to play a sport. You’re too old to take a challenging new job.) What’s yours?

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Shortform Exercise: Forgiving Others

Let go of old resentments


Think of a person who has wronged you. What did this person do or say that is still sticking with you today?

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The Four Agreements Summary Chapter 7: The New Dream

It’s time to take the messages of the Four Agreements forward. You now have the beginning of a new understanding for how you can live your life: a new dream.

You have the tools to create your own version of heaven in your life, using a new set of eyes to visualize a...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction: The Smoky Mirror
  • Chapter 1: Domestication of Humans
  • Chapter 2: The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word
  • Exercise: The Power of Your Words
  • Exercise: Don’t Gossip
  • Chapter 3: The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
  • Exercise: Taking Things Personally Can Damage You
  • Chapter 4: The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
  • Exercise: Examining the Fallout From Assumptions
  • Chapter 5: The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
  • Exercise: Reflect on the Idea of Doing Your Best
  • Chapter 6: Breaking Old Agreements
  • Exercise: Start Dismantling Your Old Agreements
  • Exercise: Forgiving Others
  • Chapter 7: The New Dream