I came across the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz at a time in my life when I needed guidance and clarity. I was a miserable 20 something who was struggling with relationships of all sorts-family, friends, boyfriend, God, and myself.
At that time, I was working at an inpatient psychiatric facility. As you can imagine, it is a tough thing to take on the intense psychological issues of others. Try that while also trying to deal with your issues.
A wonderful substance abuse counselor gently suggested that I read The Four Agreements. I put him off for a while, not wanting to read what I figured was just another dumb self-help book. But, he never relented. Eventually, I brought my sullen self to Books A Million, bought the book and walked next door to Buffalo Wild Wings. I sidled up to the bar, ordered an adult beverage and cracked the book.
That was likely not how he had envisioned my breakthrough, but I go my own way.
To my surprise, I found the book to be riveting. I absorbed the words as if I were a cactus who hadn’t seen rain for years.
What I found in this easy read was four simple and clear rules to living. I began to implement the rules daily and found massive transformation in my relationships with myself and others. I found such a great response in myself that I began to use the text in the facilitation of group and individual therapy sessions. Eventually, I found the text so important that I even made my wedding bouquet out of the pages.
Yes, I was that girl. The one that made their wedding flowers out of book pages.
Giant pain in the rear? Also yes.
As with everything, I found a whole new application for my mindset-motherhood.
Ah, motherhood. The time in our lives when most of us begin to question everything again. This is a time when a lack of sleep makes us wonder if we are teetering on the edge. A time in our life when relationships warp, change and sometimes time out.
I found that The Four Agreements have proven especially helpful in my new identification as Mother, Mommy, Mom, Mama, hey you, milk producer, snack facilitator, master of all things exhausting.
Be Impeccable With Your Word.
This doesn’t just mean to tell the truth, although of course, that is part of it. This also refers to the importance of speaking up. Say what you need and be clear when you say it. I’d love to say that my husband and five-year-old son know exactly what I need and want, but I think we all know that isn’t true.
I can choose to get agitated because my 5-year-old doesn’t remember to WIPE THE PEE OFF THE SEAT FOR THE 900000000th time ….. or I could just say what I need, again. Perhaps, this time I will say it with more direction and explanation as to why I do not want urine EVERYWHERE.
Also, being impeccable with your word means following through. If I tell my husband or son that I am going to do something, I follow through. If I set forth a consequence, I need to follow through on that consequence. Not following through robs my words of their power.
Being impeccable with my word with myself means being kind to myself and giving myself a break. A good technique that I’ve learned to do with this for myself and others is to employ the work of Byron Katie. That’s what she calls it, The Work! A part of The Work has to do with a questioning series- 4 questions to be exact. When I come up against emotion or assumption that disturbs me, I’ll ask myself the 4 questions: Is it true? Can you know that it’s true? How do you react, what happens, when you believe that though? Who would you be without that thought? This helps me to gain clarity and a better understanding of how I speak to myself. Check out the rest of The Work for a wonderfully fresh perspective on how to deal with relationships with ourselves and others.
Don’t Take Anything Personally.
This refers to good things and not so good things. Often, as a parent, I take ownership of my child’s behavior. But, at the end of the day, I can prepare him as best I can – his successes and failure are his own. I cannot take credit, because this is his journey.
I find that focusing on this agreement, in particular, has empowered my child to be more independent. When he succeeds at doing something like getting his snacks from the pantry, I focus on reminding him that he had the power within himself to figure it out. But, if he can’t figure it out, that doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. It just means that he may need more reinforcement and teaching. I am not a failure. I cannot take his successes and failures as my own.
Most recently, I and a few other Lafayette Moms have been riding the struggle bus with the Clip Chart or Color Chart. It is very hard not to take negative feedback from those charts as a direct reflection on your ability as a parent. Every time we receive a B or C, I think to myself “Well, this is because you didn’t do such and such this morning” or “You’re not doing enough.” When, in actuality, these bumps in the road on the conduct charts are part of a child’s development. It has nothing to do with you directly. Of course, we contribute to our child’s development, but we are not directly responsible for every action that they make or don’t make.
Don’t Make Assumptions.
This was always a hard one for me. I often make assumptions and judgments. If we are being very honest, we all do this. But, for me, my assumptions have often reflected a negative picture of myself. “Oh, they didn’t talk to me because they don’t like me” or “I may have done well on this project, but that was luck.”
My assumptions often reflect a negative self-concept. Not making assumptions means that you take things at face value. When I began to take things at face value, I released my pretend control that I thought that I held.
As a mother, not making assumptions has led to improved communication with my child and his teachers. I don’t guess what is meant. I ask questions, lots of questions. Eventually, I will obtain some semblance of an answer and if I don’t, that’s an answer in itself. If he had a good day, I ask why. If he had a not so good day, I ask why as well.
For example, when my child received a note home that he had pushed another student, I could have made 1000 assumptions for why he did it. Instead, we sat down and reconstructed the event. This allowed me and him to better understand the reasoning behind his actions and how we could prevent it from occurring again.
Always Do Your Best.
This is my favorite. Always do your best, your personal best. And that best, can change every day, every hour sometimes.
This agreement has allowed me to give myself a break. Some days my best is a multi-tasking master. And, some days my best is putting my cell phone in the freezer and my keys in the tub.
No one is perfect and the minute that we realize that our expectations for ourselves and our family can change, we release the pressure valve.
Not to beat a dead horse, but this mindset has particularly helped me navigate this new world of behavior charts. If I allow my best to change, then I have to allow that for my child. Now, one of the most important pieces of feedback that I give my son before I drop him off in the morning is “Just do your best, your personal best” and allow for variations in that best.
I hope that The Four Agreements speak to you as they did me. Don Miguel Ruiz has written a few companion books and there are also workbooks, cards, and videos surrounding The Four Agreements. This is one of the few self-help books that I have actually found to help!
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