The Four Agreements: experimenting with a new way of behaving
As the daughter of a therapist I am constantly analysing my behaviour and how to be a better person. Not a day goes by without me thinking: How could I have handled that situation better? Could I have been nicer to that person? How can I be a better friend, daughter or colleague? Sometimes I feel like I make great progress and sometimes I fail miserably. Apologies to anyone who's felt the consequences of the latter...
Anyhoo - someone mentioned a book called "The Four Agreements" to me in passing the other day, and in light of all of the above I decided to download it to my Kindle. And it really struck a chord with me in so many areas of my life and the things I struggle against. So I've decided to experiment with following the Four Agreements as a new way of behaving and to see how it effects things. And now I want to share them with you.
You can download the book yourself here, but in brief the Four Agreements are as follows:
1. Be impeccable with your word - The general gist of this is to only say loving things about yourself and others i.e. don't put yourself down, don't put others down and only say what you mean, don't say things to try and manipulate the situation to give you the results that YOU want.
Now as an opinionated mother f*cker I know I have a sharp tongue. I can bitch with the best of them. It's one of the things I dislike most about myself. But we all do it. We are also, on the whole, very good at putting ourselves down too. Particularly if you're English, and even more if you're a woman. And what do we actually gain from it, really!? Nothing, according to this philosophy. Even though I know I will continue to perceive undesirable qualities in others and myself - one of the things I pride myself upon is my ability to sniff out bullshit from 150 yards - I am sincerely trying NOT to vocalise them. Speak no evil people. And tell me off if you hear me breaking this rule! (Unless I'm drunk, because everyone knows that doesn't count)
2. Don't take anything personally - This agreement is all about understanding that nothing people say or do is really because of you. It's because of their own emotional baggage, raw spots, insecurities, upbringing and way of viewing the world. The idea is that by understanding this and not taking other people's behaviour personally you can stop punishing yourself unnecessarily.
This is a particularly tough one for me as my default position in life has often been to think "I'm a difficult person, what difficult or bad thing have I done to create this situation." Clearly it's not a healthy view of the world and so is an important one to break. But it is of course important to consider the role you've played in a given situation - because it always takes two to tango. However, that doesn't mean we have to take the other parties response personally or to heart all the time.
3. Don't make assumptions - To embrace this agreement we need to stop assuming we know what's driving someone elses' behaviour or words Instead we must be confident about asking questions, expressing what we really want and ultimately being vulnerable (yay!). It's all about clear, honest communication.
How often do we jump to conclusions, putting two and two together and assuming we know what something has happened, then alter our behaviour accordingly? Or not say what you really want or think to protect your ego or yourself from being hurt? I know there are certain situations in which I do this repeatedly, and almost always to destructive results. Gah. No longer! Let's all vow not to act on assumptions, be more vulnerable and voice our needs calmly and maturely. Don't leave me hanging here people.
4. Always do your best - Last but not least, this agreement is all about pausing before deciding upon any course of action and thinking "Am I doing my best?" at that given moment in time, in that particular situation...and then adjusting things accordingly so you can confidently say "Yes, I did my best". The idea is that if you are always doing your best then you won't ever look back and regret your own behaviour.
I know that anyone reading this post will have moments and decisions they regret. That's part of being human. I know I have. At particularly emotional moments my ego takes over and it seems like the right thing to do because its my first thought (I often either overreact with taking things personally or under-react in the name of keeping peace), but upon reflection (usually about 24 hours later once I've had a night to sleep on it) I see the healthier, mature middle ground. The old adage to stop and count to ten before saying or doing anything seems more relevant than ever when we are trying to do our best.
So those are the Four Agreements and a lot of my inner struggles laid bare on the t'interwebs. Bit terrifying but what the hell.
I've been practicing these agreements for a couple of weeks now. I actually have them saved as my mobile screen saver as a regular reminder. I already feel calmer and like I am getting better at stopping and pause before reacting to things instantly based on my own subconscious bad habits and wot not. It's still a work in progress though of course. A bit like a daily emotional homework. But so far, its worth it.
I'd love to know if any of this resonates with any of you. Whether you face similar struggles, and even more so if you've already got most of this nailed. Teach me your magic please!
Are you going to read the book? Are you up for joining me on this experiment?