The Four Agreements Explained (Powerful Toltec Wisdom)

As I was traveling through Mexico, I came across the book ‘The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom’ by Don Miguel Ruiz – I wasn’t looking for it, I had never heard of it. One could say the book found me. And these Four Agreements genuinely transformed my life.

It consists of four simple guidelines to accompany your inner journey and personal development.

They are simple, yet challenging to implement. They require constant practice until you understand them so deeply that they become second nature.

I’m always skeptical when people promise that a book changed their life, but I do believe that the Four Agreements are fantastic guidelines to live your life by. Almost two years later, they are still on my mind a lot and I remind myself regularly to implement them into my every day.

Every single person can benefit from living a little bit more by the Four Agreements and find more personal freedom through them.

This guide will introduce you to what the Four Agreements are, what the book is about, how applying the Four Agreements could potentially change your entire life, and how to stick with them when things are getting hard.

The Four Agreements Explained

Whether you are familiar with the Four Agreements or not, I suggest you give this section a read as we walk through the agreements. It is always good to have a reminder of why you’re doing this inner work.

The Four Agreements originate from ancient Toltec wisdom. The Toltecs are a Mesoamerican culture from Hidalgo, Mexico, whose deep spiritual knowledge still proves to be a powerful way to overcome limiting beliefs and suffering today.

First Agreement: Be impeccable with your word

The first agreement is a reminder to be more careful with what you say. Say things like you actually mean them – and do the things you say you will. By evading speaking the truth, you only hurt yourself in the end.

We are very used to avoiding expressing our authentic inner self, even when asked little things like ‘how are you?’. We often refrain from expressing our feelings without judgment and we spread emotional poison by gossiping or speaking from a place of pain.

Words are powerful. Do not use them against yourself, by telling yourself stories that don’t serve you (like ‘I’m not worthy, I am ugly, …’). Use them to speak from a place of love, to others and especially to yourself.

This is how you powerfully communicate your intentions and create the life story you want to live.

Second Agreement: Don’t take anything personally

This may be a big one to take in, but: Nothing anyone ever does or says is because of you, or about you. It is always about themselves.

Consequently, everything you say or do, is an expression of yourself.

Say, somebody upsets you and triggers you with their words. Are they to blame for your hurt feelings? Actually, no. You are responsible for your reaction because there is a part within you that has not found peace yet. You can only be triggered if a part deep within you believes what is being thrown at you.

And the person who just attacked you, you need to understand they only uttered those words because some part of them is dissatisfied, unbalanced, afraid, insecure. They are not mean because you make them so, they are mean because they haven’t dealt with something within themselves.

So, don’t take it personally. It is not about you. We are all walking our own path.

And everything you see in life is a reflection of yourself. That is the freedom of the second agreement: Don’t focus on what you can’t control (other people’s realities), focus on what you can control (your own reaction and perception).

Your life lies in your hands – use this knowledge wisely.

Third Agreement: Don’t make assumptions

How often do you think you know something without actually knowing? Making assumptions is one of the most dangerous things we can do to ourselves.

Imagine your loved one shows up late to a dinner you prepared with love. Your mind might automatically go into assumptions like ‘they don’t care/they don’t love me enough/no one is ever interested in the effort I make.’

Do you know what happened? Maybe something went wrong along the way. Maybe they were really stressed and forgot – but still love you deeply and respect your efforts.

The downfall of our vast imagination as humans is that we tend to jump to conclusions – and take things personally.

Before you make assumptions, keep your mind open and free and give others the benefit of doubt.

There’s a simple trick to use when you’re not sure about something someone else is doing. Simply ask for the truth. Ask why they were late for dinner before attacking them for it. This will give you mutual space to express your honest feelings, without spiraling into hurt feelings.

The act of asking is so simple (even though it can require courage), but it spares you a lot of emotional drama.

Fourth Agreement: Always do your best

If you feel like you’re not doing enough or like what you’re doing is not good enough, there’s a simple antidote to it.

Always do your best. That’s it.

Because, frankly, you can’t do more than that. And some days, when you’re exhausted or heartbroken, your best will look very different than on a day you’re feeling great.

Doing your best doesn’t mean exhausting yourself – it means respecting your limitations and still trying to show up as good as you can.

This way, you will never have to feel bad for not having done enough, because you did what you could. No one else can blame you either, because your conscience will be pure. You have given it your best.

There is no need for self-judgment or guilt. Every day, every moment can be a new beginning.

The fourth agreement is also the key to keeping up with the first three agreements.

Of course, you won’t always be perfectly able to stick to all agreements. You will struggle sometimes. You will still sometimes fall into the trap of betraying yourself. And that’s perfectly normal.

Simply do your best to integrate the four agreements into your life – that is enough for things to start changing.

What is the fifth agreement?

There is also a fifth agreement, published in a later book by Ruiz, which goes as follows:

Be skeptical, but learn to listen.

It encourages a healthy skepticism based on the fact that little what is said and expressed can be taken for truth. We all use symbolism in our speech and behind what we say usually lies a lot more meaning.

This is why the second part of the fifth agreement is learning to listen. It allows you to hear what people actually mean to say, it helps you to understand the meaning underneath the surface and allows you to communicate on a deeper level.

There lies a lot of open-mindedness behind the fifth agreement. You don’t have to agree or disagree with what is in front of you, just be willing to listen and learn.

“If you can understand other people’s stories, and they can understand yours, then together you can create the most beautiful dream.”

Don Miguel Angel Ruiz

How the Four Agreements can change your life

Now, what does it actually look like to follow the four agreements in your daily life? Close your eyes and imagine what kind of person you’d become. Do you like what you see? Know that it is absolutely possible getting there.

The four agreements will lead the way.

These are some of the changes people following their four agreements witness in their lives.

#1 You take responsibility

The four agreements really are an invitation to act more consciously. You start by observing your thoughts and you choose what you put out into the world.

Ultimately, you will move towards taking full responsibility.

The beauty of that is that you get to be the creator of your own life. How fabulous is that?! The possibilities are quite literally endless.

The only thing you need to do is fully accept that you – and only you – are responsible for how you think, feel and act.

#2 You find your integrity

If you’ve read Martha Beck’s ‘The Way of Integrity’, you know all about how important is to find your integrity.

Life is always a journey towards more integrity – which means knowing your inner truth and aligning your actions with it.

We all have an inner voice that tells us if something is right for us or not. The Four Agreements allow us to really take a stand for ourselves.

Your authentic self is precious. Let it be seen by the world.

#3 Your relationships improve

Do you have any idea how much of a game-changer the Four Agreements can be to your personal relationships? Just think back to the second and third agreement, especially.

To me, so much changed when I stopped taking everything so personal and making assumptions about how other people feel about me. Question everything and become aware of when you’re being reactive.

Often, we interact with others based on accusations, defensiveness, or emotional reactivity. Which only causes more of the same.

If you manage to leave that cycle, you will be able to enter authentic conversations that will actually allow you to deepen your connection to others. You will be able to hold space for expressing difficult feelings and actually resolve them instead of building barriers.

#4 You value yourself more

You are the one person that matters in your life. Your foundation for everything else.

How much you value yourself affects how you relate to the world deeply. If you know that you are doing your best and working towards becoming the best version of yourself, how does that feel? How does it make you show up?

The Four Agreements can be a gateway to more self-esteem and a deeper connection with yourself.

And the more you connect to yourself, the more you will connect to others.

#5 You end your personal suffering

The Four Agreements truly show in how many ways we make ourselves suffer. Our assumptions and emotional reactions cause internal conflict that is simply not necessary.

The Four Agreements remind you to not create any more suffering for yourself or others. Pain may be inevitable, but you do not have to suffer from it.

It’s almost an addiction, emotional self-torture. We re-play painful stories over and over in our minds, but what for? Once you realize how much harm you are doing to yourself that way, it gets easier to move away from that.

Every step away from suffering means a step closer to personal freedom.

The spiritual power of the four agreements.
Finding liberation – the Four Agreements are one of many ways to get there.

How to implement the Four Agreements

Now, I know the struggle. You discover something that sounds awesome but then actually implementing it becomes difficult. We’re only human, after all.

So, here are some tips to keep the Four Agreements in your life and to stick with them even in difficult moments.

#1 Write them down

To me, it helped a lot writing the Four Agreements down. By hand, ideally – because we actually remember things better when we’ve written them out with pen and paper compared to digital notes.

Writing down the Four Agreements allows you to once again reflect on them and to maybe set a little intention on which things you’d like to work on next.

#2 Journal prompts for the Four Agreements

Writing, in general, can be a great way of doing inner work and dedicating time to a specific topic you’d like to work on.

You could try using the Four Agreements as a foundation for a variety of journal prompts and then regularly journal to get to know yourself on a deeper level.

The journal prompts could be for example:

  • The agreement is struggle most with is _____ because _____
  • Something I still take too personal is _____
  • I could see my assumptions are not always true when _____
  • One area in my life where I want to give my best more is _____
  • I am betraying my own word when _____
  • When I speak my inner truth, I feel _____

Get creative with these prompts for the Four Agreements. This will allow you to regularly reflect on them and integrate them deeper into your life.

#3 Keep the Agreements visible

Out of sight, out of mind… We all know how it goes.

If you’re struggling to remember that you wanted to work on implementing the Four Agreements in your life, keep them visible.

Put a note on your laptop, set yourself a daily reminder, hang a poster.

The trick is to actually make yourself look at the Agreements in a way that will make you stop for a second and take them in with intention – don’t just look at them to regularly ignore them.

#4 Keep checking in with yourself

Accountability is key to anything we want to work on. Regularly ask yourself how you’ve been doing with the Four Agreements.

Journaling, again, can be a great way of doing this. Or simply take a moment to meditate on your progress.

Remember it’s a journey – there will always be new layers to unravel.

#5 Re-read the book

To me, it’s really helpful re-reading books that have brought me great value. It keeps the lessons fresh and often allows you to find a new take on them.

Every time you read the book, you will find something new in it – after all, you’re coming to it as a different person than you were the last time you read it.

How often you want to re-read the book depends on you, but it can be a fantastic way to bring back the importance of the Four Agreements to your mind.

Summary: The Four Agreements

So, write them down somewhere close to you.

Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.

Simple, yet transformative.

After implementing the Four Agreements in your life, you might start seeing the following changes:

  • you take more responsibility
  • you find integrity
  • you get to enjoy improved relationships
  • you value yourself
  • you find freedom by ending your suffering

Use the tips above (journaling, keeping the Four Agreements visible, reflecting on them & staying accountable) to keep going in your journey.

Have you tried implementing the Four Agreements in your life? Which changes have you noticed? Where did you struggle?

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  1. Hello Anna,

    Let me first say that this page is amazing. I have done some studies in Toltec Wisdom and the Toltec way. The reason I am writing you is that I am also a photographer, photography student, and I blog as well. I am in a History of Art class at CSN and I am writing a paper on The Photograph as a Work of Art, where I would like to use your photograph of the girl in the field. I feel it is very powerful (will be including you in the works cited page).

    I also have a website where sometimes I sometimes put up my favorite papers from this class because I am very moved by this class. My professor is a very well known photographer living in Cambodia and just a very inspiring teacher.

    I wanted to make sure it would be ok to post my paper in my website, giving credit and a link to you of course. Please feel free to check me out on my website.

    I hope you have a blessed day!

    Angela Gerber- ArtistBFly

    1. Hi Angela, thank you for your comment, I’m glad you found your way here!
      The photo you’re referring to is a self portrait titled ‘Where the Light Comes In’, which I created in 2019 in Mexico. I took it after a Peyote ceremony which made me feel strongly connected to my inner light – so it was a very powerful moment indeed & I tried to represent that through the way I edited it.
      You may include the photograph in your paper/website provided that credit is given – thank you for asking & all the best for your research project! I’d love to read the paper when you upload it, so please do let me know! 🙂
      Blessings to you, too!

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