The Four Agreements Summary (Don Miguel Ruiz)

– Addresses self-limiting beliefs that create suffering

– Based on ancient Toltec wisdom

– Provides a powerful code of conduct

– For anyone needing a change in their life, with more happiness, love, freedom and truth

Don Miguel Ruiz is Mexican and despite many hardships, became a successful neurosurgeon. After a near-fatal car crash, he changed the course of his life, studying ancient Aztec wisdom and apprenticing as a Shaman.


“Children are domesticated the same way that we domesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal.
In order to teach a dog we punish the dog and we give it rewards. We train our children whom we love so much the same way that we train any domesticated animal: with a system of punishment and reward.”

Ruiz says that we’re taught how to live through conditioning.

Society defines what’s acceptable and our behaviour is manipulated through reward and punishment.

Behave in an acceptable way to others and society at large and we’re rewarded. Behave badly and we’re punished.

Learning how to judge has consequences:

  • We begin wearing a mask, acting to please others
  • We’re motivated to act through the fear of punishment
  • Therefore act for the reward, rather than the inherent pleasure of taking action

Instead of taking cues from others, we must learn to trust ourselves.

The Four Agreements provide a way to transcend this social conditioning.

Our most important pledges are to ourselves and the pride we create in fulfilling these pledges is the ultimate source of personal growth.

1. Be impeccable with your word

“The first agreement is the most important one and also the most difficult one to honor. It is so
important that with just this first agreement you will be able to transcend to the level of existence
I call heaven on earth.”

According to Ruiz, impeccability means ‘without sin’.

A sin in anything which goes against ourselves.

Whenever blame or judge ourselves, we create a personal sin.

Being impeccable is not going against yourself. You take responsibility for your actions and don’t blame or judge.

In practice, this means:

2. Don’t take anything personally

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… if I see you on the street and say, ‘Hey, you are so stupid,’ without knowing you, it’s not about you; it’s about me.”

This point draws on the teachings of Stoic philosophy and reminds us to only focus on what’s within our control.

if we judge ourselves by others thoughts and opinions, we’re giving away our personal power.

People don’t act because of us, but because of themselves.

When we take things personally, we’re in effect, imprinting our world on theirs.

In effect, these people are living their own story, in their own mind.

Before this realisation, we tend to defend our beliefs and create conflicts.

The reality is that the opinions we hold of ourselves are often mistaken.

If we can’t even always trust our own opinions to be truthful, how can we expect the same of others.

By not taking things personally, we naturally avoid many negative emotions.

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”

Therefore, we’re only responsible for our own actions, not those of others.

3. Don’t make assumptions

“The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make
assumptions about what others are doing or thinking—we take it personally—then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word.”

Often assumptions are through a lack of awareness and understanding on our part.

The result? We assume that everyone shares our worldview and create conflict when they don’t.

To avoid this pitfall, we must ask for clarification.

Clarification can be gained by communicating clearly and asking questions,

“The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are as clear as you can be.”

3. Always do your best

“There is just one more agreement, but it’s the one that allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits. The fourth agreement is about the action of the first three: Always do your best.”

Points to note:

  • Our best effort is changeable and largely depends on how we’re feeling
  • If we try too hard, we become drained and fall below our best
  • If we don’t try hard enough, we experience guilt and regret
  • It’s important to act from love, not of potential reward. If we like what we do, we’re always doing our best
  • By expressing ourselves and taking action for the right reasons, we live fully
  • In this way, we can transform the other agreements into practiced habits

We’re not perfect and will intermittently falter with the first three agreements.

However, doing our best is the foundation upon which they’re built, so even when we slip, we can feel good about ourselves.

“Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less.”

The Four Agreements summary

“The first step toward personal freedom is awareness. We need to be aware that we are not free in order to be free. We need to be aware of what the problem is in order to solve the problem.”

In order to be free, we need to know the problem. Therefore, the first step to freedom is awareness.

Each time we face one of our fears, we become a little freer.

Every time we realise our beliefs are open to interpretation, we can change.

But it’s a slow process and we can’t expect results overnight,

“There are many strong beliefs in the mind that can make this process look hopeless. This is why you need to go step-by-step and be patient with yourself because this is a slow process.”

The solution? Practice and repetition, sentiments echoed by many a great master,

“All of these old agreements which rule our dream of life are the result of repeating them over and over again. Therefore, to adopt the Four Agreements, you need to put repetition into action. Practicing the new agreements in your life is how your best becomes better. Repetition makes the master.”


  • Simple and yet profound teachings from a Shamanic healer, based on the wisdom of his ancestors
  • Applicable to all areas of personal growth
  • Can be too abstract and metaphorical for some
  • Message can appear too repetitive and commonsensical
  • The language might be overly new-agey for some readers
  • Will appeal to those on a similar spiritual wavelength to the author
  • I like the way it focuses on the Stoic theory of focusing on our locus of control, rather than being subject to the whims of externals
  • It’s a short read

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