How to Use the Four Agreements to Improve Mental Health

I first read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, as an assignment in one of my Yoga Teacher trainings. I had heard of it many times, but once I began to read, I knew it wouldn’t just be once. When life gets challenging, or I’m feeling stressed about something, I turn to these agreements. The book provides simple guidelines for life, to increase happiness and your sense of freedom.

  1. Be impeccable with your word. Speak truth to yourself and to others, and you will feel freedom. One of the five Yamas (restraints) of Yoga, Satya, suggests that one always act in truthfulness. This means being true to your own identity, being true to your word, and true to your values. Your word has the power to impact people in meaningful ways, through love, if used properly. Do not cause harm with your word. When you say what you mean, and mean what you say, you can avoid confusion and hurt.
  2. Don’t take anything personally. This one is perhaps the most important agreement you can make with yourself in pursuing personal mental well-being. It is also the most challenging. When someone does or says something to you that offends, it’s hard to release attachment and not take it personally. Nine times out of ten, that person’s actions or words are a reflection of them, not of you. Take a deep breath, and do some reflection before you react. In Yoga, self-study is called “svadhyaya,” and allows us to see into ourselves and become more self-aware. Reactivity is limiting, so strive to not limit yourself by taking things personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions. One definition of anxiety is assigning an outcome or story to something that has not yet occurred. Our imagination can get the best of us, and we allow the mind to spiral into scenarios that are typically not true, and never come to fruition. Instead of assuming, ask questions. Seek to understand, not to know. Save yourself some mental stress, and don’t assume.
  4. Always do your best. Show up with your A game, no matter the circumstance. You want to put your best effort forward, not only for others, but for yourself in order to grow and learn. Keep in mind, your best today may not be your best tomorrow. Think about the best way to show up for yourself today, and understand that the next day might provide challenges that beckon you to show up differently. The most important part of this agreement is to be non-judgemental of yourself. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’ve done your best, that’s it. Do not criticize or compare. Instead, reflect on how you can learn and innovate and show up better next time.

The Challenge: Reflect on a recent challenge you faced. How could you have practiced these four agreements in that situation, and how would it have changed the outcome?