Rewriting the Four Agreements

I’ve been on a major podcast kick lately.

As I mentioned in my first Reflect blog post (which I posted one month ago—hooray!), one of the most inspiring podcasts I’ve been listening to is Jen Waldman’s and Peter Shepherd’s The Long and The Short Of It.

In the nine episodes they’ve released so far, they’ve discussed everything from how to cultivate empathy, to their respective morning routines. Honestly, I think I could listen to Jen and Peter talk about the weather and be inspired to change the world as a result.

In their most recent episode, Jen and Peter talk about Don Miguel Ruiz’s 1997 book, The Four Agreements. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it proposes four agreements (shocker!) that we can make with ourselves in order to lead our freest, most fulfilled lives. Those agreements are:

  • Be impeccable with your word.

  • Don’t take anything personally.

  • Don’t make assumptions.

  • Always do your best.

I first learned about the Four Agreements in my professional development workshop at Bard College, back in 2016. I kept the handout from that class pinned above my desk for the remainder of that year. Particularly as an artist, having the daily reminder to not take anything personally and to not make assumptions was crucial.

However, in episode nine of The Long and The Short Of It, Jen reveals that there’s something that doesn’t sit well with her about the Four Agreements:

The problem here is that when you tell someone not to do something, you have neglected to tell them what to actually do. So I could say to you, “Don’t take anything personally,” but that leaves you action-less. It leaves you in a state of unknown.

So, in typical Jen and Peter fashion, they proceed to magnificently rewrite the Four Agreements, using “affirmative and inclusive language” in order to encourage active implementation of the agreements. (i.e. Saying “do this” instead of “don’t do that.”)

As I was listening to this episode on the subway the other day, the rewritten agreements had such a profound, inspirational effect on me that I wanted to share them with you here. So here they are: the Four Agreements, revised by Jen Waldman and Peter Shepherd:

  • Be impeccable with your word—they decided this one doesn’t need any rewriting, since it already uses affirmative, action-based language.

  • Seek to understand—rather than just not taking something personally (how does one not take something personally, anyway?), we can seek to understand why others do what they do, thereby actively cultivating empathy.

  • Acknowledge and challenge your assumptions—as Jen points out, making assumptions is hardwired into our human brains. Asking someone to not make assumptions is like asking them to stop using their peripheral vision. It’s impossible. Instead, we can become more aware of the assumptions we are making, and actively challenge their validity by getting curious.

  • Do your f***ing best—this may seem like just adding an obscenity, but Jen makes the argument that there is a big semantic difference between doing your best and doing your f***ing best. “Do your best” leaves room for making excuses and, when things don’t turn out how you hoped, shrugging and saying, “Oh well, I did my best.” Whereas “do your f***ing best” carries the connotation of holding nothing back, so that if something doesn’t pan out for you, you know without a shadow of a doubt that you gave it your all.

I can’t wait to start implementing these revised agreements in my life and in my interactions with others, both personally and professionally. Now that I am removed from the “state of unknown” cast by the original agreements, I can proceed by being impeccable with my word, seeking to understand, acknowledging and challenging my assumptions, and doing my f***ing best.

Question of the week: I’m curious about a time when you felt you “did your best,” versus a time you “did your f***ing best.” When you did your f***ing best, how do you feel that affected the end result and/or your response to the end result?