Last night I attended an event ASCAP put on called Women Behind the Music: LA Edition. There was a panel of inspiring women including Senior Editor of Billboard Magazine, Gail Mitchell, VP of Creative Relations and Marketing at Motown, Myisha Brooks, and recording artist K. Michelle. The women shared inspiring stories from their experiences in the industry, but also lamented on the difficulties they’ve faced in the predominantly male-run field. Major themes included ignoring the nay-sayers and consistently pursuing your dreams, showing up every day and doing your best, and not taking anything personally. After the panel, I happened to get involved in a discussion about the book The Four Agreements, which has themes that coincide perfectly with the topics discussed by the panel. The concepts Don Miguel Ruiz writes about in the book are very simple, but are transformational if practiced consistently. Simply put, the four agreements are “principles to practice in order to create love and happiness in your life.”
The first agreement is “Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”
This agreement can bring a lot of unconscious behavior to the surface. Make a list of all the times during a day you use your words in the direction of truth and love and all the times you use it to gossip or spread negativity. Even if you’re not speaking down on others, there’s a very good chance you may be speaking negatively about yourself. All thoughts, words, and actions create at some level and bringing awareness to patterns we have allow us to choose a higher and better path. Gossip can be one of the hardest behaviors to stop, but breaking this habit alone will change your life infinitely for the better. Additionally, training yourself to have positive self-talk is one of the most powerful things you can do to change your life. Let’s say a typical exchange with your co-worker goes something like “Girllll, did you see what Raquel is wearing today!? What is she thinking with her body looking the way is does? Not that I should talk, I’ve been eating like a cow all week. I’m disgusting!” This may feel totally normal to you, but in reality it is doing a lot of harm, to you, to the person you are gossiping with, and often to the person you are gossiping about. You’ve also put yourself down casually, but even casual put downs are very damaging. Becoming conscious of what you are saying and what your intentions are will allow you to choose better thoughts and words. Do you want to hurt Raquel or feel horrible about yourself? No, probably not. When you break this behavior by becoming conscious of the urge to speak ill of someone else or yourself, you can easily make a change. At first, you may not feel like you have much to say if the majority of your conversations revolve around gossip. However, if you can hold off on speaking negatively, soon your conversations will be productive and inspiring. When you speak encouragingly to people and always seek to build others and yourself up, the entire world offers itself to you for the taking. Relationships improve, doors that were closed begin to fly open, and trust and security are established. If you can go for just one day without using your word to speak against yourself or others, you will immediately begin to see changes. Consciously using your word in the direction of truth and love will bring blessings pouring in.
The second agreement is “Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
This agreement can be one of the hardest to follow. We have a natural tendency to feel offended whenever anyone dislikes us, our work, or our opinions. The fear of judgment holds many people back from fulfilling their dreams and living a life that is true to them. On the way home from the event last night, my friend Has (@haswcoastsoul, haswestcoastsoul.com), made a point in regards to this that I will never forget. She mentioned how many people get totally offended when someone doesn’t like their work or completely understand their vision. She went on to say how everyone has different opinions because we all have different personal tastes. “Take the color light blue, for instance,” she said. “Many people may love light blue, but I think light blue is an ugly color!” This was such a simple statement, but it resonated with me so deeply. I happen to think light blue is a beautiful color, but that’s just my opinion. Not everyone feels the same, and it’s NOTHING PERSONAL. I went for a walk this morning and smiled at everyone I walked past, as I always do. Many people smiled back but there were a few people that gave me weird looks. “They must not like light blue,” I reasoned in my mind, smiled, and kept on walking.
The third agreement is, “Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
This is a big one. One of the biggest causes of suffering is a lack of communication and a lack of authentic sharing. We filter all people, places, and events through our own frame of reference, which is entirely different from other people’s. We react based on previous experience and often misinterpret things. How many times have you written someone off based on one thing they said or did in the beginning of a relationship? Rather than having a clear conversation with them, you made an assumption about how they felt or what they meant, and in turn radically changed your behavior towards them. It takes courage to ask questions, to request clarity, and to speak with humility. Developing and consistently practicing this skill is highly transformational and believe it or not, it’s a very rare skill to have. Relationships, businesses, and even governments fall apart due to miscommunications, assumptions, and people lacking the courage to request clarity and effectively communicate their own points and feelings.
I was working one night when a temperamental co-worker lost his shit. He was so angry that being in his general proximity gave me severe anxiety. I ended up catching his wrath and my reaction to him caused him to tell another co-worker that I was a fucking bitch. I was shocked. I don’t remember the last time someone called me that, and for it to be a father of two in his forties, I was even more stunned and hurt. It took everything in me not to cuss him out right there on the spot. Remembering the four agreements, I realized I needed to find the courage to ask questions and express what I really wanted. A few days later, after I had cooled down, I decided to test this out. I asked him what was going on with him, as he seemed really on edge and upset. He confided in me that he was really going through it with his ex-wife, who was draining him for money and also trying to take his kids full time. He was heartbroken, stressed about money, and not sleeping. We talked about forgiveness and after our conversation I ended up ordering him “Seat of the Soul” off of Amazon. When he received it, he told me it made him cry and that he realized how much work he had to do on himself. He then mentioned to a mutual co-worker that he had expected me to be really nasty to him and was blown away by my compassion. By not making assumptions, I was able to connect with this man more than I ever had and to be somewhat of a comfort in a tumultuous time. In addition, this tied in with principal number two, reminding me again to never take anything personally. You never know what people are going through, but by having the courage to ask and the genuine interest to be of service, you can transform all your relationships.
The last agreement is “Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”
Mike Dooley always enforces this agreement in his teaching. He says, “Just do your best. It will always be enough!” How much time do we spend beating ourselves up mentally? I should be making a lot more money! I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream last night! I always fumble my words, it’s so embarrassing! We pick ourselves apart and we don’t even realize what a toll this takes on us. When you become conscious of the fourth law, you can stop and ask yourself, am I doing my best right now? You may be beating yourself up for not going as hard at the gym as you always do. But if you were up late last night and you’re tired, then you are doing the best you can. Switch the negative self talk for praise and appreciate yourself for still making the effort to work out. One of the tricks I’ve adopted to help me change my self talk is to imagine my grandparents speaking to me or a much older version of myself speaking to the younger me. My great grandmother or my 100 year old self would never chastise me for fumbling a speech or not doing the last 15 minutes on the treadmill. They would speak to me with love and compassion and express appreciation for what I did accomplish. When you can appreciate your efforts and consistently give your all without judging and abusing yourself, you become much happier and more productive. While we may say that we fear the opinions and judgments of others, it’s often the judgments and abuse we inflect on ourselves that hurt the most. Reminding yourself that you are doing your best and appreciating even small accomplishments will set the ball of your life rolling in a very positive direction.