Welcome to the final blog post in this series, based on one of my favorite books, “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you need to catch up, you can read all prior posts below:
Agreement #4: Always Do Your Best
“Under any circumstances, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next.”
— The Four Agreements, Chapter 5
The Fourth Agreement is the action of the first three, enabling them to become habits. It is the agreement that asks you to do just enough, but not too much. Perfection is not the goal (it never is!). Doing your best means falling down and getting back up.
To all my overachievers out there: The path to personal growth is paved with self-love, kindness, and forgiveness… not criticism, judgment, and punishment. Remember that!
Ruiz explains it energetically, “If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed, and in the end, your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself, and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal. But if you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations, self-judgment, guilt, and regrets.”
The Misconception of Energy and Effort
Effort is big in our culture–we think anything worth having must be the result of hard work. The more hours we put in, the better the result. I don’t believe this at all, so I surrender to what flows easily. If something feels heavy and overwhelming, it means I’m pushing against the Universe and trying to force it. And when I use force, nothing works.
Ruiz tells the story of a man who wanted to transcend his suffering, so he asked a Buddhist master how long it would take if he meditated four hours/day. The master told him it would take, perhaps, 10 years. So the man asked how long it would take if he meditated for eight hours/day, and the master said 20 years. Confused, the man asked why.
The master responded, “If you can do your best in two hours of meditation but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love, and be happy.”
When you try to get someone to love you, it depletes your energy… and it doesn’t work. When you people-please for acceptance, it robs you of yourself. When you move mountains trying to impress your boss (who never notices), you feel beaten down. This is all forced effort and it doesn’t feel good.
On the flip side, have you ever done something where you felt tired afterward, but also invigorated? Maybe it’s gardening or working with kids or building a website–whatever you enjoy that puts you in a state of flow. This kind of effort comes from joy, and it’s never depleting.
There is also a big difference between action and inspired action. Most people act when a reward is involved (i.e. working for a paycheck) rather than acting from a place of joy. If your action is inspired, it comes from your heart, not your head. Rewards may come, but that is not the motivation for your effort.
Ruiz says, “When you are doing your best just for the pleasure of doing it, you are taking action because you enjoy the action. Action is about living fully.”
I talk about inspired action a lot because most people I work with operate from their heads. Instead of taking small steps that originate from joy, they try to figure out everything mentally and make decisions from that place. And guess what? It doesn’t work. You end up playing mental ping pong, second-guessing yourself, and attaching to outcomes. Lead with your heart without an attachment to the outcome and opportunities will open up.
“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”
Doing Your Best in Healthy Relationships
While each agreement is simple, executing them consistently is not easy, especially in romantic relationships. When you are emotionally triggered, taking something personally, it usually happens on autopilot. The point is not to avoid being triggered (which isn’t really possible), but rather to use those moments as an opportunity to feel your way through the negative beliefs that surface. The point is to be aware of what’s happening so you can allow the emotions (avoiding them just stuffs them down for later), then choose your next action.
The purpose of these agreements is not to beat yourself up, which hurts your growth more than it helps. This is especially important to remember when it comes to insecure attachment because of the tendency to overdo and over-perform. You are going to slip up with your partner, and he/she is going to slip up with you. It’s ok. Forgive yourself and each other. This final agreement is critical to healthy relationships because it allows us to be our beautifully flawed selves.
Doing MY Best
I’ve read “The Four Agreements” many times over the years, and I get something from it each time. I have not mastered it, but I live its principles in my relationships with others, and I know there is no destination I’m trying to reach. What I do know is whenever I force something or put forth effort that drains me, it doesn’t lead to what I want. This took me a while to realize, however, because I used to be a Type AAA personality, always overdoing and trying to be perfect. Just thinking back on that is exhausting, and I’m grateful I no longer live there.
This is the agreement I have the most issues with. The others are like the water I drink daily; no attachments. But this one is the harder concept, especially when it comes to my work. I have to be aware of when I start pushing and overdoing.
I don’t assume too often and I do not take things personally or go against myself. Once in a while, I let fear stand in the way of speaking my truth, but that too is something I feel is pretty well integrated. Sometimes I’ll just get stumped on exactly what my truth is. But every day I do my best. The great thing about awareness is it presents the opportunity to make different choices.
“If you’re doing your best, you will feel good about yourself even if you still make assumptions, still take things personally, and still are not impeccable with your word.”
— The Four Agreements, Chapter 5
Answer the below questions in your journal or the printable download:
- What is something you constantly overdo or put extra effort towards that depletes you? It could be work, making dinner, cleaning, keeping in touch with people, caring for a parent, etc. Write it down. Now, what would happen if you put forth HALF the effort? Would you disappoint someone? Would something terrible happen? Sit with the feelings of what you imagine would happen.
- What is something you put effort into that you love? Where, in the end, you might be tired, but not depleted. You feel a sense of joy and/or accomplishment, and may even feel invigorated. Like a “runner’s high.” Examples might include writing, organizing, gardening, cooking, planning events, etc. What do you feel after engaging in one of these activities? Can you see how these feelings are different from activities you overdo?
Every day from this day forward, write the below in your journal as a reminder of the agreements you have made with yourself:
Today I will do my best to speak my truth and be impeccable with my word.
Today I will do my best not to take things personally, remembering it’s about them, not me.
Today I will do my best not to assume I know what other people are thinking or feeling.
Today I will simply do my best… no more, no less… and it will come from my heart.
Studies show that you remember something more if you write it down, so write this every day to keep these agreements top of mind. You can download the journal prompts from all four agreements below:
The Four Agreements and Self-Awareness
All four agreements are challenging for people who struggle with insecure attachment, which is why this book is usually the first one I recommend. Each is simple, but not easy.
The purpose of these journal prompts is to increase your self-awareness so you’re able to catch yourself when you go against the agreements, which we all do. It’s not about being perfect, and it’s not about punishing yourself. Remember, with awareness comes the choice to do things differently.
“If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it’s just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for.”
— The Four Agreements, Chapter 5
I wholeheartedly believe this is true.
So, will you make an agreement with yourself today to honor these Four Agreements? They are the keys to a healthy relationship and a happy life.
And when you break one, don’t worry. You can begin again tomorrow. And the next day.
Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Four Agreements! I hope you will do your best to honor them, catching yourself when you don’t. And remember to ALWAYS show yourself kindness.