The Four Agreements summary PDF
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The Four Agreements Summary & PDF | Don Miguel Ruiz

A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

The Four Agreements summary PDF


The Four Agreements is a practical guide to personal freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz, who became an apprentice under a shaman. He has expert knowledge of the ancient Toltecs, an indigenous Mexican culture of noble warriors and artists that lived around 1,000 years ago. The book is based on Toltecs’ attitude to freedom from self-limiting beliefs that may cause suffering in a person’s life.

The Four Agreements is a highly influential book. It was first published in 1997 and has been an ever-popular book since Oprah Winfrey endorsed it in 2001 and 2013. The book has been translated into 46 languages, sold over 8 million copies in the US, and spent over a decade on the New York Times bestseller list.

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About Don Miguel Ruiz

Don Miguel Ruiz is a Mexican author whose work is inspired by Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts. He was born into a family of healers and raised in rural Mexico by a curandera (healer) mother and a nagual (shaman) grandfather. His family assumed he would take on their centuries-old legacy of healing and teaching, and carry forward the Toltec knowledge. Instead, distracted by modern life, Ruiz attended medical school and became a surgeon.

A near-death experience changed his life. Stunned by this experience, he began an intensive practice of self-inquiry. He devoted himself to the mastery of ancient ancestral wisdom. He studied earnestly with his mother and completed an apprenticeship with a powerful shaman in the Mexican desert. In 2018, he was listed as one of Watkins’ 100 most spiritually influential living people.

StoryShot #1: The Outside World Negatively Domesticates You

The outside world has a significant impact on how we live our lives. Ruiz calls this “domestication.”

Domestication is not generally positive, pushing us toward being fearful and judgmental. As we are punished for bad actions and rewarded for obeying the outside world, we get obsessed with rewards. This is not good for us as it teaches us to pursue good actions to receive rewards. We should pursue good actions for the action itself. The punishment of not obeying leaves us feeling like we are not good enough.

Based on this, Ruiz believes our biggest fear in life is not death, but being who we truly are. To be genuinely happy, we must break free of our shackles.

StoryShot #2: You Are Shackled from a Young Age

These shackles develop from a young age. We are born into social norms that dictate the dreams we can have in life. The collective dream of the planet influences our individual dreams. Our parents, schools, religion, and politicians teach us this collective dream.

Through this education, we learn:

  • How to behave ‘properly’
  • What we should believe
  • The difference between good and bad

Our acceptance of these societal agreements is our domestication. If we tried to rebel during childhood or adolescence, we were punished and suppressed by more powerful parents and teachers. Just like an animal, we were also rewarded when we obeyed these more powerful individuals. Subsequently, we all surrendered and followed the collective dream, not our individual dreams. But as we grow older, we no longer need a more powerful person to domesticate and control us.

These ideas from our upbringing are so in-built that we domesticate ourselves as adults. We can break free from this structure and establish new agreements for ourselves. These are the four agreements.

StoryShot #3: You Are Living in a Dream

Societal conditioning and cultural expectations shape much of human behavior. Ruiz calls this “domestication.” Domestication leads to us all living in a dream. We base our decisions on irrational and incorrect assumptions about ourselves. We grow up judging and blaming ourselves and others. We aspire to gain rewards from a system we didn’t choose.

This conditioning shapes our understanding of ourselves and the world. It leads us to live our lives by a set of internalized rules we have learned from our culture, family, and society, rather than our own true nature.

Dreams make us struggle with:

  • Our personal reality
  • The way we see ourselves
  • The expectations we have for ourselves
  • The judgments we have about ourselves and others

By recognizing that we are living in a dream, we can:

  • Question the beliefs that shape our behavior
  • Change our perception of reality
  • Let go of limiting beliefs and judgments
  • Start to live our lives in a more authentic way

By recognizing the ways we’re conditioned, we can live in a more fulfilling way, free from the expectations of society and our inner voice.

StoryShot #4: You Can Wake Up from Dreams

It is possible to wake up from the dream we’re living in. It is possible to re-engineer your reality without endlessly striving to be better. It is possible to live without suffering. To achieve this, you will need to master three skills in order:

  1. Awareness – You must be aware that you are living in a dream-like state full of illusions; you must see these illusions for what they are.
  2. Forgiveness – You must accept the consequences of these illusions—how the illusions impact you and those around you.
  3. Action – You need to dissolve this dream and shape it into something more reflective of reality.

If you master all three skills, you will have reached enlightenment. This is a state of no suffering and can also be described as the second awakening.

StoryShot #5: Accept Both Death and Life

We must accept death, and the concept of death will teach us how to live our lives.

Accepting death allows us to understand that life doesn’t last forever and we should make the most of the time we have. By recognizing the fleeting nature of life, we can let go of our fears and attachments and start to live our lives the way we truly want to.

We can also let go of the expectations of others and live life true to our own values and beliefs. Instead of worrying about what others might think, we can focus on living our lives. 

Listening to the angels of death allows us to live in the present as much as possible. We can enjoy life without being attached to the concept of life. When we live in the present, we don’t waste time worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Instead, we can focus on enjoying and making the most of the time we have.

StoryShot #6: Awareness Is the Starting Line for Your Journey

Ruiz wants us to know that our life is like a dream, and death is essential for living our lives. That said, awareness is required to recognize that our life is like a dream, and we will one day die.

Your awareness can fade, though, as you go about your life. One moment, you are no longer in the dream-like state. Next, you are no longer aware of how you live. As well as developing awareness, we must also learn how to maintain awareness. Train your awareness like a muscle. Doing this is the only way to true, consistent enlightenment.

Two ways to elevate and maintain your awareness are meditation and fasting. The Buddha laid a clear path of meditation, fasting, and mindfulness. Ruiz believes we should follow in his footsteps. He also suggests a plant-based diet is important. Plants have altered the experiences of all humans throughout history. Indigenous American shaman traditions guide this suggestion.

StoryShot #7: If You Develop Awareness, You Will Develop Forgiveness

The forgiveness Ruiz links with awareness relates to forgiving our past and ongoing failures caused by our beliefs. It is also forgiveness for causing ourselves and those around us to suffer because of our illusions. Finally, it is forgiveness for the suffering others produce through their dreams.

Universal love is based on acceptance by all. If you accept the world and the surrounding people, you will feel a huge weight lift off your shoulders. This greater acceptance does not mean you will always live up to your expectations. You will fail, and so will others. But accepting these mistakes and the fact that you are human will help you maintain awareness.

StoryShot #8: Once You Can Forgive, You Can Take Action

In The Four Agreements, Ruiz points out that forgiveness unlocks the space, energy, and strength needed to reshape your reality.

Forgiveness encourages three actions:

  • Preventing new, unwanted agreements from taking root. By forgiving ourselves and others, we can break free from negative patterns of behavior and thought. When we forgive, we can let go of resentment and anger. Forgiveness can prevent us from forming new, harmful agreements with ourselves and others.
  • Eliminating old, damaging agreements already in place. Forgiveness can help us release old, negative agreements we have made with ourselves and others. When we forgive, we let go of past hurts and traumas, which can help us move on and leave behind the pain of the past.
  • Programming new agreements that slowly eliminate suffering. By forgiving, we can create new, positive agreements with ourselves and others. These new agreements help us find peace, happiness, and fulfillment. Forgiveness removes the suffering that comes from holding on to negative emotions and thoughts.

Forgiveness is not something you do for someone else, but rather something you do for yourself. To forgive is to free yourself from the heavy burden of resentment, anger, and hurt. It allows you to let go and move on, creating space for new positive experiences and a happier life.

StoryShot #9: We Are All Living in Our Own Dream

As well as accepting our dream-like state of living, we must also understand others. Ruiz reminds us that we are not responsible for others; we are only responsible for ourselves.

If we accept we are no longer responsible for others, we cannot be hurt by others’ actions. We take actions against us less personally when we know that others are only behaving based on their own dream-like living. Ruiz describes this as immune to other people’s emotional poison. If you avoid this emotional poison, you can move through the world with ease.

Not taking things personally also opens up the possibility of trusting your heart more to guide your life. You will be less controlled by the opinions and actions of others. Your objective reality will guide you.

Building on these ideas, Ruiz introduces four clear takeaway messages to implement: the four agreements.

StoryShot #10: The First Agreement Is “Be Impeccable with Your Word”

This first agreement is the most important but is often the most difficult to adhere to. The word ‘impeccable’ comes from the Latin word for ‘sin’ and a Latin prefix for ‘without.’

Sin is anything that goes against who you are. So, being impeccable with your word means being responsible for your actions and not judging others and yourself.

Ruiz describes words as being more powerful than we realize. They are the building blocks of labels, concepts, and beliefs. We must be cautious before using words, as we might create new, harmful illusions. The easiest way to do this is to get into the habit of only saying what you mean and meaning only what you say. If in doubt, say nothing. 

StoryShot #11: The Second Agreement Is “Don’t Take Anything Personally”

Not taking things personally allows you to avoid harm as it prevents you from taking others’ words to heart. When someone insults you, imagine that person is full of poison, and their words are poison projected at you. If you take their insults personally, you will ingest their poison. If you eat their poison, you will feel like a victim and find it hard to think clearly.

Having a strong sense of self means you don’t have to rely on others’ opinions to feel content. We must become less reactive and more detached from other people’s actions. We must acknowledge we would do the same if we were in that person’s reality. If we stop taking things personally, anger, jealousy, envy, and sadness can disappear. 

Taking things personally can lead to personal importance. This is a state where we believe everything is about us, leading to us taking more things personally. This puts us in a cycle of worrying about what other people think.

Absolutely nothing people say or do to you is about you; all their actions are about them. Insults are often tied to personal issues or beliefs of that person. Ruiz suggests we don’t seek information from others, as their views are never relevant. Instead, focus on accepting and improving yourself.

StoryShot #12: The Third Agreement Is “Don’t Make Assumptions”

Making assumptions leads to suffering. Assumptions often have minimal basis in reality and only exist in our imaginations. Thinking about others’ thoughts has the potential to produce stress or conflict. People often perceive their assumptions as the truth, so they often lead to negative consequences.

To overcome this habit, we need to ask questions and clearly communicate with others. Transparent communication prevents assumptions from taking hold. Keeping to this agreement will help you avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. The simplest way to live by this agreement is to notice when someone does or says something that is different from what you thought. In these instances, remember the misunderstanding isn’t theirs but yours.

Out-of-control assumptions can harm our relationships. For example, people often assume their partners know what they’re thinking. This can lead to them believing their partners will do what they want. When this isn’t the case, they’re often disappointed or angry with their partner. We should ask more questions to avoid making assumptions.

StoryShot #13: The Fourth Agreement Is “Always Do Your Best”

Doing your best does not mean doing the best that is physically possible. It means doing the best you can individually manage, which can vary by situation and your current circumstances.

One way to do your best is to adopt the first three agreements into your daily life. If you do this, you can avoid regret and accept that people do their best at every moment. You will come to enjoy the action itself, rather than only the rewards associated with actions.

We should work hard because it makes us happy, rather than based on external motivation. He uses the example of earning a salary. If our primary motivation at work is money, we will never do our best. We will be stuck in jobs that pay well but we will lack fulfillment and joy. Subsequently, we will seek joy in other ways, such as spending our free time partying, drinking, and doing other things that harm our lives.

If doing your best means working hard because you love the task, your work will begin to feel effortless. In this way, the final agreement—to always do your best—will increase the power of the other three agreements while helping you free yourself.

StoryShot #14: There Are Three Paths to Freedom

Ruiz outlines three basic pathways to freedom:

  • Awareness – This involves recognizing our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and their impact on our lives. By becoming more aware of ourselves and the way we interact with the world, we can break free from limiting beliefs and behaviors that hold us back.
  • Discipline – This is essential for making lasting changes in our lives and achieving freedom. It involves setting clear goals and committing to taking consistent action toward them, even when it is difficult. It also involves learning to control our thoughts and emotions, rather than letting them control us.
  • Death – While this may seem counterintuitive, Ruiz argues that the concept of death can be a powerful motivator and catalyst for change. Recognizing that our time on earth is limited can inspire us to make the most of our lives and pursue our passions and dreams with greater urgency.

Overall, Ruiz suggests that we need to embrace the three pathways to freedom—awareness, discipline, and death. By doing so, we can break free from the limitations and constraints that hold us back and live more authentic, fulfilling lives.

Final Summary and Review 

The Four Agreements outlines four principles for achieving personal freedom and happiness. The four agreements are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

The book discusses the idea that we are all domesticated by society to be fearful and judgmental. However, we can break free from these societal norms by practicing awareness, forgiveness, and action. Don Miguel Ruiz also explores the concept of death and how it can motivate us to live more authentic, meaningful lives. 

The Four Agreement emphasizes the importance of openness and compassion. This includes understanding the actions of others, forgiving, and not letting others’ mistakes hold us back.

Which of these insights did you find helpful? Tag us on social media and let us know!


We rate this deceptively-short and simple but powerful book by Don Miguel Ruiz 4.6/5.

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Editor’s Note

This article was first published in early 2021. It was updated and carefully revised on 14/1/23.

The content is an unofficial summary and analysis.

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