Promises to Make to Yourself for a Happy Life
Ever made a promise to someone? To yourself? But what are the most important promises we can ever make?
Growing up you probably heard someone saying something like: “women can’t be trusted.” Someone else would say: “women are much kinder than men.” Yet someone else would say: “women are confusing.”
Then we had our own experiences, which were often colored by the opinions we heard, and through those we made up our own opinions.
In Toltec teachings, this is called the “mitote.” The dream world inside our minds, made up of our opinions that, originally, came from the opinion of others. Our opinions, based on previous experiences, filtering our current reality.
The interesting thing is, all those opinions people tried to impress on you, were often opposing. And sometimes you end up believing in two totally opposing beliefs. Depending on what’s going on in your life, different beliefs, or “points of reference for how to live your life,” will be triggered. My former principal at the Science of Acting, Sam Kogan, used to call them points of reference. Clues you picked up as a kid as to how life worked and that you then use as points of reference for how to navigate your life.
Maybe it’s easier to understand when thinking about dating. Sometimes you think casual dating is good, because it’s fun. Sometimes you think you should stop doing it, because you’re wasting time that could be spent looking for a long-term partner. Or, part of you feels guilty for having fun, because you should be busy looking for a partner, the other part feels like it’s the right thing to do, because life should be fun.
This is why, when you promise yourself, or someone else, something you often end up breaking the promise. Because one part of you wants to keep it, but another doesn’t.
There are four promises we should all make ourselves though. Four promises that will help silence out all the various opinions rattling around our heads and let our heart/intuition speak clearly. These are, what Don Miguel Ruiz, calls The Four Agreements.
1 Be Impeccable with Your Word
Your word is powerful magic. If you walk over to your neighbor and tell her another neighbor is guilty of a crime, you might end up swaying her opinions of him from favorable, to unfavorable. She may never again talk to this neighbor. Even if the criminal himself hasn’t committed a crime for twenty years and was only guilty of shoplifting as a teenager and has since redeemed himself. But you didn’t know that. You simply shared some juicy gossip about him being a criminal.
When you’re impeccable with your word, you find out the facts before you speak.
You have lots of opinions. Many of them based on the opposing opinions you were raised with. Your mitote, your points of reference. When you decide to share those opinions, you influence those around you. Just because you don’t like someone you just met, do you have to sway your friends into not liking them too? Are you sure that your opinions are valid?
Also, when you say something out loud, you create something from your thoughts. A thought becomes a thing. A word. You bring it into being. So if you’re going to say something, say something that actually helps you. Sitting around moaning about all your problems…where’s your focus? How do you feel? If you instead start talking about what’s going well in your life…where’s your focus? How do you feel?
"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..."
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
People have as much mitote going on in their heads as you do yours. They see you, you remind them of their less than pleasant father, and they get annoyed with you. But you didn’t cause it.
Ever had those bizarre conversations that you just couldn’t understand? Because the other person was reacting to something you never did? They just read something into an action? Or, they simply made a big deal out of a tiny detail?
Say you have a good friend, you feel the friendship is coming along nicely, you feel closer than ever, then you show up five minute late for a meeting and they blow up on you. Tell you that you don’t care about them because you were late. And oh, the other week, you were late once as well. Then they didn’t say something, but it was ten minutes. Ten whole minutes. You don’t care about them, that much is clear.
Their reaction is completely out of proportion to what happened. You got stuck in traffic, or you are a bad judge fo time. It wasn’t personal, but they took it extremely personal.
It turns out that their mother, who abandoned them when they were twelve, was chronically late and recently their boyfriend, who had a little bit of a tendency to be late, dumped them for someone else. Their mind is currently stuck in a pattern of thinking that people who are late don’t care about them. Don’t respect them, or their time. And, ultimately, will abandon them.
The funny (but rather sad thing), is that this very thinking may now make them act in such a way that you abandon them for blowing up in their face. We tend to create what we have inside our minds.
People react to the stuff inside their minds, as much as they do to the real world. They interpret everything through the filter of their past experiences and the opinions they were raised with.
That’s not to say you don’t need to take responsibility for your actions. You do. Just know that what people react to — why they like you, or dislike you — sometimes isn’t very personal at all. It’s not a sign of your great character, or lack thereof, but rather something that fits into their worldview, or doesn’t.
"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..."
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
We actually have to make assumptions to live our lives. We have to accumulate knowledge that we act from. Otherwise, we’d be like a newborn every day.
However, when you assess a situation, or read a message from someone, don’t assume you know what’s going on in their minds. You usually don’t.
The example above about a friend that blows up in your face because you’re late is a classic — they made an assumption that because you were late you didn’t care about them and would, eventually, abandon them. The lateness was just the first sign you didn’t care.
They made an assumption, probably without much conscious thought, and reacted to that assumption. The reason I say it probably wasn’t conscious is that if you asked them what they were thinking just before they yelled at you, they will likely say they felt annoyed, or angry. They didn’t stop to analyze what they were thinking. They just felt an emotions and acted on it.
The other day, I got a message that made me see red. I didn’t reply. Luckily, I had a coaching call with my coach, so that’s what I did instead. And my coach told me I didn’t know what the message meant. Instead, he encouraged me to speak my truth. Say exactly what I wanted to say. Turned out, the message absolutely did not mean what I thought it did. Like, not at all.
Ever heard someone say: “Do you think s/he wants to see me again, based on these messages?” Couldn’t they just ask the person, instead of trying to make an assumption?
The thing is, no matter how clearly you communicate, people will still make their own assumptions based on what’s going on in their lives/minds. But at the very least, try not to make assumptions yourself. Unless you are standing in someone’s shoes and have their entire history behind you, you don’t know how they are feeling, or what they are thinking.
It’s the same as someone receiving critique from their boss at work. Yes, it could be a disaster and forewarning that you’ll get fired. It could also mean your boss sees potential in you and therefore wants you to do better so you can get a promotion soon.
Don’t make assumptions.
Whenever you go “a happened, that means b,” or “someone said a, that means b,” stop yourself. Ask yourself if you really have all the facts. If not, ask the obvious questions to find out.
You don’t always need to know. You just have to act from your heart. Do what’s true to you.
"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..."
4. Always Do Your Best
If you always do your best, you have no reason to scold yourself. We all look back, thinking we could have done better, but could we? Given the information we had then, could we? Maybe we could, but the past is over, so in that case, focus on the now. Do your best now. You can’t do more than your best.
People have these twisted ideas that they need to get an A, or need to become a movie star, or need to make a million dollars to feel good about themselves (besides, how many of those goals are coming from the heart and how many are coming from the ego? Are they really goals, or just things you need to do to prove yourself, or prove you aren’t good enough?). All they have to do is their best.
Doing your best is all that matters. That’s not an excuse for being lazy. People who do their best are not lazy.
When we let our ego dictate us, we are always swinging on a pendulum. We feel great when we achieved something, terrible when we didn’t. It’s not a fulfilling way to live your life.
The whole pride/failure thing is a recipe for disaster. When you do your best, you might not have any massive ego “highs.” But nor will you have any lows.
"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..."
All quotes from Don Miguel Ruiz, unless otherwise specified.