Recently I was reminded about the profound simplicity of “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and it’s applicability to the practice of your life became very clear to me. Here’s my take on his first agreement:
Be Impeccable with your word
Ruiz explains that the latin root of the word means ‘without sin’ and that being impeccable with your word basically means not sinning with your word. If you are religious – particular Christian – this may have strong connotations for you. Here are four additional interpretations of what ‘being impeccable with your word’ could mean to you:
Honor your word
You often hear people say things like ‘Talk is cheap’ or ‘he talks the talk, but does he walk the talk?’ These expressions have evolved in our common discourse because most people do not honor their word. People often don’t say what they mean or mean what they say; people don’t fulfill on their commitments; in short most people don’t honor their word.
What does it mean to honor your word? Here are some guidelines:
- Do what you say you’re going to do.
- Do what you know others, or society expects of you even though it may not have been said.
- Take steps to reduce the impact of your failure to do what you said—or were expected to do—by immediately informing affected persons of your failure or impending failure, and by making new agreements with them to handle the consequences of your failure. This establishes your trustworthiness and professionalism. There is no dishonor in failing, only in not being responsible for it.
People do not honor their word primarily because they do not understand the consequence of not doing so. So here is one consequence of not honoring your word that I hope will live for you:
If you do not honor your word, you will not be trusted to produce outcomes that people value, and if you cannot be trusted to reliably produce outcomes that people value you are unlikely to be welcome or included in networks of people that generate wealth and power; you will not make it to the top echelons of business, politics or any major profession.
Do Not Gossip
Gossip is the practice of telling unverified stories about people to your friends, co-workers and family etc., as if you either know them to be true, or as if you believe them to be true even though you can’t prove them. Gossiping also includes the simple passing along of what others are saying without any consideration to the impact of what you are repeating.
The essential characteristic of gossip is that it separates people and poisons relationships by destroying trust. When you gossip you use your word as a weapon against others.
Be Careful of What Comes after the words “I am”
This is more accurately a part of “Honoring your word” but it is sufficiently important that I give it special attention.
Negative self-beliefs, and poor self-esteem, come from unconscious habits of placing destructive descriptors after the words “I am,” as in “I am stupid/ugly/fat/slow/poor/bad/unworthy/undeserving” etc.
Positive descriptors coming after the words ‘I am,’ build positive and creative attributes like confidence, self-esteem, optimism, willingness to help etc., while negative descriptors instill destructive attributes like resignation, cynicism, jealousy, victimhood etc.
For those more spiritually inclined, remember that God’s response to Moses’ question of “Who shall I say sent me” was “I am that, I am” (Exodus 3:14). Consider that the words “I am” are the words of supreme and infinite creation and that to place destructive terms after them is a more useful interpretation of the Christian admonition to not use God’s name in vain.
Create Your Life Purpose
You are a creative being and your existence on this planet is meant for something. Whether you believe that something is pre-ordained and you are meant to find it, or that it is something for you to invent, it will not come to pass unless you first articulate it with your words.
Your purpose only becomes your purpose when you articulate it—when you put it into words.
This is the starting point of what it means to be impeccable with your word. Making your purpose clear to yourself and to others and then being true to that purpose is what it means to be impeccable with your word.