The Four Agreements: Toltec Wisdom and the Modern Man

The Four Agreements: Toltec Wisdom and the Modern Man

The most important principles a man can live by are his own — especially if they originate from a centuries old school of thought praised for its introspective wisdom.

By Matt Cheuvront

I should have been a philosophy major.

Throughout college I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life (I'm still not so sure). I switched majors from journalism to marketing halfway through because I thought the BBA was a ‘safer' way to go — that it would be easier to find a job if I had a business degree under my belt. But through it all it wasn't the accounting and finance classes that impacted me. I didn't learn the most from English 101 and Quantitative Methods. It was my ‘elective' coursework that I carry with me today – my studies in philosophy, theology, and comparative spirituality that I've not only been able to apply to my personal life, but my professional career as well.

The class was Intro to Philosophy and one of the first books we were assigned to read was The Four Agreements: A book of Toltec wisdom by a man named Don Miguel Ruiz. Being in the second semester of my freshman year, I automatically associated any form of reading with all things boring and uninteresting. But as I opened the book and read the inside cover, a list of the ‘four agreements' – I immediately was able to connect each with my life, growing up, and becoming a man.

Since then, The Four Agreements has sat next to my bed, much like you would find a bible in a hotel room. In a way, it has become a ‘bible' for the way I strive to live my life. I shouldn't complain about where I'm at right now. I'm engaged, I've got a good job, a salary, and 401k with benefits. But for some reason, I'm not comfortable with being content – this isn't where I want to be – I want more. So I'm going against what's ‘right' and what ‘makes sense' — quitting my job, packing my bags, and moving to Chicago with my fiancé to start our life together. It's scary, hell, it's downright terrifying. There's a lot of adversity in front of me, there are far more questions than there are answers, but through it all, I come back to these four ‘agreements' that continue to serve as the foundation of my attitude toward life.

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.

Remember that old creed that's burned into our brains in elementary school? ‘If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all'. It's cliché', I know, but sometimes (often times) we forget how powerful and impacting words can be (for good or for evil). Being ‘impeccable' with your word is no easy task, but making conscious decisions about what you're saying before you say it is something all of us can do, and probably do better at.

As men, we always want to be right, and when we're not, when we're challenged, we put our guard up, we get defensive, and we get personal. That's when our ugly side comes out – we say things we don't mean, thing we might regret, things that could be detrimental to a reputation.

So take a step back – think before you speak – and when you do, speak with integrity, be objective, or at least respectfully subjective. Use the power of word (an believe me, it is truly a power) for good, to unite and bring together people, ideas, and truths.

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.

I'm almost tempted to not really provide a commentary on this one because it can be interpreted in so many different ways. Out of all the ‘agreements' this one is by far the most difficult to understand and embrace. It's one I have to write on a post-it note and carry around with me. Every time life throws something our way that knocks us down and makes us take a step back, our first reaction is that it's personal. Take the example of job-searching. You apply, wait, go through an interview, wait, go through a second interview, wait again – weeks pass then finally you get the generic ‘we have chosen another applicant' email. It pisses you off, and you automatically rationalize that it was somehow something against you, something you did wrong – that Company X had a personal vendetta and enjoyed leading you on for the past month.

Stop. Seriously – you'll drive yourself crazy if you think like this. If you give something your all and still come up empty, it might suck, but you shouldn't have any regrets (more on this later). Don't take the decisions and circumstances that are out of your hands personally. Everyone builds their own perceptions. Realize that the only thing you can do is what's best for you – don't let people from the outside looking in cause you to doubt yourself.

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.

Two things I've learned growing up: 1. If you want to learn and grow, ask questions. 2. NEVER assume anything. Never assume someone is going to agree with you, never assume you've got the job in the bag before walking in for an interview. When you make assumptions, you set yourself up to be extremely vulnerable, and when you make false assumptions, you pretty much end up looking like a jackass.

To my first point. Ask questions, all the time, ask everyone around you. Don't assume you're the expert on everything and don't be too proud to admit when you don't know the answer to something. Asking someone else for help and advice is not a sign of weakness. If anything, it's a sign of strength, interest, and determination. It shows you're committed to learning and growing. And truly, the only way we can realize our full potential is to keep asking questions. Maintain the hunger for knowledge in everything you do.

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.

This one is self explanatory – Do your best and you're going to get the most out of life, you'll live without regret, and you'll be able to handle anything life throws at you. Ruiz is spot on when he says ‘your best is going to change from moment to moment'. Your ‘best' won't always be clearly defined, bringing your ‘A' game is going to be impossible at times – but make the best out of every situation, find the good in things, don't focus on the obstacles life puts in front of you, think about how you can and will overcome them.

Summing It All Up

All of this might sound a little hokey – it might sound like an inspirational speech you'd expect from your high school guidance counselor, but I promise I'm not just talking out of my ass – I practice what I preach. I maintain these mindsets in everything I do and (I hope) it's apparent to those around me. There's a lot to be learned from the wisdom and teachings of those before us. They are who they are, and they inspire people like me to write about them because, well, they're some pretty smart dudes. Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Ruiz – all innovative thinkers of their time that knew a thing or two about life. It's true what they say – sometimes you have to know where you came from to know where you're headed.

Matt Cheuvront is a 23 year old jack-of-all-trades. His blog, Life Without Pants, is a reflection of his attitude on life: free, thoughtful, unrestricted, and uninhibited. Away from the 9 to 5, his passion is writing, learning, inspiring, and maybe watching some football, playing Xbox, and having a few beers. To dive deeper into the rabbit hole, visit Matt's blog, Life Without Pants.

  • Ryan Stephens

    Matt –

    What a solid debut at Primer. I love watching how our community continues to extend our personal brands, and I definitely think you’ve added value to yet another community/group of readers.

    These are great rules, and if I wasn’t already deeply embedded in Stoicism (and how well it’s working) I’d pick up this book, but in the interim I think these are 4 great rules anyone could apply to their life today and become a better human being. And that’s what this mag is about right?

    Good stuff & look forward to more of your work, here, at LWP, and anywhere else you turn up.

    All the best,

  • Matt Cheuvront

    @Ryan – Thanks for coming by and for the kind words. I think, even as a stoic, you can apply some of these ‘guidelines’ to your daily life. Especially ‘always doing your best’. Knowing you (somewhat) personally, I know you practice this mantra daily. You continue to put your best foot forward in everything that you do. I think that, overall, that’s what these agreements are all about. Doing what’s best for you – which is completely different for every individual.

    Hat’s off to you Ryan – you’re an example of what doing your best can lead to in terms of success and respect from your peers. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this piece for Primer and am excited about continuing to cross platforms within various communities. Stay tuned for more from mee in this neck of the woods!

  • @Anita_Lobo

    Hi Matt!

    Love this post – the four principles apply equally to men and women. Liked the way you have tailored this post to the readers of Primer Magazine.

    Kudos to Primer for choosing the [much-needed] niche and for inviting you to write for them.

    Hmmm philosophy, theology, and comparative spirituality … we have much more to talk about!

    Anita Lobo

  • @Anita_Lobo

    Forgot to add: living wisdom from Paulo Coelho

  • Adrian

    I’ve read the book, very good read. It’s hard to do what it says. But if one manages then he is gonna live a great life..

  • Matt Cheuvront

    @Anita – The Four Agreements are universal, no doubt about that. The same post could be re-written and tailored to the female perspective as well – but it was an interesting and enlightening challenge to throw some testosterone into the philosophical mix here. You and I are never at a loss for things to talk about and as you know, I am always up for a good ‘life questioning’ conversation.

    @Adrian – Thanks for the comment! And you’re right – these ‘agreements’ are extremely hard to follow at times – but I think the takeaway here is that the agreements can mean different things to different people. Your best and my best may not mean the same thing. Many of these are ‘easier said than done’ but when you look at them as ‘guidelines’ instead of strict rules, you’ll realize that all are extremely do-able if you put forth the effort. Cheers!

  • Elisa

    Matt, great start at Primer. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that I have their online magazine in my Reader. 🙂

    These are really good pieces of advice, as you mentioned, for everyone to follow (not just 20-something guys.) The world would probably be a little better place in fact if everyone did. I also think your final final point is most excellent. Too often people forget their past or the things/people/events that brought you to the point that you are at. The four agreements have no bearing on your present and future if you have no foundation on which to base them.

  • Derick

    Very good post! These are some principals that I’ve been approaching through my own seeking, and I realize they’re very important to being a man, and a good person overall!

    Thanks for the book recommendation as well, I’m putting it on my list.

  • Lisa

    Matt– congrats once again on being featured! I really enjoyed this post.

    I am not a guy (obviously!) but I can certainly relate to everything you are saying. Maybe this can be attributed to the fact that we are the same age, and like many 20somethings, we all face similar changes and challenges throughout life. A lot of us share the same experiences, and that is incredibly comforting.

    Each of the “agreements” can be used in our daily lives- both personally and professionally, and I truly feel as though all of us (the entire global population) would benefit tremendously if we all adopted these rules and agreements and implemented them into our everyday lives. I think that is the beauty of these principles- each and every person can benefit from them and relate to them, irrespective of one’s gender or age group. The Four Agreements are so universal.

    Thanks for spreading words of wisdom. 🙂

  • Benjamin Wilcox


    I really enjoyed reading this article. I didn’t take any philosophy courses in school, but after reading articles from you and Ryan, I have to say that I am becoming very interested in the topic.

    I think I like the third principle the best. So many times in my life I have incorrectly made an assumption and been either pleasantly suprised or disturbed by my assumptions being incorrect. An important thing to remember when trying to grow personally is to be open to new ideas and opportunities. The opportunity that helps you the most could be the one you had never before considered.

    Great first article in a promising series of primer mag articles.

  • Matt Cheuvront

    @Elisa – Not surprised at all – judging from our conversations, I think we look at the same exact Google Reader everyday 🙂 – great minds think alike. And I agree – I wrote this article with everyone in mind, but tailored a few points to the ‘male’ persona. I’m happy to see so many people, both men and women, finding value in the article. As you said, it’s important to remember where you came from in order to know where you’re heading. Your past doesn’t define you, but it is a part of who you are.

    @Derick – Thanks for the comment bro! I strongly recommend you pick the book up – should be able to grab it for $10 or so and it is WELL worth it. It’s one of those books you have to read with a highlighter – so much good-ness to take in. Cheers!

    @Lisa – You’re not a guy? What….the….hell?? HAHA – kidding kidding! It is extremely comforting to know that we’re all in this together – we’re all out there trying to find the meaning of life, and through all the chaos and adversity, there is comfort in knowing and being able to talk to others who are going through similar circumstances. I’m happy to spread some wisdom that I try to apply to my everyday life, both personally and professionally. Thanks for the comment and, as always, for the support.

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  • bible movies

    Too often people forget their past or the things/people/events that brought you to the point that you are at