5 ways to get out of your own way and communicate clearly

Imagine beginning each day with personal agreements that have the potential to bring more happiness, new levels of awareness, and guidance toward a path of deeper mindfulness. If you could stop pretending to be something you are not, and start enjoying being you, would you?

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In the book “The Four Agreements” and its follow-up, “The Fifth Agreement”, author Don Miguel Ruiz, poses that our actions are based on agreements we make with ourselves, our friends, our family, our relationships with others, and with life. Still, the agreements we make with ourselves are the most important. Ruiz believes these agreements allow us to understand who we are, how to behave, what is possible, and what is impossible. I spoke with Ruiz’s son, Miguel A. Ruiz Jr., about how practicing mindfulness can encourage a greater self-awareness and help guide us when practicing the Five Agreements. Be impeccable with your word. Ruiz suggests readers speak with integrity and clarity—to be mindful of how we think, speak, and communicate. Avoid speaking ill of yourself or gossiping about others. Being impeccable with your word involves being truthful, honest, and kind. Ruiz urges us to use the power of our words in the direction of truth and love.

Avoid taking things personally. The easiest way to think of the second agreement is to remember that we have the option not to take things so personally. For many people, this agreement is one of the hardest to embrace. Even Ruiz Jr. says he struggled to apply this agreement. He later realized it was difficult because he was trying to be something he was not: someone who doesn't ever take things personally. He discovered he was trying to live up to the agreement rather than actually living it. “The way I understand it is that I am only responsible for my own will and my own perception—I do not control the will nor the perception of another individual,” he explains. “To not take things personally is to not assume responsibility for another individual’s will nor perception, I only assume responsibility for my own will and perception,” Ruiz Jr. adds. Ruiz Jr. further explains that once we realize what we take personally, it’s time for us to face another truth: What triggers us to feel this way? “This is when the concept of the hunter in the Toltec tradition begins and I start to be honest with myself and see what triggers me to take things personally, such as certain types of comments, certain people in my life, and their actions and comments, etc.,” he says. Once you determine your triggers and know how they impact you, you begin to see them in your perception, which ultimately makes you more aware Avoid making assumptions. Think through the last few days. How often did you make assumptions or anticipate the reaction of others? The problem with making assumptions is that they’re really only a version of our own observations and feelings.

For many people, asking for clarification can be difficult, so we often default to making assumptions. After making an assumption, we can enter into a vicious cycle of wondering what is actually accurate. Free yourself from this continuous loop by using clear communication and asking clarifying questions from the outset. Always do your best. Ruiz believes we should always strive to do our best: to be awake and aware of our personal behavior, feelings, and responses, rather than simply going through the motions. Ruiz also reminds us that our best will shift from one moment to the next and should be spared from an idea of perfection. Being mindful can help us let go of self-judgment and learn to be more compassionate with ourselves. Be skeptical, but learn to listen. The fifth agreement prompts us to be skeptical of others but also encourages us to learn to listen. In the “The Fifth Agreement”, Ruiz says, “Don’t believe yourself or anybody else. Use the power of doubt to question everything you hear: Is it really the truth? Listen to the intent behind the words, and you will understand the real message.”

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