The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
In the 4th Agreement of “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, we are encouraged to “Always Do Our Best”, no more and no less. Our best will change, depending on our resources and energy.
Why we do less than our best
In “The Four Agreements”, Ruiz suggests that we do less than our best when we view an activity as unrewarding. We may put in the time, but if the activity is not enjoyable, it will feel like a chore. If it’s no fun, we won’t do our best.
Consequences of doing less than our best
When we don’t do our best, our self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we think of an activity as unrewarding, the more unrewarding the activity becomes. The more unrewarding the activity is, the less we want to do it, until, sometimes, we go “round and round the merry-go-round” so much we give up on the activity altogether.When we do less than our best, we can feel disappointed, worried, and anxious. The less we do, the less we do, which can lead to anxiety, self-loathing, a sense of “I can’t do anything”, “I hate this”, “work is a drag” and “life is a drag”. When we do less than our best, we suffer. We create a painful hell for ourselves.
Why we do more than our best
At first glance, the phrase “Don’t do more than your best” may seem like a contradiction: after all, don’t we WANT to do better than our best? Actually, no, we don’t.
When you think of the phrase “do better than my best”, replace it with “overextending myself”, and the importance of this agreement becomes more clear. In our modern-day, fast-paced society, one of our accepted “agreements” is “you can always do more, you can always do better”. In this belief system, we should extend ourselves beyond exhaustion and sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. We should do more, more, more, as if it’s a weakness to say “I need a rest.”
Consequences of doing more than our best
When we overextend ourselves, our actions no longer feel joyful. Rather, we feel a sense of obligation, the pressure to be perfect, a sense of “always more to do”. We feel overwhelmed, exhausted, resentful and powerless. We become less effective. We deplete ourselves, we let ourselves down and we create a painful hell for ourselves. This 4th agreement suggests that when we overextend, when we do too much, when we force ourselves to keep going, when we want to rest, when we say yes, when we long to say no, we are no longer doing our best.
In “The Four Agreements”, Don Miguel Ruiz tells the story of a man who asks a Buddhist Master how soon he can transcend suffering if he meditates four hours a day. The Master responds that the man will transcend in ten years. The man wants to do better and asks how long to transcend if he doubles his meditation time to eight hours a day. The Master responds that it might take twenty years. Confused, the man asks why it will take him longer to transcend if he meditatas more. The Master replies, “You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life. You are here to live, to be happy, and to love. If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love, and be happy."
”What is the promise of "Always Do Your Best"?
The promise of “always do your best” is a life which is fun, free and happy. Life is supposed to be fun. When we do our best, we don’t sacrifice our joy or our life. When we do our best, we are free from self-judgement. We can forgive ourselves for past mistakes because we know we did our best with the knowledge and resources we had at the time.
When we do our best, we allow ourselves to be honest about our capacity to be available physically or emotionally. When we do our best, we set ourselves free.
How do we do our best, no more, no less?
I suggest a four step process which is inspired by my friend Martha Creek.
IDEAS TO SUPPORT "ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST"
If Our Tendency Is To Do "Less Than Our Best"
If our tendency is to do "more than Our Best:
ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST
Pause; Presence; Proceed; Persist.
Do what you can with what you have, where you are.
Do your best, no more, no less. Doing your best leads to personal power, to forgiveness, to acceptance, to freedom.