This article was originally posted on October 29, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge
You do not need to be religious to have a philosophy guiding your life. However, when times get tough, it sure is helpful if you have a belief system to hang on to – to sustain you through difficulties. My absolute favourite personal philosophy for life comes from the author Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements. It is a short read and my emotional outlook has improved significantly since I adopted it. By following it, I find myself better able to focus on the positive, to catch myself when negative self-talk tries to take hold, and am better able to behave in a way that is congruent with how I feel and with what I believe.
Don Miguel Ruiz proposes the following Four Agreements as a philosophy for living:
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a parent I am continually reminding myself not to take things personally, and to be impeccable with my word. For me, this means that I don’t need to “own” my children’s issues: if my daughter is having a bad day, then she is having a bad day! It is not a reflection of anything I have done and I will not spend hours wondering what I could have done differently in order for her to have been in better spirits! I will certainly be available to her should she want to talk about it, and I will maintain an up-beat attitude around her.
All too often, parents do take the behaviours of their children personally. If a child is not listening, this can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect. Once the thought pops into your head that your child is disrespecting you, negative thoughts automatically flood through and before you know it, you are probably thinking angry thoughts about your child or about yourself as a parent. These angry automatic thoughts often are not grounded in reality and can serve only to bring forth negative emotion. Remember, just as you have your own agenda (you may need your child to listen because you have made dinner and she needs to come to the table), your child also has her own agenda (she may be in the middle of an activity and wants a moment to finish it up). Keeping these agreements as the philosophy guiding your life can help you keep the situation in perspective – it can help you remain objective and calm by not reading more into a situation than is necessary. Take some time to determine for yourself what the best guiding philosophy is for your life – then stick with it and see what happens!
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997).
Susan Guttridge is a trauma-informed Master level Counsellor with the clinical designation of Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCPA). She has 20+ years experience providing individual and group therapy.