These two things that I read today dovetailed quite nicely together. The first is abridged and adapted from “The Four Agreements,” and it is agreement number four: “Always Do Your Best.” The second is abridged and adapted from Melodie Beattie’s book “Gratitude.”
Always Do Your Best
There is just one more agreement, but it’s the one that allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits. Under any circumstance, always do your best.
Keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.
And your best will also change over time. As you build the habit of the four new agreements, your best will become better than it used to be.
Just do your best in any and every circumstance in your life. If you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself, because you will have done your best. There are no regrets. By always doing your best, you will be breaking a big spell that you have been under.
When you do your best, you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.
Doing your best doesn’t really feel like work because by focusing on doing your best you will more deeply enjoy whatever you are doing.
If you take action because you feel you have to, then there is no way you are going to do your best. Instead of taking action because you have to, it would be better to take action because you want to do your best and doing your best all the time makes you so happy.
Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the TV every day because you are afraid to be alive.
Doing your best is a great habit to have. I do my best in everything I do and feel. Doing my best has become a ritual in my life because I made the choice to make it a ritual.
Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your partner, your family, your community, to everything.
That is why we always do our best—so there are no regrets. It is not an easy agreement to keep, but this agreement is truly going to set you free.
(Adapted from Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Four Agreements,” pp. 75-83)
Many of us were deprived as children, and many of us have also carried that deprivation into adulthood.
Deprivation causes deprived thinking.
And deprived thinking perpetuates deprivation.
Deprivation becomes habitual. We may continue to feel afraid and deprived, even when we’re not.
We may react to deprivation in many ways. We may insist that life and the people in our lives make up for all we never had. That’s unfair. And those expectations can wreck what’s good today.
Deprived negative thinking makes things disappear. We grumbled about the half-empty water glass, so focused on what we don’t have that we fail to appreciate all that we do have—the half-full glass of water, the glass itself, or being alive and well enough to drink the water.
We become so afraid that we might not get more, or we’re so sour about only having half a glass to drink, that we may not even drink it—we may let it sit on the table until it evaporates. And then we have nothing! Which is what we thought we had anyway.
Deprived thinking turns good things into less, or worse, into nothing.
Grateful thinking turns things into more.
What we believe we deserve—what we really believe deep inside—will be what we get.
Deprived, negative, ungrateful thinking can prevent us from seeing what’s good in our lives today, and it can stop the good stuff from happening.
It hurts to be deprived. It hurts to be walk through life secretly believing we’re undeserving. So stop. Now.
Many years ago, I dreamed of getting married and raising a family and owning a beautiful little home that would be our castle. I wanted some of the things that other people had. I wanted “normal”—whatever that was.
It looked like I was about to get it, too. I got married. I got pregnant. I had a baby girl.
Now all I needed was a home.
We looked at all sorts of homes, large and in-between, but the home we got was the one we could afford. It had been a used property for fifteen years and had been standing vacant for a year. Now it was three-stories of broken windows and broken wood. Some rooms had ten layers of wallpaper on the walls. Some walls had holes straight through to the outdoors. The floors were covered with bright orange carpeting with large stains.
And we didn’t have money to fix it.
We had no money for pain, carpet, curtains. We couldn’t afford to furnish it.
We had three stories of dilapidated home, with a kitchen table, two chairs, a high chair, a bed, a crib, and two dressers, one with broken drawers.
About two weeks after we moved in, a friend stopped by. She kept repeating to me how lucky I was and how nice it was to own your own home.
But I didn’t feel lucky; and it didn’t feel nice. I didn’t know anyone else who owned a house like this.
I didn’t talk much about how I felt, but each night as my husband and daughter slept, I tiptoed downstairs, sat on the living room floor and cried. This became a ritual. While everyone was asleep, I sat in the middle of the floor thinking of everything I hated about the house, crying and feeling helpless and hopeless.
I did this for months.
And however legitimate my reaction may have been, it changed nothing.
Then one evening, when I was sitting in the floor going through my wailing and self-pity ritual, the thought occurred to me: Why don’t I try gratitude?
Gratitude, I thought. What could I possibly be grateful for? How and why should I?
But then I decided to try anyway.
After all, I had nothing to lose. And I was getting sick of my own whining and self-pity.
At first I wasn’t certain what to be grateful for. So I decided to be grateful for everything!
I didn’t feel grateful. So I willed it. I pretended. I faked it. I forced it. I made myself think grateful thoughts. When I saw the layers of peeling wallpaper, I thanked God.
I thanked God for each thing I hated about that house. I thanked God for giving it to me. I thanked God that I was there. Each time I had a negative thought, I countered it with a grateful one.
Now perhaps this wasn’t as logical of a reaction as being negative, but it turned out to be much more effective.
Because after I practiced gratitude for about three or four months, things began to change.
My attitude changed.
I stopped spending my nights sitting and crying in the middle of the living room floor. I started taking care of the house as if it were a dream home. I acted as if it were my dream home. I kept it as orderly and clean and nice as could be and made it a little better every day.
And nine months later, after a lot of learning and ingenuity and scraping by, I eventually had a beautiful home.
I had finally learned how to make something out of almost nothing, instead of making nothing out of something.
I had empowered myself and changed the course of my life!