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When I read or hear those words in the title above I get childhood flashbacks.  I can hear my first or second grade teacher tell this repeatedly to us in class as we worked on whatever assignment she gave us.  Or my parents telling me the very same thing whether it was in ballet class, that paper mache project, Easter egg dyeing or learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  Over and over.

But it’s also the 4th agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements.  Ah.  A few weeks back I made a commitment to read one chapter a week and blog about it.  And I’m just a couple weeks behind given another book which distracted me profoundly and a quick mental vacay on my typical blogging day Sunday last week.  But it’s all good.  Now I am realizing this is probably my last post of 2011.  Where does the time go?

OK, focus.  Ruiz sums up this chapter like this:  “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.”

See what I mean about words that are so simple and so profound?  I’ve probably made that comment ten million times in each post about these Agreements.  Don’t plan on this book being a quick read if you really want to get the most out of it.  You’ll want to re-read each chapter several times.

And the beauty of this chapter is that this 4th agreement points back to the other 3.  Always Do Your Best to…1. Be Impeccable with your Word; 2. Don’t Take Things Personally; and 3. Don’t Make Assumptions.

Ruiz goes on to explain how much “doing our best” will vary.  When we’re relaxed and refreshed our best is going to be better than when we’re tired.  It will be different when we are happy as opposed to upset.  And, as we continue to incorporate the 4 Agreements into our lives, our best will become better than it used to be.  

If we do our best we won’t judge ourselves.  We won’t punish ourselves.  Ahhh…how freeing is this!!  Especially someone like me who inherited a big ol’ Perfectionism gene.  If it couldn’t be perfect – whatever it was – it (or rather, I) sucked.  I beat myself up.  Or I’d get so overwhelmed I’d procrastinate or even worse not do something at all.  What an ugly downward spiral!

It’s taken years for me to wrestle and fight off that unreasonable, unrealistic quirk that’s so deep in my DNA.  Probably a little over ten years ago when I first started seeing a therapist was this pointed out to me.  HUH?  Well, she was right.  

My new, more modern, personal mantra?  “Excellence, not perfection.”  And I guess that’s similar to this 4th Agreement in a way.  These words resonate deep in my bones whether I’m focusing on a work project, getting ready to hit the ice and play hockey or continue to grow my Silpada jewelry business.  And every other area of my life too.

Ruiz explains more:  “When you do your best, you take action.  Doing your best is taking the action because you love it, not because you’re expecting a reward.”  He goes on to explain the cliche of a worker.  A worker who only works because he/she is expecting the reward – the paycheck.  They work hard the whole week, suffering the actions.  They have to work to pay the rent, to support their family…and when they do get their paycheck they are unhappy.  There’s only a couple days to rest (aka the weekend) and they then try to escape by getting drunk or what have you.

If we take action just for the sake of doing something without expecting a reward, we will enjoy every action we do.  If we like what we do, if we always do our best, we are really, truly enjoying life.  We have fun, we don’t get bored and we don’t have frustrations.  Man, sign me up!

What about when life takes away something from us?  Ruiz explains – “…let it go.  When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment…if you live in a past dream, you don’t enjoy what is happening right now, because you will always wish it to be different than it is.  There is no time to miss anyone or anything because you are alive.  Not enjoying what is happening right now is living in the past and being only half alive.  This leads to self-pity, suffering and tears.”

Practice makes the master.  Ruiz reminds us that we didn’t learn to speak, read, write or ride a bike right out of the box.  We had to practice, practice, practice!  And not judge ourselves when we fall.  If we break one of the Agreements, we tell ourselves OK, we’ll start over again tomorrow and try again.  It will be challenging at first, but as we practice we will get better and better at honoring all four.  Stay in the moment and do not worry about the future.

See why this book is going to be a perma-fixture on my bedside table for awhile?  It’s powerful stuff.  Life transforming.

After reading this book I now feel like I have a new, freshly-sharpened set of tools ready to make 2012 an even better year than this one was!  

Today is December 26, 2011.  It’s the beginning of A New Dream.