June 28, 2014

Don Miguel Ruiz’s 5th Agreement: Listening & Changing Habits.


We don’t know what we don’t know. This means the stories we tell others (and ourselves) have the possibility of being false.

“Listen. But with skepticism.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz

A friend of mine had so many challenges at work with “back-stabbing story telling” that she had to take a stress-related medical leave. This came after a mediator stepped in to interview the employees involved and then informed my friend of the veritable smorgasbord of stories that were told about her—none of which she felt was accurate.

She tried to articulate her reality, but by this time too much damage was done, too much time had passed, too much ego was at stake.

Have you ever had an “aha moment”?

Who hasn’t! And what is an “aha moment,” but a sudden realization and acceptance of new information that changes the course of our mindset. What we thought just seconds ago to be a truer than true factoid is now a surprising “fiboid.”

It wasn’t that long ago the Earth was flat, after all.

So, it stands to reason that whatever we’re thinking at any given moment may not be correct, or as real as we think/feel/believe it is. (This whole essay is a figment of my imagination I’m hoping you’ll agree with!)

The stories we tell ourselves, and therefore others, are often lies (or misperceptions at the very least).

It’s been awhile since I read The Fifth Agreement, but what stood out was the basic concept that we must listen, but with skepticism.

In it, Miguel not only refers to hearing what others say, but also to paying attention to the stories we tell ourselves.

We all have our own perceptions based on unique life experiences and disagree on many things. Sure, some ideals many do consent on in principal—murder: bad, puppies: cute—but even therein lies a vast crevice of congruity amongst cultures, e.g., the Chinese dog-eating festival, for instance, and including those within our own culture.

Seven witnesses of a traffic accident will have seven different stories to tell. One man’s confidence spells arrogance to his co-worker. A woman’s silence is seen as respectful by some and apathy by another.

Even when we think we’re clear in our communications, others may interpret our words (and actions) differently than is our intent. And sometimes others do understand our intent, but still disagree with us.

Because of fear, we often lean toward negative interpretations instead of giving others the benefit of the doubt. We build up a buffer of defence by taking the offensive position. Feeling that we’ll be taken advantage of or feel the fool has us prejudging and preparing our fight or flight response in advance of any such reality.

But can you blame us? It does happen! We are sometimes shat upon. But not as often as we think it will happen. So what we do about it? (The crappy thinking not the being shit on.)

What if, instead of making up bad-feeling stories in our minds, we instead give each other the benefit of the doubt? What if we make up a story based on the best case outcome, or based on someone’s best intentions? Wouldn’t that feel better than jumping to negative conclusions? We’d save ourselves angst as oft as naught.

And any salvation of unsavoury feelings is worth the risk of that vulnerability, is it not? I think yes! If vulnerability is less comfortable than gobbling down anger, disappointment, hurt, criticism, insert-negative-emotion-here, then perhaps it’s time to reframe the stories we’re conjuring and figure out why we feel the need to cause our own suffering.

What is the key to changing a thought? One simple question: How can I look at this differently that will allow me to feel better now?

It doesn’t even matter if the story is ‘right.’ We’ve effectively been telling ourselves bad feeling fibs often enough already, so let’s try it the other way. Pity feels better than anger and compassion feels better than pity and love feels best of all.

But habits can take time to break and can require conscious, concentrated effort. Those thought pattern habits are physiologically programmed pathways in our brains. True story. (I think.) Being gentle and gracious and forgiving of ourselves when we falter is the first step to reframing our negative thoughts.

Hint: Once we really like and accept our imperfect selves, we float on a calm lake drifting into acceptance of others’ unique perceptions without taking those differences personally. (“Don’t take anything personally” is another of Miguel’s Four Agreements.)

And accepting others’ discernment doesn’t mean we can’t act accordingly to take care of ourselves. That’s part of what’s needed for this to work.

For my friend this meant taking a deep breath and finding a more favourable work environment, because sometimes even when the only thing we can control is our own thoughts, it’s just easier to do it somewhere else.

So healthy skepticism means using what we know and accepting that we don’t know what we don’t yet know. And neither do others. And that’s perfectly okay.

I’m pretty sure.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Nana B. Agyei/Flickr 

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