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  • drdanedonohue

Guiding Principles

Life is difficult, that much I’ve come to learn. Especially this year, think about how much we have had to endure. However, life is beautiful and life is worth experiencing in all of its glory. I believe it is pressing through the difficult periods of life when our character grows. It is then we learn how NOT to give up when times seem overwhelming. There is something courageous about knowing that life may have knocked you down, but you got back up again to fight on. Bring it on!

There are 2 principles or agreements that I learned about 15 years ago that have really helped me through hard situations. I learned them from a book called the 4 agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The 4 agreements are as follows:

1. Be impeccable with your word 2. Don’t take things personally 3. Don’t make assumptions 4. Always do your best

Agreement #2 and #3 have really changed my life dramatically by changing the lens through which I interpret life. You see, agreement #1 and #4 seem pretty self-evident to me. Don’t lie and always try hard when it counts. But agreements #2 and #3 are a little more confusing and not as self-evident to me.

Growing up, I learned to take EVERYTHING personally and I made assumptions about what almost all things meant. Most of those assumptions were dead wrong and most of the things I took personally were never about me.

Everything that happens in our life has to be filtered through our minds and our thoughts. Let’s face it, we are all different. We grew up different with different circumstances, different parents, different socio-economic situations, different educations, different environments, etc. We learned skills and values along the way, or we didn’t. One of the greatest skills we can learn is how to interpret our thoughts to determine what situations really mean and how to respond to them. It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens to you that determines victory or defeat in life. Think about how many people are sitting in jail right now because they made one bad decision based on something they took personally or made an assumption that was dead wrong and committed a crime.

Let’s look at the agreement of “don’t take things personally”. Growing up in my family, we took everything personally. I learned quickly that making mistakes was a bad thing and so I took failure personally. I hated making mistakes! I remember my athletic career; I would get so mad losing a wrestling match because I took it SO personally. When I was first married, everything my wife did that I didn’t understand or agree with, I took personally many times getting angry over nothing. It didn’t seem like nothing at the time but looking back on it now, it was really nothing. What people do is NOT about you, it’s about THEM. Don’t take what others do personally and get upset or angry because nothing good happens when you are upset or angry. Think about all the poor decisions or things you said when you were angry because you took something personally. Next time you feel yourself getting upset because someone said something or did something that you felt was about “you”, say to yourself “I’m not going to take this personally because this ISN’T about me, it’s about them. My mom has a great saying, “in the end, people ultimately do what THEY want to do, not what YOU want them to do". If you spend a lifetime trying to get people to do things and then get upset when they don’t think or behave the way you think they should, you are in for a lifetime of anger and hurt. Not a great way to live.

Let’s move on to the 2nd agreement, “Don’t make assumptions”. We all have belief systems that guide our life. I’ve come to realize that people’s belief systems and values are often different. Men are different than women. Young people have very different values from older people. When you assume something about a situation or a person, you are applying your belief system to an interaction where another person’s belief system may be hard at work. Let me give you an example. People have very different belief systems about this Coronavirus. Most people I see believe in masks, some don’t. About half the people I’ve spoken to believe the vaccine is a prudent choice, but others don’t think it’s the right decision. Some people want to be free to go about living their lives as normal, others think we should only be going out if necessary and socially distancing.

I’ve also learned being a Chiropractor, some people believe in the power of Chiropractic, some don’t. If I made assumptions about what everyone and every situation meant, which I use to do, I would drive myself mad. Maybe that’s why we have so much mental illness. We drive ourselves crazy thinking too much! Think about all the incessant thoughts we have about what things mean. The way to stop ASSuming what people think is to ask questions. Try to understand their point of view. When people have told me they don’t believe in Chiropractic, I use to get angry and think this person is ignorant and I don’t like this person. Now, I ask “have you ever been to a Chiropractor?” “What do you know about what a Chiropractor does?” When I search for deeper understanding, I usually can get some common ground as to why they believe what they believe. Once I understand, I can respond better, and instead of getting angry or upset, I can educate and empathize with why they believe the way they do.

One of the blessings that I learned about 20 years ago was to meditate and pray. Meditation is listening to God or the universe and prayer is talking to God or the universe. When you press the “pause” button on your thoughts and just become an observer of your thoughts, you get to really see what is going on in that mind of yours. Trust me, I can be pretty scary. However, if you don’t take time to look at your thinking and how it is either serving you or destroying you, how will you ever change it? Now when I meditate, I get to peek in on what is going on in that mind of mine. I get to see exactly if I’m taking a situation from yesterday personally or if my mind is making faulty assumptions about a certain situation that happened recently. Then I can apply these 2 guiding principles. Stop taking things personally Dane, it’s not about you. Stop making assumptions Dane, you probably don’t have all the information about that situation or that person. Go ask some questions and find out what is really going on.

I don’t think it’s too bold of a statement to say that I wouldn’t be married anymore if I didn’t learn these 2 important lessons. How do you stay with a person who is always taking things personally and making incorrect assumptions about what things mean? My wife is a saint for putting up with me in the early parts of our marriage.

I would strongly recommend reading the 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is one of the top 5 books that changed me as a human being.

Maybe these 2 principles will help you the way they have helped me, but I don’t want to make any assumptions because even if they don’t help you, I won’t take it personally.

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