I am sipping my morning coffee (it’s good). It is the morning after Giftmas (it was lovely). Our holiday dinner was delicious (and ample). I am feeling fortunate (and grateful).

I slept better last night than I really expected to. My guts were churned up, rebelling against a “brunch” entirely of chocolate and coffee yesterday, followed by a heavy fairly rich meal at dinner time. I woke a couple times feeling a bit uncomfortable, not quite unwell. It passed. I even slept in a bit, and woke feeling pretty good generally, although aware of my arthritis in the background, and still bruised here and there from my fall on the deck on Giftmas Eve.

I haven’t made a firm plan for today. I probably ought to go to the grocery store… I’m not sure I feel like going out at all. I’m also not sure I don’t. Coffee first. Maybe some time reading by the fire? I am thinking about The Four Agreements. It was first suggested to me by my Traveling Partner. It’s clear that the recollection of them still exist in his thinking. Occasionally, he “calls me out” when I fail to practice one of them in our interactions together. I try to process such things as useful feedback, rather than kick up a fuss about it.

I’ve gotten a lot of really useful practical wholesome insight from The Four Agreements over the years, since I first read it in… 2010?

We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people’s demands. We have learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else.

Don Miquel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Here’s the simple truth of everything we learn, and everything we do; we become what we practice.

Practice being calm? We become calm individuals over time. Practice being kind? Kindness becomes a hallmark of our decisions and thinking. Practice lifelong learning? We become educated as we gain knowledge. It is seriously that “simple” to change who we are, if we choose to do so – it’s a matter of practice, and time.

…Here’s the thing, though…

If we practice being angry? We become less able to manage anger appropriately (we become angrier more easily, more often). If we practice aggression? We become more aggressive. If we practice lashing out at others in moments of stress? Yep. You’re catching on; we do more of that, more often, more quickly – we get really “good at it”.

We each have the tools of change in our possession. We have more control over who we are (and therefore also more responsibility) than we may like to acknowledge. Doesn’t mean the journey is always easy. Doesn’t mean we’re in this alone. We live within the context of our circumstances, our relationships, our triggers, our biases – we are human. Personally, my own thinking on that is that this gives me choices – who do I most want to be? How do I practice that? My emotions may be a reaction to my experience, to the world around me, or to a person with whom I am interacting, but that doesn’t get me off the hook for managing those; they are mine. If I practice having tantrums? I will have tantrums. If I practice calm reflection and deep listening? My reaction to the world around me becomes characterized by calm, and consideration. Because I am so human, avoiding provocation can be quite difficult – but I know that even this is about practice. Like it or not, human primates are not entirely domesticated and can be dangerous under some circumstances… we really only ever “have control” of one of them – the one in the mirror. Limited control at best, too. Our practices matter.

It can be hard, sometimes, to practice The Four Agreements. They seem so easy, and I suppose they are easier than a lot of things – they just take practice. Rather a lot of it. (Worth it.)

It can be hard to practice The Four Agreements (or frankly, any personal growth practice) if someone I interact with routinely doesn’t share the basic values or at a minimum respect what I am hoping to do by practicing them. It’s harder still if there is someone in my day-to-day social group or community actively seeking to undermine my progress or growth. Over time, I’ve cut quite a few people loose who seemed invested in the most broken possible version of me. I think that’s the healthiest approach to toxic relationships; end them. That comes up in The Four Agreements, too:

If someone is not treating you with love and respect, it is a gift if they walk away from you. If that person doesn’t walk away, you will surely endure many years of suffering with him or her. Walking away may hurt for a while, but your heart will eventually heal. Then you can choose what you really want. You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choices.

Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

The new year approaches. I’m thinking about who I am, who I most want to be, and what practices keep me on my path. We become what we practice. I smile when I think of how many times I have said that, written it down, read it back to myself – it’s a core idea (for me) in becoming the woman I most want to be. Beginning again is just a beginning (obviously) – it’s that stepping stone to the next bit of practice. We become what we practice. It’s not avoidable or negotiable. It is inevitable. Practice something – anything – long enough and it becomes characteristic of who we are. Good or bad.

Everything you have ever learned, you learned through repetition. You learned to write, to drive, and even to walk by repetition. You are a master of speaking your language because you practiced.

Don Miquel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

So… here’s a question that matters… What are you practicing? What effect does who you are have on the world around you? On your relationships? On people you say you love? Are you the person you most want to be? Maybe it’s time to reflect and make some changes to your practices?

Maybe it’s time to begin again?