Keeping a Healthy Mindset at Work – The Librarian’s Four Agreements

By Havilah Steinman Bakken (Follow us on LinkedIn)

I recently had the opportunity to read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz for the first time. The author explores four decisions they have made to promote mental health and a practical mindset in daily life. Making the following four agreements with myself as the author describes in the book has had a positive impact on my experience at work.

Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word

Librarians are aware of the agreement to be impeccable with one’s word by nature of our profession. Law librarians especially are because of our legal training and background. Taking the idea further, if we agree to be impeccable with our word, we are able to stand by our word and choose to not go back over it mentally until we drive ourselves crazy. Who else has written an email to a superior or patron and gone back to read it more times than necessary? I know I’m not alone in this!

According to the author, our words actually create magic. We have the power to set ourselves free, but also the power to ensnare our minds to spiral into anxiety. I found this to be true in my daily life at work, whether at the public reference desk or answering emails from attorneys. That moment when you connect a patron with a resource that takes them one step further is absolutely priceless. However, it is incredibly painful for me to tell a patron that we don’t have what they need or we can’t answer a question. I spend much longer on a request where I have very little to offer, compared to a project where there’s quite a bit available. But as I learn to stand by my word, there is less fertile ground for fear to set in, and allow me to doubt myself.

Agreement 2: Don’t Take Anything Personally

According to the author, we each have our own perspective and unique worldview. When someone says something to you about you, it’s actually a reflection of their own reality. How often do we parse out a superiors’ or patrons’ words, internalizing every single interpretation, especially the negative ones?

For example, I’m about to embark on my 5th year in the law librarianship profession. My annual reviews have been filled with constructive feedback and praise, and I still find something to fixate on and torture myself with. This has nothing to do with the review, and everything to do with me. If I agree to not take anything personally, I am able to let in what serves me and helps me grow, and let go of what hinders and hobbles my skill at work.

Agreement 3: Don’t Make Assumptions

Ruiz shares that we make all sorts of assumptions because we do not have the courage to ask questions. Now, this might be slightly different for librarians, because we literally thrive on questions. But just like everyone else, we have a need to justify everything, to explain and understand everything, in order to feel safe. I struggled in my first few years in law librarianship to learn to say: “I don’t know, but let’s find out.” I assumed that in my role as a librarian I had to know everything, and dealt with crippling imposter syndrome.

In my current role, even though I don’t know everything, I am learning where to go to find virtually anything. I don’t assume that I immediately know what the patron needs. I endeavor to perform a robust reference interview and gain as much knowledge as possible about what they need, and where they’ve already looked, so I don’t have to make assumptions about their project or request. This circumvents a scenario where I misunderstand, provide the wrong materials, and place blame on myself. Now, I can’t always do that, which leads me to the final agreement.

Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best

Now, when I got to this agreement, I was at first relieved. Finally, something I recognize! Yes, I can perform myself to death. Obviously. Well, Ruiz actually has a different take on this.Our best fluctuates, day to day, even moment to moment. We are not producing robots that can replicate the same result day in and day out. I mean, thankfully we have ChatGPT for that. When I choose to do my best, and stand by my best, I do not have room to place blame or anger on myself because I know I did the best I could. An example of performing myself to death in the name of doing my best is taking on far too much work and placing crippling blame on myself when my work product isn’t at a high quality as I expect.

The ‘always do your best’ that Ruiz postulates is slowing down, choosing to focus on one big project at a time, and allowing my best to change day to day. It is similar to what is explained to us in Sabrina’s post, Ruthlessly Doing Less.

Finally, I leave you with this quote: “Even the opinions you have about yourself are not necessarily true; therefore, you don’t need to take whatever you hear in your own mind personally.


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.