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Emotional Detox During Ramadan

As you are in the midst of the last days of Ramadan you need to make sure that you are completely cleansed in every aspect.  Many of you have prayed long rakats sincerely asking  for forgiveness,  read Quran while shedding many tears and engaged in many acts of charity feeling renewed.  The one area that you may have overlooked is your emotional baggage. Many times you are so consumed with worship and acts of charity that it is easy to overlook your emotional issues.  So what is so important in dealing with them?  As long as you just fast, pray, read Quran & give sadaqah (charity) it’s enough right?  WRONG.
As a psychologist I recognize that your  emotional and psychological states have a huge impact on your spiritual well-being.  If you are depressed, anxious, holding a grudge or feeling jealous then you will be in an emotional turmoil – your focus and attention will shift toward your problem and you will not be wholeheartedly attentive to your acts of worship, only your issues.  In order to free yourself from the toxins of the emotional  hazards you need to  do an EMOTIONAL DETOX to rid yourself of all harmful and potentially deadly baggage.  Think of it as spring cleaning of your mind and heart before completing Ramadan.

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TOXIN # 1    HOLDING A GRUDGE

Is there someone in your life that has hurt you, lied to you, cheated on you or abused  you  and you are holding a grudge?  Are you angry and feeling depressed because of it?  Whenever you are in some way oppressed you have the choice to either play the victim role and feel sorry for yourself or you can accept it and move on.  Grudges are like heavy suitcases you carry with you everywhere you go, weighing you down.  Learn to let go and liberate yourself.

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No matter how negligent you have been, how selfish or decadent you have lived your life there is always hope in making a change. First forgive yourself of past mistakes- there is no limit to Allah’s forgiveness- the door of repentance is always open.

Hadith Qudsi : “O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you” (Al-Tirmidhi)

Forgive your parents, your spouse, your siblings and anyone else who has ever oppressed you.  Instead of being angry at people, realize that there is divine wisdom in everything that happens. It is the difficult tests in your life that shape you and make you a stronger person.  Embrace your past and your present so that you can truly liberate yourself.

Whoever suffers an injury and forgives , God will raise his status to a higher degree and removes one of his sins” (Al-Tirmidhi).

It is like a wrestling match with your nafs (ego) – fighting the evil within to purify  your hearts.  Overcome your innate desire to hold a grudge.  The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) inspired us with this practice when he said to his followers:

“God had ordered me to maintain ties with those who sever ties with me to give to those who deprive me and to forgive those who oppress me.”

The Prophet and his companions went beyond altruism.  They had immeasurable generosity towards people who had tortured them and they were forgiving and merciful to the worst oppressors.  The essence of true forgiveness is to forget.  Not bringing up the past mistakes of others is one of the most dignified and mature things you can do.

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Think about the man who was promised paradise because he forgave everyone before he slept – how easy is that?  It doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t take any effort.  You only need to make a decision to forgive.

TOXIN # 2  ANGER

Anger is a natural human emotion which can motivate you to take action.  If anger is not channeled properly  it can be the leading cause of health & psychological problems, violence and even divorce.  Learn how to control your anger  or else it will control you.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the one who controls himself while in anger.” (Bukhari).

Several things are attributed to overcoming anger.  When you accept  your destiny and truly realize that everything that is happening to you right now is the best for you, then you will gain more control over your anger.  Another very important ingredient to overcoming anger is having emotional leadership and acting like an adult at all times.  It is critical to take ownership of your feelings and stop blaming others.  You are the only person who has the power to decide whether you will be angry or not.  If you have a long list of buttons that people can easily press – DEACTIVATE YOUR BUTTONS. Don’t show sensitivity so that people will stop pressing your buttons.

 

When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked for  advice he said Don’t get angry – he was asked a second and third time and he repeated don’t get angry.  The reason he put so much emphasis on not getting angry is because anger leads to many problems and sins.  When a person gets angry they can hurt other peoples’ feelings, gossip, physically hurt others or take part in other destructive behavior.  The best way to prevent anger is to take time out, do deep breathing, make positive affirmations while doing istaghfar (asking for forgiveness).

TOXIN # 3 ANXIETY

The danger of having anxiety is that it consumes you and makes you feel overwhelmed.  When a person is feeling overwhelmed they no longer can focus, feel at peace or have trust in their heart.  This can really effect peoples’ faith and their productivity.  Many times people feel immobilized when they are overcome with anxiety.
Most people live in the remorse of the past or the fear of future which creates an excessive amount of anxiety.  The only way to prevent the anxiety is to live in the here and now.  If you are focused on the present without worrying about the past or future then and only then can you start living a fulfilling and meaningful life.  In order to achieve this you really have to believe that Allah is al-Hakeem (the most wise).  Everything He does is for a reason and if you trust Allah and accept your destiny then you will have no anxiety.  Take control of what you are saying to yourself because your self-talk can either help you to attain peace or lead you to massive anxiety.  Instead of saying, “ Oh no, I don’t know what is going to happen to me”  say:  “I know that everything will work out for the best and I will be able to cope with whatever happens inshaAllah.”

I have had clients with extreme anxiety disorder and individuals who have had nervous breakdowns who have learned how to cope with their anxiety in order to live a peaceful  lives. As the saying goes:  it’s all in your head -so if you think you are going to lose it you will and if you think you will be in control and remain calm you will be equipped to deal with the worst catastrophes.  The best way to ease your heart is to seek Allah’s help in prayer to help you be patient.

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And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah] Surat al Baqara 2:45

TOXIN # 4 DEPRESSION

Usually people are depressed because things did not work out the way they had planned.  They feel somehow hopeless or helpless for not having control over their lives.  When a person experiences depression they are overwhelmed with grief, hopelessness and apathy. They are incapable of doing anything for themselves and they no longer can contribute to society.  The depression takes complete control over the persons’ life and they can’t be productive in any way.

Majority of my clients suffer from depression and the way I help them overcome it is by focusing on the many blessings they have and increasing their daily gratitude.  As they become more grateful I teach them to accept their circumstances.  No matter how difficult the situation, I tell them that it is a test that they have to accept in order to pass.

Some of the best ways to combat depression is to push yourself to take part in activities even if you don’t feel like it.  Get together with friends, exercise daily and attend classes.  This way you can ensure that you will avoid the downward spiral of depression.  The quickest way to overcome depression is to help those in need.  The more you are involved in tending to the needs of the less fortunate the more you will feel gratitude for your life.

TOXIN # 5  PESSIMISM

If you choose to look at life with pessimism it will prevent you from appreciating all the blessings that you have and make you a chronic complainer which will in essence make you and everyone around you miserable.  When you are pessimistic you will search for what is wrong in everything and everyone, you will lose all hope and lack enthusiasm for the future.  A believer can only be optimistic because they believe in the power of their creator and they are certain that everything that happens is for the best.  They don’t question the past or the present because they know that the Most Wise would not have them suffer in vain.  Always search for what is good about your situation and reframe to look for the wisdom in each event.

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The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him): “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Narrated by Muslim, 2999).

TOXIN # 6 JEALOUSY

When you feel jealous it is like fire inside your heart that prevents you from being peaceful or content.  The problem of jealousy arises when you start comparing yourself to others.  This comparison can leave you feeling inadequate, unattractive, poor, unfortunate and miserable.   Anyone who feels jealousy does not understand the concept of predestination (qadr).   Allah is the one who distributes wealth, health, status & everything else; therefore, if you feel jealous wishing you had what another person has or wanting to look like someone else, then you are implying that you know more than Allah (authobillah).  No one would have the audacity to question Allah, but if you constantly complain & think it’s not fair then you are doing just that.

Jealousy is a disease of the heart that needs to be overcome.  Focus on the many blessings that you already have and stop comparing yourself to others.  The only people you should be comparing yourself to are the ones who are worse off so you can fill your heart with constant gratitude.

And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ ” Ibrahim 14:7

gratitude

Realize that every blessing is a test.  If there is something you don’t have then it is a form of mercy.  Start showing gratitude for all the things you don’t have because if you had them you could have gone astray.

TOXIN # 7 LOW SELF-ESTEEM

Low self-esteem can effect your life tremendously.  If you don’t feel good about yourself you will feel depressed and you will not be able to achieve your goals.  Sometimes you can be your own worst critic.  Try to minimize destructive thinking.   People talk to themselves 600 words a minute which 85% is negative.   Give your thoughts a makeover.  Start thinking positively and surround yourself with positive people.  Provide yourself with opportunities to have small accomplishments and celebrate your successes.

TOXIN # 8 BEING JUDGMENTAL

Being judgmental of others is the quickest way to push them away and create distance.  Each time you look at a person with judgmental eyes evaluating their level of commitment, their clothes, the way they choose to wear the hijab or the activities they take part in you create a barrier.  The person being judged will feel extremely rejected and they will have very negative emotions towards you and Islam.  The only way you can be an effective representative of Islam is by being accepting and non-judgmental.  Don’t look for spiritual clones of yourself & label others as losers.  Try your best to be accepting and tolerant of all people.

Unfortunately, the more religious people become the more critical and  judgmental they become.  It is really a shame if you start feeling arrogant because you are more religious than someone else.  This is only from the mercy of Allah that you are on the right path and He could take you off that path in an instant if you continue to look down on others and turn them away from Islam with your harsh, judgmental style.

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TOXIN # 9 TOXIC RELATIONS

There are certain people you may be in contact with which are toxic for your life.  These individuals may be pessimistic, heedless or completely oblivious to their purpose in life.  As you spend time with individuals like this you will be effected by their poison and slowly but surely you will be completely infected.  Try to avoid them if you can or limit your time with them.  Counterbalance the negative effect by spending time with highly positive and committed people.  If the toxic people in your life are your family members try to understand the wisdom in having them in your life and limit your time with them as much as you can without offending them.

TOXIN # 10 HATRED

If you have hatred in your heart it is best to cleanse yourself from it this Ramadan. Harboring feelings of hatred releases poisons, kills your spirit & makes you cynical.  Understand the reasons behind your hatred and try your best to overcome it by accepting your destiny and trusting in Allah’s plan.  Remember that when the hating ends the healing begins.  Fill your heart with love and make supplications for the people you dislike in order to soften your heart and earn rewards.

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Make it your goal this Ramadan to rid yourself of all the toxins by doing the emotional detox so that your heart will be fully cleansed and ready for the rest of the year.  If you put forth the effort in ridding yourself of one toxin at a time you will improve your overall spiritual and emotional state while enhancing your relationships with others insha’Allah.

 

 

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Haleh Banani holds a Master's degree in Clinical Psychology. A faith-based counselor, life coach, and mental health professional who has served the community since 1998 by saving hundreds of marriages and helping thousands of people around the world overcome their challenges and become the most amazing version of themselves. The host of "With Haleh" on Al-Fajr TV and was a featured expert on Al-Jazeera international and other media outlets. She is an international speaker and writer. https://halehbanani.com

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    A

    August 4, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    Subhanallah. I have all of these…. Jazakallahu khair for writing….

    • Avatar

      A

      August 4, 2013 at 4:19 PM

      I don’t know how to let go of grudges…I keep walls up because I feel if I let them down or let go of the grudges, those people will hurt me again (pessimism)…can you advise please?

      • Avatar

        Re:A and B

        August 5, 2013 at 1:49 PM

        walls are good, but in time they evolve and continue to grow bigger and bigger. what you should do is forget about their past mistakes, and do what is right. Try not to get in situations in which previously they deceived you. And if they do hurt you again, punch ’em, and punch ’em really hard.

  2. Avatar

    Berserk Hijabi

    August 4, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    I have to agree with A. Alhamdlillah I am young and the only problem I have is a grudge which I am slowly learning to let go of,but like this commenter said I have this fear that if I do I am giving this persons he chance to take advantage of me,cut me down and bully me again.

    • Avatar

      Re:A and B

      August 5, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      you should punch that person in the face, and if he/she is still bullying you punch him/her again. Btw, it is better to forgive but if you can not you can take revenge if you want. Allah doesn’t like people who doesn’t stand or speak against oppression.

      • Avatar

        m

        June 18, 2015 at 10:51 AM

        I’m not sure if your trying to be funny or give advice. What ever it is, its really ignorant. if someone continuosly hurts you, why are they still in your life? Or better yet, some self reflection… are you too sensitive? are you setting yourself up for expectations of other people that they themselves have not given you reason to expect?

        have an open and honest conversation… don’t set yourself up for dissapointment. The choice is yours.

  3. Avatar

    iMuslim

    August 4, 2013 at 11:39 PM

    It’s very sad that I am afflicted with many of the diseases listed. But alhamdulillah one of them that has been made easier for me is jealousy.

    In one of Sh Yasir Qadhi’s recent Ramadan videos he mentioned a Sunnah dua to say whenever you feel the sting of jealousy: “masha’Allah, barakAllahu lak, la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah”.

    It means that you acknowledge that Allah is the One who granted the person their gift; you pray that He blesses them with more; finally, you remind yourself that all matters and power to change them are under Allah’s control alone.

    Not only is this incredibly therapeutic, but because it is a dua you are making for your brother or sister, the angel will say “ameen and for you also”, so you are in effect also making dua for yourself!

    It has really helped me as before, not only was I burdened with jealousy, but then I was burdened with the guilt of being such a horribly jealous person! Instead I now turn to Allah immediately and shut the door to both crippling emotions insha’Allah.

    Now I just have to work on the rest of my demons… :/

  4. Avatar

    Nadia Shah

    August 6, 2013 at 2:08 AM

    Very well written. I agree with everything and wish more people would try to deal w/these issues before they consume their life. Although there should be a disclaimer with depression: there are some that may need medication in conjunction w/therapy to deal with major depression.

  5. Avatar

    M. Aslam

    August 6, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Subhan Allah. I have all of these…. Jazakallahu khair for writing…. You post is very informative and very useful….

  6. Avatar

    Fatima Ariadne

    August 6, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    Thank you for this article. But now in this time the definition of extremism itself has shifted. In the time of Prophet, extremism is exaggeration in practicing religions, but now those who are against the Western imperialism in Muslim lands are deemed “extremists” by mainstream Western media.

    Agree too that now Muslims are greatly divided because of extreme polarity of love/hatred. It’s sad really when a muslim treat his brothers and sisters with vile namecallings, “may you burn in hell” or such just because they don’t share the same view.

  7. Avatar

    Fatima Ariadne

    August 6, 2013 at 8:37 AM

    Subhanallah :O my bad. I apologize for comment above in the wrong place :O. I open multiple windows tabs and there goes the mistake….

    thank you for this article. The list are sooo spot on, but may I add a little that a lot of heart diseases came from too much attachment to dunya or past pain. Letting go of grudges or forgiving is about giving yourself permission to release the past, release yourself from the victim mentality, and to accept that Allah arranges yourself to cross path with certain things, places, and people so they could exchange some lessons with you.

  8. Avatar

    Tahir Farooqui

    August 12, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    A wondreading article I have every read.. Subhanallah.

    A document every one should read it, reflect it on every point, pray to Allah Swt, offer 2 rakaat taubah & Saltul Hajaat and then practice the same inshaAllah.. You shall starting loving your life, your parents and family inshaAllah.

    May Allah Swt guide us on a right path, forgive our sins and make us a valubale asset for the Ummah ameen.

    Jazakallah khair and thank you very much to the writer and the muslimmatters.

    Wassalamu Alaikum,
    tahir farooqui

  9. Avatar

    Laila Ali

    August 12, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    I agree with Mrs. Banani’s views and studies except for toxic relations. She did not support this with any Hadith. Our religion teaches to get closer to a person who is moving away from us. We are expected to maintain relations and not break the ties. We are not supposed to not talk to a person for more than three days. Islam teaches on bringing people together not getting away from them. Imagine if you have a toxic person as a spouse, then what is the option. If any of the options that Mrs. Banani suggested are implemented then it is against Islam and will lead to divorce.

    • Avatar

      m

      June 18, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      I believe her view of “toxic people” is very well informed. Something does not become toxic overnight, it is not toxic in one altercation.. toxic people are usually recognised over a long period of time and not just by one person. If you are bringing yourself closer and they continue to take advantage and move away or contiuously be negative then i believe they are of the people allash has chose not to guide. those people can only be helped by Allah. I dont think it takes hadith to support this situation specifically but by recognising the negative traits of that person that are not within the realm of our religion. the onus needs to be put on that person after so much work and effort is put in them. if you approach them within 3 days and they are still toxic.. the onus to be better is their’s, not your’s.

  10. Pingback: EMOTIONAL DETOX DURING RAMADAN | Houghton Muslim Jamaat (West Street)

  11. Avatar

    Bekim

    January 1, 2015 at 5:25 AM

    Looking forward to the biweekly news letter…

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#Life

What Repentance Can Teach You About Success

When losing weight, one piece of advice you’ll hear often is the following – if you fall off your eating plan one day, pick yourself back up and think of the next day as a fresh start.

Annoying, isn’t it?

You’ll hear this advice from people who have “made it” – they’ve lost a lot of weight, their lives have changed, and they’ll tell you to stick through it, and you’ll be like, yeah, I have, I tried, and I keep failing. I keep trying, I can’t sustain the motivation, I have life factors, I have stuff going on that makes this difficult.

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And you’re right.

You don’t have millions of dollars, a dedicated personal trainer and chef, the free time and lack of commitments others do, the lack of sleep, the injuries, or personal life circumstances that advantage others, nor do they have those that disadvantage you.

That’s not the point.

When you make a mistake, if you run through the process of regret, repentance, and retrying to do the right thing, Allah (swt) is pleased with you. And if you keep failing, repenting, and trying again, and again, and again, until you die, Allah keeps forgiving you.

The process of both recognizing your weakness, of getting out of denial, and humbling yourself and not thinking yourself so high and mighty has its own sobering effect. Not only does it help you in dealing with that atom’s weight of arrogance you don’t want to meet Allah (swt) with on the Day of Judgment, it helps make you a better human being, a more compassionate one, a more empathetic one, when calling others away from mistakes.

I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. Perfection is only for Allah (swt). But we’re trying. And the process of recognizing your weakness and at least attempting to rectify it means that maybe you’ll sin a little less, maybe you’ll still not invent excuses for mistakes and you’ll teach others, “Hey man, I know this is a sin, I know this is wrong, I hope you can do better than me.” And maybe they do change, and you’re both better for it.

Maybe in trying and failing again and again, what you end up doing is coming a little bit closer to success, and that process of trying and failing is the teacher you needed to get you out of your weakness and to then help others do likewise. Maybe that learning process serves you in succeeding elsewhere down the road in other treacherous turns and trials of life.

Whether it’s in losing weight, fixing broken relationships, pulling away from a heavy nafs addiction (eg pornography), don’t ever put yourself mentally in a position where “you’ve lost” and “you may as well give up” because “there’s no hope for me”. Don’t identify yourself by your failures.

So then, what is the point?

The point isn’t that you hit your goal perfectly. The point is that give your best, even with the little that you have, and that is good enough for you and for all of us. Ask Allah (swt) to help you better yourself, and in these 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah, increase in your du’a, cry to Him for help, in whatever area of life it is you’re trying to improve.

And whatever you fail at, don’t fall off for weeks on end. Acknowledge your mistake, own it completely and take full responsibility. Try to figure out where you went wrong in your process, get help from others if you need to. Forgive yourself, and don’t resign yourself to an identity based on your mistakes.

Never get tired of failing, getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up and trying to do and be better again.

It’s always a brand new day tomorrow.

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#Islam

How to Optimize Your Free Time

Time passes by. Many of us muddle through time, day in and day out. Only the wise and the prophets talked about the art of utilizing time in order to exist. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth before you become old; your health, before you fall sick; your wealth, before you become poor; your free time before you become preoccupied, and your life, before your death.”

Time, therefore, is the commodity of all endeavors. We all have 24 hours a day, and we choose how to use them. If you think you have wasted much time on miscellaneous activities last night, weekend, month, or even the years that have passed, then be hopeful that tomorrow inshaAllah you will have a balance of 24 hours. A new slate of opportunity. How will you make use of it?

Let’s take a case study of how an average professional spends his time through a weekday.

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Ahmed is in his mid-20s and works as an engineer. He wakes up for Fajr at 6am, and then gets ready for work to leave home at 8am. The 45 minutes he takes to commute to and from work each day is his favorite time to scroll through his social media and stay up-to-date with the latest news. He spends 8 hours at work. He arrives home in the evening at 6pm, and then eats dinner with his family. He dabbles in and out of conversations with his parents or siblings, and at 7pm he begins watching his favorite show on Netflix -and that’s an hour or two depending on the persuasion of the “Next Episode” button. His social media presence is most alive at 9pm, during the minutes after his show and before his bedtime. He looks at the clock on his wall and thinks about getting to bed soon. At 10pm he takes a dive into YouTube, and sometimes reads an article or two. Ahmed loses his sense of time between shows, likes, and endless scrolls. By the time he regains his consciousness of time, everyone else has fallen asleep.

What Ahmed is unaware of, is that millions of dollars are spent on algorithms for social media and entertainment platforms to keep people engaged. They are all competing for our time, and in exchange, provide us with only instant gratification. Finally, Ahmed falls asleep at 11pm to wake up early again for Fajr the next day.

Shall we do the count? Before we do, let us take no interest in how Ahmed spends his 8 hours at work, including his lunch hour. But the rest are for us to dissect.

Ahmed arrives home at 6pm and goes to bed at 11 pm; 5 hours each day that passes by untamed. In order to bring about any change to his day, Ahmed must then assume that there is another day that starts at 6pm. A day within a day[1]. He says he comes home tired, but we are only urging him to make use of 90 minutes out of the 5 hours. As for the rest, he can do with them as he pleases. Ahmed agrees, but asks what to do about the temptation to be on social media. Here are some tips:

  • Create friction between your finger and the undesired applications on your phone. Don’t place social media applications on your home page; this will give your brain the chance to think twice before utilizing them.
  • Most smart phones allow you to set screen time for each application. Set a daily time limit of one hour for all them.
  • Fast from social media for a duration of 24 hours once a week, and utilize that time to appreciate the small things. Make a conscious effort to spend quality time with family or call an old friend.

Now shall we talk about the 90 minutes?

Now that Ahmed has generously vowed to account for 90 minutes of his day, I want to give back to him the days of his weekend.

هَلْ جَزَاءُ الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَّا الْإِحْسَانُ 

“Is there any reward for good other than good?” [Surah Ar-Rahman; 60]

Therefore, let us deal with the daily 90 minutes between Monday and Friday. 90 minutes a day over 5 days gives you nearly 8 hours. Those 8 hours are your self-realization hours. They are your bread and butter. They are yours. Do with them what your natural inclination calls for; go to the gym, write poetry, write stories, get a start at memorizing the Quran, read, attempt a new language, start a business , volunteer at your local masjid or nonprofit, help organize fundraisers for humanitarian causes, or even start a conviction circle. Let these hours be sacred for you to protect with sword and shield.

I speak humbly from experience. For me, these 8 hours are my reading time. For example, in the past I used 2 months of 90 minutes a day reading on Islamic history, therefore, I read Lost Islamic History, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Islam Between East and West. I hadn’t planned on reading those particular books, but one led to the other. I could have also finished Lost Islamic History and chosen a  few of the sources from its bibliography. My next topic was Art, and currently it’s Seerah; I started with Yasir Qadhi’s – Seerah series, then I plan to read Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (for this subject such order is important). I have also used the 90 minutes attending reading groups, organizing weekly halaqas, and strategizing with my local masjid board on how to increase voter turnout during elections.

You’re probably assuming that I have figured out the formula of time management. I must tell you I don’t. It’s all a matter of process, and I took am still working on it.

So, whenever it is that you decide to start productively using time that can be spared, my personal experience has shown that it’s best not to ask questions or plan a year ahead. Just start as if you’re jumping inside a pool, and as the days pass, you will develop the appreciation of time passing by. You will acquire the muscle to make use of it. Also, start slow. Don’t listen to your blind motivation in the beginning; do little, but be consistent, for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) loves this too. As The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“The most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.”

Eventually, making better use of those 90 minutes will become a habit, but when it does, don’t worship it. If you are sick or have a family obligation, take it as a reminder of your humanity. We are wingless creatures that strive for the stars, and some days we must fall on our faces. Brush off the dust and aim to do it again the next day.

One last note: be humble. Don’t be self-righteous, and begin to talk about how many books you’re reading or reps you’re reaching.

وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا ۖ إِنَّكَ لَن تَخْرِقَ الْأَرْضَ وَلَن تَبْلُغَ الْجِبَالَ طُولًا 

“Walk not on the earth with arrogance. Verily, you can neither penetrate the earth, nor can you attain a stature like the mountains in height.” [Surah Al-Isra; 37]

It helps me breathe and reorient my priorities. Be still, keep your feet on the ground and vision aimed at the skies.

Ahmed, my old friend, now is your turn to begin to feel time— pass by.

 

 

[1] Bennett, Arnold. How to live on 24 Hours a day, George H. Doran Company 1910.

 

 

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7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health.  Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks. Here are 7 powerful techniques to make sure you’re not one of them.

New Year's Resolutions
Who uses sticky notes on a cork board #stockimagefail

It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking – after wondering if New Year’s is halal to celebrate, you probably want to lose some weight, make more money, talk to family more, or be a better Muslim in some way.  The New Year for many of us is a moment to turn a fresh page and re-imagine a better self. We make resolutions and hope despite the statistics we’ll be the outliers that don’t fail at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health. Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks.

Given such a high failure rate, let’s talk about how you can be among the few who set and achieve your goals successfully.

1. Be Thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful

You’ve been successful this past year in a number of areas. Think of your worship, career, relationships, personality, education, health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual), and finances. Take a moment to reflect on where you’ve succeeded, no matter how trivial, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo, and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for those successes.

When you’re thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), He increases you in blessings.  Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily, My punishment is indeed severe’” [14:7] 

In recent years, there’s been more discussion on the benefits of practicing gratitude, though oftentimes it’s not clear to whom or what you’re to be grateful towards. We, of course, know that we’re not grateful simply to the great unconscious cosmos, but to our Creator.

Despite this difference, there exist interesting studies on how the practice of gratitude affect us. Some of the benefits include:

  • Better relationships with those thanked
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved psychological health
  • Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
  • Better sleep
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved mental strength

Building on Your Successes

In addition to being thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), reflect on why you were successful in those areas.  What was it you did day in and day out to succeed? Analyze it carefully and think of how you can either build on top of those present successes, or how you can transport the lessons from those successes to new areas of your life to succeed there as well.

In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they note that we have a tendency to try to solve big problems with big solutions, but a better technique that has actual real-world success in solving complex problems is to instead focus on bright spots and build on those bright spots instead. You have bright spots in how you’ve worked and operated, so reflect on your successes and try to build on top of them.

2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal

Oftentimes when we want to change, we try to change too many areas.  This can lead to failure quickly because change in one area is not easy, and attempting to do it in multiple areas simultaneously will simply accelerate failure.

Instead, pick one goal – a goal that you are strongly motivated to fulfill, and one that you know if you were to make that goal, it would have a profoundly positive impact on your life as well as on others whom you are responsible to.

In making the case based on scientific studies, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Further down, he states:

“However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.”

When setting your goal, be sure to set a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.  “I want to lose weight” is not a SMART goal.  “I want to achieve 10% bodyfat at 200 lbs in 9 months” is specific (you know the metrics to achieve), measurable (you can check if you hit those metrics), achievable (according to health experts, it can be done, realistic (it’s something you can do), and time-bound (9 months).

3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity

Once you lock onto your goal, you should ask for success in your goal every day, multiple times a day.  Increasing in your du’a and asking Allah for success not only brings you the help of the Most High in getting to your goal, it also ensures it remains top of mind consistently.

A few of the best ways to increase the chances of a supplication being accepted:

  • Increase the frequency of raising your hands after salah and asking for your intended outcome.
  • Asking while you are in sujood during prayers.
  • Praying and supplicating in the last 3rd of the night during qiyam ul-layl.

When you make your du’a, be specific in what you ask for, and in turn, you will have a specific rather than a vague goal at the forefront of your mind which is important because one of the major causes of failure for resolutions themselves is lacking specificity.

4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency

The most powerful impact on the accomplishment of any goal isn’t in having the optimal technique to achieve the goal – it is rather how consistent you are in trying to achieve it.  The time and frequency given to achievement regularly establishes habits that move from struggle to lifestyle. As mentioned in the previous section, day, time, and place were all important to getting the goal, habit, or task accomplished.

In order to be consistent, schedule it in your calendar of choice. When you schedule it, make sure you:

  • Pick the time you’re most energetic and likely to do it.
  • Work out with family, friends, and work that that time is blocked out and shouldn’t be interrupted.
  • Show up even if you’re tired and unmotivated – do something tiny, just to make sure you maintain the habit.

A Word on Automation

Much continues to be written about jobs lost to automation, but there are jobs we should love losing to automation, namely, work that we do that can be done freely or very cheaply by a program.  For example, I use Mint to capture all my accounts (bank, credit card, investments, etc) and rather than the old method of gathering receipts and tracking transactions, all of it is captured online and easily accessible from any device.

Let’s say you wanted to give to charity, and you wanted to give a recurring donation of $5 a month to keep MuslimMatters free – all you have to do is set up an automated recurring donation at the link and you’re done.

Likewise, if you’re saving money for a goal, you can easily do so by automating a specific amount of money coming out of your bank account into another account via the online banking tools your bank provides.  You can automate bill payments and other tasks to clear your schedule, achieve your goals, and keep you focused on working the most important items.

5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

We’re often told we should set up SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.  However, one way to quickly fail a goal is by defining success according to outcomes, which aren’t necessarily in your hand.  For example, you might say as above:

“I want to be at 10% body fat in 9 months at 200 lbs.”

This is a SMART goal, and it’s what you should aim for, but when you assess success, you shouldn’t focus on the result as it’s somewhat outside the scope of your control. What you can do is focus on behaviors that help you achieve that goal, or get close to it, and then reset success around whether you’re completing your behaviors.  As an example:

“I want to complete the P90X workout and diet in 90 days.”

Here, you’re focused on generally accepted notions on behaviors that will get you close to your goal.  Why? Because you control your behaviors, but you can’t really control the outcomes. Reward yourself when you follow through on your behavior goals, and the day-to-day commitments you make.  If you find that compliance is good, and you’re getting closer to your goal, keep at it.

Read the following if you want to really understand the difference in depth.

6. Set Realistic Expectations – Plan to Fail, and Strategize Recovery

After too many failures, most people give up and fall off the wagon.  You will fail – we all do. Think of a time you’ve failed – what should you have done to get back on your goal and complete it?  Now reflect on the upcoming goal – reflect on the obstacles that will come your way and cause you to fail, and how when you do fail, you’ll get right back on it.

Once you fail, ask yourself, was it because of internal motivation, an external circumstance, a relationship where expectations weren’t made clear, poor estimation of effort – be honest, own what you can do better, and set about attempting to circumvent the obstacle and try again.

7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals

Once you’re tracking behaviors, simply mark down in an app or tracker that you completed the behavior.  Once you see you’re consistent in your behaviors over the long-term, you’ll have the ability to meaingfully review your plan and assess goal progress.

This is important because as you attempt to perform the work necessary to accomplish the goal, you’ll find that your initial assessments for completion could be wrong. Maybe you need more time, maybe you need a different time. Maybe you need a different process for accomplishing your goals. Assess your success at both weekly and monthly intervals, and ask yourself:

  • How often was I able to fulfill accomplish my required behaviors?  How often did I miss?
  • What was the reason for those misses?
  • Can I improve what I’m doing incrementally and change those failures to successes?  Or is the whole thing wrong and not working?

Don’t make changes when motivation dies after a few days.  Don’t make big changes on a weekly basis. Set an appointment on a weekly basis simply to review successes and challenges, making small tweaks while maintaining the overall plan. Set a monthly appointment with yourself to review and decide what you’ll change, if anything, in how you operate.

Be something of a Tiger mom about it – aim for 90% completion of behaviors, or an A grade, when assessing whether you’ve done well or not.  Anything below 90% is a failing grade.

(ok, so Tiger Moms want 100% or more, but let’s assume this is a somewhat forgiving Tiger Mom)

Putting it All Together

Set ‘Em Up

  • First, take a moment to reflect and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
  • Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
  • Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.

Knock ‘Em Down

  • Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
  • On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
  • Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
  • Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.

What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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