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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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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?

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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.

Siraaj is the Operations Director of MuslimMatters as well as its new lead web developer. He's spent nearly two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his chapter MSA in Purdue University, and leading efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. Somewhere in there, he finds time for his full-time profession as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He holds a bachelor's in Computer Science from Purdue University and a Master's certificate from UC Berkeley. He's very married and has 5 wonderful children

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    December 30, 2019 at 11:34 AM

    Salam

    We have no need as muslim to follow every trend we see around us. There is no need for new years resolutions. We just need to better ourselves when-ever and where-ever.

    May Allah bless you.

    Brother Abu Ismail

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#Islam

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 11: Gratitude

Now that we have learnt about the dua’ of Umm Salama, let’s talk about gratitude.

Question: Let’s all go around and state a few things we’re grateful for.

Those are all really great! Alhamdulillah for all of those! 

Question: Do you know what the opposite of shukr, or showing thanks, is? 

It’s actually the word kufr (unbelief). Sometimes, we complain so much that we hide all the good that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given us and we only see the hardships. 

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Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants us to stay grateful for everything He has given us. Our health, our family, our talents, and most importantly, our religion. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reminds us in the Qur’an:

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ

“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]…” [Surah Ibrahim; 7] 

When Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us, “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you,” He leaves the increase open-ended. 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can give us more in what we thank Him for. He can also give us more appreciation and awareness of the blessings He has granted us. 

Did you know that saying alhamdulillah (all praise is due to Allah) and showing gratitude actually changes the way our brains are shaped, inside our heads? People who show gratitude on a daily basis end up feeling happier too! 

When Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blew Adam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) soul into him, Adam raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) responded by sneezing, and he said: alhamdulillah. That was the first word that was ever uttered by a human being.

And do you know what the last word will be?

وَتَرَى الْمَلَائِكَةَ حَافِّينَ مِنْ حَوْلِ الْعَرْشِ يُسَبِّحُونَ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّهِمْ ۖ وَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُم بِالْحَقِّ وَقِيلَ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ 

“And you will see the angels surrounding the Throne, exalting [Allah] with praise of their Lord. And it will be judged between them in truth, and it will be said, “[All] praise to Allah, Lord of the worlds,”’ [Surah az-Zumar; 75] 

Isn’t that amazing? We begin and end with praising and thanking Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

 Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reminds us in the Qur’an:

وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“And if you should count the favors of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful,” [Surah an-Nahl; 18]

Question: Even though we won’t be able to list all of Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) favors, can each of you think of at least 10?

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#Culture

From Tweet to Virtual Event: Online Organizing In The Time Of Corona | Muslim Virtual Grad

musllim grad

It was mid-April and we were one month into the pandemic. Ramadan  was a couple of weeks away and we had settled into the “New Normal,” but still learning every day of changes. The most recent one was schools, colleges and universities canceling graduation ceremonies. Many choosing to not to postpone but to cancel.

My wife received the email from her graduate program and was lamenting how she wouldn’t be able to wear the cap and gown she had gotten for the commencement.

Her phrasing made me think of the popular slang term “No Cap” that is used heavily these days, and I tweeted out what I thought was a funny joke.

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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.

 

The tweet quickly got traction and was being shared as people resonated with it with people responding in various ways. One of these interactions seemed benign at first.

 

 

At the time, it didn’t go anywhere. Sara had left me with the thought but I didn’t act on it. Alhamdulillah, she did. Two weeks later, she messaged me. “Let’s do this,” she said. From there 2020 Muslim Virtual Graduation was born. 

We realized there was an opportunity to connect with the amazing organizations in our communities that are focused on Muslim students and the unique challenges they face. Since then, we have partnered with Midwest Muslim United Student Association (MMUSA), MIST Chicago, and A Continuous Charity, all of which are Muslim organizations dedicated to serving high school and college students in different capacities, from on-campus services, to inter-school competitions, to interest-free financial aid.

The 2020 Muslim Virtual Graduation will be free to attend and live streamed May 30th at 5:15 pm CST and live streamed to MMUSA’s Facebook Page. Inshallah, Dr. Omar Suleiman, President of Yaqeen Institute, (and a 2020 graduate himself) will be giving a Commencement Speech. There will be entertainment at the end.

It is open to high school, university, and professional grads, all around the world. 

Graduates who would like to be recognized can submit their slide with their name, degree, school and photo (optional), and a dedication or message to the following URL: bit.ly/vmggrads. The deadline to register is the of the day Friday, May 29th, 2020. 

Sara had previously recognized the merit of online organizing and resources, and compiled a master list of Islamic lectures and seminars that had been recently being streamed online due to the pandemic. “Online events cannot totally replace the spirit of in-person gatherings. But I think organizing during this time requires a shift in perspective: what challenges do we face when organizing in-person, and how can we take advantage of the new opportunity we do have now since those are gone? This is what inspired us to go global with the event,” says Sara.

Alhamdulilah, we already have graduates from the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore registered! 


About Us

Ziyad Dadabhoy is a Civil Engineer living in Chicago, IL and Co-Founder of Midwest Muslim United Student Association (MMUSA). He has also been a part of AlMaghrib Chicago and MIST Chicago.

Sara Alattar is a student of Islamic Sciences, upcoming medical student, and Director of Operations at thinkbites.org, a new multimedia Islamic publication for personal development.

A Continuous Charity (acceducate.org) is the first and only national Muslim 501(c)3 that provides interest-free loans and financial mentoring for higher education. 

The Midwest Muslim United Student Association (midwestmsa.com) is dedicated to connecting college Muslim Student Associations (MSA’s) from around the Midwest for collaborative events and projects.

Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (mistchicago.org) is a non-profit that hosts annual educational and creative competitions for high school students across the US, and in 19 regions across the world.

Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research (yaqeeninstitute.org) is a non-profit research institute which aims to instill conviction and inspire contribution based on mainstream Islamic texts.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 10: The Dua’ of Umm Salama

Now that we have learnt about a good word, let’s talk about the dua’ of Umm Salama.

Today I’m going to share with you a story of a very important woman in Islamic history named Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her). She was a female companion, which means she was a sahaabiya (female companion)

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was one of the first people to embrace Islam and she was one of the few Muslims who actually performed the hijrah twice. 

Question: Who can tell me what a hijrah is?

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A hijrah is when someone leaves a place they are in for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). The first hijrah was to Ethiopia, where a just Christian ruler named Najashi took in a group of Muslims and took good care of them. 

So Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) went to Ethiopia. After some time living there, they really wanted to go back to Mecca so that they could be next to the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and learn everything about Islam. As they waited patiently, news traveled all the way to Africa saying that the Muslims were no longer getting persecuted because Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Hamza raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the uncle of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), had embraced Islam. 

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) decided to return back to Mecca, and when they did, they realized that it was only a rumor and that the Muslims were still being tortured by Quraysh. So, when the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed all of the Muslims of Mecca to leave to Madina for the second hijrah, they wasted no time getting ready. 

Question: Do you see how they were so active and didn’t take their Islam for granted?

As Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was about to mount her camel, her tribe, the Banu Makhzum, came and told Abu Salama  raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) that they would not allow him to take Umm Salama  raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to Madina. Then Abu Salama’s tribe, the Banu Asad, takes Salama, his child, away.  Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) could not defend himself against all of these men, so he sets off to Madina.

In just one day Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) lost her husband and her child, and she suffers so much because of it. She is in a lot of pain. After some time her cousin starts to feel sorry for her and speaks to the tribes on her behalf. He is then able to reunite her with her son. Then after a year of waiting, Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is finally able to meet her husband in Madina. 

Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was known to be a very caring husband and courageous man. He fought in the Battle of Badr as well as in the Battle of Uhud. In Uhud, he received a wound that he wasn’t able to recover from. 

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was so sad the day Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) died, but the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught her to recite a beautiful dua’:

إِنَّا لله وإنا إليه راجعون اللهم أجرني في مصيبتي وأخلف لي خيرا منها 

“We belong to Allah and to Allah is our return. Oh Allah, reward me for my calamity, and replace my loss with something better.”

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) recited this dua’, but in her mind she thought, “Who can be better than Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)?” 

After a few months passed, Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), but she said no. 

Then, Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), but again she said no. 

Then, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and she accepted. So now, she was not only the mother of Salama, but the mother of all of the believers until the end of time! 

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