Nadia has given up making New Year’s resolutions. She says that she makes the same ones year in and year out and never ever keeps them for longer than a week or two.
“The whole process is an exercise in futility and a guilty, depressing one at that,” she laments.
Research data from countless sources says that Nadia’s experience is not uncommon, and, in fact, it is the rare adult who actually fulfills the conditions of a resolution for a significant amount of time.
Maybe the commitment to lose weight is blown by a box of chocolates after three days, or the promise to stop wasting time on the computer is forgotten when the latest funny YouTube video is sent to your inbox by a well-meaning friend.
Indeed, for Muslims, the concept of New Year’s resolutions may be a foreign one — but the start of something new, the chance to embark on a path with a clean slate will always be attractive. And because many like to take advantage of a new year, it seems like the time is right. Then, there is the hope that this will be the year when all our plans for a better life and our promises to do the work required for the said better life propel us forward.
We all have the desire to make changes, to kick-start a productive, happy life. Yet, like Nadia, many of us are disappointed not before long. Breaking bad (yet familiar) habits is not an easy thing for us to do despite our surge of motivation telling us that it is.
The way to succeed is to take things slow, to be realistic, and to embrace change with a calm, cool mind-set. There is no need to fight yourself or to be depressed about it because lasting change usually comes from a positive place. Here is a five-step guide to keeping your resolve resolute this time:
Renew Your Intentions
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) has said
“Actions are but by intentions (niyyat), so each man will have what he intended.”
Thus, he whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated.” This hadith is regarded as one of the greatest, and indeed Imam An-Nawawi named it as number one in his book of 40 Hadiths.
Undoubtedly, it can be useful in all facets of your life, and when it comes to making your resolutions (to change a bad habit or adopt a good one) come to fruition, it makes sense to connect with the “why” behind it.
- Why do you want to lose weight?
- Why do you want to stop smoking?
- Why do you want to memorize Qur’an?
If you can make your intention and your purpose strong, you will have the solid potential to make it worthy.
Acknowledge How You Are to Blame
When Nadia cries about how making her resolutions are hopeless, and how her life will never change for the better, she does herself a disservice. It is easy to blame other people or circumstances for our shortcomings (e.g., the husband will not like it if I cook healthy food or I do not have enough time to pursue this or that dream), but only when we own up to our own choices — only when we acknowledge the part we play in our own lives — can positive change happen. We have to take on the responsibility for the things we do or do not do in order to stick to our resolutions.
Maybe we cook high calorie foods for our husbands, but who put it down our throat to eat? When you start to ask yourself how you can be accountable for your own actions, you start to prepare a working plan that can turn your well-intentioned dreams into realities.
They ask themselves: What is in this for me?
And based on the benefit (even a subconscious one), they will perpetrate a practice, form an addiction, or avoid a perceived detriment. Nadia started to realize that her cooking unhealthy foods for her husband meant that she would get to enjoy some of her late mother’s favorites and, in the process, pay homage to her memory. Nadia felt closer to her mother while being in the kitchen.
She was missing her, yes, and was sad about losing her. But, was there another way to honor the memory and remember the good times? Did she have to deal with her sadness by way of food? When Nadia began to realize this, she decided to take up knitting instead. It was her mother who had taught her the craft, and Nadia is now making a blanket for her baby — the practice is soothing, and she even paces herself saying “subhan Allah, al-hamdu Llillah, and Allahu Akbar” and makes a du’aa’ (supplication) for her mother.
Now, would not that please her mother more than having her daughter eat her way to death?
Make Realism Part of Your Reality
Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said,
“Those who make things hard for themselves will be destroyed.” He said it three times.(Riyad As-Saliheen 144).
Just as moderation is the essence of Islam, so too can it make for a successful routine of personal growth and development. When we are realistic about our goals, the benefit is twofold.
First, we increase our likelihood of achieving them.
Second, we are not hindered by the impossibility of high targets that make us want to give up almost immediately. Now, some will say, “you have to dream big,” and I do not disagree, but when it comes to turning those dreams into realities, you have to act on them in a realistic way — otherwise, they will remain impossible to reach.
If Nadia were to resolve to diet and say “I will only eat salads forever, and I am going to spend three hours after dawn everyday doing exercise,” it would almost be like she is setting herself up for failure. Tempering our goals with doable, sustainable actions that work within the context of a strategic plan is the best way to go.
Pray as if everything depends on Allah, Work as if everything depends on you.
In the Qur’an, Almighty Allah says,
“Work (righteousness): Soon will Allah observe your work, and His Messenger, and the Believers: Soon will you be brought back to the knower of what is hidden and what is open: then will He show you the truth of all that you did.” (At-Tawbah 9:105)
“Truly, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Ar-Ra`d 13:11)
We must do the work required from us, the one that we have established through our good intentions, our commitment to seeing our role in the establishment of our habits, and the strategic realistic plan we have laid out for ourselves.
We, like Nadia, need to ask ourselves:
Is the resolution not working, or am I not working on the resolution?
First published: October 2012