Often the most difficult challenge to improving our life, to making a change, or to implement a plan is finding out how to motivate ourselves to take the first step toward a goal and then to remain constantly motivated.
Have you given some thought to what motivates you? What gets you going when there are constant distractions? When your intellectual and emotional energy levels are low, how do you turn things around? Or when you are working on one project that is taking lots of your time, how do you stay focused and motivated to keep going until the project is complete? These are not questions with easy answers.
However, during the teenage years, it is important that you at least begin to explore the topic of motivation and come to some understanding about how you can motivate yourself. Although your preferences and inclinations about what motivates you might change as you grow older, you will be much better prepared for college and other goals you intend to pursue.
Start With Your Intentions
No matter what activity or goal you wish to pursue, there must be an effort to make an intention, to think clearly about what it is you are about to undertake and for what reason.
It is narrated by `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended” (Al-Bukhari).
Working on your intentions right at the outset also serves the purpose of helping to develop a clear objective and, God willing, a concrete sense of what is needed to achieve the objective and how much time will be needed to do so.
When your motivation suffers midway through the process of achieving a particular objective, it is highly likely that the intention itself was not clear at the outset and therefore distractions easily slipped in and the focus became unclear.
Do your best from now on to articulate your intention; if needs be, take a moment to write down your thoughts. Keep your intentions clear, and check back with yourself should your motivation level starts to decline.
Develop a Plan
Starting off on a project without having a clear sense of the resources or the estimated time needed to complete it is not recommended.
Not knowing what books you will need to complete a report means you will have to stop and go look for a relevant book or source each time need arises. The risk that you will become distracted or even lose motivation is great because you will have started the project already but will feel discouraged if a particular book is not available.
In addition, you will find yourself diverting valuable energy unnecessarily to look for this or that resource, and even worse, fall victim to the tendency to “help” a friend with his or her problem.
You should always be helpful to friends but not at the expense of losing valuable time working on your own project that has a specific deadline. If you get bogged down with too many distractions, whether self-inflicted or peer-imposed, then you are bound to feel less motivated to continue working on the initial project, whatever it was.
Develop a plan of action right at the outset, incorporating milestones and checkpoints so that you can pace your progress, as well as appropriate break times so that you do not suffer from burnout. It is never advisable to overwork oneself or to expect that one can remain consistently and constantly motivated over the same thing.
The beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was presented with such a question by Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and Hanzhalah (may Allah be pleased with them). We read in a narration by Hanzhalah,
I met Abu Bakr. He said, “How are you?” I replied, “Hanzhalah has turned into a hypocrite.” Abu Bakr said, “Hallowed be Allah, what are you saying?” Thereupon he said, “I say that when we are in the company of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), we ponder over the Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our very eyes, and when we are away from Allah’s Messenger, we attend to our wives, our children, our businesses; most of these things (i.e. pertaining to the afterlife) slip out of our minds.” Abu Bakr said, “By Allah, I also experience the same.”
So I and Abu Bakr went to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said to him, “Allah’s Messenger, Hanzhalah has turned into a hypocrite.” Thereupon Allah’s Messenger said, “What has happened to you?” I said, “Allah’s Messenger, when we are in your company, we are reminded of the Hell-Fire and Paradise as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but whenever we go away from you and attend to our wives, children and businesses, much of these things go out of our mind.”
Thereupon Allah’s Messenger said, “By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if your state of mind remains the same as it is in my presence and you are always busy in remembrance (of Allah), the angels will shake hands with you in your beds and in your paths but, Hanzhalah, time (should be devoted to the worldly affairs) and time (should be devoted to prayer and meditation).” He said this thrice. (Muslim)
The advice of our beloved Prophet has timeless value since he reminds us that it is an integral part of human nature that the level of our motivation fluctuates depending on the type of activity in which we are engaged. To be constantly motivated in the remembrance of Allah, the Prophet reminds us, would be worthy of salutations from the angels.
Final Thoughts: Power of Supplication
The hopelessness that follows a loss of motivation can be transformed into optimism by turning to Almighty Allah and seeking His assistance and guidance.
Rather than making supplications to Allah for help, it is tempting to languish in self-pity, to rationalize the lack of planning, and to recast intentions. The danger clearly is that the more you suffer from low levels of motivation and the more you become distant from Allah, a cycle begins to form, and it seems as though you can never break that cycle. Sitting down to seek a private audience with Allah and appealing to Him for His assistance and guidance must become second nature to you.
Why? Because there is no more powerful means of restoring high levels of motivation than by turning to Allah and coming to terms with the weak state of our faith and our focus. It is when we intentionally turn to Allah during a state of helplessness that we realize that focus, motivation, and success in human endeavors are blessings from Allah that we should not take for granted.
Making sincere supplication to Allah to help us to be more motivated is a good thing, but as we have mentioned above, it is critical that we start off with making sincere intentions and developing a plan of action.
In the Qu’ran, Almighty Allah tells us
[Remember Me, I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not reject Faith. O you who believe, seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.](Al-Baqarah 2:152-153).
After reminding us to remember Him, Allah promises us that He will remember us. When seeking assistance, we are to do so by persevering patiently and with prayer, even when it seems we are losing hope because we have lost our motivation to continue.
We refer you to the well-documented biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), because there is plenty of evidence of how he responded to Allah’s call and then turned to Allah when he himself found resistance from the people to his message.