Short Answer: Positive reinforcement i.e. rewarding yourself a little whenever and as soon as you accomplish a task that you find a bit or very difficult to do, is increasingly being hailed, in the self-help genre, as a more effective way of motivating oneself to adopt good habits, than negative reinforcement i.e. punishing yourself for failing to do that task. The latter only leads to negative emotions such as despair and hopelessness.
Asalaamu alaykum, and thank you for sending in your question to our website.
It is very heartening to know of your keenness to adopt good habits in yourself at such a young age.
Indeed, if good habits are adopted early in life, they pave the way for much betterment and good later on. This is because, as an adult, a person becomes much more set in their ways and less flexible towards change.
Positive reinforcement, i.e. rewarding yourself a little whenever and as soon as you accomplish a task that you find a bit or very difficult to do, is increasingly being hailed, in the self-help genre, as a more effective way of motivating oneself to adopt good habits, than negative reinforcement, i.e. punishing yourself for failing to do that task.
The latter only leads to negative emotions such as despair and hopelessness.
Even with children, positive reinforcement works wonders as a motivator for doing something good.
Acceptance of actions depends upon intentions
There is a well-known Prophetic narration which exhorts the importance of a Muslim’s intention whenever they do anything in life:
`Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), reported:
“The messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention. So, whoever emigrated for Allah and His Messenger, his emigration will be for Allah and His Messenger; and whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration would be for what he emigrated for”.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Allah will therefore count, weigh, and reward a deed based on what the intention behind it was. So you have done well to worry about the eventual acceptance of your good deeds.
This worry and concern is an indicator of taqwa— the constant consciousness of Allah and the recurring thought that He is ever-watching, all-knowing, and all-listening of whatever we do.
Allah loves those who have high levels of taqwa.
Wisdom behind “taking baby steps” in Islam
That being said, sister, there is something that you should always remember: in order to successfully pursue and achieve a higher, loftier level of anything — anything at all — in life, one has to:
(i) start from absolute scratch, i.e. zero performance, and
(ii) pass, one by one, and cover all the steps in between, in order to one day reach the top (or the higher levels).
There are no shortcuts in life.
The same principle applies to establishing good Islamic habits during one’s early stages i.e. when one is very young, or as soon as a Muslim starts to become more religiously practicing, or when a person has just converted to Islam: the individual should take gingerly, “baby” steps at first, aiming to become more firm upon those before moving on to bigger steps.
It is the surest and wisest way to “win”!
As they say: slow and steady wins the race.
So, for example, if you are rewarding yourself with little tidbits for doing anything good — viz. actions that Allah is pleased with that you hitherto found difficult to do, such as praying Fajr prayer on time, not being rude to your siblings, or giving up saying a bad word, — then you may go ahead and continue to do so for the time being.
Conclusion: Taper off as your habits improve
Your intention in this situation should be to reward yourself with something small only, in order to set your desired good habits into your persona, as a routine. Do not go for big, monetarily heavy rewards.
Secondly, your major intention should be to ultimately taper yourself totally off of this rewards system, once you have become set in these good habits that you desire to acquire for the sake of Allah.
Throughout this process of self-improvement, remain conscious of doing everything ultimately for the pleasure of Allah, sister. Each step you take in His path, will be worthy of immense appreciation, acceptance, and rewards by your benevolent Creator.
This is because He is Al-Shakoor — the most appreciative one!
I hope that this answers your question.
Salam. Please stay in touch.
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