Inspiration and change can happen overnight, but transformation is a journey. There are old habits to break and new ones to instill. Transformation requires deep conviction in the process as well as the results, and a determination to see things through.
Our lives are a series of habits. How you spend each day and each week is ultimately how you spend your life. Even in secular self-development programs, we find emphasis on the importance of habit-building, and techniques to master your habits.
Here we present to you a simple model for transforming any area of your life.
A prerequisite to transformation is awareness. We cannot change unless there is awareness of the need to change. This comes about from active consciousness of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and our purpose in being here.
This consciousness in turn directs us to learn more about our obligations and to persevere in doing good and avoiding evil. As human beings we are prone to slips along the moral path, and having his consciousness is important to bring us back to the pure centre (fitrah).
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوۡمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنفُسِہِمۡۗ
“Verily, Allaah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state themselves”
Consciousness causes us to identify the habits that need to be removed or instilled. Each time a new habit is identified, it is implemented–not overnight, but–gradually through small consistent steps.
Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best of deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
Consistency in small habits snowballs into consistent major change, and eventually life transformation. Whatever is consistently practiced becomes second nature. Hence consciousness helps ensure that only the good gets practiced, and consistency makes it a part of our daily lives.
Islam encourages us to reflect, ponder, and use our intellect. We get pulled in many different directions during the day. So it is important to keep “centering” ourselves through regular prayer, remembrance, and introspection.
So how does one implement these habits once consciousness is attained? Consistency and daily practice can be achieved using the following habit cycle.
A Muslim’s lifestyle is powered by habits–prayer triggered by movements of the sun, fasting triggered by movements of the moon, remembrance of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) every morning and evening, extra self-care on Fridays, contemplation before bed, etc.
Triggers are daily occurrences that we can use to pair with a routine. Waking up, for instance, is a trigger. We can pair this with the routine of morning remembrance of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). The call to prayer (athan) is a trigger. We can pair this with the routine of immediately dropping what we’re doing and slowing down the mind to focus on prayer. Getting into the bus/train/car is a trigger that can be paired with the routine of switching on an audio book. When the instinct to act is triggered, one must get up and move within five seconds so that the instinct is not weakened.
If we were to monitor our lives closely, we’d see how almost everything we do out of habit is triggered. The difference between a successful life and a mediocre or unproductive one is in what routines we pair the triggers with–good or bad?
The reward is most often the positive feeling that comes from the routine, such as achievement, peace, protection, having a good day, learning something new, etc. The taste of this reward feeds back into reinforcing the routine the next time the trigger is released.
The trick to overcoming bad habits, then, is to identify a replacement routine so that the next time the trigger of that bad habit strikes, one is prepared with an alternative routine and reward.