By Shabina S. Khatri
Eid Mubarak, and Happy New Year! If you’re anything like me, you’re already counting the minutes till Memorial Day, the symbolic start of summer, with its long sunny days and lazy luxurious nights. Sigh. How are ever going to survive the broad stretch of dreary weather and holiday-less months that lay ahead? No worries – there’s plenty to do while we wait.
January is the most popular month for New Year’s resolutions. For Muslims, who should be striving for self-improvement 365 days of the year, it’s as good a time as any for goal-setting. Or, in the case of those who made New Year’s resolutions a few months ago after Ramadan, it’s as good a time as any to fill out a progress report.
One way to prepare for the future is to reflect on the past. So think back, to last January, or last month, or last week, even. How has your environment changed? And how have you changed your environment? What has been the response to these changes?
Are they for better or worse?
Though quantifying the sum of everything that’s changed would be nearly impossible – it would be hard to conclude, for example, that I’m 30% better off than I was this time last year – conducting a self-assessment doesn’t have to be daunting. I suggest dividing life up into a handful of categories, and then listing the differences as they come to mind.
In terms of spirituality, for example, have you started waking up for fajr? Or stopped? When it comes to furthering your personal growth, have you learned anything new? How to cook your favorite dish, perhaps? Or are you still leaving your plates in the sink? And as far as relationships go, have you shown more kindness to the people around you? Or less appreciation?
Once you’ve hashed out where you stand, it’s time to set some concrete goals. This is usually where most of us get carried away, making unrealistic resolutions that doom us to failure. While it may be commendable for a couch potato to resolve to exercise every day of the week, for example, he may find it too difficult to go from 0 to 60 overnight and simply give up. Another common pitfall is stretching ourselves too thin and setting too many attainable goals at once. Spending more time with the kids, increasing productivity at work, reading more books each week and keeping the house spic and span – simultaneously? I don’t think so.
I’m not saying don’t be optimistic – just add a dash of pragmatism to the mix. Aisha (R) once asked the Prophet (SAW), “What is the most loved deed to Allah?” He answered, “One that is performed constantly even if it is a small deed.” The wisdom behind his statement is not lost on motivational speakers, who say it takes anywhere from three weeks to a month to establish a habit – good or bad. So consistently praying on time throughout January could help set you up for the rest of the year, and the rest of your life. Spending 30 evenings gossiping with your friends over the Internet and on the phone, however, could also affect the way the rest of your 2007 plays out.
Once goals have been set, be sure to take some periodic pauses to regroup – and tweak, if necessary. If eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day just isn’t possible, then lower the bar a little. Rather than just giving it up, strive for three or four. Conversely, if making up all the fasts you missed during Ramadan was a snap, don’t just rest on your laurels and become complacent. Instead, perhaps resolve to start keeping nafl fasts on Mondays and Thursdays. The key is to tailor your goals to your personality, your life and your needs so that there is continuous progress, even if that progress is as minute as reading one page of Qur’an a day (that’s much better than reading none).
Everyone is different, but I’ve found success builds on itself, and is the best motivator to continue the process of self-improvement. Hanging up my clothes on Monday, for example, inspires me to continue keeping my room uncluttered during the rest of the week, so I’m not faced with a huge pile of things to put away by the weekend.
Another motivator – the incredibly satisfying feeling of setting and surpassing goals that pit you against…you. Because at the end of the day, we are the only ones really stopping ourselves from being who we truly want to be.
InshAllah I pray that January is a good month for all of us, and the rest of the year even better, in terms of our development as Muslims, spouses, siblings, children, co-workers and friends. And who knows, maybe we’ll get so caught up in the challenge of improving ourselves and our surroundings, we’ll forget about the dreary weather. Ameen!
*Deep gratitude to Shabnam Khan for this article idea.