It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking – after wondering if New Year’s is halal to celebrate, you probably want to lose some weight, make more money, talk to family more, or be a better Muslim in some way. The New Year for many of us is a moment to turn a fresh page and re-imagine a better self. We make resolutions and hope despite the statistics we’ll be the outliers that don’t fail at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.
Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health. Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks.
Given such a high failure rate, let’s talk about how you can be among the few who set and achieve your goals successfully.
1. Be Thankful to Allah
Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful
You’ve been successful this past year in a number of areas. Think of your worship, career, relationships, personality, education, health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual), and finances. Take a moment to reflect on where you’ve succeeded, no matter how trivial, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo, and be thankful to Allah for those successes.
When you’re thankful to Allah , He increases you in blessings. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily, My punishment is indeed severe’” [14:7]
In recent years, there’s been more discussion on the benefits of practicing gratitude, though oftentimes it’s not clear to whom or what you’re to be grateful towards. We, of course, know that we’re not grateful simply to the great unconscious cosmos, but to our Creator.
Despite this difference, there exist interesting studies on how the practice of gratitude affect us. Some of the benefits include:
- Better relationships with those thanked
- Improved physical health
- Improved psychological health
- Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
- Better sleep
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved mental strength
Building on Your Successes
In addition to being thankful to Allah , reflect on why you were successful in those areas. What was it you did day in and day out to succeed? Analyze it carefully and think of how you can either build on top of those present successes, or how you can transport the lessons from those successes to new areas of your life to succeed there as well.
In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they note that we have a tendency to try to solve big problems with big solutions, but a better technique that has actual real-world success in solving complex problems is to instead focus on bright spots and build on those bright spots instead. You have bright spots in how you’ve worked and operated, so reflect on your successes and try to build on top of them.
2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal
Oftentimes when we want to change, we try to change too many areas. This can lead to failure quickly because change in one area is not easy, and attempting to do it in multiple areas simultaneously will simply accelerate failure.
Instead, pick one goal – a goal that you are strongly motivated to fulfill, and one that you know if you were to make that goal, it would have a profoundly positive impact on your life as well as on others whom you are responsible to.
In making the case based on scientific studies, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes:
Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”
Further down, he states:
“However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.”
When setting your goal, be sure to set a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound. “I want to lose weight” is not a SMART goal. “I want to achieve 10% bodyfat at 200 lbs in 9 months” is specific (you know the metrics to achieve), measurable (you can check if you hit those metrics), achievable (according to health experts, it can be done, realistic (it’s something you can do), and time-bound (9 months).
3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity
Once you lock onto your goal, you should ask for success in your goal every day, multiple times a day. Increasing in your du’a and asking Allah for success not only brings you the help of the Most High in getting to your goal, it also ensures it remains top of mind consistently.
A few of the best ways to increase the chances of a supplication being accepted:
- Increase the frequency of raising your hands after salah and asking for your intended outcome.
- Asking while you are in sujood during prayers.
- Praying and supplicating in the last 3rd of the night during qiyam ul-layl.
When you make your du’a, be specific in what you ask for, and in turn, you will have a specific rather than a vague goal at the forefront of your mind which is important because one of the major causes of failure for resolutions themselves is lacking specificity.
4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency
The most powerful impact on the accomplishment of any goal isn’t in having the optimal technique to achieve the goal – it is rather how consistent you are in trying to achieve it. The time and frequency given to achievement regularly establishes habits that move from struggle to lifestyle. As mentioned in the previous section, day, time, and place were all important to getting the goal, habit, or task accomplished.
In order to be consistent, schedule it in your calendar of choice. When you schedule it, make sure you:
- Pick the time you’re most energetic and likely to do it.
- Work out with family, friends, and work that that time is blocked out and shouldn’t be interrupted.
- Show up even if you’re tired and unmotivated – do something tiny, just to make sure you maintain the habit.
A Word on Automation
Much continues to be written about jobs lost to automation, but there are jobs we should love losing to automation, namely, work that we do that can be done freely or very cheaply by a program. For example, I use Mint to capture all my accounts (bank, credit card, investments, etc) and rather than the old method of gathering receipts and tracking transactions, all of it is captured online and easily accessible from any device.
Let’s say you wanted to give to charity, and you wanted to give a recurring donation of $5 a month to keep MuslimMatters free – all you have to do is set up an automated recurring donation at the link and you’re done.
Likewise, if you’re saving money for a goal, you can easily do so by automating a specific amount of money coming out of your bank account into another account via the online banking tools your bank provides. You can automate bill payments and other tasks to clear your schedule, achieve your goals, and keep you focused on working the most important items.
5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes
We’re often told we should set up SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. However, one way to quickly fail a goal is by defining success according to outcomes, which aren’t necessarily in your hand. For example, you might say as above:
“I want to be at 10% body fat in 9 months at 200 lbs.”
This is a SMART goal, and it’s what you should aim for, but when you assess success, you shouldn’t focus on the result as it’s somewhat outside the scope of your control. What you can do is focus on behaviors that help you achieve that goal, or get close to it, and then reset success around whether you’re completing your behaviors. As an example:
“I want to complete the P90X workout and diet in 90 days.”
Here, you’re focused on generally accepted notions on behaviors that will get you close to your goal. Why? Because you control your behaviors, but you can’t really control the outcomes. Reward yourself when you follow through on your behavior goals, and the day-to-day commitments you make. If you find that compliance is good, and you’re getting closer to your goal, keep at it.
Read the following if you want to really understand the difference in depth.
6. Set Realistic Expectations – Plan to Fail, and Strategize Recovery
After too many failures, most people give up and fall off the wagon. You will fail – we all do. Think of a time you’ve failed – what should you have done to get back on your goal and complete it? Now reflect on the upcoming goal – reflect on the obstacles that will come your way and cause you to fail, and how when you do fail, you’ll get right back on it.
Once you fail, ask yourself, was it because of internal motivation, an external circumstance, a relationship where expectations weren’t made clear, poor estimation of effort – be honest, own what you can do better, and set about attempting to circumvent the obstacle and try again.
7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals
Once you’re tracking behaviors, simply mark down in an app or tracker that you completed the behavior. Once you see you’re consistent in your behaviors over the long-term, you’ll have the ability to meaingfully review your plan and assess goal progress.
This is important because as you attempt to perform the work necessary to accomplish the goal, you’ll find that your initial assessments for completion could be wrong. Maybe you need more time, maybe you need a different time. Maybe you need a different process for accomplishing your goals. Assess your success at both weekly and monthly intervals, and ask yourself:
- How often was I able to fulfill accomplish my required behaviors? How often did I miss?
- What was the reason for those misses?
- Can I improve what I’m doing incrementally and change those failures to successes? Or is the whole thing wrong and not working?
Don’t make changes when motivation dies after a few days. Don’t make big changes on a weekly basis. Set an appointment on a weekly basis simply to review successes and challenges, making small tweaks while maintaining the overall plan. Set a monthly appointment with yourself to review and decide what you’ll change, if anything, in how you operate.
Be something of a Tiger mom about it – aim for 90% completion of behaviors, or an A grade, when assessing whether you’ve done well or not. Anything below 90% is a failing grade.
(ok, so Tiger Moms want 100% or more, but let’s assume this is a somewhat forgiving Tiger Mom)
Putting it All Together
Set ‘Em Up
- First, take a moment to reflect and be thankful to Allah for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
- Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
- Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.
Knock ‘Em Down
- Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
- On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
- Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
- Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.
What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?
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Source: Muslim Matters