Making positive change is an important part of Islamic self development.

New year’s resolution anybody?

Making positive change is an important part of Islamic self development.

So 2012 is nearly upon us and if the world doesn’t end as the Mayans predicted, it is worthwhile thinking about a goal that we would like to achieve in the coming year. Yes, a ‘new year’s resolution’. The term is a dreaded one for many – as one facebook status I came across tellingly put it:  ‘‘my new year’s resolution is to not have a resolution’’. Many of us are afraid to even come up with a new year’s resolution because of our natural fear of failure. Setting goals that do not materialise may make us feel worthless and drown us in negativity. But it is negativity itself which prevents us from even trying – achieve your goal or die trying – shouldn’t that be our ethos? Others like to point out that if we really want to, we can make a resolution for change on any day of the year and we do not need an arbitrary date to do it. Thanks Captain Obvious. This is of course true, and making a new year’s resolution is not to say that we cannot make an effective resolution on any other day of the year (it is hoped that this article will be helpful whenever we decide to make a resolution for positive change regardless of the time of year). But be that as it may, the new year brings with it a sense of freshness that seems to help motivate people towards trying to effect positive change. It is thus important to channel this motivation correctly such that motivation can transform into actualisation.
Before embarking on how to do this, it is important to understand why this is a fundamentally Islamic exercise. The concept of effecting positive goals or change is an intrinsic part of Islam. Even where that particular goal is not evidently Islamic (such as losing weight or learning to sew), it is in actual fact Islamic because Islam is about human advancement, growth and refinement. Religion is often perceived as something that caters for merely spiritual advancement; perhaps it is for this reason that we refer to Islam as a ‘way of life’ rather than merely a religion. It sets out principles and guidelines for not only spiritual growth (such as prayer, fasting and other acts of worship) but for all aspects of human advancement including spheres such as health, education, politics, the environment and so on. Hence a goal of losing weight is in reality also an Islamic goal as is learning to sew because they go to the advancement and growth of the human being. That said, we should attempt to prioritise evidently Islamic goals (in terms of fulfilling Islamic obligations and avoiding sin) in our hierarchy of resolutions.  In other words, if we don’t pray then we should probably prioritise praying over learning to sew. Just saying. What follows is a number of tips that will, God-willing, help us to create a new year’s resolution and actually achieve it:
Identifying the resolution – First thing’s first, coming up with a new year’s resolution. Examine your characteristics, traits and habits and think about which of them you’d like to change. If you can’t think of a single thing you’d like to improve on, perhaps humility is the one for you. Or you can ask your family and friends to help you – they are often only too happy to oblige. Characteristics may include things like trying to be more positive, helpful, generous or considerate. Habits tend to be more material or tangible kinds of things – for example, quitting smoking or getting into the habit of sleeping and waking early. Habits are not limited to material things though, they can also be non-tangible or spiritual habits such as backbiting or delaying one’s prayers. Moreover, a resolution doesn’t have to come in the form of changing something. It could be something that you simply set out to do; an active goal. For example, finally getting your provisional driver’s license or writing that book you’ve always wanted to write.
Don’t take on too much – Most of us will probably think about our characteristics and habits and active goals and come up with a whole range of things that we’d like to change or set out to achieve. This can be very daunting and can make us feel that there is just too much to tackle. Stop. There goes the negativity again. We should not expect that we can tackle everything all at once or all in the same year. Perhaps in the world of Disney the new year will come, we will put on our superman or superwoman outfits and fly off into the fireworks filled sky and live happily ever after. But in the real world, flying into the fireworks filled sky will get us killed. Although everyone has a natural desire to be a perfect or near-perfect person, we should not try to achieve this all at once but rather work to evolve progressively.  Choose something that is especially meaningful to you and those around you or that has a particularly adverse affect on your life and the lives of others and pay particular attention to achieving that goal. This does not mean that you cannot work on more than one thing simultaneously, it simply means that you should give your principal attention to one or two things and naturally, our expectations of achievement should correlate with the extent to which we’ve actively pursued it.
Be specific – Avoid dreamy and overly ambitious resolutions like ‘achieving world peace’ or even ‘becoming closer to Allah (swt)’. This isn’t a beauty pageant. Sure, we all have the ultimate goal of becoming closer to Allah (swt) and saving the world but how are you going to do it?  Perhaps you will start by saying your prayers on time or by partaking in anti-war rallies. Break down widely framed resolutions into sub-resolutions and then figure out where you’re going to start and what you want to focus on.
Be realistic – Some resolutions are doomed to probable failure right from the outset because they are unrealistic. Losing 10 kilos each month or becoming a millionaire by year’s end when you’re currently on welfare is highly unlikely. Yes we should ‘dream, believe, achieve’ but we should also be realistic about our expectations of achievement. That way, we may well over-achieve but we will not under-achieve and experience the disappointment and quelled motivation that comes with under-achievement.
Set time limits – That said, time limits are very important. Breaking down our resolution into further sub-goals to achieve within particular time frames can help to make the resolution seem more achievable and give us a sense of direction. It also provides us with added motivation each time a sub-goal is achieved and helps us keep track of our progress. Note that the time limits themselves should also be realistic.
Ask Allah (swt) for help – It is essential to recognise that all success comes from Allah (swt) and that we are entirely dependent on Him for strength and opportunity. Continuously pray and ask Allah (swt) for help in achieving your resolution. Be sure to thank Him once you have.
Let’s get cracking then. Let’s come up with a single, specific, realistic, time-bound resolution to which we can give our core attention and on which we can actively work in the coming year. If you attain your goal before the year’s end, then that is fantastic and you can then move on to a new resolution. If you still have not achieved your resolution by the end of the year, consider revising these tips to help determine what went wrong. Happy new year everybody!
By Sharara Attai