It’s once again that time of year where we change calendars, size of pants and we make resolutions; resolutions that we vow to keep. Yeah, highly unlikely! Most new year resolutions are broken before taking the next one. Only 9% make good on them and 25% break them within the month of January. So what is up with the whole idea of making a resolution in the first place.
Why does it have to start in the new year?
Why do I feel obliged to make one?
Why do I suck so badly in respecting them?
All legitimate questions, and questions that we shall visit one by one.
First off, the 1st of January is a terrible date to start something. Most people in western countries are off work and have just been in family gatherings based on consumption; so this is a highly unsuitable time to make a resolution. As for the date itself, it is purely arbitrary; it just happens to be the first day of the year. If we would think this way in normal terms, people would say “I will be wiser with my money” on income tax deadline day, or “I will study harder at school” on the last day of school. The only reason why January 1st has become synonymous with resolutions is because it is the beginning of something.
Now, making a resolution and having the resolve to get through it are two completely different aspects. Often, when one makes a resolution, it often involves change. And change is not something that your self or body enjoys. Therefore, you turn into water and revert back to the path of least resistance. Which is great for the water cycle, but you end up back at square one. It is easy to feel compelled to change out of guilt, out of logic, out of… Whatever is the reason. But it is hard to change. That is why one should not impose a drastic change in one day, but work in increments.
…for Allah does not get tired (of giving reward) till you get tired, and the best deeds to Allah are the incessant ones though they were few.
Sahih al-Bukhari 5861
It is useless to go on a severe no-carb diet for 3 weeks and then squander it at the first sight of a Twinkie. It is useless to read the Quran 5 times in the month of Ramadan and forget it in your drawer the rest of the year. It is useless to subscribe to a gym if you don’t even have the intention to go.
So resolutions should be attainable and gradual. You should make resolutions throughout your life. They should even be on a daily basis. One should revise his situation every day. It is reported that Omar ibn Al-Khattab said:
… Judge yourselves before you are judged…
Jami’ Al-Tirmidhi, Book 37, Hadith 2647
If merchants bookkeep to see the progress of their commerce, it might just be a good idea to follow suit. Make a list of your hits and misses of your day, your week, month and year. Make a progression sheet of what you want to do and how will you reach your goal, and feel free to look back at your work to reassess or to forge harder ahead. And don’t get demoralised by a lack of progress, for it is often guilt that gets you to change but it is also guilt that makes you despair when you take a step back.
As to why we suck in general when it comes to resolutions… It’s because we are human, we suck at a lot of things. That is why when it comes to resolutions, you need a drive and a commitment system to keep you moving along. You remember those statistics from before… well, those people used will power to get through their resolution. Personally, I have no will except with the power of Allah. If he becomes your drive and your commitment system, resolutions become way easier.
Why? First off, your resolve is only as strong as your drive and your commitment system. And let’s be honest, we can easily weasel our way out of any system. But try hiding yourself from Him while you shove a Twinkie down your throat. Try calling in sick when He knows you want to catch the game live instead of pulling in your shift at the local food bank. Try refusing a few bucks to a person in need when you know the reward He has prepared for those who give. It is this desire and fear that should drive you. The desire of pleasing Allah and to obtain his favor; and the fear of his wrath and punishment.
…Indeed, they used to race in doing good, and call upon Us with hope and fear, totally humbling themselves before Us.
Sourat Al-Anbiya (21 – 90)
This is what the prophets were used to doing. Now, if you come up with a better resolution strategy, I’m all ears; but I won’t hold you to it if you give up by mid January.
As for yours truly, don’t think that I am the pinnacle of resolution taking; I have my good share of faults. For instance, I am a grade-A procrastinator. It’s true, I am. If you want to know how good (or bad) of a procrastinator I am… let’s just say that it took me almost 5 years to call for an electrician to check a non functioning light fixture and socket in our master bathroom, and that is with a wife and kids. So after succumbing to countless appeals from my significant other, I finally (huge understatement) had an electrician come over and he fixed the problem. But that is not the end of the story; the problem wasn’t really up to the electrician to solve. You see, all I needed to do is to push the reset button on the GFCI outlet, which also had the light fixture wired to it… click… just the reset button… true story… copyright, stamped it! Imagine my embarrassment, not in front of the electrician, but in front of “she who must be obeyed”… I mean I procrastinated for 5 years… No, not to renovate… No, not to change the sink… but for a click… On another note, just to deflect a little from me, there is actually a great TED talk on the subject of procrastination by Tim Urban which is really worth the see.
So after this ordeal, I changed… a little. While I still procrastinate, I do get things rolling and done a lot more and a lot faster. I used the Asbab needed (ways, reason, methods) and I make Dua (imploration, ask for help, prayer). These two components, as we have mentioned before (Blog on Good Logistics do not guarantee Victory, but Bad Logistics will guarantee Defeat), are the two keys to success in any venture. So I make check-off lists, give myself time and double it for good measure (Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law). Moreover, I do Adhkar (mentioning of Allah, mention grace) every morning and evening and give special importance to the following passage, for it resonates louder with me than other parts:
My Lord! I seek refuge in You from lethargy…
Narrated by Muslim, Riyad As-Salihin, 1455.
And with these two features (Asbab and Dua), Allah has permitted me to get better in this regard… true story… copyright, stamped it!