The ceasefire is over!
As Ramadan draws to a close, Satan and his band of devils are now released. Having had an entire month to reflect and plan their strategy, they’re back with a vengeance.
We too had a month of training and discipline to raise our level of Taqwa, to condition us for the fight. We went 29 days without food and water from Dawn till Sunset, we prayed every prayer on time and often in congregation. We went for Tarawih prayers and recited the Quran. Some even went to a higher level and got up in the middle of the night for Tahajjud and Qiyam-ul-Lail. Unfortunately, for most of us this was an effect of the environment around us and we did not condition our souls to incorporate this in our lives.
There are some that say that creating a habit takes 21 days. This theory arose from the work of Dr Maxwell Maltz who noticed that it took amputees 21 days to cease feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. from further observations he extrapolated his findings to conclude that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Thus, the 21 Day Habit Theory came into existence and was quickly picked up by several self-help books and websites.
We just went through an entire month of repetitive fasting, prayers, recitation of the Quran, Charity, and other acts of worship. Then the moon was sighted for the new month and for most of us it all evaporated into nothingness. Most failed to go to the Masjid for Isha prayer (which they had been doing for 29 days), several skipped it altogether as they thronged the streets to do last minute shopping for Eid or to hangout with their friends. Music blared from car stereos and boys hung out on the streets for some Poondi (check out the fairer sex). Fajr, the next day, was ignored by yet more as they struggled to wake up for Eid prayers, suffering from a hangover of the previous night’s festivities. A friend recounted how the Imam at his local masjid delayed the start of the Eid prayer, instead asking those who had not prayed Fajr to get up and make up the missed prayer. He asked those who had prayed to lower their heads so as not to look at those who missed the prayer. Almost 50% of the congregation got up to pray. However, even with this rather embarrassing reminder, some preferred to just sit there and not make up that prayer. And this is barely 12 hours since the end of Ramadan!
Check out these tips by Hesham A. Hassaballa on Avoiding Post-Ramadan Letdown
While it is true that repetitive carrying out of a task makes it a habit, there is more to it than just mechanical robotic actions. It requires being on a higher conscious level to be able to take a mechanical motion and instill it in your inner self to make it stick as a habit. Dr Stephanie Burns of the Leadership Labyrinth writes in Installing a new habit and breaking an old one:
To create a new habit there a only a few steps and these are steps we all possess the firepower to do.
1. You have to decide on what you want to be a habit. It is important that you be as specific as possible. A habit of drinking more water is problematic whereas a habit of drinking 6 glasses a day is easier to install.
2. You have to set up triggers to help you remember the action at the time you want to do it.
It is hard to install a new habit if you keep ending up at the end of the day remembering that you were meaning to take the stairs at work instead of the elevator.
During the time before the action becomes a habit (perhaps the first few weeks) you will need to use external triggers or reminders. Make it easy to remember what you are trying to do.
Alarms, notes, friends to call you, rubber bands on your wrist, padlocks or obstacles.
Rituals support remembering – do it in the same place, same time, same surroundings if possible for the first few weeks.
3. Once you have remembered you have to be able to motivate yourself to act. Before we discuss how to do that we should discuss the issue of repetition.
Installing new behaviors of any type take repetition over time. How much repetition and for how long depends on what it is you are trying to install.
Creating positive habits is harder than a falling into a bad habit since bad habits are often the path of least resistance. Similarly, Satan makes the path to sin easier by showing us dreams of enjoyment and good times. Heading to the Masjid at dawn for Fajr (or even getting out of bed to pray at home) seems a daunting task when the bed beckons. Yet it is so easy to stay up all night watching a new movie, or to sit and play cards with friends. My late Grandfather (May Allah forgive him and grant him paradise) used to say:
Satan keeps us up all night in merriment but as the time for Fajr (the prayer at dawn) approaches he starts to massage us to sleep.
I myself lost a battle this morning when I failed to get up for a post-dawn meal to fast the Six Recommended Fasts of Shawwal. What was worse was that I failed to get up at all for Fajr as Satan sung a lullaby and led me down the path of easy sleep.
One of the tricks that Scott Young gives in 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick, is to get a buddy to go along with you in this quest and for each be a motivator for the other. Thus, when one slacks a little, the other is there to push back to the path and run the course so to say.
People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing –that’s why we recommend it daily. – Zig Ziglar
Muhammad Al-Shareef’s Post-Ramadan “Get it Done” Boot Camp
Another great trick is to associate with role models. Indeed, my own personal experience highlights this point as well. The Prophet (SAW) said (as reported by Bukhari and Muslim):
The likeness of a righteous friend and an evil friend, is the likeness of a (musk) perfume seller and a blacksmith. As for the perfume seller, he may either bestow something on you, or you may purchase something from him, or you may benefit from his sweet smell. And as for the blacksmith, he may either burn your clothes, or you may be exposed to his awful smell.
Ultimately, it is a war between you and Satan, and a struggle by you against your Nafs (inner self). Keeping the right company will help you fortify yourself in this and help you in winning battle after battle.
May Allah (SWT) guide us to the Straight Path and give us the strength and courage to form great habits in the footsteps of the Prophet (SAW) and the righteous. May He give us their company in Paradise.