Whether you are a student jotting down an assignment in your agenda, an employee putting a post-it note reminder on your desktop, or a busy mom recording appointments on the fridge calendar, you probably take a systematic approach to organising and managing the various aspects of your life. But are you always as vigilant when it comes to spiritual practice? Unlike academia, work, and family, where poor performance is bound to be met with immediate negative consequences, spiritual performance is personal and more difficult to measure. There are no official transcripts, no threatening bosses, and no persistent children. It is just you and Allah (SWT). Spiritual achievement and growth demands an unprecedented amount of self-discipline, conviction, and motivation – which means you may require additional support to plan and achieve your spiritual goals while maintaining enthusiasm along the way. Here are three tools you can use to make those goals a reality:
1. Bismillah Vision Board
Psychologists have long acclaimed the benefits of writing down your goals. Putting pen to paper helps you identify what you want, clarify the steps needed to get there, and reinforce your commitment to the process. But if mere letters on a page can help drive success, imagine what pictures can do! Advocates of visualisation techniques argue that because your brain responds strongly to visual stimulation, you can build motivation and confidence in achieving your goals simply by imagining the process of achievement. What would it feel like to memorise the Holy Qur’an in its entirety? Can you see the curves of the Arabic letters in your mind’s eye? Can you hear the rhythm of your own voice reciting those last few verses?
Define your spiritual goals and then illustrate them visually using what I call a “Bismillah Vision Board.” This can be a dry erase board or bulletin board in your kitchen, an old piece of cardboard or poster board, or even a piece of paper tacked to your bedroom wall. Write “Bismillah” (In the name of Allah SWT) at the top. Then find pictures that represent the experiences, feelings, and objects that relate to your goals. Examples include a prayer mat to symbolise increased prayer, a baby blanket to symbolise increased kindness to parents, or loose-fitting clothing to symbolise increased modesty. Be creative, but also be selective. There is beauty in simplicity, clarity, and focus. According to ProductiveMuslimah.com, “a clear vision of your desired future pushes you to become motivated and to remain productive through all sorts of challenges.” Take a few moments each day to look at your Bismillah Vision Board and to internalise your goals. After six months, evaluate your progress and edit the images on your board accordingly. If you have achieved a goal, congratulations! If not, it may be that you need to focus more intensely on one or two goals. Remove unrelated images and continue engaging in daily reflection and positive visualisation. “At the same time,” cautions the Project Coordinator at ProductiveMuslimah.com, “don’t be constrained by this process. Reaching for the mountaintop is important but so is enjoying the climb.”
2. Iman Affirmations
“I will never be able to get this right.” “I don’t have enough time.” “I just don’t have it in me.” Most of us have thought or articulated at least one of these negative self-talk statements at some point. But every time you think or make a self-deprecating comment, you are affirming it as your personal truth. Replace negative beliefs with declarations that describe your goals as if you have already achieved them. For example, “I am feeling fulfilled as I look into the eyes of the people I have helped through sadaqah (charity)” or “I am thrilled to be completing an Arabic reading and writing course.”
Affirmations such as these will help you create the emotional experience of already having what you want thereby generating a positive expectation that you will achieve these goals. Psychologists say that it takes 30 days to reprogram your thought patterns. Develop a list of ten affirmations related to your priority goals. Make sure your affirmations are in the present tense, are specific, and begin with “I am.” Repeat them every day for at least one month. If you have succeeded in reprogramming your brain, by the second or third month you should no longer be hearing or using limiting phrases like “I can’t.” Instead you should find that your positive attitude has led you closer to your desired outcomes. “Self-confidence is directly proportional to motivation and productivity,” says ProductiveMuslimah.com. “Each time you achieve a goal, you feel confident about yourself, and thus, motivated to be productive, aiming to reach new heights the next day.”
3. JazakAllah Journal
Belief in Allah (SWT) implies gratefulness. An unbeliever is ungrateful to the Being who has created her, whereas a believer recognises the blessings provided by her Creator. In other words, gratitude is a cornerstone of Iman (faith). But how often do we take the time to express thanks? How many of our du’a (supplication) after prayer are requests for more, rather than expressions of appreciation for what already is? In Surah al-Nahl, verse 18, the Qur’an states “For should you try to count Allah’s I blessings, you could never compute them.”
A JazakAllah Journal provides a systematic method for engaging in gratitude on a daily basis and can complement and enhance the thankfulness we convey in prayer. Select a notebook that is to your liking and inscribe the word “JazakAllah” across the front. JazakAllah is short for ‘JazakAllah khayran’ which means “May Allah (SWT) reward you with good,” and is often used as an expression of thanks.
Commit to writing down three things you are grateful for each evening after ‘Isha prayer or before going to bed. Think about the events that have transpired that day and become aware of Allah’s (SWT) blessings. Include the challenges He has placed before you because these situations contribute to your spiritual and emotional growth.
Gratitude increases your sense of well-being, awareness, and optimism. It can not only bring you closer to Allah (SWT), but also to the people around you. The Prophet (SAW) said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah (SWT).” “Expressing gratitude opens doors to improved relationships and happier lives,” says ProductiveMuslimah.com. “It motivates yourself and others towards good.”
A Bismillah Vision Board, a core set of Iman Affirmations, and a Jazak’Allah Journal will enable you to make rapid improvements in your Islamic practice. But the journey and the struggle are ongoing. “The main obstacle to achieving spiritual goals is whisperings of the Shaitan (devil),” explains ProductiveMuslimah.com. “The Shaitan distracts us in different ways. The key to staying focused on our spiritual goals is to remember Allah (SWT) often and to seek refuge in Him.”
O Allah (SWT), I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts, and from being over powered by men. (Bukhari)
Jenna Evans graduated from the University of Toronto in 2014 with a PhD in Health Services Research. She is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation where she enjoys conducting research on how to improve the coordination and quality of health care. She enjoys experimenting with new strategies that can help her maintain that elusive quality we all look for in life: Balance.