Islamic Counseling and Coaching for Muslims

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Equation for Change: Repetition


A helpful equation I use to maintain successful disciplines and practices in my life.

 CHANGE = Sincerity + Time + Repetition

REPETITION: Consistency and discipline is essential to any type of real sustainable change. Alhamdulilah as Muslims we have the blessed practice of prayer. Anytime you execute your will and discipline in one area of life you are better able to do so in other quadrants of life, this I believe is one of the secret blessings of having 5 daily prayers. Some of us have at times lacked in consistent prayer and when we do have felt a disentanglement of structure in our life as a whole. Is it not true?

Some clients may complain and say "I tried such and such but it did not work" I would ask for how long did you try? Responses may range from "One week/ a few days/ once!" Repetition, discipline and consistency means that you pound the practice into your life and being. Whatever the practice, it becomes so imprinted in you through repetition that it becomes an "automated program of character". You do not have to think about doing it or if you will do it- you are doing it and that is the way it is and will be. If you have been smoking for 20 years you can not expect that giving up smoking for two weeks means you gave repetition a real try. A general rule  to reverse a bad habit (and may vary of course depending on the habit) you must keep up the opposite practice for at least half the time, if you have not smoked in 10 years following your 20 year smoking career then you can claim "I gave it a real try and am still struggling." If you are trying to build a new practice, depending on the person of course, generally my advice is at least one year of repetition to really imprint the "automated program of character" principle. All the great achievements in the world, whether it was a pyramid, restaurant or great body, took repetitive and consistent patterns of practice.

TRY THIS: Mark a calender each day you achieve a goal and set rewards (like going out for ice cream, unless you are on a diet!) for every 3 days you meet your goal and a bigger reward every 30 days (buy yourself a new shirt for example). Remember each step of a goal achieved is a goal achieved. Don't think you have not achieved anything unless you reach the end target, this can usually lead to despair and weakness if you fall short along the way. You can set a daily point system for your goals met and make sure you earn more points for successful days than you loose points for days when you are weak. ex) Monday: I did not smoke= 10 points and Tuesday: I did smoke= (-5). That way your motivation always has a higher attitude degree!

Get a sponsor who can motivate you and commit to making sure you get your rewards. Find a partner who has similar goals and be in solidarity with each other; for example you and a friend want to memorize the same surat of Quran this Ramadan, set a time and day to meet every week and pledge to keep each other accountable for the goals you set.

Equation for Change: Time

A helpful equation I use to maintain successful disciplines and practices in my life.

 CHANGE = Sincerity + Time + Repetition

TIME: Everything takes time! Time is also in the hands of Allah and He can bless your time when you have good intentions! You can not buy anyone's time from them so it is a priceless commodity. BUT you can, more often than not, MAKE TIME! Furthermore you do not even know how much time you have left in this life! Take it seriously. One of the number one excuses I hear from clients is " I know I need to do such and such but I just don't have any time." In actuality you HAVE the time, you just don't want to MAKE time or change your current pattern of life. Many of us have the time, we just prefer to use it to do what we want versus what we should do. This usually happens because we do not WANT what we should want, we just know what we should want, thus the "I just don't have the time" excuse.

TRY THIS: Be sincere and make a detailed schedule of every activity you engaged in hour by hour throughout the week. Often we may find that we spent 10 hours on the internet/ 5 hours watching TV/ 3 hours talking on the phone and so on. You may find that you actually used 5-10 hours a week doing things that have no material or spiritual benefit. Thus it is time wasted. No one intelligent would waste their money and time is even more valuable. You can also try to Visualize your goals and use a present tense when voicing your intentions to achieve a goal. " I am loosing weight/ I am memorizing Quran/I am establishing better relations with my partner" versus "I will/I want/ I hope/ I can" and so on. These tenses leave room for possible procrastination, future projections, excuses and laziness. If you tell yourself you ARE DOING something everyday (even if you are not) the chances of actually getting your body/action to click with the mind's personal narrative is much higher!

Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.

"O mankind! eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan (Satan). Verily, he is to you an open enemy." [Quran 2:168]

It is fascinating that God commands us to eat good, pure and lawful food then follows this command with another- do not follow the footsteps of Shaitan! Shaitan can use food and diet as a way to destroy people and many Muslims struggle with maintaining healthy diets and exercise patters.

In the Quran it also says "Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought. [Quran 16:69]

God promotes and commands us to eat of the pure and good of the earth and that it is a healing for us. We know that good food heals not only our bodies but also our minds, hearts and spirits because all these aspects are contained in the temple of the body.

Check out this article and two great documentaries that scientifically bring this Quranic principle home!

Equation for Change: Sincerity

A helpful equation I use to maintain successful disciplines and practices in my life.

 CHANGE = Sincerity + Time + Repetition

SINCERITY: The strongest motivation is an inner one; intentions. You must ask yourself the deep questions about why you want to achieve your goals, no matter what it is. "Verily actions are made up by the substance of their intentions" [Sahih al Bukhari]. We get what we intend for AND we must understand what we are really intending! If your intention(s) keep changing for the same goal, it is a sign that your intention is not rooted in a "self evident truth" [S.E.T.] and lacking sincerity. For example "I'm quitting smoking because it is unhealthy", then a week later saying to yourself "I am really quitting because my wife can't stand it." Sure both are good reasons but what is really your reason? Your self evident truth must be deeply rooted in inner conviction that nothing will waiver it and your reason or truth is firmly placed. Intentionality only works if you are honest, interestingly Iman in Arabic actually means "trust/security in a thing." Just as you have iman in Allah you must also have trust and security that Allah can help you if you are honest with yourself. In fact you have no other choice. Your S.E.T's are already known to Allah and so are your inner secrets for He is AL HAQQ (The Real, The Truth) and AL KAHBIR (All-Experienced) AL A'LIM (All-Knowing) You are completely visible, naked, translucent to Allah, don't bother with excuses, they may fend off other people for a bit but Allah ALWAYS knows your "inner games" and we all have them, isn't it so? Own your S.E.T. and set your goals! Allah is the only Perfection so He expects you to be imperfect and seek his help until you die. "And if it were Our Will, We would have [destroyed you (mankind) all, and] made angels to replace you on the earth." [Quran43:60] In fact He wants you to call on Him!  The Quran is filled with the theme of constantly reminding yourself and the community towards achieving good. Many of us are great at reminding others but fall really short when it comes to reminding ourselves!

TRY THIS: Ask questions like "Why is this goal important to me?" "What will I continue feeling if I do not achieve this goal?", "How will I achieve this goal?" What do I need to achieve this goal?" What is in the way of achieving this goal and what can I do to get that out of the way!"  "When I do achieve this goal, how will it feel and look like?" Write your answers down and read them aloud to yourself everyday as a reminder of your intentions.  If you feel you can not read your own intentions out loud, ask a spouse, friend or family member to take 3 minutes to read your responses to your questions, even if it is over the phone. I am confident that anyone who cares about you will be happy to assist. You can also record your responses as an audio file or "motivational mp3" and listen to it everyday in your car or commute to work, put it at the beginning of your favorite playlists to hear it every time you access you music/lectures/Quran etc.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Care for the Body

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّ‌حْمَـٰنِ الرَّ‌حِيمِ 

Care for the body.

Care for the body is so important! Our bodies are the temples of our spirit (ruh).  The body is the biological machine which allows us to maneuver, sense and perceive our realities. Both the body and the spirit are gifts from God that we must cherish and develop. If we accept that our beings are an integrated whole, it then holds true that if one or more of our personal dimensions are neglected our experience of life will not be optimized. Psychological, spiritual and emotional energies are harbored in the body and if the body is not given the care, development and soothing it requires, our emotional, spiritual and psychological dimensions will be negatively affected causing stagnation and clogging of our life force. Picture a still swamp that gets no new water and replenishing, it will not make a great fishing spot!
Consistent physical exercise, care and fitness is medically proven to lessen the likelihood of such health problems like heart disease, stroke, obesity, cholesterol, blood flow and the heart's working capacity and much more. The human body is built to move. When the body is neglected, specialized hormones like serotonin, dopamine and testosterone  are not consistently released which may lead to mental health issues like stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. Consistent exercise also improves capacities of attention, energy, problem solving, flexibility and memory.

The body serves as "a loan" for us from Allah. In Islam care for the body is an obligation because of the obvious reasons that (a) it is a gift from God for us to use during the course of our spiritual journey (b) without it we can not live and (c) negligence of the body will cause great harm to the holistic  access of ourselves. Interestingly the spirit from an Islamic perspective has been associated with the organ of the heart. The heart is an organ of perception and is responsible for cleaning and distributing our blood through out our nerve lines. These nerve lines, if connected and rolled out, could wrap around the earth's circumference! 

All of us should ask ourselves the following questions.

  1. Am I sleeping enough and well? 
  2. Am I eating properly and have a balanced diet?
  3. Am I exercising consistently?
  4. Am I providing the body any soothing care?
Sleeping enough means that we are meeting the average amount of sleep needed for our age and personal condition. You may think that you get "enough sleep" however, sleeping 8 hours from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. is not the same as sleeping 8 hours between i'sha prayer and fajr prayer. There is a deep wisdom in the Sunnah's recommended sleep pattern. The human body has specific hormones that it releases while it is asleep to help bodily restoration and energy charge. The body has what is called circadian cycles or "the bodily clock" which is in harmony with the rhythms of the night and day in nature. Processes such as metabolic, hormonal, CNS electrical, or neurotransmitter rhythms become disrupted when our sleep patterns are not aligned with the natural cycles of night and day in the environment. When this happens, our sleep is not providing optimal restoration and healing of the body. 

Eating properly with a balanced diet is essential to bodily health. It is no secret that Muslims have been taught to eat a third, drink a third and leave a third empty. Overeating leads to many health problems  as well as lethargic states which will minimize productivity. Balancing your diet is crucial. It is recommended to see a health nutritionist who can diagnose what your body needs more of given your individual condition. The general rule is to consume mostly fruits and veggies with moderate amounts of fat, healthy carbohydrates and meats. It is also recommended not to eat after sunset to honor the natural metabolic processes of the body. Eating right before you sleep is very unhealthy and can lead to back pains, clogged intestine and sleep disruptions. Do you your best to eat organic foods and stay away as much as possible from processed foods. A general rule is "the longer it can live on the shelf or out of the fridge, the worst it actually is for your body." The Quran speaks about consuming food that is "halal and tayib" or lawful and pure/ good. We are alive and we should eat food that is alive as well! Foods like chips, candy or other processed foods like canned veggies and fruits are not alive, thus their energy and sustenance levels are nearly dead.

Any doctor will tell you that exercising at least thirty minutes a day will keep a lot of health issues away. If you are not exercising daily start small and implement exercise routines like walking, running, biking, swimming or sports. Find what you enjoy and consistently keep it up. With time and repetition the body will adapt and will communicate remind you itself that it needs some movement, subhanallah! Those of us who do have a daily routine of exercise we know that when we stop our routine our moods and energy levels go down and the body begins to feel weak and lazy again.This is why consistency is the key, even of they are short and light exercises, just keep it going!

Besides the mentioned above, the body requires soothing and love. Each of your cells are alive and the contents of your body carry so much energy and do so much work for you. The body deserves a vacation from time to time too and this is what I mean by self soothing. Examples of self soothing are relaxing hot baths, massages and other body work, acupuncture, energy works like Tia Chi or Reiki. Any activity that is low stress and pleasurable for your body and will allow it to release its knots, unclog and feel soothed and cared for inshallah.

Allah knows best.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I think therefor I am... what I think!

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّ‌حْمَـٰنِ الرَّ‌حِيمِ 

Ignore limiting and negative thought patterns.

People must come to realize their personal psychological script. These are thoughts, phrase patterns and narratives that we think and say to ourselves everyday. In the theory of cognitive psychology, our reality is experienced and processed through mental constructs and thoughts. How we think will affect our emotions and choices, what we believe will affect our actions, what we feel will influence how we are and what we are able to do. In order to strive towards a positive inner world we must become aware of our limiting and negative thought patterns.  Let's take a look at some common negative and limiting thought patterns and ways to overcome them.
  1. All or Nothing: When you (a) overgeneralize and (b) see things in black and white terms. These two points may lead to simple thinking and or an extreme approach of beliefs and actions. This can be in relation to how you see yourself, others and the world. Some examples of this are "All non-Muslims are bad" or "I will never get a job" or "I had ice cream last night so the whole diet is off!" All these thoughts limit or deny options for alternative beliefs and actions.  Usually in all or nothing patterns you find words like "never, always, every, everyone, all, nothing, everything, impossible and no one." Islam teaches us to be a nation of the middle way (Quran 2:143) and the Sunnah also emphasizes balance and moderation. It is our duty as Muslims to understand the extremes so that they can be synthesized into a middle view and application. We can think alternatively "Non-Muslims are a diverse community that have good and bad people." "It has been tough finding a job but I will keep trying, my provision is in the hands of God." " I got weak with my diet last night but that does not mean I can't keep going." All or nothing can destroy your access to alternative beliefs and actions thus limiting your capacity to change and learn new things. Try asking your family and friends to point out your all or nothing statements. The more you see yourself using them the more you can break the pattern and replace those ideas with more balanced and synthesized thoughts.
  2. Filtering and Fixations: Some of us fixate and focus on certain details of our experiences. When we filter out certain details and fixate on them, we loose sight of the whole picture. If you spilled your coffee while making a work presentation, you may fixate on how this one incident "ruined the presentation" although your boss and coworkers complimented you. You may fixate on the one time your partner said "I hate you" during a heated argument in the past and filter out all the times your partner said " I love you." In both cases the whole picture is not in view and the beliefs and actions that follow will be rooted in the emotions associated with the fixated detail. Contemplate your emotions and sincerely ask yourself if they linked to a fixated or filtered detail. Try stepping back and seeing the whole picture in order to have a better informed reaction.
  3. The Time Machine: When a person thinks in terms of the past using words like "could have, should have, would have" or future terms of  "if, what if, will, won't, can, can't" and experience's negative emotions as a result. When relating to the past some thought patterns make it hard to let go and be content with what turned out in life. " I should have practiced more, I wanted to get first place not second" or " I could have checked traffic, now I am stuck in this mess." These negative thoughts of the past can make you feel anger, frustration, resentment and even guilt towards yourself. Avoid these emotions by learning from your past choices and know that you have control to direct yourself in new ways for next time. If the future is your focus you may think things like "What if there is no parking when we go?" or "I can't tell my boss I need time off." Your follow up questions to yourself should be "What will happen if there is no parking?" and "What would your boss do if you asked him for time off?" Sometimes our anxiety, despair or stress about the future is based on our projected assumptions versus what may actually happen. When negative future thoughts happen, ask yourself questions that would clarify why you already think a specific outcome is bound to occur, and see if the answer is rooted in reason and reality or your assumptions and emotions.
  4. Self Labeling: Sticking with negative labels that you have given yourself or others have ascribed to you. For example you may say to yourself " I am a loser" or "I am ugly" or "I am stupid." These negative labels whether from yourself or others deteriorate your self perception and the soul's harmony with what is good. Words are vibrations and we know vibrations can affect and alter objects and substances. In Islam we are taught to have beautiful names in order to aspire to possess the attributes of those names. In a study done by Dr. Masura Emoto  examining the relationship of water crystal formulation with human interaction, he found that positive words formed symmetrical and beautiful water crystals while negative words formed the opposite. Human bodies are mostly water and we have a direct impact on how we feel based on what we think and tell ourselves. Learn to love yourself and see the value in your existence which Allah has chosen to make manifest.  Start tracking your negative labels that come up and make a list of them. Then create new labels of self endearment and care to nullify the negative ones. Set a goal to say one new positive self label a day while removing one of the old ones.
There are other types of negative thought patterns common to any of us, but these four will give you plenty to start working with! For more on fighting negative and limiting thought patterns you can check out:


بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّ‌حْمَـٰنِ الرَّ‌حِيمِ 

You can do it! Allah has given us the amazing capacity of will which provides us the power to make choices in life.  Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) had said:" Richness does not lie in the abundance of (worldly) goods but richness is the richness of the soul (heart, self). " (Sahih Muslim: Book #5 Hadith #2287)

We can all lead a richer life and I hope I can help you do that with my positive acronym I CAN DO IT!

Ignore limiting and negative thought patterns.

Care for the body.
Ask contemplative questions.
Nurture the soul.

Desire and display the good in life.
Open opportunities.

Internalize meaning, passion and confidence.
Trust in Allah.