By Yacoob Manjoo
With just three months left until Ramadan, if you’ve participated in this series so far, your journey towards improvement should be well underway – even if it’s going very slowly (and that’s OK!).
We began with salaah in part 1, then moved on to dua in part 2. While those are both very spiritual topics, this month’s challenge deals with something much more worldly – our unhealthy, time-consuming habits. It may be painful, and it may take a while to do, but if you succeed in this month’s area, insha-Allah you’ll make giant strides in bettering your own self and your relationship with Allah.
Compared to the past, today’s modern technology makes our lives easier and saves us great amounts of time. Take the simple example of laundry: 200 years ago, it was a whole day job, and now you can get it done and dried in a couple of hours – with minimal effort on your part.
With so much time freed up, shouldn’t we be happier because we have more time to do what we want? The answer is “no”.
The paradox of today’s world is that we have so many time-saving gadgets, and everything is so convenient, yet more than ever, we feel like we don’t have free time. We’re under more pressure and always seem to need more hours in the day (or night) to finish all the things we have to / want to do. Added to that is the entertainment we consume to ‘relax’ and ‘unwind’ from the stresses of life.
And then add the relatively new phenomenon of always being ‘connected’ to the world and your friends via technology. For many people, today’s life is filled with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phone messages, and a never-ending stream of information: breaking news, alerts, updates, and other bits of information we think we need. The information flood is so rampant that many people seem to spend more time in the virtual world than they do in the real, physical world. (By the way, does anyone else see the connection to ‘The Matrix’ in this?)
Whether we pursue these things or they pursue us, it seems that many of us have become slaves to the technology and leisure-time activities we love so much.
But we know that any extreme is unhealthy. So by consuming and being involved in this much information, communication, and entertainment, we’re bound to suffer negative consequences at some point – whether it’s mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual.
American scholar Shaykh Abdullah Adhami sums up the danger in this beautifully simple yet profound quote:
“Every vessel – every container – will only pour out what is contained in it, and that’s very obvious…Your tongue is your ability to express what lies in your spirit: television, the movies, the friends you hang out with, the music you listen to. Everything around you is environmental forces that shape how your being is and how your heart is. And when you open your mouth to speak it’s like your heart is a sponge that absorbs all of this material from around you. Essentially what you’re doing is squeezing what is in you and what comes out is going to be what has been compiled in your mind and in your memory. Obviously you can only express in your heart what has been placed in it. And so in order for the outcome and the output from the tongue to be positive, the input in that needs to be positive: in spirit, in silence, in talking…and throughout our lives.”
The quote basically means that what we take in – what we consume – is what will fill our hearts, and ultimately what will come out from us. And if we fill our time with habits that are poisonous or not beneficial, those poisons will corrupt our inner beings.
As others have pointed out, the human brain only has a limited capacity – it can only hold so much information. And if we keep filling it with things that aren’t actually important, there won’t be much space left for the things that really are important.
Kicking the habit – the Early Bird way
You may already know that you have a Facebook problem. Or a Twitter addiction. Or that you obsessively check your email every few minutes. Whatever your habits, if you’ve gone to an extreme, you already know you should take some kind of action to bring back the balance. But living in the environment you live in, it’s not easy to disconnect completely and be free of your poisons.
So, as explained in previous posts, our approach in this series is to follow a five-step process to gradually solve the problem:
- Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is ‘Unhealthy habits’
- Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area and list your weaknesses
- Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
- Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
- Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan
- What technologies and websites do I use most in my personal life?
- How do I entertain myself? (e.g. movies, TV, music, games)
- What communication habits fill my time? (e.g. phonecalls, text messages, BBM)
(see worksheet 3 for further examples of all these)
- How many times do I use it per day?
- On average, how long do I spend on it per day?
Now for each item on your list, ask yourself the following questions:
- Whose resources (e.g. computer, bandwidth) do I use for this? (e.g. work? school? parents?) And if it’s someone else’s, am I allowed to be using their resources for this?
- Why do I do it as often as I do?
- When I use it, why do I spend this amount of time on it?
- How does using it make me feel? And how long does that feeling last?
- Do I neglect loved ones / people that are right in front of me while I do this? Do these things cause me to spend less quality time with them?
- What time do I switch these things (e.g. mobile phone, computer) off for the day?
- For the entertainment-related items, what is the main message of the music / movies / games? And is this something admirable or meaningful?
- What are the benefits of this thing? (Break this up into worldly and Hereafter categories)
- What are the risks / dangers of this thing? (Break this up into worldly and Hereafter categories)
- Does this harm my ibadah and relationship with Allah? (e.g. do I delay my salaah for these things? And in salaah and other worship, do I think about these things?)
Using this month’s worksheet, think through each question and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).
First, consider your answers then identify and list your weaknesses or problems you feel you need to address.
Next, write down each issue’s outward symptoms that you notice, and try to find the root causes of the issue by interrogating it. Look at the issue or the symptoms and ask yourself “why?”. Keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.
With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems from the root. Brainstorm and list practical ways to solve the issues from the root. While doing this, consider the following questions to help you come up with solutions:
- If I give up / reduce my usage, what benefits could I gain?
- What would I like to achieve in life that I haven’t / haven’t tried – because I feel I don’t have the time?
- What small steps could I take towards fulfilling those ambitions, if I were to have more free time?
- What safety mechanisms and physical steps can I take to cut down on these things?
- Can I arrange my time to be more self-disciplined in these habits?
- Can I use any technology applications to block my usage of websites I’d like to leave?
- Can I set aside a day or two per month to live completely without these things?
For example, in question 4 (safety mechanisms / physical steps), when you need to do something important, you could move your computer / other distractions to somewhere not so accessible. And in step 5 (time management), you could set specific times in the day when you’ll check email – and stick to it. Or set times each day where you ban yourself from using the Internet / the medium of distraction.
Planning and implementation:
With solutions identified, now analyse what your life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solutions over a period of time. Remember to plan this is ways that are realistic – achievable – for you, even if it means you’ll be taking tiny steps over a long period of time. Doing things gradually – in small and consistent steps – is the best way to achieve sustainable, permanent solutions.
Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.
If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month, and the four that follow, is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.
To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document:RamadanEarlyBird worksheet (3rd edition).
To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:
- Article: From Facebook to God’s book
- Technology blockers: To block sites you want to avoid, use LeechBlock for FireFox; StayFocusd for Google Chrome; or in Internet Explorer just add the in your blocking-settings.
- Your contribution: If you know of any good Islamic resources (e.g. lectures, applications) that are freely available online, please suggest them in the comments section.
And remember that the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.
All the best with this step in Ramadan prep; and feel free to share your feedback or progress in the Comments section.