“New year, new me!” We hear it every year. We also know that nothing magically changes when the clock strikes 12:01 am on January 1st. Things only change if we change. In fact, even our guide for life — the Quran — tells us this. Verse 13:11 says “For each one are successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by the decree of Allah. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. [Sahih International]
A hadith of the Prophet Muhammad also reflected this. This particular hadith is a short story of a Bedouin man who left his camel loose, without tying it. The man expressed deep faith that Allah would ensure nothing happened to his camel. However, the man took no actions of his own to secure his camel. This hadith demonstrates that good faith alone isn’t enough; faith also requires inspired and common-sense action. As narrated by al-Tirmidhi, the Prophet (PBUH) asked him “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then replied, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.”
What does taking inspired and aligned action mean? It means behaving in a way that’s in integrity with the goals you want to accomplish. It means making lifestyle changes in order to create sustainable, long-term change.
What does taking inspired and aligned action mean? It means behaving in a way that’s in integrity with the goals you want to accomplish. It means making lifestyle changes in order to create sustainable, long-term change — not crash or fad diets, trying to do everything at once and burning out, or embarking on “get rich quick” style schemes. It means creating good habits that will serve you in the long run; habits that will stay with you and become automatic.
Change happens slowly, and the old adage “Slow and steady wins the race” is a time-tested truth. While popular wisdom says that it only takes 21 days to form a habit, this isn’t exactly true. Perhaps 21 days is enough time to lock in a new habit if you’re talking about something simplistic, like drinking a glass of water every morning when you wake up. To change unhelpful habits or deeply ingrained behaviors, the truth is that there’s no fixed time. The research shows that it actually takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for someone to create a new habit. It takes an average of 66 days — three times longer than the oft-touted “21 days” — for a new behavior to become automatic behavior. The lesson here is to be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself when you mess up (and you will mess up!), and keep on keeping on. With small actionable items daily, you’ll be able to create the changes you seek.
Duas are a wonderful and vital tool that every Muslim should utilize, and we should believe when we ask of Allah that Allah will respond accordingly. “One of the strongest factors that aids a person’s du’aa in being accepted is that he expects, in fact, being certain, that Allah will of a surety respond to his du’aa. When he expects the best from Allah, then Allah treats him in the way that he expects, and this is from the Perfection of Allah’s Nature, and an indication of His Beautiful Names,” writes Sheikh Yasir Qadhi in his book Du’aa: The Weapon of the Believer. Making dua can aid us in making changes within ourselves; we can ask Allah to give us sabr with ourselves as we embark on changes, we can ask for Allah’s help to guide us with follow-through; we can supplicate to Allah the Almighty for whatever support we seek. But, as the hadith about tying your camel and Quran 13:11 indicate, we must also be prepared to take our own action.
So if you want to see lasting change this year, keep in mind that psychology, behavioral science, and most importantly, the Quran — the word of Allah, the Creator — indicate that you need to make changes within yourself first.